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What Doesn’t Kill You September 9, 2013

Posted by J. in Domesticity, Genius.
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I had another one of my epiphanies the other day, and because my occasional flashes of dubious brilliance seem to resonate with people I thought I’d share. So, as I sat here last night and started this, it’s poetic that on a chilly Sunday night, the smell of chocolate chip cookies was filling the kitchen. I’d worked out, I’d had my healthy, filling meals, but the smell of baking cookies was wiggling into my very soul and crying out my name.

“Pooooooops. Eeeeeeat meeeeeee. I’m deeeeeeeelicious! You know you want me!”

God, did I want you. I wanted you like no one has ever wanted a chocolate chip cookie in the history of ever. But I didn’t have you, you seductive demon. I resisted your siren song.

Now, lest you think I’m some sort of superhero (which is patently untrue, unless I’m wearing my Captain America thong, but that’s another post for another time), allow me to explain how this heroic act of strength happened.

It occurred to me that one of the things I did right from the start to help myself commit to this new, healthier way of eating is not having the things around that give me the kind of cravings that make me want to cut a bitch for just a single bite. I think it’s one of the first ways most people who are trying to lose weight cope with the constant cravings for shitty food. In my house, 10 months into my dietary overhaul, Larry still only buys snacks (like pretzels and Nutty Bars and Cool Ranch Doritos) that he knows I couldn’t care less about. He knows and appreciates what I’m trying to do, and he supports me by not doing things that will intentionally derail me. To his credit, he doesn’t bring home Girl Scout cookies (sorry, GSA) or Ben and Jerry’s because they’re so hard for me to walk away from.

But because a thing is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I was talking with a friend over the summer, at the height of ice cream season, and she said, “I don’t know how you do it. I’m powerless against ice cream. I just can’t say no.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, to be honest. It’s the kind of thing people say when they want to lose weight but the food always seems to win, and I don’t think I really heard the words. Not to mention that ice cream isn’t one of my trigger foods. But later on, recounting the conversation to my sister, it hit us both at the same time. That attitude–I can’t say no, I’m powerless–that’s why I’ve always failed, and why so many other people do. So you banish the foods that cause you trouble. You know the ones. The ones that you can’t have just a bit of and put back. The ones that call your name from the cupboard. The ones that are so very bad for you that they’re a gateway drug to getting in the car and hitting the McDonald’s drive-thru like a sailor in a whorehouse.

I’m not knocking it as a strategy. It’s a good one, a solid one. But sometimes I think it does a disservice as well.

Like last night, there were fresh baked, homemade cookies staring me down. There they were, only a few feet from me, and Larry walked up with the broken off bit of a cookie in his hand, the chocolate melted and gooey, the little wisps of steam barely visible in the cool kitchen, and he offered me a single, small bite. “You worked hard today at the gym…”

And with a smile, I gently turned it down. I explained that I know myself well enough to appreciate that one bite will just make me want more bites. A cookie turns into three. Or five. And then I’m saying “fuck it” and looking for what else I can stuff in my head. That bite could well be a one-way ticket to Binge City. For me, because I’ve had a lot of time to think about this kind of thing, I know myself, and I know that I’m better off not even taking that first bite. Some people can take a bite and be happy with it, feel satisfied. And I can do that with some foods. I can take a bite of ice cream and walk away, but not fucking homemade chocolate chip cookies, man. Down that path leads a binge it’ll take two weeks to atone for. *shudders*

I’m not sure if I’ll ever eat another chocolate chip cookie still warm from the oven again. I know for the longest time that I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “I can’t ever have {insert tasty food item that makes life worth living} again.” The idea of a life without a slice of birthday cake, or a wedge of that first apple pie in fall, or my mother’s fudge on Christmas Day made me give up my will to live. Or more accurately, my will to diet.

But what do you do when saying “no more, ever” makes you want to kill yourself, but at the same time you know that there are foods that will send you spiraling out of control? When experience tells you that one cookie will lead to a whole batch, or a handful of potato chips will mean eventually grazing through the pantry and eating everything but the baking soda?

If I sound like an alcoholic talking about a drink, you aren’t far off. I’ve done a stint in Overeaters Anonymous, and I have friends who are in AA. I think about a lot of foods the way alcoholics talk about booze. I remember one friend in recovery who used to tend bar. We asked how she could stand to be surrounded by booze and she says it doesn’t usually bother her. The only thing that affected her was seeing unfinished drinks. If someone left a drink on the bar and there was some left in the glass, she said the urge to finish it was almost painful.

I feel that way when someone scrapes the frosting off a piece of birthday cake and says it’s too sweet, and then leaves the glob on the plate. Or eats half a piece of cheesecake and says they’re full. I look at the food on the plate and the urge to just finish that dessert kills me. It’s nearly crippling.

And like an alcoholic, I know I can’t eat the way I used to. Of course with food, you have to eat. You can put booze out of your life, but you do have to take nourishment. In OA, sobriety is measured by sticking to your diet plan. OA doesn’t promote or endorse any particular plan, and most people define their own sobriety in terms of that. For someone on Weight Watchers, sobriety might mean staying within their points range. For someone counting calories, it’s staying under their limit. For someone who has identified as a food addict, it might be completely abstaining from white flour and refined sugar, or staying under a carb limit per day, or whatever the individual food addiction is. 

That’s where OA helped me the most. I had to identify what my issues with food really were. I’ve had to figure out if I have trigger foods and what to do when I encounter them in the wild. (Or behind me on my kitchen counter, as the case may be.) I know my biggest issue is with bingeing, and I know there are foods that can bring one on. I need strategies to deal with those foods so that I can move forward towards my health and fitness goals. But I also know that I can’t avoid crap food forever. It’s there and part of life, and it’s a matter of figuring out where they fit in.

Avoidance only works for so long. Eventually you’re going to have to say no. If I was to move forward, I had to stand up and assert that I am NOT powerless over any food. So I changed saying “no” to saying “not right now. Not today. Maybe tomorrow, if I still want some.” There’s a world of difference between “never” and “later,” and I’ve discovered that when later comes, it’s not that hard to put it off again. Eventually, I don’t want them any more. I can have them, but–and here’s the difference–I choose not to. Saying “later” to something I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally want but know I shouldn’t have becomes easier every time I do it. It’s become a habit of mine.

Is it hard? Honestly? No, not much anymore. At first, yes. Hence the avoidance policy. But there’s something to be said for resisting what’s under your nose. When you have to turn down something that is always right there, you get good at saying no. The food loses its power over you. You practice, and eventually you get stronger.

Case in point: this is a picture I get sent to me on more than a few Fridays.

You should know that I would eat the fuck out of these. Seriously doubt I'd even taste the first three...

You should know that I would eat the fuck out of these. Seriously doubt I’d even taste the first three…

Every Friday is Krispy Kreme day at Bill’s job. He sends the pic for moral support. He curses the bastard unto seven generations that brings them in every. single. Friday.

And then he walks past them, and has been walking past them for almost a year now. I asked him if saying “no” to those donuts got easier as the weeks have stretched into months, and he said it has. It’s become easier to resist them because he’s practiced resisting them every week. He’s become stronger than the donuts.

There’s a school of thought when it comes to changing the way you eat that says that you should have some of what you crave so that you don’t obsess about it until you go on a mad binge. Advice to Bill would be to allot the calories so that he could have a donut on Friday.

Only here’s what Bill knows, and what I know. Friday Donut Day will become a weekly occurrence. That weekly donut is no longer a treat. It’s a habit. And a bad one. You know what donuts are? Fat and sugar. That’s it. They’re fucking delicious, but they’re useless for anything but building fat. And when what you’re trying to do is get rid of that last little bit of fat and build lean muscle, donuts are only counter-productive. They are a step backwards in every sense of the word.

I also think it’s horseshit that cravings don’t go away if you fail to indulge them. They most certainly do go away. Granted I’m still not in the habit of saying that I can never have chocolate chip cookies again, but I know for sure that I don’t need them. I can’t honestly say I’ll never have another donut in my life, but I can say with every ounce of certainty that I’ll never eat four of them for breakfast again and think nothing of it.

First of all, I’d puke. I can’t imagine what they’d do to my system now and how dreadful I’d feel.

But that aside, in the past, I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve never been able to stop mourning the loss of the foods I love that are just horrible for me. In the past, when I realized that things like cake and cookies and chips were eventually going to keep me from getting to my goal, I gave up on my goal. I chose the junk foods over my own health, over looking good, over everything, really. The idea of never again sitting in front of the TV with a bag of Cheese Doodles and eating the entire bag made me want to cry.

The morning I realized that I’ll never again eat four donuts for breakfast again and felt really good about it, that’s when I knew things had changed for me. I have changed my way of thinking. Practicing those new thought patterns has made them stronger, and they’ve replaced the old ones. I don’t know for sure if they’re gone entirely, but it’s been awhile since I’ve turned down something shitty-but-delicious and felt sad or angry about it.

That kind of denial hasn’t killed me. Putting crap food aside for later has been a good practice for me. It has made me stronger. Walking past those donuts every Friday has made Bill stronger. There comes a time when you just can’t avoid the things that tempt you the most. You have to say no. Or you say “later”. Or you just give twelve boxes of hot pizza the finger, grab your keys, and flee before you change your mind.

Seriously, Planet Fitness? What the fuck is up with Pizza Monday? You're a gorram GYM. Working out with the scent of Papa Gino's wafting through the air...NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. Assholes.

Seriously, Planet Fitness? What the fuck is up with Pizza Monday? You’re a gorram GYM. Working out with the scent of Papa Gino’s wafting through the air…NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. Assholes.

My point, and I do have one, is that turning down unhealthy food in favor of good, healthy, mindful choices has gotten easier because I’ve practiced it. I say no in a way I have to to make it right in my own mind; it won’t kill me, and it will make me stronger.

And that’s important. Turning down things like weekly donuts and pizza or even an ever present bag of potato chips in the cupboard or fresh cookies in the jar is a regular workout, only it’s not for my body, but for my mind. I am getting in the habit of turning down food that’s counter-productive to my goals. Those regular workouts are important for the times when Bad Food comes at me out of nowhere. Like going out to dinner and not knowing what’s going to be on the menu. Or going to a friend’s house for a party and there’s not a vegetable in sight, but there’s a fuckton of beer and chips. I don’t leave the restaurant. I don’t walk out of the party. It’s when all that practice of turning down crap food comes into play. It becomes easier to make a healthy choice because I’ve practiced doing it.

But being mindful also means knowing when food is part of a celebration and being able to control what you allow yourself to have, and how much of it. I’m not facing down a lifetime of never having a slice of my own birthday cake. But the days of bringing the leftover cake home and eating a quarter of a sheet cake for breakfast (no exaggeration) are over. My sobriety means staying in control of my choices and eating mindfully. If I eat something that has more calories in it than I can afford to spend, I make it my choice to do so. And sometimes I do make that choice. I had a cupcake at my cousin’s third birthday party because it was a celebration–a once in awhile thing. I stayed in control, and that, for me, is my sobriety.

And again, Captain America thong aside, this isn’t some mutant ability to resist food. It’s certainly not like those fuck it moments haven’t happened along the way. Did I tell you about the time I needed something sweet to eat so badly that I binged on pretzel rods dipped in an expired can of sugar free frosting? I’m not sure why that didn’t kill me, actually. Sometimes, when it comes to food, I take it on the chin. But getting back up and dusting myself off after a binge, writing down what I’ve eaten even when it looks like hell to see in print, owning up to my failures as well as rejoicing in my successes, that’s all part of getting healthier. Because in the end, long-term weight loss success starts from the neck up.

So…no. Just no. Maybe later, if I still want one.

You will not beat me. You will not win.

You will not beat me. You will not win.

 

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Comments»

1. Elizabeth - September 9, 2013

Yep. It’s a day at a time.

I’m again, after an 18+ years hiatus, back to avoiding the obvious sugar bombs, for the reasons you said. If I don’t start, it gets easier and I’m happier without. If I try to have ‘just one’ I end up having them all. I don’t ferret out every sugar-containing thing, like I eat ketchup. And I don’t avoid sweet fruits, because I’ve never binged on a bunch of bananas. But if it looks like a dessert, smells like a dessert, and tastes like a dessert, for today, I just say “No thank you.”

2. Helen Thomas - September 9, 2013

How in the world does a gym think pizza is ok???? AUGGHHH And they are one of my favorites, hubby and I miss them, we loved how cheap they were.


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