Friday, July 29, 2011

Feeding my inner Dalmatian

In Martha Beck's book, which I'm finding more and more revolutionary in its take on permanent weight loss and right relationship with food, she speaks of the Dalmatian self, where everything is black and white, all or nothing. As a person in recovery, I know the Dalmatian side of myself all too well. The all or nothing attitude has been with me probably since childhood.

It seems to originate in my Disciplinarian but I think it's just my way of simplifying things. If I don't ever eat X, then I don't have to struggle with choice. But I also know that when the Dalmatian is in charge, there's no chance for moderation--ever.

As a recovering alcoholic, I do not advocate for myself or others the idea that I can at some point drink again. I believe way too much of the published research on the addictive habits of the brain chemistry of folks like me to think that that is possible. I also don't put much faith in the idea that I can learn to be moderate with other substances of choice: ice cream, caramels, chocolate, Cheetos (wonder why they all have "c" in them?)

But I do want and need a way to be moderate with food in general. I want to eat and be satisfied by amounts and foods that promote health and well-being in my body instead of thinking first and only about satisfying a craving as if that craving is the only thing that is important.

I've decided to embark on a full embracing of Beck's Four Day Win and I'll be posting my experiences here. You might want to check the book out for yourself.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fasting from vigilance

For the last 10 days, I've been fasting from vigilance. As a chronically anxious child and adult, I've honed vigilance into a fine art: always watching to see if everyone is okay and if they aren't, what I can do to fix that. Being conscious of noises and other changes in my home and my car. Unconsciously sniffing the air for smoke or dangerous chemical smells. Constantly monitoring my body for errant symptoms of impending disaster. It's an exhausting way to live and drinking helped mitigate it a lot. So does eating.

So as I move into a different relationship with anxiety--acceptance, compassion, kindness--so too do I want a different relationship with the Watcher. (I have to admit that the more of these parts of myself that I can label, the more I begin to feel like Sybil.) And this past week, I've given myself permission to not be so vigilant.

I've not monitored every item for recycle or trash. I've napped in the afternoon with the door open and just the screen latched. I've taken time off from my work responsibilities and not apologized for it. When my housekeeper couldn't come on her appointed day, I didn't obsess about it or clean the house myself and resent her. I just wiped down the bathroom and left the carpets hairy. And, most importantly, I haven't paid all that much attention to what and how much I've been eating.

That may not be exactly true. I have consciously included fruits and vegetables in my meals. I've consciously said no to some extra helpings but it hasn't been from a punitive place or even from a place of any curiosity. It's just been a quick thought without a lot of inner conversation. That's actually what I want relief from: the low-level anxiety and the inner conversations that brings up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What do I want? Part II

This morning I had breakfast with a good friend. She is on week 3 of a 4-week deep detox: She is eating leafy greens, a couple of kinds of fruit, and lean protein: no dairy, no grains, no fat other than what's in the poached egg or poached salmon. She looked terrific and said she feels terrific except...she's hungry all the time. And plans to eat, and I quote, "the whole ass of a cow" in two weeks when the detox is up.

Last spring this same friend did three months of Medifast ($900). She lost 40 pounds. When she went back to eating regular food, she began to gain the weight back and rather quickly. So now she's trying something else. I think she believes some in the detox part of it, but maybe mostly she just wants to lose the weight again.

I know that these extreme diets work to lose weight. No one would do them if they didn't. But there's no way to keep that weight off and I've promised myself no more rollercoasting food programs. But I was tempted. I want to look thin and healthy the way she does. But I don't want to think about food all the time and be hungry. That just sets up a war between the Disciplinarian and the Wounded Child Who Eats, and instead of living moderately in the middle of the spectrum, I'm back to the all or nothing.

I'm much more inclined to look at the way my friend Angela is moving (http://www.hergreening.blogspot.com/). What foods make me feel good and , even more critically, what does feeling good entail? I think being more in my body is an important first step.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Looking for a compelling vision

Yesterday, Anna, my counselor, asked me what my vision was around losing weight. I have to admit that the question baffled me. Usually, I can come up with an answer to what she prompts but this time I was stuck. I knew she wasn't asking about the obvious, like the vision of myself thinner. Because I could so easily see, that that vision, of a thinner me, isn't sufficient to change my behavior. I don't want that enough to eat less or exercise more, the two ways to lose weight. When I'm restless and bored, and it occurs to me to eat something, nothing in me says "Don't, you won't get thin that way."

I know I'm still stuck in an old mindset. That weight loss is painful, miserable torture, the way it has been in the past. That my chances at succeeding at it are slim (irony intended). That my chances of gaining all the weight back are high. I'm still in that vision and so some part of me says "Why bother?"

For 17 months, I haven't eaten dessert. Two things keep that present and easy for me. I lost 20 pounds and I'd probably quickly gain them back if I started in on ice cream again. But more importantly, I don't feel guilt and shame anymore about what I eat, and I don't want those feelings back.

But there's a part of me that is still suffering from self-loathing. It's a feeling I can ignore most of the time. The way our bodies are set up, the position of our eyes and faces means that we look down at one part of ourselves, the front and I'm okay with that front. It's when I'm at the gym and faced with mirrors that show all sides of me that the self-loathing comes up to bite me. Somehow this self-loathing, dropping this, is part of the compelling vision I'm looking for but alone it's not enough. 

Will I be happier thinner? I don't know. Many people aren't. Will all the things I want fall in my lap if I'm thinner--like an agent and publisher for my novels? Doubtful. Will I suddenly be irrestible to handsome men? Also unlikely. So what is it I want?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My work, my life

I have often marvelled at how the diversity of my freelance editing work contributes to my knowledge of myself and the changes that occur in my life. A decade ago I was editing books on low self-esteem and would share my stories with the author whenever I saw myself in her theory. She asked my permission to use those stories and editing her books helped me see that even I am highly functional, maybe even overly so, I still had low self-esteem from childhood experiences in my family.

Today I was editing a chapter from a book in progress on child development and parenting and came across this sentence in a discussion of why using rewards and punishments with children is a bad idea. "Using rewards teaches the child that the most important thing is to prolong pleasure—even at the expense of betraying yourself." This sentence so resonated with me that I immediately copied it out into my journal and into this blog.

"Prolong pleasure even at the expense of betraying yourself" is an amazingly accurate description of my addictive relationships. whether they be food, alcohol, work, sex. You name it. The incomprehensible demoralization that the AA Big Book talks about is that very sense of betrayal. And yet I have been so desperate to prolong pleasure because in the either/or world of addiction that I still visit all too frequently in one form or another, there is only pleasure and punishment; nothing else is really living. Both the extreme pleasure I have sought and the deep misery I have experienced have seemed like "real life." As if ordinary, peaceful, semi-contented living isn't real life.

There wasn't a lot of punishment in my early life. My mother had a distinct way of expressing her disapproval that turned us all into pretty good kids. But there was a lot of rewarding done. I remember an afternoon in the summer I was 10 when my mother promised us a big reward (ice cream cones) if we would not make a big fuss about getting polio shots. I was very frightened of doctors for a reason I don't remember and the idea of getting a shot (they used big honking needles in those days) terrified me. But there was no getting out of it and I knew that I could have some food I wanted to soothe the anxiety and make it go away. And it worked and it went on working for decades while I learned to prolong pleasure, even though it meant betraying myself, my health, my career, my spiritual nature.

Lots to think about here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Old memories, old cravings

I've been at this retreat center more than a dozen times over the last 9 years. I come now twice a year for a week or so of writing and creative community. It's a place where my soul can rest and my imagination can find the time and space it needs to expand.

In the early years, I ate a lot of sugar here. We have a circle every afternoon and in those early times, we outdid each other with exotic chocolate bars, often with as many as 6 or 7 bars to choose them. We'd eat a lot, then eat a big dinner with a fabulous dessert. And of course, I always had my own stash of the latest obsession. Two years in a row it was Werther's soft caramels. Then it was ordering an extra pan of Chef Patti's Caramel Banana Cream Pie--all of myself. Chef Patti is a local wizard, who cooked for us until we decided to save money and cook for ourselves. Then two years ago, it was going three times to the local grocery store for half-gallons of my fix of ice cream and hiding the containers in the trash and hoping nobody would look in the spare freezer in the unused second kitchen. 

Now that I'm dessert-free, we have fresh fruit with our meals. People can bring chocolate, or whatever they want for themselves, but I ask that the meals be free of refined sugar items.

But the last couple of days, I've had serious cravings for sweets. Some of it may be triggered by old memories of the heedless kind of eating I used to do. Maybe it's because I'm moving closer and closer to not using food as a soother so much any more. Whatever it is, it's been difficult. There isn't anything here to binge on--although I guess I could make some kind of sugary buttered toast or jam and yogurt, but of course that isn't what I want.

I want to be reckless and eat myself sick. And I'm not going to do that. It does, however, feel good to admit my desires to myself and to the page. There is some relief in that.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is real relaxation possible for someone like me?

For the last week, I've been practicing Martha Beck's body whisperer exercise, which is basically spending 10 minutes soothing your body through kind thoughts and words until you reach a state of relaxation. I tried moving on to the next exercise, getting in touch with your body, but I found it almost impossible to discern what was going on in my body (Beck's point exactly) and so I've gone back to the whisperer.

It is disconcerting to see how amazingly anxious I get each time I sit quietly and try to calm myself. It is more than the usual monkey mind that happens with meditation. There's a sense of deep distress that I'm sure doing something productive or eating something will fix. And it makes me realize how little I know about relaxing.

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to books on relaxing and resting and slowing down and simplifying, all while keeping my life going full tilt. What I know about relaxing comes from overeating: consuming so much food that I'm sluggish and unable to do much except nap or watch TV. I miss alcohol, not for the taste or the oblivion, but for the sense of relaxation I got from that first hit, the way my shoulders would go down and my gut would unclench. While sugar and fat didn't work as quickly, they worked well enough and so it's no wonder I've been reluctant to let it go.

I do believe Beck is on to something and that this will work but it's going to take a lot longer than the four days she suggests to do undo a lifetime of anxiety.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The body whisperer

In her amazing book, The Four Day Win, Martha Beck devotes a chapter to the corollary between gentling horses and coming into right relationship with our bodies. She talks of watching a friend domesticate a horse by speaking its language, by setting aside the predator/prey relationship that is a function of biology between the two species, and coming into a gentle, loving place where the horse will team up with the human.

She suggests that most of us with food issues and body issues are playing out the predator/prey relationship every day, trying to whip our bodies into shape through shame and deprivation and well-meaning external and internal cruelties.

Last Sunday at my Women and Food group, we read this chapter aloud to each other. The responses of the others were just as profound as my own had been. Was there really, truly a way to be in a different relationship with our bodies and the tender part of our selves that are interwoven into those cells?

And I thought about my Wounded Child Who Eats as the wild horse trying to survive and my predator-self the Abstainer trying hard to be in control to survive and I felt such sorrow for them both.

Beck gives a simple 10-minute soothing exercise at the end of the chapter. It is a combination of self-soothing and meditation. I'm doing it each day. I'll report what happens.