Back in 2006, I mused as follows:
“Just when I think I’m in charge of my life, I discover myself eating that extra two hundred calories, or not bothering to get any exercise.
Just when I think I’m feeling motivated, I realize I’ve just wasted another evening watching television….and fall asleep unsatisfied or depressed.
I need to develop some way of being very conscious of making these self-defeating choices – ‘in the moment’ when I’m making them. Then presumably I could stop myself, in that moment, and – and what? Dialogue with myself and my demons?”
So here we are in 2012, and I realize these issues are no longer part of my life, though they had quietly tormented me for decades. I often referred to my (Freudian) “oral gratification complex”. I had tried most ‘diets’ but always replaced lost pounds before long. Finally, I went on an ‘inner journey’ and in case anyone is interested here’s what worked for me:
The way I see it is that I broke the habit of the cerebral exercise of ‘describing’ (as above) the issue, and worked on a new habit of paying real attention to the tiniest minutiae of how I ‘behaved’ or ‘lived out’ my relationship or response to food. I confess that I think I’d get pretty bored doing this for any length of time, but a few hours at a time, on a regular basis, seemed to be enough to break habits and develop new ones.
So for instance, I had a habit of grabbing a handful of nuts (or.. fill in the blank) to munch on – “just a few nuts”, right? Just a few nuts add up to many calories by the end of the day. Supposedly, it takes something like 1200 calories to support a pound on the body. The extra pounds are as subtle as the nut-eating itself – almost unconscious. I focused on the tiniest physical act of placing a nut in my mouth, and being aware of it as a choice to support weight. I focused on the pleasure too, and the reality that the pleasure would soon be over, but the weight I was choosing would be there much longer than the pleasure of the snack.
I went through the same exercise with all my self-defeating eating habits – like carrot muffins with my coffee! Like ‘seconds’ when a dessert was delicious. Quantity became irrelevant to me, and quality became central. I focused on savouring each mouthful, took the time to ‘take it in’ and get a detailed sense of the tastes and textures of what I was eating. I took my time making myself – for example – a fresh salad, tomatoes from my garden, my own vinaigrette, letting the fresh pressed garlic ‘steep’ in the olive oil. I ate ‘mindfully’, focusing completely on the meal rather than letting my mind wander, and slowly, taking time between each bite, so my body had the chance to ‘feel satisfied’. I wanted to get to know the relationship between the food and my feelings.
At first it wasn’t easy – I had to remind myself constantly as with any habit. One thing that became part of the process was to ask myself – when I reached for a food I didn’t need – ‘what is my real need that I’m trying to satisfy with the food’.
I gradually realized that sometimes it was a ‘comfort’ thing; and sometimes it was a simple desire for pleasure. The physical pleasure of deliciousness. So I began to deliberately choose other pleasures – like beautiful music…. And use your imagination…
I worked on visualizing vividly imagining myself as a person with a peaceful feeling of ‘enough’, ‘satisfied’, serene in the face of food, in touch not only with my hunger when it was real, but also in touch with my ‘appetite satisfied’ feelings. Eventually it actually became easy to resist temptations, though I confess I had to completely give up those carrot muffins, in order to forget their flavor and texture.
Another little mental exercise that I began early on was to ‘get into’ having a clean, empty mouth, and trying to hold onto an attitude of curiosity and exploration of how it actually feels to not eat anything for hours. So for example, if I felt an anxious urge to reach for some food, I would stop and explore those feelings: was it really hunger for food, or was it a hunger for something else? What was the real need? Eventually it would disappear. Something about paying attention to my feelings often seemed to satisfy a need all by itself. Almost as if I needed to acknowledge them. So be it.
Eliminating evenings of TV turned out to be easy. I turned on music and opened a book, or visited with a friend, or worked on a long-postponed project. Productivity reigned.
There’s a theory that it’s easier to stop ourselves from doing something, than to make ourselves do something. That fits with my experienced. In any case, I’ve had less success with making myself ‘exercise’. Maybe a different mental approach would work. I enjoy walking or dancing, but going for a workout seems unpleasant, painful and unrewarding, short-term. I do lift some little weights – occasionally. But when my daughter enthusiastically goes off to the gym for a ‘workout’, I don’t get it.
But I think, at the end of the day, it’s really about becoming more conscious of our feelings and our choices – empowerment.