Dieting, Isolation and Criticism’s Self-Doubt

One of the interesting symptoms of OCD is the need for reassurance. You seek it from yourself or others. I think this one symptom, which I never realized I did until the past year, can be crippling. I feel like it’s somewhat rooted in self-doubt and lack of confidence. But, also anxiety and the need to be perfect.

I have sought reassurance in many areas of my life. People sometimes see it as my ability to be honest and even vulnerable. But, really, it’s just seeking reassurance I’ve done or said the right thing. Or am justified in being frustrated, standing up for myself, or setting boundaries. Strangely, generally my intuition is spot on. Yet, somehow it never reassures me enough to not need reassurance the next time!

Diet and exercise can be a somewhat isolating experience. When I first got into working out, I was one of my few friends and family who did so regularly. Others either didn’t understand it or mocked it. When I started running, really no one I knew ran. There were a few “fun runs” but mostly they were just 5K races (or marathons) that were meant for charity purposes. Maybe for illness research or an occasional, rare holiday race. Now, there’s almost TOO MUCH connectivity for me.

When I first started working out, I wished a friend or two did my workouts so we could talk about them. I stumbled upon a chat room for the set of workouts I did, and it was fantastic. Well, until the diet talk started and I realized I wasn’t dieting “correctly.” But that connection with virtual friends who could discuss the workouts, offer suggestions for a struggle, or ideas for making a workout more challenging was fantastic for me. The diet stuff eventually made me feel a lot of doubt. And I started limiting how I talked about food.

Now there are an endless number of ways to connect about a diet or workout. But those groups, in my opinion, are steeped in judgement and competition. People seeing who can be the best, do more, or pick apart others. Unfortunately, I never feel adequate. And I also feel the extreme dieting, which I used to never know about, is EVERYWHERE. And competitive exercising, who can lift more, run farther or faster, do more pullups, do more deadlifts, deadlift more, deadlift faster. It’s endless.

So how do you find the support group you need? I’m not sure. I really struggle with finding healthy connection, and even question WHY I need it at all. Why can’t I put my head down and just do what I enjoy? A variety of workouts, not one specific plan. A variety of food, not one specific plan. It’s like I need reassurance I’m doing it right or well enough.

In fact, writing this post, and the entirety of this blog is my need for reassurance. It’s as if I feel like I push the idea out into the great wide abyss, it somehow validates I’m doing the right thing.

But the other side of things is I know there’s no one way to be healthy. I’ve preached this since I found my way out of the paleo rabbit hole. I know some people can probably do paleo OK, eliminating the foods that bother them, and not getting extreme or judgmental. In fact, as part of my attempt to “immerse” myself in some triggering environments, I went to a paleo group today. I expected it to be worse than it was. There are always some level-headed people in every group. But also some judgmental assholes. When I’m not in a certain way of eating, I can see the level-headed people for the real leaders in the group, and the assholes as the unhappy progress killers. (This is not unlike work. The encouraging people who want progress are the natural leaders. And the people who judge everyone or make it harder than it needs to be are the ones the leaders have to lead.) It’s interesting those assholes have louder voices I give more credence to when I’m not just a casual observer. Good takeaway.

However, it seems no matter what I do, I need someone to tell me I’m doing a good job. I’m going to work more on reassuring MYSELF. Not by doing checking or reading to reassure me, but simply appreciating the things I’ve wanted to do that I’m doing. For example, I’ve been walking 2-3 miles most days. That was my general plan: walk 2-3 miles most days. So on days I walk, I need to be proud of my accomplishment and say, “Good job, me!” On days I don’t walk at all (unusual) I need to say good job for taking a break and not burning out. On days I walk but don’ t go two miles, I need to realize my goal was MOST DAYS. And walking even a mile is an accomplishment. And no matter what I do, I’m still walking 2-3 miles most days. So great work!

Same with diet. But it’s far more complicated to be as clear with my goal. since setting food goals is harder, but also induces more and more complexity and obsession. So I’ve started to set less “this is good, do this so may times” and work toward intuitive eating. Right now, the things I’m working on:

  1. Be aware when I’m talking diet rhetoric to myself. Counting calories, thinking a food I want is “bad,” or trying to eat less. Simply acknowledge these thoughts and let them go.
  2. Eating for satisfaction. What will satisfy me the most? This isn’t about eating protein to stay full. It’s being aware when I am hungry (or full), and thinking about what will satisfy me. I also have to be aware of NOT eating when I just want to eat something I’d planned to eat. This can be more complicated as I prepare more and more foods I want to try or am looking forward to. But I’m working toward simply eating when I’m hungry, and only eating the meal that sounds satisfying.
  3. Branch away from “weight loss foods.” For example, I used to try to eat the lowest calorie thing, even if it didn’t taste good. And often those foods didn’t satisfy me. Instead, I’m trying to be more adventurous with cooking, or even eating out. Try new dishes, and explore different cultures. It’s hatch chili season, so I bought some chilis, and made some dishes this weekend. I also wanted to try making gyoza, so I put together some gyoza this weekend. I also want to make falafel. So I’ve researched some recipes and want to make falafel, fattoush salad and tzaziki.  I’m excited to try new, interesting foods. So sometimes this makes me want to eat even when I’m not hungry. But being intuitive about it, realizing the food won’t disappear tomorrow if I don’t eat them today, and that it’s OK to make foods, not like them, and move on without being a failure. Often a whole recipe is cheaper than a single dish at a nice restaurant. If I ordered a restaurant dish and didn’t like it, I’d move on. So I’m trying to explore more, take more risks, and really enjoy eating again.

Right now, these are my goals. A few of my “friends” mocked my attempt to eat intentionally. Saying intuitive eating is just another diet scam, and the only way to lose is to exercise more, and eat less. But, let’s be honest, that’s a short term solution, at best. So why not try something new? Why not try some variety? Why not really try to eat things that are satisfying in my soul?

The hardest part is going it alone. Having a hard time connecting with others over my journey. But just as I’ve chosen a life single, rather than getting married and having children, and have had several jobs that I’m the only one in the role, often charting a path that’s better than the person who gave me the job saw, I truly enjoy those journeys. So, why can’t I can also take this path alone? Friends who are real friends will be excited I’m trying more adventurous foods. I’ll keep moving forward, keep adapting and changing, and I have faith that I will eventually find my way. Despite feeling more isolated. And I’ll overcome my self-doubt and work to quell the need for reassurance.

 

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Intuitive Eating – The Diet That Worked

I started working through an intuitive eating workbook this week. The workbook is actually fairly consumable, though some of the tasks don’t tie into explanations. My OCD wants to know what it means when I write about or mark things down. That said, the first chapter had a few great insights. The first one that totally changed my perspective was thinking about a diet or diets that worked. Then the workbook challenges whether it actually did if you gained the weight back. There was even an exercise where you write down all of your diets you’ve ever done, and the results. I was surprised how challenging this was, even considering I was late to the dieting game. I didn’t go on my first diet until AFTER college. Many women started dieting before they were even teenagers!

At first, I thought a calorie in, calorie out diet was the one “that worked.” But as I worked through my dieting timeline, I lost weight and gained it back surprisingly quickly (in the big scheme of things). I was actually in a good routine in 2004-2005 before I let work take over my life. I think I’d lost and kept of weight for about 2 years at that point, and I remember struggling when I HAD to give up working out because work and school (mostly work, school was doable before this point) meant it was either workout or sleep. Quite literally. I was working around 100 hours a week and going to school. I was working seven days a week. I also stopped bringing lunches to work and making dinners at the same time. I remember how stressful it was to give up that workout time, and how much I felt like I was wasting money at that time, eating out so much. I’d never eaten out that much in my life.

Unfortunately, that set a new standard. Now I eat out that much without much thought. And I still think it’s a waste of money, but for some reason care far less. The future me who would like to retire early is annoyed by current me! :)

That said, at that point, I was only about two years into working out fairly regularly. I was in a good routine. I’d found workouts at home I liked, workouts at the Y I’d do by myself or with a few friends, and I was going for short runs a few times a week when nothing else sounded fun or I wanted a quick workout.

My food was mostly what sounded good, but I was cooking most of it. I did count up calories, but at that point, I was dabbling in figuring out how to reduce calories in a portion while being as satisfied (or more satisfied!), but still enjoying the foods I really liked occasionally: pizza, Mexican and Italian food, etc. I was also enjoying my 20s, having plenty of social drinks. In other words, I was preparing foods I liked because I liked them better than frozen meals. I would dink around with alternatives in ingredients to eat more vegetables IF the meal was still enjoyable (if it wasn’t, I didn’t force it). For example, I might add some finely chopped cauliflower tops. But I wouldn’t add the stems. I might julienne some spinach, but I wasn’t trying to shove a whole container of spinach in a dish. I was learning I really loved tomatoes and bell peppers in dishes. And that one potato or one serving of rice was as satisfying in a pot of soup as four potatoes or three servings of rice.

It was more of a fact finding mission – what do I like? What don’t I miss? What do I miss? If I missed it, I went back to it. For example, I never minded 2% cheese or lean meats. But I didn’t like MOST thin soups (so I needed a flour thickener). I could add some cauliflower or broccoli if I used just the tops and diced it finely. Adding huge chunks of either wasn’t my thing. Adding a little bit of sour cream, cream cheese or even Velveeta made a dish that was just OK, delicious. I needed about 1/4th of the sauce many dishes called for. But liked double the cheese. I loved a hint (or more than a hint) of spice in most things. I disliked a hint of sweet in most things. I liked to have meat in most dishes, but actually preferred about 1/2 of the amount most recipes called for. These were all simply preferences, and I didn’t really mark them as good or bad. They were more attempts to figure out what I REALLY liked. Where I could compromise without feeling like I was, and where a compromise was really forcing myself to eat things I didn’t care for, and therefore weren’t satisfying.

The problem is, once I got into Paleo, many of the things I used to do were now no-nos. I not only couldn’t use 98% fat free cream of chicken anymore, I couldn’t use that or ANY canned foods anymore. And the homemade items were a lot of work, often weren’t as good, and were SUPER caloric. Same thing with Velveeta or American cheese. Such great items I used to add a small amount to a large dish for some creaminess that melted like magic, and now I had to use full fat cheese that didn’t melt as well, and the result was gloopy or gloppy or grainy or stringy. I used to eat a few pieces of peanut butter toast and a grapefruit with a sprinkle of cheese for breakfast. Now ALL of these things were EVIL. Peanuts were a legume, gluten was the devil’s work, and a sprinkle of sugar meant insta-cancer.

And, unfortunately, I feel like it’s impossible to flip that switch back. I went down the Paleo rabbit hole, and it’s hard to escape that mindset. The Internet compounds this. So many Judgmental Joes and Judys out there. Using terms like ‘chemical shitstorm” or “cancer causer” or “inflammation nightmare.” And, even now that I avoid EVERYTHING Paleo or even tangentially connected to Paleo, “those people” are now everywhere. I’m convinced I’m surrounded by Orthorexia, only most people haven’t come to terms with their issues. Generally you’d think avoiding a general comments section of a news story or recipe would be enough to avoid people acting like this, but there are also posts and comments by “friends” or friends of “friends.” It’s tough to navigate. Do I need to avoid this pervasive culture? Or need to live in it, and be impervious to it?

Part of the OCD stuff I’ve been reading says to get immersed in it and become less sensitive to it. So I’m considering immersing myself in Paleo “stuff.” Reading their rhetoric and all of the comments, even joining Paleo groups on Facebook. Reading the messages everyday, and not responding at all. Not only reading and not typing a response, but reading, and not FEELING a reaction. Right now, that feels nearly impossible. But why do I need others to know they’re wrong? Part of OCD is a need to be reassured. Either by another person or through doing things. So in theory, could I really immerse myself in this stuff and keep telling myself, “That’s diet rhetoric?” It’s scary but makes me feel like it might help. Get in there, don’t try to fix it, but lean into the feelings until they aren’t triggering anymore. (Right now, I read Paleo sludge and it makes me feel anxious, my  heart races, I feel defensive, and my instinct is to comment or turn away entirely and look for reassurance from someone. It feels scary to intentionally immerse myself in that toxic culture again. But maybe the fear is the reason I need to do it.)

The other thing I do now is I pre-eat to avoid being too hungry and over-eating. Or being too hungry to get done what needs to get done. For example, if I’m off work for a week, just hanging out at home, I tend to eat whenever I feel like it. I might get up and do stuff around the house for a few hours, then eat when I’m hungry, and eat what sounds good. Then maybe not eat again until mid afternoon, or have a few small things throughout the day. And then end the day with whatever sounds good. During the week, I feel super structured. I tend to try to “meal plan” which works for many people because they can plan their calories or carbs or overall macros. But, for me, this sort of planning makes me eat when I’m not hungry, and eat things that don’t sound good or aren’t satisfying, leaving me to want to over-eat (or even eat again) later. During time off work, I just eat when I’m hungry, whatever sounds satisfying. At work, I eat sometimes when I’m not hungry or because the meal meets a schedule. Or even as an excuse to take a break.

The other thing I do is wrap a lot of emotion in ordering food at a restaurant. Either I’m “on” or “off.” For example, if I’m “watching what I eat” I’ll put a large portion of the menu off limits. If I’m “off” I’ll hone in on the things that were formerly off the table as options. In both cases, I’m ordering based on emotion, rather than based on what truly sounds like it’s interesting or will satisfy me. I often eat thinking i want to stay full the rest of the day, or I don’t want to take a risk that something won’t be good.

Over this weekend, I’ve tried to be more mindful when I eat. What do I really want? Am I trying to over-fill so I stay full? Am I trying to eat the lowest calorie thing to try to come in short on calories and lose more faster? Am I feeling shame for what sounds good? If so, why? Are those feelings founded or diet rhetoric? Are they leftover Paleo guilt that isn’t grounded in anything worth listening to? I want to truly confront the FEELINGS around food. The shame, guilt, and nonsense. I have no idea how many calories I’m eating, even when my brain wants to automatically count calories. I’m also trying to allow myself to try new foods.

Foods from cultures I’m interested in. Or foods with flavor combinations I’m intrigued by. In some instances making things from scratch is worth it because of the resulting food. In other cases, that’s my Paleo obsessive behavior getting out. So if I want to make a new recipe, do I feel the compulsive need to make EVERYTHING from scratch? Or will it truly result in a better meal? For example, Mary Berry said she won’t ever make her own strudel dough. And often opts for premade puff pastry. Likewise, people from Asian cultures say they sometimes make their own dumpling or eggroll wrappers, but they don’t taste different than the premade ones, to they opt for the convenience. Why make things unnecessarily complicated?

I also really love soups and stews. I found through obsessive dieting that soups and stew CAN BE a way to stay full for fewer calories. So when I want to make a soup, is it an attempt to cut calories? If so, will that soup really satisfy me? Or, if I truly want the soup, then make the soup!

Some of the voices are loud, pervasive, and overwhelming. But the ones I know will be the hardest to confront and change will be the quieter voices I’m almost not aware of. Similar to body positive movement where you don’t even feel yourself picking apart tiny things.

I’ve also tried to watch food ads and ask how it makes me FEEL emotionally, and if I’ve had the food, how the food tastes. I’ve found some commercials for sweet foods, which admittedly,  aren’t usually my thing, trigger some sort of rebellious happiness as I see them. But when I think about eating the food, they’re cloyingly sweet. For example, ice cream filled with candy bars, they always SOUND enticing, but when I think about actually eating them, they’re super-sweet. Yet, somehow when I purchase those foods, they taste sweet and I keep eating them. On the other hand, strawberry, lemon or some sort of spice ice cream? It looks good, tastes good, sounds good. And I don’t need a lot to be satisfied by it. But the overly sweet stuff, I eat a lot more, and it never quite hits the spot. It makes sense when it’s something you really like, you feel satisfied. But why, when it’s something I like far less, am I both not satisfied by it, and also can’t walk away from it? I guess because I’m never satisfied, it’s never enough to satisfy me, but I think eventually it will? Maybe it’s like dating the wrong person but never leaving.

These are all wrapped in diets of the past. And there are so many things to unwind. The first was realizing I’ve NEVER been on a diet that “works” as I’ve never had any sort of long-term success. I was often restricting and eating things I didn’t care for and didn’t satisfy me. Or limiting foods that would satisfy me. Or forcing myself to eat foods that not only aren’t satisfying, but I just plain don’t like.

The first step was accepting diets haven’t done me ANY good. The second step is realizing how much diet rhetoric is around me and controlling me (or making me feel guilt or shame). And the third step is starting to eat more intuitively. Stop judging or limiting foods. And, for me, stop eating on a controlled schedule or a controlled plan. Stop pre-eating to not be hungry at an inconvenient time, or becoming over-hungry and losing control. Eat when I’m hungry, eat to feel satisfied, and be aware of what I’m doing to try to game the system.

Intuitive Eating Meets Healthy Eating

First, the title of this post is tough for me. The word “healthy” is a bit of a trigger. As in the past, I tried to make ONLY healthy choices, or the healthiest choices, or eat healthy foods. The problem is, there is no one, true definition of health. At my work, there’s a vending machine with “whole grain” Poptarts and baked Doritos. And my coworkers call it a “healthy” vending machine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I care 0% if people eat chips or Poptarts. But don’t call these foods healthy. To me, it seems fairly clear those foods aren’t healthy. But part of my issue is using food to feel superior. I don’t WANT to feel superior, but correcting people that the vending machine isn’t healthy is almost a compulsion. One I’d like to stop. Why do I care what definition another person applies to healthy.

Side note: There is one really, really, really judgy woman at my work. She’s always talking about eating one healthy meal, going home and having lost two pounds, or talking about “eating crap” (herself or others), talking about how chubby her twelve year old daughter is (BTW when I met her daughter, I was shocked that’s how she described her, she seemed VERY average, even below average weight compared to many children that age). Anyway, she helped spearhead this vending machine, and she calls it healthy, so I think that’s why it triggers me so much. She throws her clearly dysfunctional food attitude around like it’s gospel. I wish she’d never talk about food again.

That aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about intuitive eating. And part of intuitive eating is letting that judgement and categorization fall aside. Let the shame of NOT eating healthy go. In theory, after eating what you want, give in to cravings, really start to eat when you’re hungry, what you’re hungry for, no foods are off limits. Work to take the “good” and “bad” labels off of food, you’ll stop ONLY wanting to eat the things you used to declare off limits or never eat. For me, some of those foods in the past have been french fries, non-low calorie bread, pizza, nachos, tacos, cheese dip, chips, etc. Other things on the “bad” list I’ve never really reintroduced are things like Poptarts, or even cream of anything soup. These types of more processed foods are so villainized, by so many factions of people, that I’d sort of just accepted them as so and avoid them. These are the things I’d put in a shopping cart and maybe hide under something else. Or I’d eat shamefully alone. I also feel similar levels of fear of judgement, shame while eating, and shame after eating for some of the other foods I’ve reintroduced. So I’ll eat them, but often wonder if I’m being judged. But I’ve done better reintroducing these foods. Even if they give me some anxiety while eating them.

As I’ve started to track foods again. And restrict some, even though I know I probably shouldn’t, I’m trying to find a good combination of eating what I want, not putting anything off limits, and eating a reasonable number of calories per day that keeps me from being endlessly hungry (like it or not, protein and fat does help fill me up, and carbs help satisfy me – so a good combination at each meal is the best match for me), help me feel good, and satisfy me.

Part of what I used to do was think I was eating this way for a short time. Then I was so anti-restricting and dieting, that I didn’t want to make any alternate choices. Now I’m to the point I’m trying to learn I can have cheese dip ANY time. And also trying to learn even though I CAN have it and the world won’t stop spinning, I shouldn’t have it all the time. For weight reasons, but also for health reasons. I’m trying to see the value in having a varied diet. But at the same time not FORCING any “healthy” foods. For example, I don’t like brussel sprouts. In the past, I’d force myself to eat them because of X, Y or Z nutritional reason. Now I refuse to do that. But I also went through a LONG phase of eating what sounded good, thinking eventually it would sort itself out. It never did. But I did realize when I’d eat with my parents, I was happy with meats, veggies and some bread, rather than pizza, burgers, fries and chips all the time.

So how do I add in some more balanced meals without feeling like it’s a requirement? My first instinct is to count “good” and “bad” meals, and set a goal. But I know that will quickly go bad. Wanting more and more and more and more perfect “good” meals. And I don’t want to qualify as good and bad. Then I think maybe I try to eat vegetables so many times per day or week, but that level of tracking and, again, good or bad grading, isn’t really where I want to go.

In fact, the coach I hired suggested I added some veggies to a meal (that already had veggies) and it was a horrible trigger. First, choose your battles, bro. Second, you don’t even know what’s in my meals. Third, I’ve eaten more veggies in the weeks since starting coaching that I can’t even compare “before” and “after.” But, mostly, I WILL NOT FORCE VEGETABLES AGAIN! It triggers my orthorexia, and I do not want to go back there. However, from a different perspective, when I’m thinking about what sounds good on days I’m NOT craving anything, I’ve been starting to consider whether a salad or maybe some broccoli sounds good. Sometimes it does, and I’ll order it. Sometimes NO vegetables or fruits sound good and I truly want chicken tenders and fries, so on those days, I go that direction and try to be observant of how I feel after (fine, as long as I don’t over-eat, btw), and how full I stay (very full, actually). And how the rest of my day goes (much better than forcing a salad down and not being satisfied, honestly). So it’s OK to have chicken tenders and fries if I really want them. But if steamed broccoli, grilled chicken and a salad sound good. Great! Have that! Or, some days, grilled chicken, broccoli and fries sound perfect. That’s great, too.

However, since I’ve been restricting by counting and trying to stay under a “goal” of calories, I’ve found more and more and more the vegetables sound less incing, and I start to feel ashamed not eating enough vegetables. Then I try to force them. Sometimes I’ll add a small salad to a meal and choke it down.

This is how I know what I’m doing now isn’t working. I’m considering, three months into this year long coach, just abandoning the coaching. Part of me feels like I’m running away and quitting. But I truly feel like he does not get food issues. You don’t make foods good or bad, but he does. You don’t make any sort of judgement statement surrounding food choices when things are going well. For example, if I’m making progress, don’t suggest I add more or take away something. Why not just let things keep moving forward. He never asks how I feel about the food. the problem is, I don’t think the company has any food issues coaches. So I could request another coach and go through more shame of feeling like it’s ME, when I don’t think it is me. Or I can keep working with this coach and lying (as I’m starting to do). Or i can walk away entirely, forfeit the money, and NEVER get a coach of any kind ever again. Probably the third choice is the healthiest for me right now. I need a break. I feel frustrated, tired, stressed, anxious. And now my weight has plateaued. And that’s adding more shame and stress to the mix. I keep trying to hit “reset” and can’t because I can’t get away from tracking.

The coach seems more concerned about probably marking some checklistof things he’s done than really understanding where I’m coming from. He thinks success means eat less, exercise more than you were. From a physical perspective, I’m sure this can essentially be broken down as such. But for someone withfood issues to have success, it’s not that simple. It’s more emotional than physical. It’s more emotional than logical. And it’s more balance than obsession and checklists and goals. And more and more and more and more and more.

I’m full of failure feelings. Full of shame. Starting to lie to others about what’s going on. Wanting to hide and eat and lie about it. I know I’m trying to escape and let the pressure evaporate. But I feel like if I walk away now, I’ll go on a food bender and lose any progress I’ve made. Then I’ll feel shame about that.

So what’s a better way forward? Unfortunately, I feel like with my coach, I HAVE to start lying about food. Bump up the vegetables, even when I’m not eating them. And level off my caloric intake. But then be honest with myself. (I realize this is sort of isolation that often comes with restricting. But I’d rather lie and NOT restrict. And get a break from the coach, who is only making things more obsessive at this point.)

I want to step back and instead of pre-planning days and food, I’ll be more in the moment with my options. If I bring lunch and it doesn’t sound good, evaluate why. Understand if I’m simply rebelling or if I’m craving something. If I’m craving it, is it a craving on repeat? If so, am I comforting something? I’ve found a lot of repeat cravings come from some sort of comfort. Almost like a security blanked or a warm bath. If I’m eating for comfort, why? Is it because I know the calories in a “bad” food (this is actually very common) and it’s a “safe cheat.” Or am I craving salty or crispy or some other flavor or texture? And if so, why?

I want to be more aware of my intentions with food. What’s really going on. Am I being “good” to feel superior? Or am I being “bad” to rebel because I’m frustrated or annoyed with the system? At any point have I said to myself, “I’d rather be fat than feel like this?” that’s usually the warning signal things are going sideways and I’m pushing something down. For example, I found myself saying I’d rather be fat than work with this coach anymore. But I’m too chicken to ask for another coach because:

  • I don’t want to be high maintenance
  • I don’t want to be mean
  • I don’t want to be a quitter
  • I don’t want to be weak
  • I don’t want to complain
  • I think I’m really worried the next coach will be worse. And I have no idea why I’m worried about this. If the next coach is “worse” then I can walk away from that. I think I think at that point it’s ME not them. But that’s not necessarily true. I think many people, like me, try to keep going even when it isn’t working. So just because these coaches have had success doesn’t mean the success is sustained.

I truly believe the things we complain about are generally in our control to change. And I know I can either try to communicate to my coach what needs to change. Or ask for a new coach. Or suck it up an try to do his program (for what it’s worth, I don’t think this is the best way forward, but it’s certainly the easiest).

I’m going to try to make it through this week, focusing on what I really WANT the rest of the week, and evaluating why. I also want to try to be more aware of what it feels like to go over on calories. What feelings to I feel? And do those feelings make the next day harder? What am I compromising to try to hit an, honestly, random goal? For example, I’ve set a goal of 2,000 calories. So if I go up to 2,200 calories, I’d probably still lose weight, just more slowly.

The anxiety centers around wasting my time. It centers around being weak. It centers around feeling like, “Everyone else does this, why can’t I?”So it feels like if I’m not losing weight, why bother?

But there is reason to bother. I want to work to get through this. I want to find a way that I enjoy eating a variety of food. Not just good and bad, but a mix of all of the kinds of food. I want to try new foods and new preparations. I want to try foods from other cultures. I want to try to make meats different ways, but also make fruits and veggies different ways. I want to keep moving forward, shut off the noise, and try to learn, grow and overcome.

All or Nothing Versus Confident Choices in the Middle

One thing I really struggle with is being all in or all out. So, either I’m restricting, usually an unsustainable extreme, or I’m rebelling against “the system.” The system in this case is ANY restricting. In that sense, I feel like I’m either in recovery or relapsing. And when I’m in a recovery phase, I’m ON, all on. Or when I’m off, I’m a full blown messy messy mess.

The interesting thing is when I’m restricting, no matter how extreme it is, I haven’t lost weight in years. I think it’s been close to ten years since I’ve lost weight. And for a long time after I realized I had orthorexia, I REFUSED to go on any type of diet or restrict in any way. I expected to find some sort of level off where I wouldn’t want to keep eating “bad things.” But I just never got there. Eventually I realized I was gaining weight with no sign of “normalizing” so I decided maybe I needed to try different things: intermittent fasting, keto, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc. Essentially I kept thinking SOMETHING was causing me to over-eat. If restricting wasn’t the problem, then what was? Was it dairy making me always hungry? Was it simply that I should eat less often?

I think, ultimately, my extreme personality around food is the root of the problem. While it can afford me the focus to do some extreme diets, keto, paleo, fasting (even longer fasts – I fasted for over 20 days once!), autoimmune diet, Whole 30, etc., the ability to be so extreme means when I’m off my brain is like, “SWEET FREEDOM!” And no matter the length of the freedom, it’s never long enough to settle into any sort of healthy eating pattern. I’m always kind of thinking, “Next week I’ll do better. So for this meal I’ll eat….” And consistently make a “final meal” choice for every single meal. Often thinking, “Next week I won’t eat pizza/dairy/gluten/pasta/high calorie/high carb/fried foods/fast food anymore. So I definitely need it today!” I suppose my brain isn’t unlike the person who’s agreed to an intervention but wants to get high one last time. I was ALWAYS having a “last time.” I had good intentions but there wasn’t enough follow through because my path after my “last time” would eventually get too extreme to maintain, too.

So what do I want for myself? How does my best future look?

  1. I can order fries at lunch and enjoy them. But likewise can order a side of broccoli or an interesting vegetable-based side dish to give it a try. I don’t love all vegetables, but there are plenty I like. And plenty I’d like to try in different ways.
  2. I don’t NEED to have the most indulgent item today. It will be there tomorrow. There will always be more pizza, more fries, more onion rings.
  3. Likewise, if I go out to try a local restaurant, I don’t need to ONLY look at the grilled chicken or vegetables as a side. Maybe when there are two sides, I try the two most interesting sides, not the “may as well this last time” sides.
  4. It’s OK to make choices to be healthier. But it’s also OK to not see a vegetable side I like and order the potatoes or rice, which I also love. There’s a Mediterranean restaurant near my work that, bless their hearts, CANNOT make a good side of vegetables. They are over-done and too mushy. So I shouldn’t order their vegetables and force myself to eat them. But there’s another restaurant that has delicious steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese. So why am I passing on that?
  5. I don’t necessarily ever over-eat, binge or eat like the world is coming to an end. I just often choose the heaviest meal and sides. Even if I’m not stuffed to the gills, my choices in general are enough to tip me up on the calorie scale and keep gaining weight. If I eat out five times in a week, that can be OK. I don’t have to choose the most indulgent meal every single time. But I also don’t have to choose the lightest, “best” choice every single time. Maybe today I have grilled chicken with a side of fries and broccoli. And tomorrow I have pasta with vegetables. And the next day a sandwich with some soup. I don’t always have to have the pasta with fries and a creamy soup.

I can tell right now there’s a lot more to explore on this topic. But I definitely think the all in or all out is a HUGE part of my issue. I’m either being restrictive and obsessive or I’m rebelling against being restrictive and obsessive. I’m realizing now that the restrictive and obsessive part is NOT healthy, when I thought it was before. So not being perfectly restrictive and obsessive is actually NOT the goal. The goal is to make some smart choices, and smart choices can include some not “perfect” choices.

And even marking foods as good, perfect, smart, indulgent, etc., is confusing for me. Even trying to say, “These are good for my goals and these are for pleasure” turns into a black and white thing for me. If I add a bun to a burger or a slice of cheese, does that make the whole meal a “poor” choice? Does eating just a burger, bunless, no cheese make it smart? The truth is it’s a combination of things I enjoy, things I know will help sustain my energy and keep me full, a variety of foods and textures, and flavors and foods that I WANT to eat.

So often, eating healthy means denying myself things I actually like. Learning to not force myself to eat food has been a first step. It’s also OK to order a food and not like it and not eat it. Or to cook a food, and not like it and not eat it. I don’t want to be intentionally wasteful, but it’s OK to try and not like new things. Or to admit I want things like pizza and fries. Or mashed potatoes and cheese. But also realize I like broccoli, cauliflower, broth-based soups, onions, grilled lean meats, salads and strawberries.

I also struggle with judging myself and others based on food choices. When I’m “on” I judge people for not following my plan. Or when I’m off, I judge people for being strict with their diet. No one’s worth is determined by what they do or don’t eat, including mine. I know when I’m judging, I’m actually looking at myself. And I know when I get triggered by others around me talking about “healthy food” or “crap food” that I’m worried far, far, far too much about what others thing (or convincing them my choices are OK).

This is my journey, with foods I get to choose, with a lifetime I get to live with. I want to find a variety of foods I like, and movement I enjoy. I don’t need to find a diet to define my path forward. I also don’t even need to be diagnosed with an issue. I know some of my issues – I’ll keep working through those one issue at a time. Lean into the discomfort I feel with my choices, the noise coming from others, or even the prevalent “diet voice” that’s all around me. I don’t need to avoid these things. I just need to find and be confident in my path. A path that’s not all in/perfect or all out/rebellious.

Orthorexia and OCD

I’ve recently signed up to work with a health and wellness coach. The program was sold as a way to approach life-long changes to diet and exercise. Figure out what works for you for the long-term. Their approach is intended to help you figure out the things you love doing, a way of eating that works with how you WANT to eat, and personalizing what does and doesn’t work for you. For example, there is an almost limitless list of ways to workout. Not just running and lifting weights. Their program has proven results of helping people find their way to gymnastics, hiking, biking, and very specific strength training programs. All through being flexible and adapting.

Their success stories for food are less thorough. Most people seem to just figure out that they don’t NEED the food they were eating. Maybe they were self-soothing with food, or using it as a distraction or mindlessly eating or eating through depression. And somehow working with a coach and adding in movement helped them eat differently to support their weight loss/body changes.

The problem is, it’s not that simple with eating issues. In theory, to lose weight, you just eat less, right? The problem with obsessive thoughts is there is never enough LESS. Or never a precise enough, perfect enough way. For example, I often think, “OK, I’ve been eating out ten times a week. Next week, I’ll only eat out eight times.” Only problem is every single one of those eight times is suddenly heavy with shame, guilt and hopelessness. The week before when I was eating mindlessly, probably accurately, eating after shutting down EVERY emotion involved (it’s all or nothing, so NOTHING is easy, ALL is impossible, and in between is maddening) was easy. So why is eliminating one or two meals so hard? And why do I get comfort from saying, “Fuck it, I don’t care?” For some reason, the letting go of caring is super freeing. I have to assume it’s similar to going a week without drinking when you’re trying to stop, then saying, “Fuck it” and having a drink.

Only I don’t want to be insensitive comparing it to that. But I have a friend who’s sober who said that’s how it would often go for him. So maybe I can fairly say me saying, “Fuck it” is similar to how he’d feel when he’d say the same about drinking. And he had total freedom those first few days and drinks. For him, it would spiral completely out of control after awhile. Sometimes he’d do OK for a few days or weeks, but eventually he was hiding his drinking, or drinking the entire weekend, from the time he got up until the time he’d finally pass out.

For me, I’d never go into full on binge mode. I’d just feel like I was free-falling from that first bite of that first “Fuck it!” meal until I’d have to buy the next pants size, see a picture of myself, or somehow would be reminded of MY shame.

One really annoying thing pop culture does, that I believe I’ve written at least once about here, is make binge eating “cute” for skinny women. It’s a personality schtick. It’s funny and adorable. But ONLY for thin women. It’s “gross” for heavy women. And I would sometimes be the thin, carefree woman when I started. Maybe. Sometimes I wasn’t, but I still got the same emotional freedom feeling when I’d go from restrictive to not restricting. So  not only was there freedom in not tracking, but there’s also freedom in eating whatever I want, and freedom in not being the stick in the mud who has a diet to follow, and having the extra free time and carefree spirit to eat and drink anything I like. It’s intoxicating. Plus, being free of the OBSESSIVE thoughts involved in a restricting diet is maybe one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

So I can see why I often resort back. It’s my “happy place.” Are the results happy-making? No. But often the “drug” we seek doesn’t make us happy. It just makes us happy for a moment. So when I walk into a restaurant and don’t have to look for calories on the menu or have had to look at their nutrition guide beforehand, or even said no to a dinner invite because I CAN’T do those things. Or maybe I go, have done all of these rituals to make me feel in control, and often times, sadly, superior to my dinner guests, I’m still faced with challenges. Maybe it’s the chips and salsa or bread that comes free with every meal. Or the friends having a margarita. Or eyeballing something smothered in cheese.

It’s often far-easier to avoid those social situations. Then it’s easier to avoid ALL social situations. Then it’s easier to not eat in front of anyone, ever. Then it’s easier to stop talking about it with anyone. Then it’s easier to not answer phone calls, texts, emails or other ways people reach out to you. Because it’s safer and easier to be at home, alone, doing what I NEED to do to make sure I stay healthy.

Just this past week I was reading about orthorexia with a goal of finding an at home, self-guided treatment program. I’m far enough away from orthorexia now, I can identify those obsessive thoughts or actions. Maybe at first I validate them. But eventually I see them happening, and make myself step back. I can feel my tendencies keeping me away from family and friends. Maybe I want to skip a family gathering because I can’t eat their food. Or I don’t go out for drinks with friends because I know I’ll feel pressured to drink and the truth is, I feel pretty shitty after drinking these days. The drinking itself makes me crazy hungry, and the next day, even if I don’t get DRUNK, I feel lethargic, my anxiety ticks up and I often feel symptoms of depression. I don’t even enjoy drinking anymore, but also struggle to talk to friends about not wanting to drink because of this. Friends who do drink feel defensive, and it’s easier to just have two or three drinks. Unfortunately, that can trigger me being more controlling and obsessive the next day.

Anyway, all I want is to take slow, deliberate steps toward a healthier mindset. Once I saw orthorexia and OCD are tied together, I had to be honest with myself about some of my other obsessive tendencies. People tend to think you’re only OCD if you turn a light switch on and off or open and shut a door a bunch of times. But the truth is, I do a lot of more subtle things. I do a lot of “checking.” And have strange anxiety triggers around forgetting things. Even things that aren’t part of my life – I might have a “OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!” moment from forgetting children I don’t have. Yes, I have no children. Never taken care of children with a boyfriend or anything. But I constantly think I’ve forgotten them. I also do the same thing with work and school stuff. I’ll have these really intense anxiety moments where I have to “check” or do stupid rituals to reassure myself I’m not destroying my life. I also obsessively check my garage door. And my stove. And my curling iron. I also have some obessive routines around things like yard work. Or even sex (I have an irrational fear of STDs, so getting checked annually is never reassuring enough even if I go three years without a partner, I still think the STD test was administered wrong, but I’m aware enough to not bring that up with the doctor).

So, what’s this mean? Well, first, most of my checking and routines have come along or gotten worse since my mid to late twenties. Which I believe is when a mental illness often presents itself. And I’m definitely not in a debilitating state. I’m aware when I’m being a little crazy with “checking” and have even implemented some mindfulness routines to help me be more realistic about it, and also a lot more present. Being present sometimes helps you remind yourself you’ve already done that, so don’t do it again.

I also have obsessive thoughts with perfectionism that I’ve been working on for the past five or so years. I didn’t realize how many of those thoughts could be rooted in OCD, and these thoughts have been more pervasive my entire life. I do many mindful things to help me overcome. First, realizing my perfectionism was related more to others than to me. For example, I wanted to be perfect so someone else wouldn’t judge me, or dislike me, or think I wasn’t trying hard enough. I’m very lucky to have a boss who can help me (I’m aware enough to ask for help!) when I’m too far in the weeds and lost sight of the purpose. Getting unhooked from perfectionism in school and work has been life changing. I still get anchored sometimes, but realize no one expects me to be perfect and won’t abandon me, fire me, fail me, mock me, or even judge me if I’m not perfect all the time. In fact, I think people like imperfect me more than attempted perfect me.

For some reason I’d never tied either of these things to my eating, or approach to eating. So my next step is going to be to attach some mindfulness to food. I’m not sure what it will look like. Probably talking through obsessive or perfectionist thoughts as I notice them. Often I have to get too far in and feel panicked or anxiety before I realize what I’ve been doing. Maybe unwinding some of that can cut it off sooner. Or any sort of ritual I’m doing. I’ve already been working on NOT turning down social events because I can’t control or count the food. I’ve also given up ALL fad or restrictive dieting. Well, short of counting calories and having a goal, though I’m not sure if that’s healthy or not – my “goal” is fairly high – 2,000 calories, so I’m not super-restrictive, and try to NEVER starve myself. If I’m hungry and need to go over 2,000, I do. But I try to make “strategic” choices so I can come in under 2,000 most days. I’m not sure whether this approach is healthy, or if it’s still feeding into my orthorexia. As I often start doing sort of a loose approach, estimating calories, rounding up or down, etc. Then I start measuring more closely, and keeping track more specifically. Then I’ll often start trying to PLAN meals, rather than following my hunger cues. For example, if I really want a sandwich for dinner but I’ve planned to have soup and salad. as I get deeper in, I’ll deny myself the sandwich. Often siting bread in my head as a food to avoid, or feeling ashamed I can’t stick to a plan, or thinking I could shave 50 or 100 calories off the meal, and I’d lose weight faster, or that I’d be getting in more vegetables and therefore be healthier. So it can definitely be from a good place and very quickly shift to not as good.

I also really, really, really want to toy with NOT counting, but also not being flying off the side of a cliff free-falling with food. For example, when I stop counting, I often go on a bender. Eat what I want, especially choices I’ve been limiting. Fried foods, creamy pastas, cheesy anything. I want to get to a place where even if I’m not recording it, I choose a salad because it tastes good. Or choose a vegetable as a side to my steak, rather than fries. Not because  I NEED to to stay in plan, but because I enjoy those foods and don’t need to make the choice to eat the thing I have been telling myself not to. And even after months or years of this behavior, still choosing the fries because, well, I like fries, but also, I should since I’m not tracking and no one will have proof of it. It’s like I’m secret-eating, even if it’s out in the open.

Some things I’ve already been working on:

  1. Being more present and mindful to limit some of my “checking.” I’ll let myself check once, and make myself be truly present in that moment, especially if I’ll be away for a long time. If I’m leaving for fifteen or thirty minutes, I’ll even make myself NOT check because I won’t be gone long and that’s helped with being present for the other checking.
  2. All of the perfectionist stuff. I’ve worked on self-esteem, and truly seeing what happens if something isn’t perfect. Usually nothing. If something goes wrong, I live in that moment. I ask  myself if I was truly careless (usually I wasn’t), and if the outcome resulted in something really dire (often it didn’t). I still see the benefit of caring about the details and wanting to do my best, but I’ve made such progress in this area.
  3. Realizing I don’t want to be black and white with food anymore. I want to be gray. I want to want to eat the foods I enjoy when I’m watching what I eat, when I don’t HAVE to make those choices. Likewise, even if I am watching what I eat, I want to occasionally have pizza, tacos, cheese dip, ice cream, fries, etc. I’m trying to get used to the gray area. Part of being a perfectionist and a little obsessive is thinking there’s only one right way. But a mentor at work encouraged me to figure out how to live in the gray. And now I want to do this with food. Realizing black and white isn’t working, healthy or even productive is a good first step. Now I want to force myself to be gray as much as I can!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Everything-Free

After taking a food intolerance test, I cut gluten and wheat/dairy out of my diet. Along with coconut, mushrooms, peanuts, shellfish, and being aware of yeast, peas, pepper and sesame seeds. It’s hard to be perfect. But I feel so much better, it’s worth trying. I’ve found there are good cheese alternatives, and avocados are a good cheese alternative. I’ve found it freeing to no longer avoid rice, bananas and nightshades. I’ve also really started eating more fish, and not avoiding ANY type of meat (beef, pro, chicken, turkey, etc., all on the table). My energy was fantastic, then I got sick, and it has waned a bit, but I’m still working out.

I also found Aldi not only has some great gluten-fee options (though many include eggs, sesame seeds, pea protein or yeast, all foods I try to avoid), they’re good options occasionally. Though, honestly, the gluten free cinnamon raisin bread this past week? That was more than occasional. And so good. I never knew gluten-free could be so good! They also had some vegan cheese shreds that were good with some gluten-free pizza crusts. They also have some gluten free chicken nuggets. I know, I’m not six. But I do like chicken nuggets.

I’ve found a bun-less, cheese-less burger is right up my alley. Add some avocado and some fries? I don’t even feel like I’m limiting. I also love fish, brown rice and any type of veggies. Or roasted potatoes? What a treat! I love bananas and strawberries with a bit of granola. And it’s strangely indulgent to have JUST an orange for a snack. Or a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. I’ve found fantastic cracker alternatives I can spread some nut-based cheese spread on. And I’m pretty pleased.

Weight hasn’t exactly been falling off, but I’m lifting weights a few times a week (plus cardio!) and I can see my body changing. My measurements at the first of the year showed losses across my body. I feel stronger and my endurance is improving. I wish my energy would go up and be stable. But with being sick, and hormones, that may never be perfect.

I have a doctors appointment this month and am hopeful she will do panels on me to ensure none of my numbers are out of whack. I take iron, B12 and Vitamin D regularly. I also went on a banana and potatoes bender those first few weeks, which makes me think my potassium might have been low. So I’m interested to see how that goes, and feel hopeful for the future.

This Is Not A Diet

I don’t know why the phrase, “This is not a diet” drives me so crazy. ESPECIALLY when it’s a group of people trying to eat the exact same way. Simply, a diet is what you eat. That can be restricted for health, weight loss or other reasons. But even if it’s not, what you eat is your diet. Also, collectively, what a community eats is their diet. So when you’re in a. Group of people eating keto, paleo, or even low-cal, that is still your diet. Diet isn’t a bad word. And saying, “This isn’t a diet, this is a lifestyle” doesn’t change how restrictive many of these ways of eating to lose weight are. And the restrictiveness is often the reason a different way of eating is temporary. It’s not because someone called it a diet.

And the truth of the matter is, most people change what they eat, their diet, because of health or weight reasons. And, often, the dramatic changes many claim you MUST make make it hard for that change to be worth it in the long term. I’m in a Facebook group for a workout plan I bought. I’ve never subscribed to what is, for me,a VERY restrictive diet/lifestyle/list of allowed foods and number of calories. It’s way too restrictive for me to last. So, call it what you want, I know it will be temporary. So I don’t bother. (That said, many people can simply not eat to lose weight. I’m not one of them. And if that works, good for you!)

Today a woman asked if something she was eating was allowed on this diet. Another patronizing member corrected her, told her this isn’t a diet, then proceeded to say, “This isn’t allowed on this way of life.” Sorry, call it what you want, if this whole group is (allegedly)’eating from the same plan, that is our diet. And telling someone they shouldn’t call it a diet because that feels too restrictive, but then tell them they can’t eat what they’re eating? You are lost.

Instead, why don’t we all just tinker around with food, testing, etc., until we find what works for us. Then mind our own business about it? She could have just said, “if you feel good eating that, eat it.” Which in the long run would be more productive.

My diet consists of whatever I want to eat that makes me feel good. Right now, I’m experimenting with no wheat, dairy, mushrooms, coconut and pineapple because a test I took suggested my body may not like them. In six months I might find something works better. But the days of blanket restricting foods, food groups or other dramatic sweeping changes with no specific reason other than it worked for someone else are gone. But, that said, what I eat is my diet. And some days my diet works better for my health and energy than others.

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