5 Lessons From “Falling Off My Diet”

Friday marked the end of the second week of my coaching program with Dr. Jade Teta. Already I’ve learned a LOT about my body and needs, but it hasn’t come easily.

In fact, I even “fell off” my plan for a couple of days and came face to face with some old habits and demons that hadn’t come out in quite some time. (Though I hate the term “off” in relation to diet; a better term would be “overtly noncompliant.” 🙂 )

Getting off track is almost something I look forward to these days, though, because it allows me to learn something new about myself and make myself better. And now that I’ve got this blog, I can share my lessons with all of you so that you may spend some time doing the same type of introspection!

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) I am still battling my own tendencies toward perfectionism and seeking control.

My goal in completing this 12 week program is to balance my hormones FIRST AND FOREMOST, with a secondary goal of losing body fat to achieve a healthier body composition.  I didn’t realize how easily I would get sucked back in to old disordered thought patterns within days of beginning the program. I underestimated my ability to manage the voice of my “inner dieter,” with its impatience to see results and its desire to use as much willpower as necessary to “be good at dieting.”

Basically, I forgot how much part of me loves being on a diet.

It sounds crazy, I know, but the perfectionist in me still revels in the use of focused willpower to control my eating habits. Part of me loves the satisfaction of following a protocol or a plan to a “T,” and playing the part of a “good student” for my coach. I love comparing my shopping cart to other people’s in the grocery store, and feeling a bit smug and superior when mine has more vegetables and other “healthy food.”  I love seeing and feeling the first few pounds of water weight drop (even though these pounds don’t correspond to lasting fat loss or body change). I love estimating my projected linear fat loss (which of course, is never truly linear nor predictable…) if I can “just keep this up”.

I let my old love of dieting, restriction and seeking perfection creep back in, when my focus really should have been on managing my hunger, energy, and cravings* (aka HEC), and figuring out how I needed to tweak my diet program to make it something I could do to achieve this balance for the long term.

where to buy priligy THE POINT: Tread carefully when navigating through long standing preferences and tendencies. Be honest about your goals, and keep them at the forefront of your attention.

beautiful never perfect

2) Too much restriction and my HEC being out of check will inevitably come back to bite me in the ass.

After about two full weeks of using willpower in the program, I hit my wall. I sought a break from the diet, from the constant mental counting and awareness and assessment of what I was eating (or not eating).

My escape?  Mindless eating. I didn’t have a full out, raid-the-cupboards-until-every-last-treat-is-gone kind of binge like I may have done a few years ago, but I’ve been working hard to eradicate mindless eating habits…particularly the habit of reading and eating on repeat with no regard to my body’s indicators of fullness.

It’s become more and more obvious to me over time that I use mindless eating habits in response to a period of obsessive or restrictive dieting.

http://msftaxes.com/seminars/action~month/exact_date~57826800/request_format~html/ THE POINT: Restriction and feelings of deprivation will ALWAYS lead to an equally strong behavioral compensation.

3) I’ve come a long way in my overeating habits, as well as in my ability to recover after a binge.

When I use the word “binge,” many interpretations of the word may come to mind. Did I eat an entire pizza by myself while hiding alone in my bedroom? Nope. Did I secretly drive to 7-11 to buy dozens of candy bars, eat them in the car, and then hide the evidence? Not so much.

Over the course of three nights, I ate several bowls of popcorn with some chocolate chips tossed in, some homemade peanut butter Reese’s cups (made with coconut oil, cocoa powder, and stevia), had one alcoholic beverage, one or two PB&J’s (on a whole wheat wrap), and some dried figs as well.

Could it have been better? Absolutely. My mindless overeating occurred three nights in a row, and I ate to the point of physical discomfort.

But could it have been worse? Absolutely.

I could've fallen into a box of pastries like this poor little guy...but I didn't. Win!

I could’ve fallen into a box of pastries like this poor little guy…but I didn’t. Win!

http://imgur.com/gallery/vM1wT

Aside from the evenings, the rest of my diet on those three days was pretty much on point, and by the fourth day everything had run its course and I was ready and eager to get back to my normal habits.

Unlike my former binge eating experiences, I didn’t eat a whole box of Cocoa Puffs. I didn’t polish off a pint of ice cream. I avoided 7-11’s and pizzerias both (although I have never actually eaten an entire pizza by myself…).

Most importantly, aside from feeling uncomfortably full the next morning, I didn’t wake up full of regret, shame, and disappointment. I woke up feeling a little foolish, almost wearing a goofy grin that said “Oops!!”

This was the biggest difference from my prior experiences overeating, and it felt like a HUGE accomplishment to be able to accept the situation for what it was, and then LET. IT. GO.

THE POINT: It’s important to notice and appreciate progress and the little wins wherever you can.

4) Relaxation is good, but fun is essential. Even for an introvert like me! 🙂

More often than not, I enjoy being a homebody. I love being with my husband and my dog, enjoying my couch, a good book and other quiet, relaxing activities. Sometimes, however, I’m a homebody out of sheer laziness. The day I “fell off” my diet was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and after almost a full day of work at the gym I was feeling lazy and beat.  (This is a regular Saturday tradition…after all, in my house Saturday is also known as “Nap-turday.”) My husband and I had several options for fun things to do that night, but in the end, I didn’t want to put in the effort to get myself moving and get out of the house. Plus I’d have to put in the effort of figuring out when and what I should be eating for dinner, did we want to go into Boston or somewhere closer to home, etc. (Excuses, excuses!)

So, we ended up doing NOTHING at all. Later that evening, I ultimately found easy, effortless entertainment in food. Oops! I definitely would’ve been better served to put in the tiniest bit of effort to get myself moving and had an enjoyable evening out with my husband.

THE POINT: Downtime and restorative activities are great for lowering stress, but not always “fun.” Blow off some steam and take the focus off of food once in a while!

5) There is no “on” or “off” a diet – only challenges and lessons to help me grow.

I know that in the long run, a few nights off plan didn’t set me back that far. Ultimately, it was worth it for me to have the experience in order to note the circumstances and triggers so I can adjust in the future. For one thing, I have significantly increased the amount of food I’m eating in order to achieve the desired “HEC in check,” specifically with more healthy fat at both breakfast and lunch to help support my energy levels throughout the day. In a way, I’m grateful for the opportunity to face some deep-seated obstacles early on in the program, because now I feel like I’ve cleared them out of the way and can continue to grow and move forward!

THE POINT: If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.

I’d love to hear from you on the Facebook page: What can your most recent mistake or slip up teach you for the future??

Always here to help,

Jamie

 *The term “HEC” and the idea of trying to get my “HEC in check” is a concept from Metabolic Effect. You can learn more about it in this article.

Are your stress-relievers adding to your stress?

Raise your hand if you eat chocolate when you are stressed.

Raise your hand if you ever have days in which you just have to have a glass of wine, because hell, for the day you just got through, you deserve it!

Okay, now raise your hand if thoughts of tackling a huge upcoming project at work send your heart rate up and your hands to your cupboards, mindlessly rifling through for snacks? Or if fighting with your parents leaves you so aggravated that you scrounge up those chips that you SWORE you were going to throw away, but just couldn’t bring yourself to do it (because it’s not a big deal, you don’t even really like chips anyway….and yet here you are, eating them by the handful, straight out of the bag).

You are not alone!

You are not alone!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/locator/420581084/”>Locator</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

If you were able to look around a little bit, you’d know that you are NOT alone. According to the APA (as cited in The Willpower Instinct), most people report “eating” as a way to relieve stress (along with using Facebook, drinking, and shopping). Yet most people also note that their chosen stress reliever is generally NOT EFFECTIVE. While we may rationalize in the moment that a little food helps us get through our toughest times, I’d argue that for many of us, we are just setting ourselves up for additional stress, future cravings, or possible addiction.

Adding Guilt to your Stress

Especially if fat loss or weight loss is the goal, choosing food as our means for decompressing often leads to the experience of MORE stress than before. If you’ve learned to rely on the comforting effect of food (which is a very powerful and real thing!), you know that it can often be a major reason that contributes to weight gain in the first place. For example, when I was wronged by a guy in college, my best friend immediately put me in her car and drove me to the nearest gelato shop with lightning speed so that I could vent and be consoled by the cold, creamy, dessert. (And I’m not going to lie either:  I felt better!)

We remember that food has been a reliable mood booster before, so we tend to fall back on it in times of emotional vulnerability. However, if we continually attempt to relieve our stress using the very thing we aim to avoid or reduce, we feel only a momentary reprieve from stress that soon returns in full and then some. The real problem, our anxiety or feelings about a difficult situation, has not been resolved.  PLUS, we now experience feelings of guilt from our indulgences and a decrease in self esteem from not sticking to our health goals. Ouch!

Fueling Future Cravings

I know, kid. Life is tough.

I know, kid. Life is tough.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiery-phoenix/8428079692/”>Fiery-Phoenix</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Just like a two year old throwing a tantrum, cravings are annoying, persistent, and inevitable. Our response to them, however, is what dictates their intensity and frequency in the future. If we give in and reward our two year old nightmare with the candy she demands, she will learn that throwing a fit leads to candy. In the same way, by stuffing our faces with chocolate and ice cream when we crave them, we learn that we only feel good when we give in to our desires. Over time, this pattern only gets stronger and we soon expect that our cravings will automatically lead us to eat. When we add in the negative emotions of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we immediately know how to make those feelings go away. Additionally, we are in a weakened position to try to fight these cravings when we are overcome by our emotions in times of stress.

Addiction

Somehow Ben and Jerry's has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Somehow Ben and Jerry’s has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Certain foods (especially those in high in salt, fat, and sugar, like salted caramel gelato…mmm) can affect the same neurological pathways of addiction that drugs do. Turning to food in times of stress quickly establishes routines and habits, innocently enough at first, but we often don’t realize the strength of these habits until we try to change them.

For example, as much as I warn my clients against it now, I have always found it really “relaxing” to plop down on the couch after dinner, watch some TV, and have dessert (I grew up in a household where ice cream was as much of a grocery staple as eggs or milk). Having dessert makes watching TV more enjoyable and fun. This routine started out harmlessly, but grew into something more destructive: as I developed more stress as an adult and experienced more relaxation from the ritual, I started to experience the urge for sweets every time I watched TV on the couch at night.

And guess what? Even when I do indulge in my craving and I finish eating my berries or a couple of squares of dark chocolate (my more current usual suspects for dessert), I immediately want more berries or chocolate.  In the same way drug addicts develop higher tolerance for their drugs, the urge for eating out of mindless relaxation is not satisfied by just a little bit of eating. And sometimes this means grabbing a second or third bowl of berries. Fine…it’s better than ice cream, right? But this exact same process occurs whether its berries or ice cream or nuts or popcorn. I eat some, but the urge to eat is not satisfied.

And this is when a well-intentioned snack or dessert after dinner can turn into one what the smart folks over at Metabolic Effect refer to as a “continuous meal” (nonstop eating from dinner until bedtime), and this becomes our new compulsive habit that we turn to in order to relieve our stress.

Do you see how this might lead to weight gain?

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So now that we know what won’t work, what can we do to reduce our levels of stress? The following activities tend to actually be effective in reducing stress by promoting our parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) system:

  • Yoga– go to www.Yogaglo.com and sign up for tons of yoga classes on your computer!
  • Foam rolling/stretching – good recovery for your mind AND your body
  • Meditations/Deep belly breaths – I have many of my clients practice these daily, for relaxation and proper bracing techniques while strength training
  • Warm bath or shower – I like to add in a few drops of lavender essential oil, or bathe in Epsom salts, for added relaxation
  • Drink tea—Harney’s Cinnamon Spice Tea = life-changing
  • Read a book for pleasure – sometimes a girl needs a good distraction; if you are looking for some good page turners I love Gillian Flynn’s books
  • Listen to music
  • Walk/ Light exercise—often overlooked, but if you can get your body moving and your heart pumping just a bit, you will feel reenergized and refreshed afterwards
  • Nap/Sleep—I am a strong believer in taking midafternoon naps when I can; try to keep your nap under 30 minutes though to prevent waking up groggy or accidentally sleeping for 3 hours (not that I know anything about that…)

 

The next time you feel that wave of stress and anxiety start to wash over your entire being, start with 3 deep breaths and then think:

What action can I take right now that will actually help me feel better?

 

Always here to help,

Jamie

PS – I’d love to know: Do you struggle with this? Do you find that your chosen mode of stress relief can leave you feeling more wound up? Let me know in the comments below!

PPS – I really hope that you find some of these insights and suggestions useful! If you know somebody who may struggle with these challenges or benefit from reading, please share this post with them!

How to Surf your Way through Cravings

There are plenty of tips to distract yourself from mindless eating or unnecessary snacking. I definitely recommend that people have a list of things to do, or alternatives that will help them avoid a full on binge or addictive overeating episode. My list looks something like this:

1)      Have what I want….but not exactly what I want (i.e. eat frozen berries with Stevia and a drizzle of coconut milk instead of having ice cream, or a square of dark chocolate to satisfy a chocolate craving)

2)      Make a warm drink (like tea or the Metabolic Effect cocoa drink)

3)      Take a hot shower

4)       Brush your teeth and get in bed

5)      Read

6)      Do the crossword puzzle

7)      Paint my nails

8)      Take Petey (my puggle) for a walk

Even this cute little monkey man and his delicious tea just aren't enough to beat cravings sometimes.

Even this cute little monkey man and his delicious tea just aren’t enough to beat cravings sometimes.

 

Sometimes, though, I don’t even want to look at that list. The cravings are just too strong, or I’m too stressed or tired to even remember that I had a list! I just want to EAT. THE. FOOD. I want the satisfaction, the taste, the emotional relief, and the full feeling in my belly. When those urges arise, the best thing I’ve learned to do is use a technique called “urge surfing.” I’ve learned to ride the wave of food cravings, which come on strong but also fade. I don’t try to fight the natural tide, but I know that even the biggest waves will break and eventually cascade back into harmless ripples.

 

Here’s how to handle the next time you think you “need” to have something:

Sit there. Don’t act on the urge just yet. Sit and notice that you are having desire to eat. Notice the thoughts and beliefs and rationalizations and excuses that arise in your head. For me, these thoughts are often misleading and inaccurate, and they are NOT conducive to my goals or my health. Notice if there is a sensation or physical in your body that these thoughts and stories create.

Notice the anxiety or any other emotion you may experience by not acting on your impulses.

Just notice. Is your breathing shallow? Or does it remain calm and steady?  Is it quick with the anticipation of planning to eat your favorite treats?

Keep sitting. Keep noticing. Thoughts may persist in your head, demand to be heard, but if you continue to sit and let those thoughts enter your mind they eventually leave and evolve into new thoughts. You will notice the intensity of the craving to eat will diminish. The thoughts may even begin to quiet down, or you may even become distracted by something new.

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the other side of the wave.

Do it just once and you’ll feel incredibly empowered, like you are an unstoppable, impenetrable force. You just BEAT your cravings! High five, girlfriend! It is POSSIBLE. You CAN do this!

Take that, you silly little wave!

Take that, you silly little wave!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/knmurphy/3834663987/”>Kevin N. Murphy</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

Moving forward, remember that you must continue to PRACTICE riding the wave all the way through. Notice your little urges and cravings throughout the day, and see if you can practice noticing how they make you feel. Practice delaying gratification just for a few minutes once in a while, as though you were training a muscle in the gym. Sometimes you might fall off the wave too early and give in to the thoughts and stories and cravings. That’s okay! Keep practicing. Keep sitting. Keep noticing. You’ll get there.

Always here to help,

Jamie

 

PS – Do you immediately give in to cravings? If not, how do you get manage them?