Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fitness, Part 3: Eating habits


Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them. --Albert Einstein

Gotta give a well-deserved fist bump to my man, Al. When it comes to me and eating, he really understood. Though I think he was actually referring to quantum physics, not my attempts to sneak another Pop-Tart without the kids' knowledge.

I wish I could describe the exact time of the shift that turned me from a carb-lovin', candy-snarfin', chocolate sneakin' mama into a calm, reasoned person who walks past the candy aisle, but I don't remember it. Lemme just say it had nothing to do with willpower, because I don't have any.

All I can say is that I was able to finally find a place beyond "I shouldn't eat that," or "I should exercise," to "I want good things for myself." As Einstein suggested, it's a place beyond the head game of impulse eating and then mentally beating myself up for doing it.

I was connecting with joy instead of shame.

After I made the decision to try to get back in shape, a couple of things did fall into place that helped me walk away from temptation.

1. I'd worked too hard to mess up my progress.

Once I saw the results of my workouts, I wanted to stay in this stronger, healthier place. Feeling better really made that much of a difference for me. I remember standing in front of my favorite sugary snack in the store, debating about whether to indulge or not, and thinking, "Nope. I want to feel good." Incredibly, that settled it.

2. I knew how certain foods made me feel.

What food makes you feel good? How much? Where is that point where you go from feeling satisfied to feeling stuffed? Which foods completely shut down your full-o-meter and urge you to keep eating, eating, eating? (For me, they're potato chips and anything caramel. And licorice. Chocolate can do it too, sometimes. You get the point.)

Turns out it's not just you or me that has this problem. Recent studies (reports here and here) have shown that rats on junk food diets show the same addictive, compulsive behaviors as rats on heroin. Whoa.

The way I tuned into my body's response to food was to skip a meal a day, but just for a couple of weeks. Let me say emphatically that I do not recommend this approach, especially to those with medical conditions, or pregnant or nursing mothers (see common-sense disclaimer). But it was a way for me to finally get rid of the chronic too-full feeling I'd grown accustomed to.

Religious people who fast say that the empty feeling they have leaves space for God. For me, it at least let me be with my hunger without reflexively stuffing it down. I started eating more slowly and noticing which foods made me frantic, bloated, lethargic, or unable to control my eating. I noticed when I started feeling full, and then I could put the brakes on.

The result? Almost a year later, I'm eating smaller portions, skipping the sugary stuff I used to crave, and feel almost free of the impulsive, unconscious eating that made me 20 pounds heavier.

I'm no rocket scientist, but I have to say, I'm grateful to have found this level of awareness with my eating habits.

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