Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Myth of Perfection

I got an interesting comment from Lisa late last night (which you may read in its entirety on my last post). She asked some intriguing questions, which I wanted to address here, because, perhaps, she expresses a deep concern that all of us have.

Lisa began her post with a list of foods I ate on vacation that were good, and a list of foods that were bad. Then she said it was pretty clear where the gained pounds came from. I admit that got my hackles up a bit. I thought perhaps this was someone coming to judge me, tell me the obvious (yeah, I KNOW which foods were bad, I know that's why I gained weight...) and put me down, but as I read her comment further, I saw that that was not at all what she was about. She had some serious questions:

Lisa asked, "As a heavy person, if I don't exist solely on veggies and no-calorie drinks, if I don't watch every single bite I put into my mouth and be on guard 24/7/365, can I expect the same? How reasonable is it to assume we're going to be perfect all the time, especially when we're on holiday? I mean, that's what a holiday is supposed to be, right?"

Lisa expresses something most of us have thought: hey, am I going to have to fight this battle for the rest of my life? A thin person could eat a few snacks on vacation. What's wrong with me that I can't have a day or a few days "off plan" without my body going bonkers and gaining weight?

Here's what I think.

First: "As a heavy person, if I don't exist solely on veggies and no-calorie drinks, if I don't watch every single bite I put into my mouth and be on guard 24/7/365, can I expect the same?"

Well, I lost 63 pounds relying quite a bit on veggies and no-calorie drinks, but of course we gotta EAT. I think it's important to base our eating around lean meats, whole grains, low fat dairy and healthy fats. In past posts, I have written about some of the meals I have eaten while losing weight and they are delicious! I love a dinner of fresh grilled salmon, roasted baby new potatoes with garlic and rosemary, sauteed fresh green beans, and iced green tea. I enjoy things like chicken enchiladas, fajitas, taco salad, chili, spaghetti, fettuccine with veggies and chicken. When I take the time to plan my meals and prepare them, I thoroughly enjoy what I eat. So although Lisa may have been exaggerating with the "solely on veggies" phrase, I wanted to clarify that losing weight does not have to be some kind of torture. However, YES. You do have to watch every bite that goes into your mouth and be on guard 24/7/365 if you want to lose weight. Well maybe not 365, maybe relax a few days a year. Note: a few days a YEAR, not a week or a month. But yes, every bite. That is my conclusion. I must watch every bite. Hard, but worth it.

I could have made better choices. Instead of pancakes, bacon and eggs, I could have had a whole wheat pancake with fresh berries on top, and maybe ONE egg, poached. Instead of a mushroom swiss burger and onions rings and pepsi, I could have had a salad with chicken, or some baked fish and veggies, or even a chicken breast sandwich with a fresh fruit side dish, with iced tea. I had done this before and never felt deprived. I enjoyed my food. Lesson learned.

Second: "How reasonable is it to assume we're going to be perfect all the time, especially when we're on holiday? I mean, that's what a holiday is supposed to be, right?"

No one can be perfect, and there is no such thing as a perfect diet. And sure, there will be days that we eat unhealthy things. But the goal here, while in the LOSING WEIGHT phase, is to make them few and far between.

Do you whine because you want cake on your birthday?
Do you lament not being able to have Christmas cookies?
Do you wish and dream of a 4th of July Barbecue?
Do you long for those special donuts they bring to work every Monday?

Well, I say to myself, get over it. Because I obviously have had more than my share of Christmas cookies, birthday cake, and barbecue in my lifetime. I have probably eaten more than a thin person would in ten lives. Is it unfair that I can't have a big tub of movie popcorn when I go see a movie? NO. Because I have probably eaten 10,000 calories in movie popcorn in my life, whereas a thin person maybe ate 500 calories. Hey, if you have binged, or if you overeat, you have already had more than your fair share. So I say to myself, get over it, you have enough special donuts on your hips already.

However, knowing we cannot be perfect, do this. Pick ten days a year that you can eat your special treats. It can be your birthday, your kid's birthday, Mother's Day, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, your anniversary, Easter, and two days during some vacation. Or pick whatever random days you want. Guess what. You eat what you want on those days, and eat healthy on the other 355 days, and you will lose weight. So now you do not have to feel deprived. It is all about moderation. So if you need to know you can indulge, pick your ten days. And wait for them.

You can also do things like eat healthy alternatives on holidays. For example, I have some Thanksgiving recipes on my site (see the sidebar). They're great. I love 'em. So I can stick with the plan on that day. Try to find alternatives to your unhealthy favorites.

I also think you have to decide what weight loss is worth to you. Is it worth giving up peanut butter cups for 2 years? No? Then maybe you will have to settle for a slower weight loss. Is it worth limiting yourself to pizza only a few times a year? Yes? Good, you may lose weight faster. The more work you do, the better results you'll get. The more healthy you are willing to eat, the more weight you will take off, over time. If I cannot give up chocolate cashew bark on vacation, then I have to understand that I am NOT going to come home thinner. It's just a fact.

We each have to decide what we are willing to give up in order to gain something more desirable, more valuable. I have had plenty of indulgences. A little time of restriction is not going to kill me.

I hope we all can learn from this and decide what we can and will do to reach our goals.

Thanks, Lisa, for the thought-provoking comment!


Chubby Chick said...

Moderation is definitely the key! We know what to do... and what to eat. We just need to do it!

SeaShore said...

My favourite weigh-loss quote is "Don't do anything to lose weight that you aren't willing to do for the rest of your life." I have made that mistake before!

This time I'm determined to live by moderation and forgiveness (of slip-ups), even if it means slower weight loss.

As for holidays, I think even thin people sometimes gain weight on vacation/Christmas/BBQ season. My teenage, 6 foot, athletic, beanpole of a nephew went on a cruise with his parents and gained 5 pounds in a week. If he could gain weight, anyone can. He went back to his normal routine after vacation, and now that 5 pounds is gone.

Once Upon A Dieter said...

I think you're right. Indulgences have to be rare, and we have to think of indulgences as rare or forget it. We won't lose it. We won't keep it off. Period.

It's a sacrifice. It will always be a sacrifice. Pizza, burgers, cake, etc will always be desirable, tempting,w aiting.

We have to decide that being healthier is worth giving up the delicious junk and high-calorie options.

I think moderation is great for a slower loss and for a less-than-ideal loss (ie, we are content to be heavier than we want). But moderation still means giving stuff up we'd rather have.

Either way you cut it: It's a sacrifice and will feel like it for a long time if not always.

Reality checks are necessary. Thanks.

The Princess

Dawn said...

I know exactly how you feel about gaining weight back on vacation. I just got back, too, and even though I feel like I ate very good, with only a few bad things, and I exercised while I was gone, I still gained weight. I know for a fact that even thin people gain weight on vacation if they eat differently than they do at home. The difference is if they are normally thin, that extra weight comes off very quickly with no extra effort besides just getting back to normal eating. It's harder when you're trying to lose weight because it feels like such a backslide to gain weight when you feel like you should be losing it. Thin people only have to lose the few pounds they gained, but overweight people who are trying to lose weight have to lose what they gained on their vacation and then some. It's very frustrating. I also think that when you're on vacation you should let go a little bit and have some food that you really want even if you know you shouldn't. That doesn't mean to pig out, but just keep it reasonable. I don't think you should feel bad about how you ate on your vacation. You did eat some bad food, but you ate a lot of good food, too, and you had a good time. Your extra weight will come off now that you're home, and mine will to.

Ceres said...

Oh, this is such a great post, it's good to have you back, Lyn :-)

Here's my two cents on the issue:
First, I don't think that normal-weight people don't yo-yo. They just don't pay as much attention to it as we do, or at least they don't freak out about it, because they're not actively trying to lose any weight. I will bet you thin people come back from a vacation and weigh more than normal, but it's not like they're any fatter, of course! You're not 7 pounds fatter either. The extra weight should come off once you're back to your regular eating habits.

Second, I really like the idea of "10 special days per year", during which you're allowed to eat more than normal. It's important to recognize that there will be days when you just can't stay on plan. There's no point beating yourself up about it, just realize that that's how your life will be, and take it from there. These days, as long as they occur sporadically, should not be an obstacle to losing weight or maintaining a healthy lifestyle overall.

Third, I agree that the internal battle will always be there, but it should become less intense with time, as the weight loss progresses and our lifestyles change. A friend of mine told me something her mother used to say: "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels". Now, I wish I could remember that every time I crave rich ice cream :-)

ryry the adventurous said...

A big underlying theme I'm seeing in a lot of weight/food bloggers lately (including my own) is the need for balance and understanding.

Balance and understanding within your progress and your procedure for weight loss, mental and physical. For example, that breakfast you mention with the pancakes, eggs, and bacon, could have easily been white toast, eggs, bacon, hash browns with cheese, a large stack of chocolate chip pancakes and biscuts and gravy. Yes, it could have been a whole wheat pancake with fruit. But you did NOT binge, either.

I think it's times like this when one should take some deep breaths, realize that they -could- have done better, but smile and be thankful that they -did not- do worse. Be in the now, and be serene with the fact that you are not that person anymore. Know that you -are- on track to do better. Balance. Knowing what we are putting in our mouths, how we exercise our bodies, and how it affects us. Understanding.

The metaphor you made once before about the ocean and the waves, yeah, a lot like that. :)

Arachne said...

I love you Lyn! And I really believe you should try to have some of your work published. It would be a best seller.

The lightbulb has gone on for you :) In the four months that I have been doing this there has not been one single time I have binged or gorged on anything. I have had no candy, no fried foods, no real junk. And I have always stayed within my allotted calories give or take a little. I have lost almost 80 pounds so far :)

I dont even have cravings or wish for indulgences anymore.

You are so right, that it is worth passing it all up for something that is much more valuable.

Be well! :)


new*me said...

some great observations by Lisa and I must say at times I have the same questions. I blogged about my grandma the other day and how her key to staying slim all her 92 yrs was moderation. I am betting this is the key to success not a magic pill. Great post ;)

themarlatts said...

I agree with you 100% about how often to indulge. I constantly allow myself extra goodies because I say, "thin people eat french fries too". But you're right - the difference is, it's not once a week in conjunction with a bunch of other "thin people eat this...." comments. I am the worst with this excuse!

Heather said...

good points! I am of the same philosophy...that no one can exist on just fruits and veggies. sure, they are definitely necessary to a healthy lifestyle, but to be happy and consistently eat this way, you need to really enjoy what you eat and incorporate different foods into your diet. and you are one is perfect, but we still have to watch what we eat and when we dont, definitely, those pounds may come on. I know, I experience. I had once slice of pizza on saturday and am up almost 2 pounds. sure a "normal" person could eat that and not gain weight, but not me and I will always have to watch out for things like keep up what you are doing and dont worry about any mistakes or choicse you made that could have been better. you are learning from these experiences and becoming stronger.

Anonymous said...

I've started to think about food that is sold in chain restaurants in a new way. For instance, DQ has this new Thin Mint Blizzard and I want it. But, then I think, just because DQ makes it, does it mean that we, as a society, need it? The answer is no. Bottom line, DQ wants to make money and get more people into their stores. They care nothing for our health, how we look in bikinis, and how fast we can run/walk a mile. It makes me feel like I am sort of getting tricked into doing something UNHEALTHY for myself while doing something BENEFICIAL to someone elses bank account - which to me is the ultimate rip-off. You know?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to weigh in on this (if you will allow the pun) as someone who weighs 105. I can't speak for all thin people, but I am pretty dang thin at this point, and I, too, will gain 2-3 pounds if I let myself splurge for even two meals. That was true at my highest weight, and it's true now. Like you said, it's about moderation.

I loved your suggestion about picking 10 days!! When I was a lot heavier than I am now, and attended Weight Watchers, I remember the lightbulb moment when I heard about all the "exceptions" we make: Christmas...Halloween... Thanksgiving..your birthdays....your friends' birthdays...parties....vacation...dinner with friends...if you add up all the days, it's about a week a month. Too much. So your 10 days is a great idea!