Monday, March 9, 2009

Food Amnesia

I think I am in serious denial about the amount and kinds of food I eat. When I don't track my food (count every calorie, write it all down), I seem to "forget" what I ate, good and bad.

I was washing the dishes yesterday and started thinking, "What started all this? What was the trigger food that set me off track, made me tired so I didn't want to bike, and revved up my cravings?" I had a small pile of dishes in the sink for days... a few things here and there that hadn't gotten washed and didn't make it to the dishwasher. I picked up an ice cream scoop out of the sink. "Oh yeah. I remember. My teenager had been begging for sherbet for months, and since he helped watch his sister all week I bought him some." I don't really like sherbet, but wanted a treat for myself since I had been doing so well and lost 8 pounds. I bought a box of Weight Watchers ice cream bars. I thought there was 2 in the box for some reason but there were like, 6 or 8! I ate one bar that night. It was within my calories, but that's what set me off.

I remembered, suddenly, how I had eaten one and thought it wasn't very good. And the next day I was craving one again, and I made caramel sauce... low fat of course... to dip it in since it wasn't very good. After eating 3 of them I threw the rest away. But the caramel was still there and I started making hot chocolate every so often... with skim milk of course... and adding a spoon of caramel to it. Oh yeah. I forgot about that.

I kept washing the dishes. A pizza pan. "Oh yeah, my son made a pizza and I didn't want to eat any because it had pepperonis, so I got out a mini 'diet' pizza to enjoy. As a snack. And then I made another one. So my snack was 600 calories. Hmmm, I forgot about that!"

I got the pizza pan washed. What's this? A cake pan? What the heck? I didn't make cake... ohhh, I forgot. My other son found a box of brownie mix hidden wayy, way in the back of the storage pantry. I didn't even know it was there. He made it earlier this week. The pan of brownies sat on the counter. I ate one. Actually, I think I ate, like, 4. Maybe 5? I totally forgot about those. I just grabbed them mindlessly as I was prepping other foods. I wasn't counting calories this week, so I didn't write them down. So they never existed. Right?

After washing that pan, my head started spinning. How much stuff had I eaten and forgotten? Last night we had chicken breast and whole grain pasta and broccoli... and oh... oh my goodness, I cannot believe I totally forgot about the Jello Pie I made with my daughter. I had two slices after dinner last night. Oh my gosh...

Now, you might think I am either lying about forgetting, or losing my mind. But this has happened to me before. It's WHY I started counting calories. Because my default mode is to make or buy goodies, and eat them mindlessly, as I did for the previous ten years. After all, if I had already eaten lunch and a snack I couldn't justify eating a couple of cookies (especially since I weighed 280 pounds) but if I "just" grabbed one and popped it in my mouth, and paid it no attention, then it never happened.

That's the kind of disordered thinking that makes us fat. It is completely mindless, so that I actually ended up seeing an 11 pound gain on the scale on ONE week and then wondered what the heck happened. Granted, I really did eat healthy 75% of the time. But my brain did not even register the hundreds of extra calories I ate without thinking. It took seeing the dirty dishes in the sink to jog my memory. Oh yeah. I ate more than I thought.

Food amnesia works in the other direction, too. Some days I would be eating healthy and have an extra snack and then suddenly get this overwhelming sense of panic because I was SURE I had gone way over my calories for the day. I'd be mad at myself for eating too much, and my brain would be screaming "JUST BINGE! You already ate too much!" But if I took the time to sit down and log all the calories I had eaten, I would usually be way *less* that I had thought. Sometimes, just being around food, seeing it, prepping it, even seeing commercials for food makes me feel like I have overeaten. It's like body dysmorphic syndrome, but with food. And to counter that feeling and bring me back to reality, I have to count my calories. I am always shocked when I count calories at how little (or how much) I actually ate compared to what I *thought* I ate. I bet there are a lot of other people like that. Maybe they don't even know it... because they've never kept an accurate food journal.

Forgotten calories still count. That's why it's important not to forget. When I stop counting calories, I tend to gain weight. Sure, I *know* in the instant I am scarfing that cookie that I am eating something unhealthy. But literally minutes later I can be eating a salad and thinking I am doing great. Is counting calories obsessive? No, I don't think it is. I don't *have* to measure every bite, it does not have to be 100% perfect and I do not *worry* about the food. I just keep track... on paper, on sparkpeople, or some days, just a running loose tally in my head. That way I know where I am and I cannot be in denial about my eating.

That said, I still didn't eat enough calories to make up 11 pounds of weight gain. No, it isn't PMS... I am nowhere near that time of month. And it isn't muscle, I assure you. Funny thing, when I am building muscle by lifting weights and biking, I still lose weight overall. And this week I slacked. No weights, barely any biking, just a few walks. If anything, I lost muscle this week. Is it bloat? Oh, I dunno, maybe a couple pounds of water retention, but I don't look "puffy" and my rings still fit just fine. Is it 11 pounds of fat? Of course not. But it NEVER is pure fat when we lose or gain weight. Never. We are made of bone, muscle, all kinds of tissue... but somehow when we talk about "losing weight" we want to assume every pound lost or gained is FAT. It never is. Bodies are more complicated than that. But if I had continued eating the way I ate last week, the scale would keep going up. And that is "real weight" even if it is not 100% fat.

Yesterday I ate healthy foods (you can read my menus on the left sidebar of this page, under Twitters). I did not salt *anything* and ate low sodium. Result? Down 2 pounds. So, most likely, 2 pounds of the 11 was water retention. The rest... it's on my body somewhere. But not for long.

Lesson learned. No more forgetting food. Today I feel great, it's sunny, and I have a ton of housework to catch up on. Let's see how much of this weight I can kick to the curb in a week!


Anonymous said...

Man,I do the same thing. It's amazing how mindlessly one can eat and not even remember it! Tracking my food on WW, a lot of times I'll keep a running count of my points in my head until I have time to sit down and enter it into my e-tools journal. By the time I get around to entering my food, I will have forgotten sometimes 2 or 3 items, which hopefully I'll later remember and add on. Tracking is def. the way to go. Now if I would just take that advice. :/

Anonymous said...

You break my heart almost everyday, but I feel you are going to get through this and lose the weight you need to lose to get healthy. I just know it.

Chubby Chick said...

That weight's going to come off! You've come too far and have learned too much for it not to! :)

Hang in there! And here's to a good week of weight loss. You can do it! :)

Chubby Chick said...

PS: As of right now, there are 3 comments above mine... and I believe that the one after "anonymous/Lauren" is a spammer... because I got the exact same comment a few minutes ago!

new*me said...

I am keeping track of my intake since I am trying calorie cycling or zig-zagging to hopefully break my plateau! Some days I feel like I ate a lot and was no where near where I should be.........other days, the opposite. I tend to go too low........maybe my body did sense starvation.

Bottom line, we get lost in everything we have to do that we don't slow down and give ourself the attention that we deserve.

Slowing down ;)----goal for the week!

Mary said...

Ugh. Housework. Don't remind me :)

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Forthright Fattie said...

Sounds like you have a great attitude, which is such an important part of the battle.

L1z4 said...

Maybe it's not so much about writing down the calories, maybe it's the mindless eating part?

bbubblyb said...

I'm good at food amnesia too. I really try hard to log my food throughout the day so I don't end up forgetting stuff but even doing that sometimes I do. Good post. I'm sure the rest of that 11 lbs will be gone soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lyn. It's interesting to see this post of your contrasted to your post of yesterday. I wonder if you've noticed it yourself. Yesterday you said:

"And before you give me "it isn't real weight, it takes 3500 calories to make a pound, etc etc" for the thousandth time, let me assure you that it is, in fact, very real, and if I eat like that again this week the scale will continue to go up, until I am 278 pounds of "not real" weight.
If 3500 extra calories *really* equalled a pound, in every person in every case, then I would not have been able to maintain my 278-pound figure while sitting on my rear all day and eating (easily) and average of 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day (and 8,000+ on some extreme binge days). I've been counting calories for a long time, even when I binged, so I know what I used to eat. It really does not compute."

Then in this post you say:

"But my brain did not even register the hundreds of extra calories I ate without thinking. It took seeing the dirty dishes in the sink to jog my memory. Oh yeah. I ate more than I thought.

Food amnesia works in the other direction, too. Some days I would be eating healthy and have an extra snack and then suddenly get this overwhelming sense of panic because I was SURE I had gone way over my calories for the day. I'd be mad at myself for eating too much, and my brain would be screaming "JUST BINGE! You already ate too much!" But if I took the time to sit down and log all the calories I had eaten, I would usually be way *less* that I had thought."

I think it's interesting how we (and I do it too) fool ourselves into thinking that we're somehow different. That for us, 3500 calories = 1 lb doesn't apply for whatever reason. But I think you've proved for yourself that it's not that your body has some weird mathematical equation or unique way of processing calories going on ... but that your subconscious is for some reason working overtime to hide things from you - on both sides of the equation. Our minds are funny things, aren't they?

Lyn said...


No, actually, I did not contradict myself at all. I said the same thing: I did not eat enough extra calories to gain 11 pounds in a week.

By your hard-and-fast rule of 3500 extra calories equals a pound of weight gained, I would have had to eat 38,500 EXTRA calories last week to gain 11 pounds. That's 5500 extra calories a day. I absolutely did not do that. I probably ate an extra 500 per day on average, which is 3500 calories in a week. That would be one pound gained, if that rule applied.

Bodies are more complex than we think.

HKins said...

Very interesting post. It makes me think. I've never been aware of "forgetting" food. I'm usually pretty conscious of what I eat even if I choose to eat an entire bag of chips. You made me wonder if what my perception of what I eat matches what I actually eat. I'm going to keep track for a while and see what happens.

Skyler Clark said...

From a former GNC manager. Hang in there. Please keep it up. Information is key and if you are willing to share you may influence others.

Heather said...

I used to do the denial thing as well. I would be so "shocked" when I would gain weight, but it wasnt really a shock, I knew it exactly why I was gaining weight. but I would pretend that I was eating the right things. finally I realized I was really only hurting myself. whats the point in pretending or "forgetting" because it only hurts oneself and if I had just realized that a long time ago, I probably would have been at my goal years ago.

Juice said...

Great post. I bet most of us can relate. There is a reason that tracking works. Sigh.

I'd like to think that I won't have to track my food in heaven! ;)

Vickie said...

One thing that I notice - throughout blog land is people tend to write down what they ate in a reflective manner. Like jotting notes after a meal or at the end of the day - logging all their food.

One thing that I was taught - early on - was to PLAN my food - in advance - in a written form. It was like a commitment - a contract - a promise to myself. It was a means to prevent self sabotage.

there was a lot of value in the preplanning - I not only allocated my calories - but I had an opportunity to make sure that the nutrition was somewhat balanced. My food choices (healthy) got better and better as I did this over time.

This was NOT terribly complicated - as I normally had the same thing for breakfast and rotated between a dozen or so lunches and dinners.

At that time I grouped sets of foods together that formed my meals and kept track of the total data for each set of food.

so certain salads, or hot dinner combinations, or whatever I 'saved' and never had to look up again. I used these sets to plan my meals. And of course it made shopping easy.

I think this pre-planning is a big part of what got me past the willy nilly food habits.

I totally get the complexities of breaking old habits - the bites and bits while cooking, the bites and bits every time I walked past the pantry/freezer/refrigerator, etc.

Your postings from the last several days made me remember my own white knuckling. Getting in the bath tub with a book and NO food and staying there until I could trust myself to get out again.

Going for walks with NO food until I could trust myself to be home again.

I did have times where I literally put myself in time out - like a toddler - concentrating my focus on a wall until I could steady myself again. I remember sitting with tears rolling down my face - teaching myself not to put food in my mouth without thinking.

It took a long time for me to stop eating when I drove. To stop eating in particular chairs. To stop eating when I drove down certain streets.

I still think about orange or grape pop every time I drive by the neighborhood pool - and it isn't even open!

I think that a spark of remembering all this surfaced (in my brain) when you were talking about planning meals/days food with your kids. It was a tiny little nagging feeling - until I sat down and really thought about it - and wrote you this little note.

Vickie said...

you know the pool has been closed all winter - and it has probably been 4-5 summers since I had an orange or grape pop there - and that is still where my mind goes - every time I drive down that street.

I still - to this very day - carry NO cash with me - and keep my purse in the trunk - as I reminder that I do not buy and eat things impulsively while I am out - this used to be a big amnesia food time for me.

jinks1 said...

I totally understand what you mean. I am VERY busy with working, church, and shuttling 3 kids around. I eat as healthy as I can (i DO MESS UP A LOT!), but I do not have the time to write down everything I eat...I have to remember at the end of the day and sometimes I forget but I'm not going to beat myself up anymore than I already do.

I find if I have to write down everything all the time at that moment..I am even more obessive with the food and amounts.

I say do your clean...and work out and the weight will come off. Your attitude of not giving up will carry you to the end! :)

Tony said...

Ah, food amnesia happens to me a lot when I'm out with friends. You don't want to think about what you ate so you do your best to forget about it.

I've never been a fan of writing everything I eat down. It would become too much of an obsession, and that's the last thing I need. If it works for you though, then you should definitely do it.

And you are right, it's a bit more complex than calories in, calories out. All calories are not created equal.

Ginger and Brent said...

Lyn - I love your blog. It is very honest and you don't sugar coat anything and that's what I like about it. Soetimes I get so tired of reading the "perfectionist" approach to doing this. If I were perfect I wouldn't be where I am at 282 pounds. I've been following an old Weight Watchers program since the first of the year and am down 20.4 pounds so far. There are several things that are helping me be successful this time. I've joined an online support group, I've linked several inspiring blogs to my own(yours is one of them) and I JOURNAL every bite I eat. One of the slogans on the support forum I hang out on is "if you bite it, you write it". I post those journals online everyday and welcome my online friends to offer suggestions and comments on meals plans that will help me on my way. I know that isn't a comfortable thing for everyone, but for me the public accountability is helping. And the comments here about pre-journaling rather than post-journaling are right on. I wish you the best. You are not experiencing anything any of us haven't or won't along the way - as long as we don't give up we will make it!

Nickole said...

I want to Thank you. I am not a "faithful" blogger myself... But when I do pop in and manage the time to read your blog it always seems as if there is something very relevant in your posts; some much needed insight or wisdom to somethings I too struggle with.

I too binge eat... and struggle with the WHY!!! I could eat great all day and BAM!!! Its BINGEFEST!! I just don't get it!!!

I wish you much success on your journey!!

Cold Spaghetti said...

Your honesty is inspirational and refreshing... how do you do it?? Sometimes I feel like you've jumped in my head and identified exactly what I'm not wanting to admit to myself. Thank you thank you thank you.

Lia said...

Wow, so not only was the post interesting but so were all those comments. I always find it funny how the mind can play these silly tricks on us. Either letting us conveniently forget the little unhealthy things...I seem to have forgotten all the chocolate I ate this week until reflecting after your post...or letting us think we've had a lot more than we actually did.

I also agree with some of the comments out there. One in particular mentioned planning your meals ahead of time and writing them down. this allows you to nutritionally and calorically plan your day. It also takes the pressure of remembering to log your food later. This workd well for people with control over the food they have. If you live at home and have the ability to prepare or choose all the food that goes into your mouth. The only problem I found with this is for people in schools or other establishments that require you to eat at dining halls where the food choices are different everyday and harder to plan for as you have no idea what is on the menu.

You did a good thing, admitting and realizing what was going on and I'm rather inspired by your positive take on it. Instead of being defeated by a mistake you are totally taking responsibility and moving toward your goal!!! That's the way to win and accomplish things!

anastasia said...

you could have been talking about me there. or i could have been writing just that entry!

if i dont write down as i eat i know i will "forget". it's like "well it doesn't count cos it's only....>insert food here<" but it does all add up.

ice-cream bad no matter whether it's low fat or not. cos it always makes you want more of them. i'm like that with chocolate so now i just don't touch it at all.

Lynne said...

Yes, I too have these days when I think I was STELLAR diet-wise and then I start writing and adding and remembering and before you know it I have surpassed my allotment for the day! I did it this Sunday. It makes me mad. It makes me realize that I NEED to write as I eat and I NEED to do it every single day if I am going to succeed.

Now you know too Lyn. SO get back to it. I am routing for you!!

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts -- I know you weren't crazy about some of the suggestions in the recent book you reviewed by Judith Beck. I know that her approach may not be for everyone, but my own successful weight loss has occurred ONLY when I planned the night before or in the morning what I would eat each day and kept track of what I put in my body. Sounds like you do that to some extent, but also sound like you leave yourself a fair amount of flexibility in what you will have from meal to meal. One other comment for your consideration -- I see when your readers write in suggestions, you often write back something along the lines of "thank you very much for the comments, but I know what I am doing, and I will figure this out on my own." I don't want to be critical (God knows how hard and personal this struggle is), but I also think it's a turning point when you realize that whatever it is you are doing is not working for you and consider taking some different approach. Good luck getting back on track!

somebodys mother said...

Yes,the basic is more calories out than in. It's getting rid of all the mental obstructions that keep me from really focusing on the true picture of what I'm eating. Something you mentioned in your post struck and chord with me and at first I did not know why. "I remembered, suddenly, how I had eaten one and thought it wan't very good. And the next day I was craving one again. . ." I had never realized that I do that too. I've been pondering this since yesterday and have had more questions come up than answers. Why do I crave something that wasn't that good? Why do I keep eating food that has a sub-par flavor when I am more easily satisfied (amount/calorie-wise)by better tasting food?
I guess these are questions that I have to find the answers for so I can continue to work on my relationship with food.
Thanks for the food for thought.

Lyn said...


I think you'er right on with the pre-planning. That's one great thing I have taken from these comments... I am going to plan ahead more often.

But yeah, I do often say, thanks for the comments but no thanks. Usually, I have already tried most of the things people suggest, such as Atkins, South Beach, etc, and after over a decade of "dieting" I feel I have *finally* found what DOES work for me. Mindful eating, focus on produce, and calorie counting works for me... the hang up, here, is the binge problem. I'm still working on that, but I am going to stick to my basic plan (with some tweaking) until the weight is all off.

Pandora said...


Hang in there, you have done remarkably,and keep sticking to it, which is the most important thing of all.

Our bodies are not simple machines. While 3500 calories may in fact be the mathematical equation for a pound, in fact our bodies like to store food if we think we won't get enough, and actually if we eat too many calories (in the very short term) will burn a few extra to maintain equilibrium. (Which is why maintaining weight at the top is so much easier than maintaining as you lose, it isn't just the change in calories, it is all those empty fat cells, which NEVER disappear, and which mistakenly believe they ought to be full.)

I don't remember if this was one of your healthy habits, but I suspect that writing down every bite might help. I've been doing a lot of reading and research and apparently that is the "habit" which has the highest correlation with long term weight loss success...writing down every bite!

I completely empathize with your struggles. I've been there. My choice has been therapy to deal with some of this, my therapist and I talked about the absolutely mindless and driven quality towards food at certain moments. For what it is worth, I'm discovering that if I can force myself to have some protein it seems to interrupt the frenzy.

Meanwhile, please remember that a lot of us care about you. I wish I could give you a hug, I'm sending good wishes.


Anonymous said...

this is one of the absolute BEST blog posts I have ever read. It's like you *know* me......

Keep up the great work. :)
Theresa in Canada