Thursday, June 3, 2010

Treat, Cheat, and Defeat All Rhyme. Coincidence? I Think Not.

It is nearing the end of Week 8 of Operation Get Healthy.   

I didn't expect this to turn into a thing, but it has.  The kind of thing where I get a bunch of emails asking about how I'm doing it, how I'm losing weight.   And lots and lots of advice.   Whew.

I expect to get questions when it comes to recovery - again, not because I'm some expert, but because addiction and recovery aren't main stream topics.  But everyone, it seems, likes to talk about diets.  Everybody knows about dieting - I haven't run into a single person who has never, ever tried a diet.   Except my husband.   He of the Gifted Metabolism has never dieted.    And, yes, it makes me want to punch him.   In my mind.

So I'm caught a little off guard with all the questions, how much people want to talk about it.   I don't feel particularly helpful, because when I'm asked how I keep from cheating on my diet I tend to blink hard a few times and say, "I don't know. I just don't."

"Really?  Never ever?"  people say.   "Not even now and then?  A tiny bite?"  This sounds very familiar...  'you don't drink?  Ever?  Not even a little?'  

The general consensus seems to be that losing weight usually fails, because nobody can keep up the resolve of early dieting for any extended period of time.   "I've tried every diet," I hear a lot.   "None of them work."   And it's true - most diets don't work.   There isn't any silver bullet for losing weight.   Lifestyle changes do work, though.   But, like with most difficult life changes, admitting there is a problem is key.   Maybe, in response to the cheating-on-my-diet question, I should simply answer, "I can't.  I'm overweight."   

People are very opinionated about dieting.  I never realized how strongly people feel about weight loss.  Or maybe it's food that people feel strongly about.  

"It's not natural to abstain from little cheats here and there," I heard the other day.   "You'll build up a craving and one day you will binge."

"Be careful, you don't want to get too thin," is my personal favorite.  I appreciate the sentiment, and I know where it's coming from, but I recognize this type of statement.   More on that in a minute.

For me it is really quite simple - not always easy, but simple.   I don't cheat on my diet, because I don't want to let myself down.   The only person I'm hurting if I cheat is me.   And I'm done hurting me.    I know myself well, too.   Just like with drinking, there isn't such a thing as one cookie.  One cookie?   What's the point of that?    If I'm eating for comfort - out of sadness, anger or boredom - one cookie isn't going to cut it.   Not even close.  

I would rather endure the fleeting discomfort of wanting a cookie I don't have, than the enduring discomfort of letting myself down.   

I never thought the tools I learned in recovery from alcoholism would be so applicable to my eating habits, but I'm learning that they are.    I shouldn't be surprised, because I've heard that food addiction is a sister addiction to alcoholism.   I understand that better now.

Some days - the really bad days - all the flowery speech of recovery, the bumper stickers, the gratitude, the praying, the serenity, and, yes, even the support of other people - don't amount to a hill of beans when I'm crippled by a bad craving for a drink.     Some days the only thing that stops me from drinking is me.   I just don't do it.   I just don't.   I can't afford to over think it, because my logic will get me in trouble.

Cravings pass.   They always do.   And I'm left with the afterglow of making it through another tough moment, of staying true to myself.  

Essentially, I try to do the next right thing - something that will sound familiar to those of you in recovery.    I don't think too far into the future ("I better eat this cookie, because I don't want to get too thin"), or look too far into the past ("I've tried every diet and none of them work"), or over analyze ("I don't want to deprive myself too much or I'll get resentful - I better have this cookie").     

Just for today, I think.   I'll just keep doing this today.    Tomorrow I can make different choices, if I want to. 

And, just like recovery, it isn't all sacrifice, not by a long shot.  It is small moments of sacrifice, and the reward is the gift of caring about myself, of achieving a sense of balance and peace.    

At least for today.


  1. Just for today. I like that.

    P.S. No advice from me, though if I were to give some, it would be that simply saying one wants to lose weight seems to do the trick. At least by the example of my husband, who made no diet or exercise changes, just said the words, and he lost 20 pounds. Sigh.

  2. It occurs to me that diets fail as often as they do because people refuse to treat unhealthy eating as a disorder on the same level as alcoholism, requiring the same kind of techniques and willpower to overcome. Instead, they make all these little cheats and excuses that a recovering alcoholic recognizes as huge warning signs.
    To be honest with you, I'm not an alcoholic. I am an over-eater, and when I drink too much it's to let me eat more.
    Your analysis of the emotional state of being on a diet, especially as regards the numbing effect of food, is probably the most honest diet literature I have ever read. Everyone else glosses over the very real addiction people have to food, because that would be a downer. Those same people are the ones currently urging you to cheat.
    I don't know if a book exists that treats dieting a bit like AA and talks about why we over-eat in honest detail. If it doesn't, I think you should write it. You have a voice that is unique and I'm tired of perky diet coaches who don't understand why having one cookie will make me eat the entire batch.

  3. Just wondering -- do you keep track of your good choices anywhere? Like a notebook or something? I ask because I'm also trying to get healthier (dieting, exercise, better/more responsible life choices) and I run into these horrible feelings of frustration when it feels like no matter what I try, it's not working. Some days I wish I had a log to look back on, showing how far I've come, even if it doesn't presently feel like I've done anything. And while I can record my weight, I haven't yet figured out a way to record the stuff like "Drove at a reasonable speed limit so as not to get a ticket," "Paid credit card bill in advance, not just at the deadline," or "Said no to cake at work. And didn't eat any."

  4. bu princess - I just typed this longish response and my computer crashed... grrrr. The long and short of it is - YES. I keep a journal where I write all the feelings down - the good and bad - but I make sure I include the little victories each day. I also wrote a bunch at the start of the diet, not about how much I wanted to lose, but about how I felt, why I was ready. I re-read that a lot, so even on the weeks when the lbs aren't coming off quickly I know I feel SO much better.

    I did this in early recovery, too - and I'm usuing the same approach now. I do still write a lot to keep myself grounded, although not daily anymore.

    The key, for me, is not looking too far ahead - with everything - because that can get overwhelmeing and depressing. I look at it like individual choices - pick the healthy thing to eat, pay this one bill on time, do one nice thing for someone else, staying away from one drink at a time. I can dwell on the negative ("Oh, I won't be able to keep this up, why bother?") so I really try to throw myself a little parade when I do make the right choice.

    And it's also all about self-care. When I am tempted to make a bad choice it is almost always because I'm hurt, or angry, or bored, or sad. I try to remember that one drink, one cookie, one angry word, will just make everything that much worse and will end up hurting me more than anyone else.

    Thanks for your comment - it sounds like you're doing some really great work. Good for you.


  5. Brilliant! I love how we can apply AA to anything. I was using all sorts of AA slogans with my students in summer school the other day, without, of course, telling them they are AA slogans. They were all nodding their heads. They had hit their bottoms. They lost three precious weeks of summer. Another reason I feel blessed to be an alcoholic ~ I can handle life so much better now using what I have learned.

  6. Brilliant! I love how we can apply AA to anything. I was using all sorts of AA slogans with my students in summer school the other day, without, of course, telling them they are AA slogans. They were all nodding their heads. They had hit their bottoms. They lost three precious weeks of summer. Another reason I feel blessed to be an alcoholic ~ I can handle life so much better now using what I have learned.