Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Everything you're doing is wrong....

When people ask me if it was really hard I usually reply that "most of the time no, but sometimes yes."
The main reason it wasn't hard is that I wanted to be successful more than I wanted the food. And the main reason I felt that way is that I had a health scare. Not an actual health scare but a psychological one. I approached the age that my dad was when he had his first cancer and coincidentally that same winter two people my age were diagnosed with cancer. As they went through their horrible ordeals I read their blogs, growing more terrified and heartsick by the day. One ultimately died. Losing weight is not a cancer-prevention guarantee but it is a risk factor I could control.

So as I have reiterated often I have been doing a lot of reading and some things are starting to gel.
Here is my summary. All the books/media I have really found compelling are getting across the following message to the average American:

"Everything you're doing is wrong and everything you love is bad for you. Stop."

Most people react the following way,
"What??? No!!! But everyone I know eats that way. I can't deal with that. What am I supposed to do, eat cabbage and rice for the rest of my life? Never go out to dinner? Measure portions all day? That sucks!!! I'll never be able to do that."

So many of our leading healthy eating advocates are understandably trying to soften the blow. Pollan uses modern anthropology, Kessler uses neuroscience, Oz/Roisen use biology, Biggest Loser uses humiliation, Weight Watchers uses sympathy, nutritionists use big words (phytochemicals anyone?). I oversimplify of course. But that's the basic idea.

But how does one accept such a depressing idea??

I can speak to my own experience on that one.

I came to terms with that statement, incrementally, as I plodded through my first few months. It sucked. It was depressing. It was hard to accept. It seemed unfair. Impossible. Wrong. It involved letting go of lots of former sources of fun and pleasure.....but it does get easier over is replaced with other obsessions - exercise, fashion, blogging - I'm half kidding. But the brain does stop focusing on food so much.

One equally successful friend suggested her still heavy sister was not ready "give up food" -  She didn't mean her sister should starve herself, she meant her sister was using food as a mindless pleasure source regardless of it's health effects. I still enjoy food, but it's not my constant little pick me up.

I actually read where Oz talks about his own epiphany in this regard. He said he used to tell his patients exactly why their diets and behaviors were killing them and what steps they needed to take to feel better. But his heartfelt lectures didn't penetrate. It was too hard a message to hear so his patients just used the "head in the sand" method of dealing with their health. He decided to work towards understanding his patients' feelings. He strove to explain the biology in a way that empowered people to take control of their own lives, rather than alienating them with overwhelming directives. Hence his antics on Oprah displaying sickened lungs and livers, and his in-depth depictions of colonoscopies, etc. But his ultimate message is the same. Don't eat anything with "enriched flour" or more than 9 grams of sugar. That's still a tough sell.

To elaborate a little on the "everything you're doing is wrong" statement - it can be stated with more detail...
  • unless you get your weight and overall health under control you face pain, disease and even pre-mature death - potentially leaving your family and friends devastated.
  • the traditional American diet/lifestyle is almost uniquely unhealthy, and can even be conceived of as "poison" in that it kills us over a long period of time (processed foods, lack of veggies, too much volume, not enough exercise, etc.)
I had internalized those facts before I started - partly because of the cancer around me, partly from working at NCI, partly from all my reading. That is why it wasn't all that hard for me. What I did not know then, but do now is this last essential and extremely comforting point.
  • eating right and exercising is not as bad as it seems at first. I swear. You will eventually come to like it most of the time. (Most - not all)
For me, accepting the first two points made the turkey club with bacon and mayo really not all that appealing. I even began to see large portions in the same unattractive light - just like the mindshift about cigarettes that Kessler describes. When you want something else more than the food (like being healthy), and you see most "American" foods as a slow poison then the food loses it's power over you, "Should I have a cookie? I really want one. They're so good. But I shouldn't. I ate a big dinner. But just one. But I didn't exercise today. Oh well today's a waste anyway. I'll be better tomorrow."

For years I was tortured with that dialogue, but now I almost never am. I either don't want the cookie or I eat one, knowing I am usually pretty careful and I can control myself and eat just one.

And now, I like my new body and I want to keep it this way. And I want my clothes to fit comfortably. So those are strong additional motivators. But most importantly the cravings are largely gone. I'm free. And I like exercising. My brain now releases more positive endorphins (?) when exercising than when eating ice cream.

I never would have believed that one year ago. I know not everyone who loses weight feels this way. Some people find reaching their goal weight to be the toughest obstacle of all. I was lucky in that regard. At least so far.

1 comment:

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