Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thinking Is Not Doing

Awhile back, I made a note to myself, as I often do when something occurs to me that I want to ponder later. The note says, "When I think about food, I feel like a failure." Ouch.

It's true, and never more vividly true to me than yesterday. I ate a totally healthy, appropriate, veggie-filled meal plan all day yesterday with no slip ups (as you know if you saw my meals on Twitter). It was the best eating day I have had in awhile... moderate in calories, rich in nutrition, and sure to lead to a downward weight trend if repeated often enough. I was flying high!

After my healthy dinner, I started getting huge cravings for junk. At first it was just bread. Nice soft whole wheat bread with just a smear of real butter couldn't hurt, could it? I was making one for my daughter and it smelled divine. But I didn't eat one, because I knew it would lead to wanting more, and I wanted to be done for the day. Then I wanted ice cream. I wanted to walk to 7-11 and get an ice cream bar so bad, but instead we walked to the park to play. At the park, I felt unhappy. I felt like I was "off plan." In fact, I felt like I had EATEN the bread and ice cream. Disappointed in myself. I sat moping in the grass while my kids played. When I got home, I was still having major cravings. I briefly considered making some kind of pumpkin dessert or mixing cocoa with butter and brown sugar and pretending it was brownie batter and eating it straight from the bowl, but I dismissed that idea rather quickly. Then I wanted a heaping bowl of cereal with honey drizzled all over it. Or two bowls. Instead I had another bowl of ultra-healthy Veggie Cereal (and was probably better off from eating that than if I hadn't eaten it! More low cal, nutritious veggies.) The cravings pretty much went away but I still felt really bummed out.

I sat and thought about it and that sentence from the note from a long time ago came back to me: when I *think* about food, I feel like a failure. Bingo! It's true! My brain somehow takes the cravings and the desires and the *thinking* about eating a lot and turns it into an *event.* I actually get discouraged and think, "well I am not doing so good anyway, I may as well eat some cookies too." Weird!

It's happened before. I noticed it when I would have one of those days when I feel obsessed with food. It's not like that ALL the time, but some days, it's a real battle to get all the wrong foods out of my head. And I would get to afternoon and think, "Oh my gosh, I have eaten SO much today and screwed everything up and there is NO WAY to salvage this day into a good day, so I may as well order pizza and breadsticks and chicken wings and then go to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream after dinner and then I will start again tomorrow." But on this journey, I usually count calories. And wisely, sometimes, on days like that, I tell myself I need to sit down and log my calories and SEE how I am doing. Often, I'd sit down ready to see some horrendous number of calories I have consumed for the day and be stunned to see some reasonable number like 800 or 1000 (pre-dinner). And then I'd go, "Huh. I thought I ate way more than that, but I guess I just *thought* about food way more than that."

It's ultra important to me to change old habits and thought patterns into ones more conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Aside from the mistaken labeling of self as "failure" because of ANYTHING one eats (because that's kinda ridiculous IMO and a whole new topic for another post), the confusion of fantasy and reality is a problem. Because if you base your feelings about yourself AND your future actions on a false belief, you'll get stuck in a crazy cycle of eating healthy -> thinking of junk food -> feeling guilty -> *really* eating junk -> feeling worse -> not trying anymore. And we don't want that.

I've spent a lot of time examining my thoughts and feelings as I change my life, and this one is, I think, a breakthrough. In the case of any detrimental behavior, you can stop the cycle by changing just one reaction... one link... in the chain. For example in this case I could stop the cycle by not thinking about junk food... maybe by distracting myself or keeping busy. I think I have finally broken the chain in another way, though. I stopped the cycle at the "feeling guilty" stage, because now that I am *aware* of that silly reaction, I've changed it.

Thoughts before:
I feel like a failure. I probably ate way too much today. I may as well go get some candy bars and start again tomorrow. I feel like crap.

Thoughts now:
I feel like a failure, but I know I actually ate really healthy today. Look at all the vegetables and fruits I ate. And I stayed within my calorie level, too. It's not a sin to think about indulging. Thinking about cake won't make me fat. Thoughts have no calories. I had a successful day! I am proud of myself for not giving in to cravings. I am a good person regardless of what I eat, and I am also a fit person FOR THIS DAY because I ate healthy, and I exercised. I am on the right path to weight loss and I am so glad!

Those thoughts will lead to actions.

Actions before:
Eat a load of junk and go to bed disgusted with myself.

Actions now:
Have a pleasant, relaxing evening, brush my teeth, get to bed early and feel happy that I am one day closer to reaching my fitness goals.

We have to remember that it's ACTIONS that change our lives, not thoughts. Thoughts are nice... they are great. And they can *lead* to actions. But in and of itself, a thought is not an action. Thinking of eating a pizza won't make you fat, anymore than thinking of jogging 5 miles will help you lose weight. Doing is the key.

Just for one day, get outside your head. Pay attention to what you are actually *doing.* Did you sit on the couch all day thinking about exercising, considering taking a walk, eating bon bons while thinking you should be eating a salad? Well, erase the thoughts and just look at the actions. Say it. "I sat on the couch all day eating bon bons." The thoughts don't really count. Not on your body, anyway.

Take today, and just DO. Do something good. You'll be happier when you go to bed tonight! Today is all you really have to work with.


annie benny said...

You are such a good writer! Thank God you share your experiences here, so I can read your blog and feel that someone understands what I'm going through. I'll take you as my teacher and we will lose our weight together. Love, Ana

Pubsgal said...

(((hug))) It's so hard when obsessive food thoughts seize us.

Here's an idea that might make your resistance accomplishment feel even more concrete: as you think of food, jot down what you're thinking about, and estimate the amount you would have eaten of it. Then, as people do in meditation, let the thought go; one way to do this is to say quietly to yourself, "thinking," and then visualize the thought as a bubble floating away. (Sounds a little corny, I know, but it can be a very effective technique.) Later, when you're not in the grip of the cravings, calculate the calories of what you *didn't* eat, and you'll have a list and a number to compare with the great stuff you did fuel your body with that day.

Melanie said...

Very thought-provoking. I love your post today. I will have to watch myself and see if I do that negative self-talk.
I love your title too. IF thinking really was doing, I, and millions of others, would be at our ideal weight already. Before I started on this journey, I would think about exercising every single day--almost as soon as my eyes popped open in the morning. But every day, I allowed life to get in the way of my goals.
I'm changing one day at a time now.
Thanks for your insight; that was very helpful.

Shelley said...

I do that too...get down on myself just for thinking about certain foods. This is such a mental game - and one that I don't know all the rules yet!

Great post!

Lea said...

While I check your blog daily, I have never commented before now. I have to commend you; your blog is the most-real account I've ever read of the struggle that many people have with weight loss and what I think of as emotional eating. Your postings have opened my eyes to the nature of my own overeating and made me much more receptive to and aware of the reasons I eat when I don't need to and eat the wrong sorts of things.

This posting in particular really hit home with me. Last week I saw an episode of the new series "Obsessed" on A&E. Each episode follows the lives of 2 people as they undergo behavioral therapy to treat their obsessive thoughts and actions. In this particular episode, the therapist told the patient, "you can't control your thoughts, but you can control your actions". That was sort of a light bulb moment for me in terms of my eating habits. Your post today has reinforced that for me, and I just want you to know that your reflections are helping a world of people in addition to your own self-discovery and journey toward increased health! Thanks!


spunkysuzi said...

I wish i had read this last night!!

bbubblyb said...

Great post Lyn and so very very true. I think we all have those days of thinking about food constantly. It really is about our actions and not letting our thoughts get in the way. This is definitely a mental game.

anne h said...

These crappy thoughts of failure and self-doubt come and go...That is not the real problem. For me, the REAL problem is HOW I RESPOND TO THEM. I am learning to watch my "ego" thoughts come and go. And remind myself "it's just a thought!"
Peace to you! And all of us as we learn together!

Vickie said...

Your posting made me think of others that I have read where people DREAM (at night) that they have eaten something.

They describe the the same type of negative feelings that you wrote (your thinking brings on) - feeling like you really did it - when you only thought about it.

I can see the logging your food is a huge (positive) factor in this - because then you are dealing with science/facts. It is like grounding or centering yourself.

Winderdoodle said...

Excellent post. I know exactly where you're coming from with this one. It takes a lot of work to change our past thinking but it's possible! Good job.

~ Wendy

Tina said...

Lyn, you mentioned in a post a long time ago about "thinking" you ruined your day and when you actually counted up the calories, you still had plenty left for dinner. That resonated with me so much that I think about you and that post every time I feel that way. Thank you so much for being such an inspiration and a brilliant writer!

Anonymous said...

this post truly gave me flashbacks of my early sober days. months after getting sober from alcohol any time id go out and cut loose and have a fun, spontaneous time, the next morning i would feel guilt for absolutely nothing. it just felt dangerous to be so happy and free. it passed in time as the years went by, but it was very powerful reaction, even eliciting nightmares of relapse occasionally.

this really shows how critical your plan is to you, and how utterly devoted you are to saving your health and your happiness. good things all!!!

i document my eating everyday, except cheat days. mayhap im in that mode as you are. hmmmmmm.

Megan said...

Great post and great work yesterday. I think that losing weight the right way (and I mean anyway that involves really processing your thoughts, feelings, and habits)does mean we don't always see those huge consistent scale drops, but it does mean we'll be healthier better maintainers. I write all my food down in a little black book and if you were a fly on my wall you would see me run (literally) to it like a drowning man to a life raft when I get that 'screw it I probably ruined today anyways' feeling. It really is my anchor in that way. Congrats on the progress! I'm really rooting for you.

Fat[free]Me said...

How funny the way our minds play such tricks on us. It really is a brain game this diet malarkey!

Hanlie said...

I love how you are working things out as you go along... I was just talking about the same thing on my blog today. I've now reached a point in my journey where I've traditionally failed in the past. But this time I'm better equipped to deal with it and am pushing through that mental barrier.

You're doing great!

Anonymous said...

Great post. It had me thinking, I often feel "failed" if I do one "non-perfect" thing in a day. Even if it really isn't even a bad thing at all, it's just something I was avoiding. Like just now, I had half a cup of rice.
I feel irritated because I shouldn't have had white, sticky rice. It's a comfort food to me because I grew up eating it every sing day of my life.
Then I think - Seriously, woman. You had a couple ounces of chicken and measured perfectly 1/2 cup of rice and the lightest drizzle of soysauce.
It's not "bad" and certainly doesnt deserve that feeling I'm giving myself.
On a bad note, you said cereal with honey on top. I've never had this, never even heard of it and BOY does it sound great. ARGH!!! haha...

antgirl said...

Most of what we need is about conquering our own thoughts. Those are major NSVs. :)

Jenn said...

I sometimes feel the same way. Even though I don't eat something, I feel bad for even thinking about eating it. I think it dives into the greater issues of our weight problems. What drives us to want to eat? Why are we looking for food to make us feel better?
This was a great, thought-provoking post. I'm glad you know that it's okay to think about food, and that you shouldn't feel bad because of it.

South Beach Steve said...

This is something I think many of us struggle with - something that can really keep us trapped where we are. We all just have to keep in mind that it isn't thinking about food that made us what we are, it is eating it that did. Great post.

VeeGettingHealthy said...

I LOVE that... going to post it on my blog: thinking about indulging has NO calories! Vee at

Crabby McSlacker said...

Interesting that you were punishing yourself for your thoughts by feeling badly, when your actions were totally virtuous!

I'm the opposite... I naturally give myself a huge pat on the back when I resist temptation, like I get EXTRA credit for good behavior if I was seriously tempted to do something I'd regret.

Good for you for realizing that and changing your thoughts!

Honib1 said...

as always your post is right on target... excellent.. self talk is everything.. even though often times we let it scream in our heads things we would never say to another human being.. yet we so freely do it to ourselves.. bravo on understanding that side of you.. and realizing that healthy fuel for your body leads to an over all more healthy you!!

Kerri said...

Awesome post and so very insightful! Its hard to push past the thoughts and actions that brought us all to this place...and to create the new ones that will in turn make and keep us successful

Heather said...

I go through periods where I think about food a lot and I get scared that it means that I dont have any control over food. but then I realize that I do, that its just thinking, and that it usually passes. I know when the thoughts pop up - when Im bored, stressed, wanting to celebrate something. they always leave and then I feel good that they were just thoughts. nothing wrong with dreaming about a pizza or ice cream at all!

Leisia said... took the words right out of my head. I love the way you write so well the feelings that others can't even put into words. I am the same way with cravings and it makes me so angry with myself. I try not to be so weak to my thoughts but it gets really hard to do.

PamW said...

The last few lines of your post really hit home. I spend a lot of time thinking about my plan and not much time actually doing it. Today I really needed the reminder that thinking does not equal doing. Thinking about 30 minutes on my bike or treadmill does not equal calories burned. I spend time doing the math of how long it will take to lose 100 pounds at 1 or 2 or 3 pounds per week when what I need to do is get up and move and burn calories. Thinking does not equal doing. Wow, my new mantra. Thanks Lyn for the kick in the butt. I needed that!

BiggestLoserBoise said...

Thank you for this post! It really helped me get out of my chair and get moving. I was thinking of working out... but I need to ACTUALLY work out to get results.

Love your blog! :)