You know how sometimes the first time (or the first hundred times) you hear an idea, you’re just not ready for it, but then one day it clicks? That’s what happened to me this week.
I’ve been re-reading a terrific book called “Women, Food and God,” by Geneen Roth. She has some interesting ideas about food, like using our relationship with food to explore our spiritual lives, and shockingly, that a person can eat anything they want and still lose weight. (Note: Roth is not advising that diabetics run out and eat a package of Oreos.)
I’ve known in the back of my mind for many, many years that I was eating mindlessly, eating emotionally, and binge eating sometimes. Enough for my weight to rise over 243 pounds—a pretty good load to carry around if you are five-foot-four like I am. At the beginning of this process toward an active and fit lifestyle, I set myself an informal goal of losing 100 pounds.
My true goal is physical fitness, which I’ve learned comes in many shapes and sizes, and after five decades on this planet, I can truthfully say that my body issues are not what they once were, like say, when I was in my 20s. I’m now comfortable in my own skin in ways I never was when I was younger.
Still, that number. That number on the scale which never seems to budge. It was bugging me so much, in fact, that my daughter and I made a pact to stay off the scale until the end of March, about six weeks from the last time I weighed myself at 238.
As I’ve gotten better and better at incorporating exercise into my daily routine, I’ve turned my attention more toward what I put on my plate. Where do I fall off the rails? Why do I want so much cake?
Roth’s book lays out principles for eating, which include eating without distractions, tuning in fully to your body, and stopping when you are full.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Except that throughout my life I never stopped eating when I was full. I didn’t even know what “full” felt like. Mostly I stopped eating when I felt discomfort, or when the food was gone.
Exercise has done so much to help me inhabit my body, and so now, even though this is the third or fourth time I’ve read this book—suddenly it made sense on a visceral level, and I’ve been surprised every day since then.
Yesterday, for example, in the evening I had a snack of organic blueberries and a little hunk of sharp cheddar cheese. Ordinarily I would have eaten all of the blueberries and probably gone back for a second piece of cheese. But in paying attention to whether I was hungry, I ate maybe half of the blueberries and no second piece of cheese.
The night before that, I bought a piece of chocolate cake. For whatever reason, cake is the thing I just want to eat all the time. When I sat down to eat it, a fudgy thing with whipped cream on top covered by more fudge—I know, don’t judge me—I realized quickly that I did not actually want to eat it when I was paying attention to my body. It was way too sweet. The frosting was unbearable. The whipped cream was fake. It was just… not what I wanted, physically. I ate the whipped cream and a few bites of the frosting and cake, and threw the rest away. Say what?!
This morning, I made myself a lovely breakfast: organic yellow squash and scallions sauteed in butter with scrambled eggs, whole grain toast with more butter, sliced avocado with olive oil, and fresh organic strawberries and blueberries (which I still had left over). I had a fresh cup of coffee with half and half.
In the past, I would have eaten the lot, probably while reading a book, since I live alone and my cats are poor conversationalists. This morning, I only served myself half of the eggs. As I ate, slowly, while paying attention to what my body was telling me, I realized about halfway through that I was full. So I stopped eating. I still haven’t finished that tiny container of blueberries!
The idea behind Roth’s book is that we are constantly trying to “fix” ourselves, delaying just about everything behind the idea that we have to lose 100 pounds, or fit into that pair of jeans, or finally exercise portion control. When you stop trying to fix yourself, she says, and listen to your body, your weight will normalize itself. This fits in nicely with my plan to be kind to myself.
Now I know what you’re saying: How can I eat every meal with no distractions? Impossible! And this will be a challenge for me also. For the past 12 or 13 years, for example, I have eaten lunch and snacks at my desk as I pound out the newspaper. Until recently I had piles of kids around, and their schedules to juggle, making meal preparation a challenge. The first thing to slip was always the quality of my diet when things got hectic, and for me, distracted eating has been the rule.
So what has changed? Because exercise has done so much to help me tune into my body, I find it easier to tune in even when I’m not exercising. The hard part will be follow-through, and not allowing myself to just mindlessly munch. The good news, though, is that I am motivated and ready for this radical idea at last.
What is your relationship with food like? Contact me at email@example.com or 505-286-1212, or join the ongoing conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!”