I sat here this morning, drinking my Medifast shake from a box, and I wondered if my life would ever stop being so food-centric. I thought about how I seem to be addicted, not just to sugary fatty salty processed junk food, but to *thinking* about food in a somewhat obsessive way all the time. When I am "dieting," it is the calories, fat, carbs, protein, portion sizes and meal times I obsess about. When I am bingeing, it is the planning, shopping, food variety, eating, and remorse-cycle that consumes me. When I am doing the whole "lifestyle" thing, the very mindset and planning and extreme focus on healthy eating and exercise becomes my drink. I think, nowadays, the thought process and use of "food thoughts" as distraction and diversion is more of the problem than the actual food is.
I seem to have broken my eating patterns into three planes.
One: The Binge Mindset
This is the way I was living much of the time between 1998 and 2007. I ate a lot of the tastiest foods I could find. I ate them in a frenzy, for many reasons: numbing, pleasure, self-destruction, anxiety, and indulgence. I ate so often that is was rare for me to feel even remotely hungry. I think, underlying all this frantic eating was a panic about the way my life was going, a sense of everything being out of control, and a very real fear of facing what life was giving me. While I do not live this way anymore, I get snippets of it in my life every so often, like when I "go off plan" and buy a pint of ice cream and a donut and eat it all in one evening.
Two: The Weight Loss Mindset
This is how I have eaten most of the time since August 2007. It doesn't matter so much whether I am eating a plan based on fruits, veggies, protein and whole grains or a plan made of protein shakes, bars, measured vegetables and weighed meats. Regardless of whether I am counting calories, watching portions, doing lots of exercise, doing South Beach or Medifast or some other lower carb plan, this mindset is more productive but still a bit obsessive. I obsess less about the actual food, but more about the method, the scale, and the process of losing (and/or gaining) weight.
Three: My Idealistic Plan for the Future
I see it in my mind's eye. It is confirmed and supported by lots of scientific research. It is the plan Medifast recommends after transitioning off their foods, with my own added ideal of eating mainly local, organic, free range, grass fed, in-season foods. It is how I have always pictured my eating after I am done with weight loss. I have eaten this way *during* weight loss as well, at various stages. I imagine it vividly: I drink lots of green tea, and no sodas, diet or otherwise. I avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague. Sugar never crosses my lips. I am satisfied with the sweetness of fresh local fruits, relish the indulgence of organic locally grown vegetables, and partake of moderate portions of grass fed meats and wild caught salmon and hormone free unhomogenized milk. I eat nuts and seeds and healthy fats and I am happy and skipping along la la la with a sky blue frilly lace dress flouncing about my waist and a hand-woven basket full of just-picked wildflowers over my arm. Okay, well, you get the picture. And it is idealistic. And yet I have always wanted it and imagined it and even lived it for days or weeks.
But not months. Because...
Four: Can I Ever Just Eat a Darned Snickers?
No matter what I do, it always comes back to me wanting the same processed, fatty foods. Not all the time, but once in awhile, I want to have some chips and dip or a hot dog or a candy bar. I know they are not nutritious. I know some of these foods are difficult if not impossible for me to eat in moderation. Yet I want it to be true. I want to be able to have pizza on a Friday night with my family or go to a friend's house and enjoy a piece of lasagna and garlic bread without feeling like I am committing some kind of sin. Yes, I *know* food is not immoral and there is nothing evil about eating any particular thing. I am forever getting comments from people telling me to go ahead and have one piece of cake and enjoy it, because it is okay to have a piece of cake once in awhile. But they don't understand I do not eat A PIECE of cake. I am never ever satisfied with A PIECE of cake. I want more, and if I don't have it (out of manners or unavailability) then the next day I end up buying a cake and eating half of it myself.
Yet I still want this to be true. I keep wondering if there is just some way I can fix myself and be normal again. I wonder if I just relaxed and let it be and let go of the emotional attachments I have to food, maybe I wouldn't be so obsessed. I wonder if I could just quit worrying about it and eat without thinking about it or micromanaging it but not gain weight. I always come back to the same foods that I *want.* Most of them are foods from childhood: pasta dishes, cranberry bread, cheese soup, salad with bacon and blue cheese dressing on it. Is it awful that I can't let go of the cranberry bread that my Dad used to make and I wonder if I will ever reach and maintain my goal weight because I cannot stay low carb on a day I eat a slice of cranberry bread?
I don't want to give up toast forever. I like pancakes and English muffins. I like having a nice piece of pie once in awhile. But this stuff, it doesn't fit into my idealistic plan for the future. And I am not sure how to reconcile the fact that I want a Snickers once in awhile with the plan to eat low carb, healthy, natural foods.
The logical answers are:
A) You have to give them up. Sorry, you just cannot handle cake/candy/cranberry bread. It's like an alcoholic. One drink is too many and 100 is not enough. May as well accept it and move on.
B) You can find a way to eat some junk food and higher carb food moderately. You can eat your idealistic plan most of the time, and the other stuff occasionally. Maybe 90/10 or something.
So that's what I've been thinking about. And to tell you the truth, that is something I have thought about every time I have gone off plan and eaten some crappy piece of junk I wished I hadn't over the past few years. I sit down and eat a donut and I wonder if I will ever have another donut again. I wonder if I am going to have to give them up completely. And it bugs me, and I think about peanut butter cups, and I have one, just in case I have to give them up and never have them again. I eat it, I savor it, I soak up every nuance of its flavor and texture and try to remember every second of the experience and I mourn while I eat it because it just might be the very last time. And then I do it again the next time I have one.
For now, I tell myself "maybe someday, but not now." I have to focus on the weight loss if that is still what I want. And honestly, if I could eat a moderate healthy diet and still have some donuts or cupcakes here and there, and stay around 185 pounds forever, I would be very tempted to do it. I am comfortable and happy for the most part with this weight. But I know for my health's sake, more has to come off... for my knees, for my heart, and to help lower the cancer risk. So I keep going.
I will figure it out. It just takes time.
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