Over the last two and half years I have done a crapload of learning – both for my own eating issues and in developing the skills I needed to work with my clients. Everything I’ve been taught to use with clients, I’ve put into practice first with myself – kept what worked and tossed what didn’t. Somewhere during that process, I’ve settled into something of a belief system when it comes to how to lose weight without dieting, how to manage emotional eating and how to eat normally (after years of chronic dieting). This “belief system” is really just a series of tools that I teach clients to use. I know they work when they’re applied to daily life consistently.
Tools and Trust
These tools have been working for me. I’ve lost 40 lbs this way and maintained that loss now for over a year. I’ve had clients ask: Does it get easier? Does it feel like less of a struggle at some point? And while the answer to those questions is yes, I certainly feel more at ease with food and my body, I’ve definitely clung to these tools tightly, there’s a part of me that worries I’ve held onto them possibly too tightly. There’s a fear that if I do let go of some of these tools (hunger cues, mindful eating, enjoying the food I eat bite for bite etc) for even a few days, I will gain a massive amount of weight again. Because I’ve done that (If you’re new here: I gained 60lbs of a 90lb loss back a few years ago). Because even if I have tools that keep me pointed in the right direction, there’s a part of myself that I don’t trust. 60 lbs felt like a huge betrayal.
So I’ve held the tools tight, relying on them most days in every food choice I make.
This isn’t a bad thing – having to practice something over and over again to make better decisions about food is way better than ending back in a shame eating spiral that never ends. But sometimes I wonder, what would happen if I stopped being so conscious and particular with these tools. Are they ingrained enough in me that they are now my “normal”? Can I trust what I’ve learned and taught or deep down is there an crazy eater just waiting to come back out?
Interestingly enough, despite relying on these tools so much, I’ve actually thought less about my own weight during this time than I have my entire life . . .which may seem surprising since I’m literally writing about weight, diet and eating issues on a weekly basis. I exercise, I eat well 90% of the time and put a lot of energy into acknowledging my feelings, journaling and working on getting what I need emotionally. I weigh more than I’d like to still but there’s no pain and shame around that anymore. I take good care of myself and I know I can look and feel good in the body I have right now.
In addition to wondering if I could stop holding on to these tools so tightly, my stablized weight and the length of time I’ve been using these eating tools, sort of made me feel like I deserved a “break” from them. If my weight had been stable for so long, what would be the harm in going off the rails more? I’ve never been so strict as to not allow myself what I want (we’re big into wine and chocolate in my house), but I definitely keep the reins from being too slack for more than a day or two. (As a side note: “going off the rails” is probably my favorite metaphor. The image of a speeding train on it’s predetermined and carefully maintained/charted course and then it leaving the rails uncontrollably and suddenly is a powerful image that describes how crazy eating can feel).
6 Weeks of Wild Eating
In late August, John and I went on vacation in Cape Cod. Vacation always brings a challenge when it comes to balancing healthy eating with indulgent eating and this year was no different. One of our house guests brought handmade donuts one morning. I said yes to the donut (I never eat donuts). We went out for fried clams and ice cream in the same night. I enjoyed both. After coming home from vacation, I gave it a half-assed attempt to get back on track, getting back to my regular workouts and focusing on getting my vegetables in but the “going off the rails” mentality food wise was still hanging around. All of September was filled with more chocolate, ice cream, bread, cheese, chips and wine than I had probably eaten in two years.
Earlier this month, I decided to finally get on the scale. Enough was enough. I don’t weigh myself everyday but I weigh myself regularly enough so that I can keep an eye on sneaky weight gain. I also stopped keeping my food diary consistently. I don’t worry about calories anymore but I do write down what I eat everyday – it helps me remain conscious about my choices. I know myself and when I avoid the scale & my food diary, it means I’m trying to sabotage myself and ignore what I’m putting in my mouth. I kind of had been doing that since late August. I was still relying on checking in with my hunger and using that to decide when to stop eating but I wasn’t making the best choices I could most days. I know I was eating more than I usually do and I was often choosing a lot of foods that don’t make me feel my best.
When I finally got on the scale, I sincerely expected to see at least a 6-8 lb gain – I had been eating wildly for at least 6 weeks. It was time to stop closing my eyes. It was time to get that train back on the rail! When the 0.0 on the digital scale finally registered my weight, it was just 1.4 lbs more than I had been when we left for vacation. I hadn’t even gained a pound and a half. Heck, my weight goes up and down a few pounds daily – if I weighed myself again in a couple days, would it even register as a gain?
I was dumbfounded. While I had been exercising, I wasn’t working out enough to work off all the extra stuff I had been eating and drinking. Historically – eating the very shit I had been eating equaled a huge influx on the scale.
I was hugely relieved. Even though I know I had gone off the rails for weeks, eating more and not well, I actually had been checking in on my hunger. There were no binges. No eating in secret. I tasted every bite of ice cream, chips, chocolate or other nutrient light foods and enjoyed the crap out of them. And I hadn’t indulged in negative thoughts about my body when they popped up. But I didn’t trust that these things were true because there was a part of me that was feeling like sabotaging my current ease with food.
I had let go of holding my “tools” so tightly and thought it was going to lead me down a familiar ugly path, but instead, it has proven to me that I actually have made some incredible healthy progress. It may sound fucked up to call 6 weeks of iffy eating as progress but it is, as I am trusting my body. I can trust what I’ve been taught and what I teach others. What I’ve been practicing for 2 and half years is having a deep effect on me. That not worrying so much about my weight means I can worry less about my weight. Eating “more” now doesn’t look like what it used to (clearing entire boxes of cheez-its or eating 4 slices of pizza for dinner). That is why I didn’t gain a huge amount of weight.
I guess the point of this long post is that we really need to be willing to trust ourselves completely and if you practice anything long enough, you’re going to get really good at it, even when you aren’t really trying all that hard. Knowing that I can let go of the reins a little more and not have disaster strike feels really empowering. It feels more like healing than I thought was even possible. I know that a truly healthy relationship with food means having a healthy relationship with yourself first – and that’s not possible if you don’t trust yourself.
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