Tag Archives: dieting

The Diet Temptation

Dieting is tempting. It provides a linear path to a simply defined goal, and clearly set rules and guidelines that can get you there.  “Good” and “Bad” are suddenly black and white, and there’s no room for speculation or doubt.  You can let go; you don’t have to think or decide, you can put all your faith in these rules and follow them blindly. And everyone will admire you along the way, people will validate you and fawn over your apparent moral superiority.  Losing weight is tangible, visible, frequently reinforced and praised. (Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is none of these things – though that’s a post for another time.)

give in

I’ve been off dieting for about three years now, but that’s not to say the temptation has entirely faded away.  It comes in waves – if I’m feeling fat or ugly, if I had a bad day, if I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, if I’m feeling lonely.  In a way, my relationship to dieting at any given moment acts as a signifier of my mood, and of how I feel about my life.

Last week, for the first time in these three years, I let myself fully succumb to the temptation – I signed up for Weight Watchers.  It felt scandalous and thrilling to just give in, to stop the fight and let dieting back into my life… to hand the reigns over to a corporation, to let them tell me how I should feel about my body and what I eat.  It was a weight off (no pun intended).

I understand why I succumbed. I’m working at a relatively demanding job I have no passion for, that is rarely rewarding, and that is hugely unappreciated. My next step career-wise is uncertain at best, mostly because I struggle with a paralyzing fear of failure.  I’m not currently doing anything that I truly value, or that maximizes my potential.  I’m single, as I’ve been for many years, and I crave support, love and connection.  On top of all this, there’s my tenuous relationship with intuitive eating and my seemingly unending struggle to truly accept my body.

OF COURSE I want a goal, something to work towards, and something that will be praised and admired. Of course I want to achieve something that society would ubiquitously validate, and that would make the process of getting dressed a little less fraught.   Losing weight would (on the most superficial of levels) make some things better.  For a while.

So I shut the door to my bedroom and, with a feeling of guilt as though I were searching for pornography, I googled “Weight Watchers.”  I quickly paid $58 for a three-month membership (it was the best deal, after all…..)

Researching point values was entertaining for a while.  Why do I ever put mayonnaise on my sandwiches? Why do I by 2% milk when skim shaves off a point? How did I eat a BEEF BRISKET sandwich for lunch and not gain ten pounds??  Points are everywhere, especially in all the wonderful local Seattle IPAs I enjoy drinking.  I might as well chug milkshakes.

At any rate, I only tried Weight Watchers for about a day, and I found it to be something of a relief that I couldn’t entirely get into it. I couldn’t find it within myself to embrace the diet mentality – it was like trying to believe in Santa Claus after someone has already proved to you he doesn’t exist.  Because he doesn’t.

The main thing I was forced to remember, which I hadn’t experienced in a long time, was the extent to which dieting dominates your thinking and limits your capacity to live.  When I was on Weight Watchers the first time around, I said “no” to everything.  I was a drag to be around, and I gave off an air of superiority when I asked waiters how much oil was used to cook a piece of fish.  Since then, I’ve become a “yes” person, and I embrace life instead of cower in fear of it.

That’s the thing about dieting…. it’s all about postponing life.  I’m not ready to postpone my life right now.

One day of dieting was more than enough, and I feel as though my faith in intuitive eating, and in the wisdom of my own body, has been partially restored.  Or at least I’ve been reminded of the disparity between the life I live now, and the life I lived while I was on a diet, and I’ve proved to myself that I really can’t go back. It would be only a band-aid anyway, and would do nothing to solve anything real in my life.

So… to tie this post together and bring it to the corniest of endings… maybe my one-day fling with Weight Watchers was worth the money, after all.

 

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Jeans

The other day I decided that I was going to confront my fear of jeans.

Everyone at work is always talking about “getting” to wear jeans.  They’re so “comfortable” and “casual.” Who are these people and what kind of jeans are they buying?

When I contemplate putting jeans on, when I even so much as glance at the one surviving pair of jeans I have hanging in my closet, comfort is the furthest thing from my mind.  I go straight to constriction, inflexible, inner-thigh holes, muffin-top, flat butt. I go to all the jeans I used to have that I can’t fit into anymore. I go all the way back to my first pair of Joe’s jeans with a patterned patch on the rear pocket my mom bought me when I was in tenth grade and a size 27.  I go there and I feel the (by now) predictable onslaught of old, buried feelings; I feel a wave of familiarly crushing failure, of humiliation that I had to give away an expensive pair of jeans (and then several increasingly larger pairs) because they no longer came up past my thighs.  I still go there, my non-teenage self, about eight years later.

Why can’t I give myself a break???

Anyway, so it’s getting cool out, crisp and breezy, and I was standing outside on my lunch break and staring at this girl’s butt.  It was an average butt, nothing spectacular, she wasn’t a rail, just normal. And I thought to myself, there’s no reason I can’t have a comfortable, warm, weather-appropriate pair of jeans.

And so I walked, very purposefully, mind you, to Nordstrom Rack, feeling ready to be self-accepting, ready to fight any implications of any particular numbers on any particular tags, and to just find a pair that fit.  Comfortably.

Here's a pic I snapped of myself in the dressing room mirror.   (Heheh)

And voila! Look how GREAT I looked! (Just kidding).

But despite my determination and my relatively calm, collected mindset before the lunchtime shopping extravaganza (challenge, really), I found myself hesitating to take the size 32s off the racks, and sticking to the 31s. That one extra inch, something in my head just wouldn’t let me go there.

The first pair of 31s didn’t even come close to buttoning.  They didn’t even entirely clear my thighs. And I knew this would happen, too.

… the thoughts started to bubble up, I could feel them forming and festering, like water being heated on a stove, little bubbles at first, then bigger, stronger, threatening to blow the lid clear off.  I’ve never worn bigger than a 32, and the way these jeans were fitting (or straining, rather), it seemed like I’d have to go all the way up to maybe a 34, and they rarely even carry that size on the racks.  Soon I won’t be able to shop at regular department stores. Soon I’ll know names like Lane Bryant and have to buy jeans at Costco and wear only miu mius and black. Lots of black…

I struggled to keep that lid down on those thoughts.  I fought hard. Because I know where that leads, letting the thoughts spill out and over, and I refused to spend the rest of my day under a big, thick cloud of self-loathing, debating whether to throw in the towel on the whole intuitive eating, trust-your-own-body thing and just get back on Weight Watchers.  Quick and easy fix.

Like a Band-Aid.

What deeper issues?

Nothing’s wrong, just fat. Fat’s in the way.

I carefully peeled those jeans off my bulging thighs – how had I not noticed before walking in here how soft and offensively BULGING they are??? – and bit my mental tongue as I tried on the next pair.

Here’s where I stopped feeling shitty about myself, blaming myself, (okay I didn’t stop I just lightened up on the self-hatred a teensy bit) and instead got really pissed.

Same brand – True Religion.  Same size – 31.  And they buttoned.

No, they didn’t fit comfortably, but they fit one hell of a lot more comfortably than the previous pair.   Same number on the sewn-in tag, but undoubtedly different sizes, unless there was some kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants bullshit going on.

I can at least begin to understand how sizes might vary from one brand to the next, but within the same brand? It just doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all and what infuriates (and saddens) me even more is that I know there are so many women out there who are beating themselves up over these numbers. These numbers rule our lives.  And they’re not even reliable.

I don’t know what I’m suggesting.  I know it’s not possible to throw out the whole sizing system and start afresh, with everything matching up perfectly and consistently across the board, from California to Italy to China (though I’m not aware of any Chinese designers…).  But I just wish we could take some of the stigma off of certain numbers, and, because I know I’m not dramatically overweight, if I’m even technically overweight at all, and because I know there are probably tons of girls just that little bit bigger than me who would love to shop at Nordstrom Rack, I wish the good, quality jeans-makers would go bigger than a size 32.  How is that the biggest size on the rack?  Why is that where they draw the line?

Well, I left the dressing room empty-handed and bought myself a nice, size-free Steve Madden purse.  Because purses are non-threatening.

 

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As long as there is that voice of “not allowed,” as long as there are foods you feel you shouldn’t eat, you create struggle and conflict.  As long as there is struggle, there is bingeing.  And as long as there is bingeing, there is fear about eating what you want.

You can’t eat what you want and still lose weight because you don’t truly eat what you want.  You eat in accordance with the Voice or in rebellion against it.  But that voice is not your voice.  It is the voice of whomever (your mother, lover, doctor) or whatever (any number of diets, articles, books) you have internalized.  Over the years, you have come to believe it is not only your own voice but the correct one.

When you let go of the struggle by allowing yourself choice about what you eat, you let go of one end of the rope on which you have been tugging and straining.  When you let go of your side, the rope immediately falls to the ground.  War requires at least two sides.  When you decide that you will listen to yourself and not to your calorie counter or your fears, there is nothing to rebel against.  There is nothing you can’t have tomorrow so there is no reason to eat it all today.

From Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth

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The Bra Metaphor

I’m writing this post at work.  I’m writing it out of anger.

I ate a 3 Musketeers bar at lunch, and the guilt has been crashing down on me in waves ever since.

I was still a little hungry after my chicken quesadilla, and I wanted chocolate.  So, staying true to the principle of Unconditional Permission, I gave it to myself.

Maybe a 3 Musketeers bar wasn’t really what I wanted.  I think I wanted something with a little more crunch to it, something that would involve a little more teeth-work.  Maybe I would have preferred a Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Butter Biscuit Bar, and, since that just seemed far too indulgent (and expensive), I made the mistake of compromising, causing me to now feel guilt rather than satisfaction.  Maybe I was comfortably full two-thirds of the way through the 3 Musketeers, but finished it anyway because it is so hard to wrap up or discard only a few measly bites of a candy bar.  Or maybe I was denying the residual twinge of guilt I felt from eating the quesadilla and, consequentially, decided to eat more in order to bury those feelings for just a little bit longer.

Whatever the cause for my guilt, its effects were obvious.  My bra immediately shrunk.  It must have shrunk three sizes.  I can feel it cutting into the top and sides of my rib cage, and separating my back fat into thick, fleshy halves.  They’re probably visible through the back of my shirt, those unstoppable overflows of flab, which is why I’ll choose to spend the rest of the day sweating rather than take off this sweater.  Rather than let someone see the soft back of me.

I want to take this bra off.  This bra, which entirely escaped my notice all throughout the morning, now clutches at me like the jaws of death.  I’m at the front desk, no one else is around, surely I could just slip it off through my sleeves and tuck it into my bag, very quickly and discreetly, and spend the remaining two and a half hours with my arms folded across my chest.

No, I can’t do that, this is a new job and taking one’s bra off while manning the front desk is probably – definitely – not a good idea.  A client might walk in.

Breathe.  Sit up straight.  Think about something else.

I can’t.  It’s so uncomfortable. I need it off. I hate this job, I hate that nothing ever fits, I hate that I have to keep buying bigger sizes.  I hate bras.  They’re sexist.  And suffocating.

I can imagine the angry red lines that are surely imprinting themselves into my skin as I sit here.  I hate that I have to sit here.  And my pants, the waist, it’s cutting in now too, and I won’t have time to go to yoga later, I’ll never be able to work out again, look at all these overweight office women, soon I’ll be one of them, eating at my desk until my bra pops and I spend my lunch breaks shopping at Ross for sizes I’ve never conceived of…

Breathe.  I accept my body.  I accept my body. I trust my body.  Breathe.

Fuck this.  Fuck spending hours tormenting myself over one candy bar, and fuck struggling to accept myself.  I am so tired of hating my body.  I am so tired of being self-conscious and afraid.  I am so tired of depriving and bingeing and judging and repeating empty mantras in my head to somehow trick my brain into believing I’m a normal human being worthy of love and acceptance. That I’m not disgusting and hideous and irreversibly undesirable.   When am I really going to be free of this? When does it end?

Will it end?

I hate this motherfucking bra.

bra back2

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We often forget that our lives are made up of moments and of feelings about moments.  As emotional eaters, we spend our lives forsaking all the moments of satisfaction for a future moment when we will be thin and the deprivation will have paid off.  And if and when that moment does come, we are so worried about gaining weight that we focus our attention once more on the future and do not take pleasure in the present.

Most of us miss our own lives.  Most of us spend our time preparing for a moment that never comes, while the years slip by, unnoticed, unused.

The means to an end cannot be separated from the end.  If you attempt to get thin by reining yourself in, judging yourself, not believing in yourself, you will end up a deprived, self-condemning and frightened human being.  And maybe you will have a thin body.  For a while.

Breaking free from emotional eating is also breaking free from preoccupation with the future.  It asks, it demands that you be aware of what you are doing now.  It forces you to examine, by the very questions it asks, the ways in which you rush through your meals–and your days–in perpetual pursuit of moments that may never arrive.  It brings up the issues of pleasure and satisfaction and asks that you rediscover their meaning in your life.

From Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth

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Defining Deliciousness: A Word on Food Substitutions

When I was on Weight Watchers, I thought Kashi GoLean cereal (doused in 0.5 cups of skim milk) was delicious.

Doesn't it look scrumptious?

Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

The epitome of delectable Dee-Lish-Uss-Ness.  The Emperor of Breakfasts, rivaled only by boxed egg whites salted and smeared around over sizzling non-stick spray.

Little did I know, at least consciously, that my definition of “deliciousness” had been compromised. My dieting mind had broken it down and reformed it to accommodate such descriptors as “low calorie,” “fibrous,” “guilt-free” and “FILLLLLLLING!” … So, so filling.

As I expanded my dieting horizons, other items also began to qualify as “delicious” foods.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Better’n Peanut Butter: A staple in the most elite of dieting circles, this wonderfully point-friendly “peanut butter spread” boasts 85% less fat than regular peanut butter, and is a steal at only 100 calories per serving.  (It. Is. Not. Peanut. Butter.)
  • Chocolate Chip Fiber One BarsYou forget the color and the life that comes with eating something truly and wonderfully phenomenal, something that you were craving and that hits the spot just right, can be an incredibly nourishing and satisfying experience: Almost so-close-practically-bordering-on chocolatey enough to quell a real craving, these small, sticky bars graciously uphold their superior point value by packing in a shitload (get it??) of processed fiber.  Personal experiences urges me to include this disclaimer: Do not consume more than one within twelve hours.
  • VitaTopsThese underwhelming, pathetic excuses for muffin tops are only edible if you make them sufficiently melty in the microwave and smother them in (fat-free or whatever) Cool Whip.  Also you have to eat them extra slowly, or else you’ll be licking dry crumbs off your plate before you can say “unsatisfying.”
  • Black Bean Brownies.  Enough said, I think.

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Special K Knows Women

This Special K Chocolatey Delight Cereal commercial, though not as overtly vomit-worthy as some other food ads that cater specifically to women, is still loaded with very specific, presumptuous and evil implications. (Yes. Evil!)

First of all… there’s the idea that eating chocolate when you’re craving it at night will “undo your whole day.”  Because, of course, every self-respecting woman MUST be counting calories and basing the quality of her days on whether she can be “disciplined” enough to resist “bad” foods.

And then, though they don’t say it, they’re suggesting that a woman craving chocolate before bed (a very real scenario) will both a.) eat only 1 recommended serving size of this cereal (who does that, EVER, a serving size is like the size of your fist), and b.) be satisfied afterwards; i.e.: “Gee whiz! My previously all-consuming chocolate craving has completely dissipated, thanks to the magically mini droplets of chocolate sprinkled throughout that handful of cereal I poured into a half-cup of skim milk!”

The unguilty pleasure.” Bite me. What is more likely is that women trying to watch their weight will buy this, thinking it’s a healthier option, then eat the entire box in two days. And, finding it a poor substitute for what they’re truly craving, probably eat some Oreos afterwards. And proceed to feel like shit.

Thank you, Special K Chocolatey Delight, for helping to clarify your company’s target demographic – women. In other words, as you so cleverly illustrated, beings who are not allowed to trust their bodies and must maintain a strict regimen of disciplined eating and control of their outrageous, untrustworthy cravings in order to avoid guilt and shame.

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Many women who struggle with disordered eating believe that when they are thinner, they will magically solve the riddle of their unhappiness.  They cling to this belief even when they look at old pictures of themselves at the weight they would like to be at now and remember how unhappy (and fat) they felt then.  They don’t yet understand that happiness is a state of mind (not body).  It is not a goal they can set the way they establish their ideal weight.  It is a byproduct of being in their own truth, choosing their own path through life. When these women grow more assertive, they become happier, and as they become happier they no longer need to use food to numb out tension and misery.  Their bodies then become free to find the weights that are right for them.

From Eating in the Light of the Moon

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Eating in the Light of the TV

For a lot of us, the prospect of eating with no distractions seems unnecessary, impossible – practically speaking – and a little terrifying.  At least, those were my reactions when I read of the idea, suggested in both Intuitive Eating and Breaking Free.  And here we have it, as per Geneen:

Guideline 3: Eat Without Distractions – Radio, TV, Newspapers, Books, or Loud Music

(I would like to take this opportunity to add the following: Podcasts, Audiobooks, Computers, Smartphones, and Regular Phones.)

The way I saw it at first, television was an integral part of the eating process.  It was like the water that follows the pill down your throat.  After pouring your overflowing bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and you played something mindless on your computer, probably something you’d seen before.  That way, your mind could be half on one thing, half on the other.  You didn’t really have to know what you were doing at all.  You didn’t have to be in the present. You didn’t have to commit to any of it. 

But then, when your spoon hit the bottom of the bowl, you’d look down, thoroughly dissatisfied, and wonder where all that cereal went.  And you’d want more.  And soon you had finished an entire season of Criminal Minds, the two fancy chocolate bars you’d bought in Paris to give to your parents as a gift, a whole frozen pizza, and a bag of Milanos before you’d realized it was 4am.  So you’d turn something else on the TV for background noise (heaven forbid it were ever quiet so you could hear your own thoughts) while you’d try to fall asleep without rolling onto your bulging stomach.

(Then you’d oversleep and miss class and, overcome with guilt, start the whole process over again… but that’s a post for a different time).

Clearly, something wasn’t working.

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