Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Year Now Maintaining

It's been a year now since I hit my original weight loss goal and I am thrilled more than you can imagine that I've been maintaining that success. In fact, I'm actually about 13 pounds under that original goal now, depending on what end of the normal fluctuation I'm seeing on a given day.

I still feel kind of half crazy about food and eating. And yet, it's only half crazy, which feels OK. It's not a hidden craziness any more if that makes any sense; when my brain starts trying to trick me into the old ways, I'm almost always able to call bullshit on myself before the food gets forked into my mouth.

Some things I've learned or that I'm starting to notice now:

1. It's not a great idea for me to get too hungry. I get crabby and I start feeling desperate even though intellectually I know starvation is NOT right around the corner.
2. I still love food and eating pretty much more than anything else. I think only half of that is related to the physical setup of being hardwired to enjoy taking in nutrients.
3. I'm comfortable enough in my ability to choose what I eat during any given day that I can start playing with my percentages - fat, protein, carbs - to see what works better and makes me feel stronger.
4. I still have a distinct and strong preference for eating until I have a full feeling. I haven't even come close to breaking this habit, I have to say I'm not really trying. I just use vegetables to get to the full place. I don't stuff any more even though there's the occasional impulse to just keep eating. I do sometimes find myself feeling a little sad when a meal is done and it's time to stop eating. I combat this by remembering how amazingly wonderful everything just was and reminding myself that in a little while there will be more.
5. I don't find sweets compelling any more. This is a huge relief. I still like the occasional treat and when I decide to have one I make sure to savor. I like to have some dark chocolate once or twice a week, but if someone brings something to work or there's just some run of the mill candy around, I'm indifferent to it. I never though I would ever be able to say anything like that, seriously. Indifferent.
6. I love my exercise now. I love the challenge of seeing if I can work just a tiny bit harder today and then succeeding.
7. Learning to cope with the emotional aspects of eating has helped me to cope with the emotions of the rest of my life, not that it ever was separate really. It's just that not using food to soothe or damp down the emotional upset of the day forces me to look at my life differently. Not that it's all perfect or anything, it's just more in the open.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Rules of Lifting for Women

This coming up Friday marks the one year anniversary of me having met my weight loss goal and maintaining a healthy weight. Wow, I never thought I would get here and stay here.

One of the things that I've taken up that has really helped me get to the goal and stay there has been weight lifting. It's not the first time I've tried it - unfortunately though I didn't stick with it and also didn't stick with the eating plan that time and gained all that weight, but I've found that now I've really come to enjoy it and look forward to hitting the gym, and hitting it hard.

At the moment, I'm following the program outlined in the book The New Rules of Lifting for Women, by Lou Shuler and Alwyn Cosgrove. The book lays out a well-structured program of building strength along with fat loss (not necessarily weight loss) strategies, specifically geared toward women. These workouts are almost all based on free weights exercises and are super-challenging. But I love it - I've seen my measurements improve even though my weight has not changed. And, my strength and ability has improved by leaps and bounds. Last but not least, my arms, which had been flabby, well er flappy if you know what I mean, are no longer so cringe-worthy, but are veritable works of art. Hyperbole aside, if it weren't so cold right now, I'd be going around showing them off.

I know that a lot of women are worried that they'll end up looking like hulking she-monsters but without the testosterone (and you don't want to be having any of that, right?) it just doesn't happen.

One of the things I love about doing this program is having found other women who are also working the program. There's a great online forum with lots of good advice, helpful videos and so on. I've also bonded with other women in the gym working in the "boys section" also known as the free weights area. Getting through this program - I'm starting the sixth stage out of seven - has also increased my mental toughness. Not that I thought I was soft before, but I did find that having to ask how to use equipment and how to do stuff and then making myself try it and push a little harder in an area that's maybe not so traditional has been a bit of a revelation for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lemony Chickpea Stirfry: Cop-Out Recipe Post

Yikes, I've been a while posting. Got busy with other stuff and posting to the ranch blog and lots of other excuses. To keep this going just for today, herewith a new recipe I recently tried that ended up a keeper.

Lemony Chickpea Stirfry

Got from this blog. Used tempeh instead of tofu and spinach instead of kale. Added garlic because I cannot cook without garlic.

3 servings

3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, minced
1 1/2 cup chickpeas
3 zucchinis, chopped
3 cups spinach, raw
4 ounces tempeh
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
4 cloves garlic, minced

Cut up the tempeh into one inch slices and put into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, and the lemon zest. This needs to marinate a bit before putting into the skillet so do this first and then get the chickpeas going.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir in the onion and chickpeas.

Saute until the chickpeas are deeply golden and crusty. This will take a good 10 minutes or so. When everything is just starting to get to the crusty stage, add in the garlic and continue to saute, stirring. Bits will start to stick to the pan, which is good. Make sure to scrape up the crusty bits and keep it in the saute because they're yummy.

Stir in the tempeh and cook just until the tempeh is heated through, just a minute or so.

Stir in the spinach and cook for one minute more.

Remove everything from the skillet into a large bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, add the zucchini and saute until it starts to take on a bit of color, two or three minutes.

Add the chickpea mixture back to the skillet, heat for a minute and remove from heat.

Stir in the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice.

Put back into the bowl and serve family style.

Per serving: 388 calories, 18.1 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 42.6 grams carbohydrates, 12.4 grams dietary fiber , 6.7 grams sugars, 17.7 grams protein

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Obesity Studies

I am quite interested in a lot of the studies that keep being published about obesity, genetics and so on. I read about one yesterday that looks at a genetic component that decreases the pleasure some people get from food, which may impel them to eat more to get more pleasure. Here are some quotes from one of the better articles about this, from WebMD. This discussion actually reminds me a bit of the articles about ear infections being related to obesity because they damage the taste nerve. Of course none of this absolves us of the responsibility of paying attention to what we put in our mouths, it's just adding another piece to the puzzle about why it's so hard to maintain a healthy weight, especially if you've already let yourself get overweight.

"Some people carry a variant gene that dulls dopamine responses. These people, Stice found, are more likely to be obese. And even if they are not obese, they get less pleasure from eating -- putting them at risk of overcompensating by overeating.

"People with the most blunted reward circuits are at the most risk of overeating, and the more they engage in eating, the more you see downregulation of their reward circuitry," Stice says. "They eat more to get the same reward."

"Of course it is a vicious circle," says Pothos. "A person says, 'I do not get pleasure from high-energy food, so I am eating even more but getting less pleasure, I don't know what to do. So obesity and weight gain may result from what we may call addiction to high-energy food."
"The term "addiction" isn't a metaphor. Stice and Pothos note that the same vicious circle, involving the same brain circuits and the same underlying genetic susceptibility, occurs in people addicted to drugs.

"However, both researchers are quick to point out that a dysfunctional pleasure system is only half the answer to the puzzle of obesity. Metabolic functions that control body weight also play a major role.

"We don't want to say obesity is an addictive disorder and not a metabolic disorder. We just want to say, 'Pay attention to both,'" Pothos says.

"Stice is now looking at whether obese people who switch to a healthy diet can reset their pleasure circuitry. He finds that when obese people stop eating energy-dense foods, their craving for such foods goes down, not up.

"If we can get obese people to improve the quality of their diets and stay the course for long time, eventually they do much better in craving and their pleasure circuits should go back to their old balance," he says."
One of the articles said that exercise helps in decreasing the cravings because it activates the same dopamine pathways that eating does. The other way to avoid the problem is to not start eating the junky stuff to begin with. Ha ha, too late!

A couple of other links to articles about this: Link and Link

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blowing It On a Phenomenal Meal

Sometimes, a meal is so amazingly wonderful that worrying about calories or fat content or anything "guiltifying" is out of the question. Last week, I traveled to Napa, California with a close friend and we enjoyed such a meal. We went to Ubuntu, a wonderful restaurant that prepares the best food I've ever had, all of which just happens to be vegetarian. Both my friend and I are vegetarian so we were really looking forward to being able to select anything from the menu.

They prepare what they call "small dishes" where a small amount of food is beautifully presented on the plate, and everyone shares and samples everything. I hope you're not too hungry, because I'm about to list the wonderful dishes we ate.
(The dish to the left is the fingerling potatoes.)

Chickpea fries with herbs and romesco sauce (vegan)

Heirloom tomatoes, assorted basils, 25 year balsamico, wild fennel crackers (vegan)

Chilled watermelon and lemon grass soup (vegan) - this was incredible.

Fingerling potatoes, lightly smoked, sauce gribiche, ficoide glaciale (that's a green of some sort), black garlic, capers (vegan)

Cauliflower in a cast iron pot, roast-puree-raw "couscous", vadouvan spice (somewhat curry-like), brown butter toast. Pictured at left.

Local stone ground polenta, finished with corn pudding, 3-day tomato soffrito, fried peppers (vegan)

Pizza with local chevre, torpedo onions and a romesco of friarelli peppers (we each had a slice and topped out, my husband got the leftovers)

Two ridiculously delicious desserts, the first with lightly roasted strawberries, and creamy things (at right), the other a chocolate number to die for.
I suppose it was very very touristy of me to take pictures of the food but I wanted to remember it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

31 Days of Gratitude

I keep a daily journal, and part of that is finding something each day to be grateful for. Some days are easier than others. Here are 31 days of gratitude:

1. I am grateful for back roads and red-tailed hawks on top of power poles.
2. I am grateful for Belted Kingfishers and interesting neighbors.
3. I am grateful for hummingbirds and my favorite coffee mug with my name on it.
4. I am grateful for the yellow roses that are blooming now, for the fall acorn crop and a quiet weekend morning.
5. I am grateful for my husband who is a pretty darn good listener.
6. I am grateful for breathing in, breathing out.
7. I am grateful for Emmy Lou Harris's phenomenal CD Wrecking Ball, what a balm for the soul.
8. I am grateful for my husband, my son, my parents, my sister, the ranch. I am grateful for my health and the fact that I have been able to cooperate with my body (and vice versa) to bring myself to health and fitness. I am grateful for my senses and the feel of cool fall breeze as I walked out to my car this morning. I am grateful for a boss that lets me talk to her about my frustrations at work. I am grateful for my copper tea kettle that whistles to me in the morning that soon my yummy coffee will be ready.
9. I am grateful for a celebration of women.
10. I am grateful for the tang of a changing season, a bit of crispness in the air.
11. I am grateful for washing machines, I just can't imagine how much work it must have been before.
12. I am grateful for this cozy house, even though it desperately needs cleaning. I am grateful for the back patio, even though it's looking a tad scruffy right now. I am once again grateful for almond butter and raisin toast, yum.
13. I am grateful for the musical genius of Frank Zappa, Dick Dale and Jimi Hendrix, and of course, that of my son Will. I am grateful for my son and I'm remembering that day 24 years ago when he joined us on this planet. I am grateful for silly birthday cards and ridiculous song lyrics.
14. I am grateful for my treadmill, it has steadfastly carried me through mile after mile, calorie after calorie.
15. I am grateful for the gardens at the ranch, the quince and pomegranate trees, and all the roses.
16. I am grateful for having this extra day off to enjoy here at the ranch.
17. I'm grateful for almond butter. I came to the conclusion yesterday that almond butter was my second favorite food now, after asparagus, which still rules my heart. So, I'm grateful for almonds, almond trees and the bees which do the work of pollination.
18. I could be typing for hours this morning listing gratitudes, I'm pretty much grateful for everything this morning. I'm grateful that scorpion didn't sting me. I'm grateful that the second thing I saw this morning (after first seeing my sweet husband's sleepy face, for which I am also grateful) was a cloud of hummingbirds sipping nectar. What the heck, I'm grateful that the New Scientist magazine showed up in the mailbox along with the Audubon Society's journal and Birder's World.
19. I am grateful for the prospect of a long weekend and enjoying the ranch getaway.
20. I am grateful for the beautiful home-grown pear that is sitting on my desk waiting for my afternoon snack.
21. I am grateful for the sweet (sorta) memories from my youth.
22. I am grateful for my women's group. I am grateful that my husband is doing so well with his exercise program and is enjoying it. I am grateful for the heat that actually feels really good right now. I am grateful that my company stocks Peppermint herb tea in the lunchroom and I get to have as much of it as I want for free. I am grateful that the rabbit hole goes up as well as down.
23. I am grateful for our spot in the middle of nowhere and all of our furred and feathered friends.
24. I am grateful for echinacea and zinc lozenges, and the prospect of going to the ranch this weekend for some artful rest.
25. I'm glad that I still am on the payroll, seein' as how I have to go grocery shopping tonight.
26. I am grateful for muscles. Or mus-kels as my Dad always call them.
27. I am grateful for my family and friends.
28. I am grateful for my Mom and Dad.
29. I am grateful for questions, mysteries, conundrums and bits of circular logic.
30. I am grateful for this season's fresh peaches, which I had such cravings for through the winter.
31. I am grateful for lentils and all that protein and fiber and I'm also grateful for the folks who grow lentils. I'm going to be even more grateful for them when I'm having my lunch leftovers later on.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Judging the Obese

The other day I followed a thread on a public weight loss forum about someone who professed to be so concerned about a woman she saw at her local market who was obese and thought she ought to talk to her about it and give her advice about changing. There was a lengthy description of the food in the cart (crap of course), the woman's appearance, greasy skin, poor clothes choices and the denouement - inability to gracefully get into her car, requiring a backwards plop! But the poster was very worried and really just wanted to help.

As a former obese person, I heartily object to this attitude. Two years ago, when I started down my weight loss path, I was so filled with shame and humiliation - we all know that eating too much food and eating crap food is the cause of our weight gain (in 99% of the cases). I vowed that I would not take it upon myself to start judging other people for their weight because I've been on the receiving end of the scorn too many times. It would be like continuing to hate myself in reverse, and I've done enough self-hating to last a lifetime!

All this brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend about a year ago, when I had lost about 100 pounds or more. She had also lost a good amount of weight but unfortunately had started gaining a lot back, for various reasons, I'm sure. She asked me if now I didn't look down my nose at her. Nope. No way. Been there. But I will support every effort and struggle to either 1. Lose weight and gain health 2. Love yourself anyway.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ear Infections and Obesity Study

Did you read that news blurb about a new study that links a history of ear infections with obesity? As someone who did have many ear infections as a child and as an adult, and in fact had to have surgery to remove a cholesteatoma from my right ear, almost certainly as a result of a not fully-healed ear infection, I was intrigued by it, and did a little more digging. Quoting from a UPI article about these findings: "In one study, 6,584 people ages 16 to 92 responded to a series of health questions that determined their history of middle ear infections and their body mass index. The findings showed that those with a moderate to severe history of otitis media were 62 percent more likely to be obese." It all has to do with ear infections causing damage to the taste-sensing nerves which correlates to an individual then having a more pronounced taste preference for fatty and sweet foods. There also seems to be a correlation to increased obesity in children who had tonsillectomies. (I did.)

Fascinating. Obviously, we're all ultimately responsible for deciding what goes into our mouths, regardless of what our taste preferences are. But it is nice to know that maybe there are factors that make it just that much more likely to go down one path instead of another.

Perfect causation? Of course not. For me, it just underlines the requirement for me to remain devoted to healthy eating and exercise for the rest of my life. And that's OK, better than OK even.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Confronting Fear, Thoughts about Meaning

Goodness, it certainly has been a while since I've written a post for Praying Horse, I'm in the middle of writing a humongous document/manual at work (darn those paying jobs!) and haven't done much other writing besides my own daily journal.

(Pig picture from Project Gutenberg.)

I did write about a recent experience with confronting nature in all her awe-inspiring majesty, which ended up scaring the pants off me, during two close encounters with wild pigs. Obviously, everything came out OK, but what I've found fascinating is examining the stark contrast in the fear I felt while retreating from the pigs and the sort of undefined nervousness, or as one of my friends calls it, the "vague medium of anxiety", that I have experienced in the past on a frequent basis. I get it, that's what adrenaline is for, not for getting worked up about what someone else thinks about you, or whether your child is getting a B instead of an A in first grade, or whatever the issue du jour is. I'm starting to pause now when I get that quivery feeling - is this a wild pig, or is it a gruntin' ground squirrel? By no means have I sorted all of this out yet.

People I've talked to about it have said that I'm brave for going on hikes alone. Well, not really. It's just a walk, sometimes my husband doesn't want to go with me. I'm not going to stop doing walking just because he has something else to do. I'm also not going to start carrying firearms, as at least one person suggested. I will avoid the area where I saw them last however.

Also, I'm going to tell a story on myself here that for a few days after Pigapalooza II, I tried to figure out if there was some additional deeper meaning to it. I looked up wild pigs as totem animals. Etc etc.

This last weekend, I found a wonderful article in Tricycle Magazine, actually from the Spring 2007 issue, which we just received as part of our welcome for subscribing to the magazine, that more or less got me to pause a bit and wonder if I weren't indulging in the practice of Taking Myself Too Seriously. This is from an article by Lin Jensen entitled Wash Your Bowl: "To attribute meaning to an event or to a lifetime of events is an expression of dissatisfaction with things as they are. This is true of even the subtlest attribution. If I wash dishes as a practice in Zen mindfulness, I indulge my resistance to simply washing them in order to get them clean. I want the washing to be something more than what it is, and so I give it spiritual significance. I want my life to have meaning, and so I complain to myself and sometimes to others if what I do and what I am appears meaningless. Well, our lives are meaningless if we take meaning for a coherent narrative plot of some sort. When we strain to make our lives otherwise, we're merely telling ourselves a story. You and I don't manifest in the universe as meaning, we manifest as living human beings. We're not here to represent something else. We're here in our own right. A human being, or a garden hoe for that matter, is complete in itself."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Of Course We're Addicted to Food, We Have to Eat

I continue to think about hunger, having just come off a week of recovering from food poisoning (bad hummus, I think), of which two days found me with No Hunger at all. I then had a couple more days of very low hunger levels and found it really hard to eat much of anything and now, well it's all back to normal with me wanting to eat more than I really should.

Let me digress here by saying that during the initial throes of this thing I lost five pounds in three days, even though I did my best to stay hydrated. One of my friends called it Dr. P. Horse's Shit-a-Lot Miracle Diet, but that's really really cynical, just sayin'. My husband wasn't the least bit surprised, but he's always been aware how full of it I really am.

Back to the hunger conundrum. I realized that I was kind of liking not having the hunger drumming at me all the time and was complaining in my journal the day it all came back to normal about how I had been hoping that maybe this had finally broken the back of the addictive quality of hunger. And how disappointed I was that no, it hadn't.

I was on walkabout today, fiddling with my new camera (like the lock photo?), and thinking about Stuff and came to the earthshattering conclusion that we're supposed to get hungry. It should bother us, at least enough to get us to go scrounge around for some grub. Duh, because otherwise, we wouldn't bother to eat and as a survival tactic that's pretty lousy. Call me a slow learner.

Not that stuffing food till overfull and using it as a drug is a good way to go either. It's just that hunger itself isn't the enemy.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Mystery of Hunger

The last week or so has been a state of wonderment about the mysteries of hunger, especially "real" hunger, the kind that's related to how much food is or is not in your stomach at a given moment. It never ceases to amaze me how variable my hunger levels are from one day to the next.
For example, some days, I wake up hungry and stay hungry all day and it seems I never quite reach satisfaction. One day week before last, my stomach was growling impatiently about 5 seconds after I got out of bed and I still had my hour on the treadmill ahead of me. Down girl! And I could definitely tell it wasn't just "want to eat", it was the real hunger deal.
Other days, the same amount of food overstuffs me. Last Thursday, I went through a not-hungry day yesterday. My breakfast filled me up and I pretty much stayed full all day, I ate some lunch, but didn't want to eat all of it (alert the media!). At supper, I got full right away and didn't finish it. I'm not doing anything different really from one day to the next. It's curious.
Of course, maybe it's always like this and I just never knew it. The fact is that the way I got so heavy to start with was because I ate a lot and never really let my tank get empty and didn't know what stomach hunger feels like. The whole time I was losing weight, I was pretty much a little bit hungry all the time, but that was deliberate and expected. Now that I've reached my goal weight and I'm working on maintaining it, paying attention to hunger cues and keying into what is going to be most satisfying and healthy is a bit of a learning curve.
For example, I was ruminating the other night about the old days of how I used to eat. Actually I was feeling a little sorry for myself about the fact that I couldn't eat as much of my pasta dinner as I wanted, which was just so tasty. And I got to remembering how "nice" it was when I could just eat as much as I wanted whenever I wanted and how I was always full and all. So after spending about 30 seconds in that thought pattern, called bulls**t on myself, because when I really remembered those feelings, it wasn't just full it was overfull and also full of shame. It couldn't have been that satisfying - otherwise I wouldn't have had to keep doing it over and over again.

So again, it still comes down to taking the time to prepare savory and tasty meals and focus on them as I am eating them so that I don't fall into the mindset of feeling deprived. I know what the healthy and appropriate quantities are, if only I listen to my stomach and its level of fullness at any given moment

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Book "The Rules of Normal Eating"

The book The Rules of “Normal” Eating by Karen R. Koenig, is another very useful resource for those of us who want to change our attitudes about food. The author also has a great blog that is aimed at both over- and under-eaters and all of us who have surrendered in the past to emotional eating. Typically I would run for cover when confronted with a book that used the words “rules” and “normal” in the title, but I was so impressed with her blog posts that I took the plunge and read the book.

Her advice is similar in many respects to what can be found in the book “Intuitive Eating”, which I wrote about here. The main thrust of "Rules" is that there are certain behaviors in which people who are normal eaters engage, and those behaviors are different from how an over- or under-eater approaches food.

To cut to the chase, the normal behaviors are (quoting from her book):

1. Eat when you are hungry or have a craving for a specific food.
2. Choose foods that you believe will satisfy you.
3. Stay connected to your body and eat with awareness and enjoyment.
4. Stop eating when you are full or satisfied.

She offers a series of exercises and suggestions for how to understand our level of hunger at a given moment, how to pick the foods that we find satisfying, feeling our fullness and satisfaction levels with a given eating situation and how to stay aware of our body and what we are eating.

In addition, the book stresses that emotional eating is rooted in our inability to tolerate pain and discomfort. She exhorts us to “learn to tolerate discomfort around food and let your mind and body respond authentically.” Since we’ve used food as a way of comforting ourselves and soothing our pains, be they emotional or physical, to heal that not-normal relationship with it, we will quickly run head on into the necessity of dealing with whatever emotions we were trying to deny/suppress/soothe with the food. We are going to have to dig into our beliefs about ourselves – our fears, our pain, our yearnings and our joys. The process can be joyful when your curiosity becomes engaged and you are starting to figure out what is truly satisfying and actually finding ways to create satisfaction, and not just with food.

I know full well that I have not yet achieved what could be considered “normal” eating, but I’m getting there. I still feel obsessed somewhat with food and eating and weight, and to some extent, feel discomfort about it all. However, at this point, there seem to be fewer hidden corners in my attitudes about food and since I’ve gotten to a point of awareness about my thought patterns regarding eating, I can call bulls**t on myself sooner rather than later. Mostly.

One of the most awesome pieces of advice in this book that I have been working on lately is paying attention to what we want to eat - whether it's a craving or just something that seems like it would be good. I had an couple of days last week where I was extra hungry (no, not hormonally induced, I'm pretty much too old for that) and I really had to sit down and figure out what it was that would scratch the itch. Turned out that a couple of tablespoons of almond butter fit the bill - a little protein, a little healthy fat, not too many calories and yet, so delicious. This weekend, since I have the house to myself, I discovered that I wanted the same thing for supper two nights in a row - pita pizza - and so I had that. It felt good and tasted awesome.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Do Horses Pray, or why Praying Horse?

I don't know if horses pray, but they certainly do have their heads bowed a lot! Except I'm pretty sure they're eating, not praying.

The reason for this particular post is to explain why I use the name Praying Horse. It is all based on a tattoo I gave myself for my fortieth birthday (fine, that would be 12 years ago) of a naked woman on horseback praying to the moon. I got it during a time when I was recovering from a relatively nasty horse wreck, i.e. I fell off and it hurt for a long time after, and wanted to celebrate my forgiveness for both the pain and the horse who tossed me off.

The image of has thus far resisted being captured via photograph but perhaps someday if I ask nicely enough, the pair will grace this page.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Food Reinforcement Genetically Related to Obesity?

I’m going to be writing about a book I’ve finished about normal eating, but while reviewing a blog post by the author of that book, I found a reference to something that gave me an ah ha! moment. She referred to a study that found a genetic component to the strong urges some of us have to overeat that may make eating more rewarding to those who have this component. (By the way, her post calls it a willpower gene, which I would have never used because I think there's will and there's willpower and they aren't the same thing, but that's for another post.)

Here is a quote from the first paragraph of the published article: “Eating is a highly reinforcing activity, and there are individual differences in the reinforcing efficacy of food that may relate to differences in eating and energy intake. In the same way that the reinforcing efficacy of a drug is related to drug consumption, subjects who find food highly reinforcing may consume more energy in an ad libitum eating situation than those who are low in food reinforcement.” Further, “ The reinforcing value of food is related to activity of the dopaminergic system. Food consumption increases brain dopamine levels in animals and humans.”

Evidently, this study found that those who find food highly rewarding tend to have a particular genotype. And typically, this means that they would be more interested in and more motivated to eat, and would then eat more.

If I were to guess, I would say that I have this gene. My husband and I are a classic example of the dichotomy between those who live to eat and those who eat to live. I, of course, live to eat. I love food, I love to think about it, talk about it, cook it and eat it. My husband is not like that – he eats to live. Oh, he likes food and enjoys the good taste and all and has his favorites, but if he’s not hungry he could care less and spends no time thinking about eating.

Not only that but given my family history of alcoholism and other addictive and obsessive behavior patterns, makes me inclined to think that this is a possibility. Am I grasping at straws to explain my own poor behavior related to eating? Maybe so. On the other hand, knowing that there may be genetics behind the problem takes the pressure off feeling like such a “failure” all those years for being fat. One of the biggest factors in my weight loss was in successfully (for the most part) getting a grasp of the emotional aspects of using food to soothe upsets and depression. Another big factor in conquering the overeating urge was exercise – because, of course, it turns on the endorphins, and makes you feel good. Just one more reason to get off our butts and go Do Something!

Note: the strawberry has nothing to do with the content of this post, it's just that I bought a new digital camera, I'm learning how to use it, and I'm imposing the results on you, lucky reader.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Eating While Bored?

While taking one of my favorite nature walks, I got to thinking today (always dangerous) about boredom and how it fits into emotional eating. It seems that a lot of folks complain about eating because they are bored. I'm still not entirely sure that it's an emotion. It doesn't really fit in with the biggies like anger, fear, or joy. It really seems to be more the lack of something, and specifically something interesting to look at, or do, or think about. As of late, I am very rarely bored. There's too much out there that piques my curiosity - books to read, things to write about, walks to take, birds to watch. Filling your stomach instead of filling your mind seems a poor substitute, and yet it sure does seem to be commonplace.

I've been doing a little web searching to find what other folks have said about boredom, and have found it interesting. (Thank God, because you wouldn't want it to be boring!) There seems to be a distinction between the type of boredom that is experienced during a long meeting, driving or a performing a repetitive task and the more long-term sort where you can't find something to do that you enjoy doing. Being stuck in the latter implies a more deep-seated dissatisfaction with your life, maybe a lack of meaning.

A couple of interesting quotes that shed additional light: http://businessofemotions.typepad.com/drrm/boredom/index.html: "Opinion seems divided on whether boredom is an emotion. It is often seen as a feeling of anxiety stimulated by a lack of engagement in what one is doing. Boredom is not passive surrender or indifference. It is an active feeling of irritability and restlessness. This unpleasant feeling is related to anxiety and it usually leads to doing something to relieve the boredom. We look for meaning, to that which interests us."

And http://www.metaphoria.org/ac4t9512.html: "The silence which occurs when no thinking takes place is alarming to the ego. This ego’s fear can be manifest as boredom, a signal that the ego is no longer being entertained. A need to eliminate the boredom then sets in and we resume our hunt for distraction. The distraction may be television, food, emotional outburst, negative behavior, obsessive involvement with a hobby, excessive running, being a couch potato or walking around announcing that we are bored as if the universe really was going to do something about our internal state of affairs, or as if someone other than we ourselves are responsible for what we feel... Boredom is closely associated with depression."

So, what to do about it overeating triggered by boredom? First and foremost - figure out if you are actually hungry. Is your stomach growling, and it's been awhile since you last ate? If so, eat! If not, dig in to the feeling - is it the temporary type of boredom? Are you stuck doing that repetitive task - add some music, find ways to "improve your task performance", indulge in active daydreaming. Pull out some old "dieters tricks" if you must put something in your mouth by making yourself herb tea, chewing gum, crunching on celery sticks. This boredom will be over with soon. If you find yourself experiencing the deep dissatisfaction of not having anything you love to do, you've got more work to do. Here is where I think we need to cultivate curiosity - what have you been interested in that you haven't had the time to investigate. Here you are, bored with nothing to do - now's as good a time as any.

Also, getting off our butts and out of the house into the great outdoors is a great way to counteract boredom. Take a walk, count how many different kinds of birds you can see (or dog breeds or pick your interest). Once you're back, if you're actually hungry for food, eat!
Last, this seems like another opportunity for looking within and examining our inner world and working out what we really want that will be satisfying. Oh yes, easier said than done, but so rewarding! It's just like figuring out what we want to eat - how hungry am I right now? What will satisfy that hunger?

(P.S. Turn off your TV! Better yet, give it away or have it die an early, unnatural death.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nature Walk - Some Peripheral Comments about Food

Sometimes I just gotta talk about the fun stuff. I take great pleasure in getting my butt outside to see the "real" world and breathe some clean air and see non-human critters. Turning 50 (at least) has also caused me to become a bird watcher even though my eyesight isn't always up to the task. So here I give you a divertissement from the usual earnest how to fix your diet and your life stuff with a trip report on our visit to the Kern River in California. OK, I do mention food, but I love eating and can't help it. As info, I'm working on writing about Counteracting Boredom Eating, so that will be coming soon.

Tuesday morning, we headed south to a small highway that snakes east into the Sequoia National Forest up and into the Sierra Mountains. I got stuck with the driving chore, and it was a lot harder driving parts of that road than I was truly comfortable with. Parts of it were a 14% grade heading down with twisty roads and steep cliff-type things off the side. But obviously, everything turned out fine and we arrived in Kernville in one piece. After we got settled into our little lodge room (motifs of fishing, pine cones and moose) we decided to take a short walk by the Kern River before we went out to look for some supper.

We spent a good amount of time watching some Western Kingbirds, which are a species of the tyrant flycatcher family. There was one that was perched in the top of a tall pine snag watching the activity. I characterized him as the daddy, because there was a sort of patriarchal mien to him, but I could be totally wrong as birds don't give a diddly about that stuff, as far as I know. And there was a mama bird who was very very busy catching bugs and bring them back to the two juveniles who were waiting patiently for her in another pine.

After our walk we went into town and found three possibilities for dining: pizza, Mexican and Italian. We went with Italian, and I pretty much threw all caution to the wind: salad with blue cheese dressing, which I hadn't had in I can't remember how long, penne arrabiatta and oh yikes, garlic bread. And wine. And then since it was too damn late to worry about it also went with a cherry tart. (Note: this is a Very Bad Attitude probably. I'm throwing it in there as some sort of proof that sometimes eating has to be fun and just plain sinful.) We took a short walk around the town, it had to be short because there's not much town there, and stood on the bridge watching the Kern flow underneath and a bajillion bats fly above us.

Wednesday morning we got up at a reasonably not-early, not-late hour and had our breakfast in our room. We just brought along Bill's oatmeal and I brought my Kashi and we had fruit and used the motel coffee maker. Very convenient and cheap.

I had hoped to visit a fish hatchery just up the road, but it turned out that it's only open Thursday through Sunday, so darn it. When I was a girl, my parents took us to a fish hatchery a few times and it was always fascinating so I had good memories.

We did find the Audubon Kern River Preserve open. The south fork area of the Kern River is an amazing place to see birds, and has been designated as one of ten U.S. Globally Important Bird Areas. We certainly had some good luck. We were able to identify three new species for both of us, including a Tricolored Blackbird which although not endangered is considered a species of concern as its numbers have been declining. We also saw several other species that we weren't able to figure out at all, which was a little frustrating but points out directions we need to deepen our study. We both need to sharpen up on our knowledge of flycatchers. There are several species that are very difficult to distinguish, and we definitely failed. And there was at least one species that I had not a clue where to even start. We spent about five hours there tromping around, surrounded by floating cottonwood fluff.

And in the whole five hours we didn't see a single other human being until we made it back to the visitor's center. But we did see where a beaver had cut down trees and we also saw some bear tracks!

When we finally got back to the truck I was famished and ripped into some bread and almond butter along with a plum and a nectarine. At that point we'd had enough sun and fun and headed back, stopping off for some fresh veggies at the grocery store.

A quote from Merle Haggard's song about the Kern River:

And there's a place called Mount Whitney,
From where the mighty Kern River comes down.
Now, it's not deep nor wide,
But it's a mean piece of water, my friend.
And I may cross on the highway,
But I'll never swim Kern River again.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for the Kern River and the Audubon Society who have made it possible for the Preserve to remain a wondrous sanctuary for birds and many other creatures.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can Eating Be More Than Just Eating?

Some time ago, I bought a little set of cards called "Present Moment Wonderful Moment" by Thich Nhat Hanh that can be used for meditation and pondering our daily lives. Along with the cards was a little book where he expands a little bit on each of the verses. I picked a card this weekend that really touched me and helped me see how eating can be a gift not only to myself but to others. Here is the verse:

With the first taste, I offer joy.
With the second, I help relieve the suffering of others.
With the third, I see others' joy as my own.
With the fourth, I learn the way of letting go.

Here is part of what he wrote about this: "Eating can be very joyful. I smile at it, put it in my mouth, and chew it with complete awareness of what I am eating - mindfulness is always mindfulness of something - and I chew my food in such a way that life, joy, solidity and non-fear become possible. After twenty minutes of eating, I feel nourished, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. This is a very deep practice."

I am only now starting to arrive at a point where I can pause before I start eating to become aware of my food. I have written down these verses and propped them by my eating space and will endeavor to find that moment to pause, so that my eating can be a gift to others as well as to myself.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Someone is Feeding on Your Anger

It's probably trite to quote from popular songs, but I got the new Sheryl Crow CD yesterday and here is this line in one of the songs that really struck me. It really got me to thinking about all the times when I have been angry about something small - not anger at injustice or genocide or unfairness or abuse - but piddly stuff like who left a dirty fork in the sink and so on. And so - who or what does feed on that anger? It's insidious. Also this: was that anger part of what I was feeding myself when I ate and ate and ate in my past life? And what do we do with our anger then - for the big stuff, we have to take action of some sort, pick your method, voting, monetary support for charity, writing letters, whatever you can do. For the little stuff, hmmm, my nemesis? Let it go then?

Part of what I think may be an answer for me - my daily gratitudes, which I do in my personal journal. When I started doing that last fall, it was in response to an article by Joanna Macy I read in Shambala Sun. Here's a link to my original post about this: link. Having a discipline of frequently expressing gratitude is a way of rejecting the mindset of feeling inadequate or not good enough because it forces us to look at the present and to see more than just the doom and gloom of our everyday tribulations. Sometimes it's hard work, but I find that if there is something that is troubling me or that I find irritating, that is where I can best point my gratitude that day.

Yesterday, I realized that I was angry about my work and how annoying it all was and that I didn't get to go to the gym at lunch because of a falsely generated sense of "urgency". But in the grand scheme of things where people are starving and towns are flooding, this is minor, very minor. So what was I feeding with my anger about my work?

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for having the means to pay for a gym membership. I am grateful for pop stars who sometimes sing something wise that penetrates the fog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Emotional Eating - What are You Feeling?

In a conversation I had with a fellow overeater some time ago, we got to talking about emotional eating. She said a very interesting thing, which was that she had no idea what emotions she was feeling when she starting in on overeating or eating when she wasn't hungry, she just knew she wasn't very happy and wanted to eat something to make herself feel better. That comment has stuck in the back of my mind for all this time, and I thought I would see if I could offer up some choices. Of course there are a million different web sites out there that have lists of emotions, but here's one more such list. If you're not sure what you're feeling, is it one of these? Acceptance, Affection, Aggravation, Agitation, Agony, Alarm, Alienation, Amusement, Anger, Anguish, Annoyance, Anticipation, Anxiety, Apprehension, Arousal, Attraction, Aversion, Bitterness, Bliss, Boredom, Caring, Cheerfulness, Compassion, Contempt, Contentment, Courage, Defeat, Dejection, Delight, Depression, Deprivation, Desire, Despair, Disappointment, Disgust, Dislike, Dismay, Displeasure, Distress, Dread, Eagerness, Ecstasy, Elation, Embarassment, Enjoyment, Enthusiasm, Envy, Euphoria, Exasperation, Excitement, Fear, Ferocity, Fondness, Fright, Frustration, Fury, Gladness, Glee, Gloom, Glumness, Grief, Grouchiness, Grumpiness, Guilt, Happiness, Hate, Homesickness, Hope, Hopelessness, Horror, Hostility, Humiliation, Hurt, Hysteria, Infatuation, Insecurity, Insult, Interest, Irritation, Isolation, Jealousy, Joy, Jubilation, Liking, Loathing, Loneliness, Longing, Love, Melancholy, Misery, Mortification, Neglect, Nervousness, Optimism, Outrage, Panic, Passion, Pity, Pleasure, Pride, Rage, Rapture, Regret, Rejection, Relief, Remorse, Resentment , Revulsion, Sadness, Satisfaction, Scorn, Sentimentality, Shame, Shock, Shyness, Sorrow, Spite, Suffering, Surprise, Sympathy, Tenderness, Tenseness, Terror, Thrill, Torment, Triumph, Uneasiness, Vengefulness, Wonder, Worry Some of my favorite choices for emotional eating: boredom, worry, melancholy, longing, loneliness, shyness. It intrigues me somewhat that for me, the more pleasant emotions didn't make my favorites list, although I can certainly see that for some it could work that way, for example, overeating while having fun at a party.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Heh Heh Sometimes Praying Horse Has Fun

Or: Bovinus Mortimus, I Hardly Knew Ye

How Much Did I Actually Eat Before?

I weighed 278 pounds when I made my decision to change – I must have been eating millions of calories a day, right? Out of curiosity I thought I would plug in the numbers to see how many calories it actually was.

Interesting. Turned out to be 2300 calories a day to maintain that weight at my age and height. Guess how much I’m eating now, approximately? About 2000 – 2100. Not that much of a difference really when you look at it from a daily maintenance perspective.

However, I wasn’t exercising at all and I ate a lot of sugary and just generally unhealthy stuff. And even now, if I weren’t exercising a fair amount almost every day both on the treadmill and at the gym lifting weights or going out hiking, my maintenance calories would be just under 1600 per day.

More numbers – how many extra calories did I eat to gain all that weight? I know that somewhere in 1994 or so, I weighed 155 pounds. So I gained 123 pounds in 12 years. Supposedly, you have to eat an extra 3500 calories to gain a pound (and restrict by the same amount to lose one). So I ate 430,500 extra calories to do that, in 4380 days. That’s something slightly more than 98 extra calories a day on average.

To me this just highlights the need to vigilance and care. I already know that I have a propensity for gaining weight, and I have a lot of fat cells that are just waiting for some extra calories to show up so they can grab onto it and store it.

So now, in order to maintain, I know that I must

  1. Pay attention to what I eat. This is why, even though it may seem obsessive, I still count and log my calories. It keeps me honest because I love food so much it would be ridiculously easy to start justifying overeating again. And the food I eat is as healthy as I can make it, with only the occasional straying off the path for a gooey treat.
  2. Get as much exercise I can in a healthy, safe and fun way. I have a desk job where I sit on my butt all day, so I have to stay focused and dedicated to this. If I don’t exercise, I have to restrict my calories down to my estimated maintenance level.
  3. Weigh myself on a regular basis. Again, I personally consider this a key factor in my own maintenance because it makes it impossible to lie to myself. It’s a number and it keeps things objective.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Metabolism and You: Some Numbers

BMR: something interesting I’ve learned about metabolism while trundling along my weight loss journey. There are various methods of calculating what your metabolism is probably doing if you can’t afford or don’t want to go through lengthy or costly metabolic testing.

Here’s the idea – you want to know approximately how many calories you burn on any given day by taking your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and adding in your typical activity level. Once you have a pretty good idea of that, you can figure out how much of a caloric deficit you want to create by eating somewhat fewer calories than your total burn. A calorie deficit means that you are setting the stage for weight loss. If you don’t want to lose weight, but instead maintain your current weight, you’ll want to eat around the same calories as you burn.

The BMR calculation produces a number that tells you how many calories you would burn if you did nothing but stay in bed and breathe all day – no activity at all, just how many calories you would need to continue existing. There are a number of calculations and online calculators, and I’m sure each has its proponents, but suspect that for most of us they’re going to come up with numbers fairly similar.

You don’t want to eat fewer calories than your BMR because if you deprive yourself below BMR, your metabolism will slow down so that you burn less – a double edged sword for sure. This is where regular exercise – both strength training and cardio – can help, by increasing your BMR. Exercise also just makes you generally more healthy and fit and boosts your ability to burn energy.

Here’s a link for more info about BMR: Wikipedia Link. This BMR calculation uses metric measurements, so if you need them, here are some converters for pounds/kilograms and inches/centimeters: Pounds/Kilograms and Inches/Centimeters

This is the BMR calculation for women that I’ve used to calculate my own BMR, as an example. Figure out and plug in your own numbers to see what you’re burning.

655 + (9.6 x weight in kilograms) + (1.8 x height in centimeters) - (4.7 x age)

655 + (9.6 x 65.77089365) + (1.8 x 166.116) - (4.7 x 51)655 + 631.4005 + 299.0088 - 239.7 = 1345.7093 BMR

This weight in kilograms is 145 Centimeters is converted from 5' 5", age now 51

For men the calculation is somewhat different:
BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilograms) + (5 x height in centimeters) - (6.8 X age)

If I were male, my calculation would look like:
66+ (13.7 x 65.77089365) + (5 x 166.116) – (6.8 *51)66 + 901.061 + 830.58 – 346.8 = 1450.78 BMR

Using the multipliers for activity level:
1.2 multiplier for sedentary
1.375 multiplier for lightly active (light workout day)
1.55 multiplier for moderately active (probably a typical day for me)
1.725 multiplier for very active (if I really push it)

These are my estimates for burn at different activity levels:
Sedentary burn: 1615
Lightly active: 1850
Moderately active: 2086
Very active: 2321

And if you want to do it the easy way, here’s a link to an online BMR calculator.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Do You Really Want? Maybe Not Food

Here is a great idea I read about recently for working with emotional eating.

As emotional eaters, a lot of our desire or desperation for food is really related to our desire for something else. For example, we feel lonely and reach for food to make us feel better. Our true desire here is for friendship or companionship or a loving relationship. Or we’re bored so we eat, but what we really want is some excitement or something to do that we find stimulating.

The idea is to make a list of what we really want in our life, five items or so. Write it down, memorize the list or carry it in our purse or wallet, and when we recognize that we want to eat when we’re not hungry or we’re overeating (ready to dive into a bag of cookies), we can look to our list of wants and see if what we really want is one of these items rather than food. If so, then rather than mindlessly eating or stuffing down our feelings with food, we can take some meaningful step toward meeting one of our goals or manifesting a true desire.

Here's my list as of today:

1. A strong muscular body and good health.
2. Financial stability with some level of security in knowing that I can retire comfortably.
3. A positive move to the ranch.
4. A loving relationship with my husband.
5. A creative outlet, or many creative outlets like writing, blogging, art work.
6. Close friends who can be trusted to support me and to whom I can offer support that is appreciated.
7. A method of generating income that is creative, interesting and fulfilling.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food is the Pillar of My Life

There was a question on a questionnaire I took last week about emotional eating habits - Is food a pillar of your life? Emphatically yes! Still!

There are times even now when i spend more time thinking about food than much else, what it is I'm going to eat next, and how long it will be before I get to eat again. A great deal of mental energy goes in this direction. I don't even know if this is something I need to consciously try to change or if it's something that will begin to change all on its own in time, as I get more comfortable with maintaining my weight and with my hunger patterns. A lot of it does have to do with actually being hungry a lot, since I do work out a lot now, not that I'm an elite athlete of course, but I have recently increased my weight training and that has a direct effect on my hunger level.

However, I admit to some circular logic here because it is also true that I exercise specifically so I can eat more. Yes, I do the exercise for heart health and it does make me feel good afterward and I love the results and I love being stronger, but here it is: I get to eat more because I burned more calories. Somehow that feels wrong - or at least, not quite right, somehow.

I feel that my basic instinct is still, to some extent, to want to eat a LOT of food and to get full. And I am afraid that I would just go nuts and eat way over the amount I need to maintain my current weight if I stopped counting calories and keeping track.

Another insight I have had recently about food and my emotional response to eating. Sometimes, I actually feel sad when it's time to stop eating, whether it's because the food is gone or because I'm full. (Usually the former.) Sometimes, I go to bed thinking about the grand moment in the morning when I am going to get to eat breakfast.

In addition, although I love to get full, it's the actual act of eating and the taste and deliciousness of the food that is at least as, if not more, important than the fullness.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Changing Beliefs about Eating

I found a great web site today that gave me a great deal of insight into learning to change our relationship with food. Although I have now reached a healthy weight, I am still finding it a challenge learning how to trust myself with food and with eating. The web site, although it is aimed at bulimics and anorexics, has a lot of wisdom to offer those of us who have been emotional over-eaters. Link. One of the recommendations from that site was for us to examine what beliefs we hold about eating and about food that are negative beliefs that hold us back from trusting ourselves with food. Once we understand what those beliefs are, we can then "reframe" them into something positive that will assist us in changing our thought patterns and behavior. These are some of the beliefs that I have held, and how I would like to change them.

  1. I always want to overeat. Change to: I eat the right amount of food to satisfy my hunger.
  2. I like to get really full when I eat. Change to: I enjoy a comfortable feeling of satisfaction with the amount of food I eat.
  3. I am afraid I will be unable to maintain a healthy weight. Change to: I easily and effortlessly maintain a healthy weight.
  4. I love food more than I love anything else. Change to: My life is big and full and food is just one part of it.
  5. If I get hungry, I'll starve. Change to: When I'm hungry, I can eat the right amount of food to feel satisfied.
  6. I think about food all the time. Change to: I stop thinking about food when I'm not hungry.
  7. If I let myself eat the amount of food I want, I won't be able to stop myself from overeating. Change to: I pay attention to when I am full and satisfied and easily stop myself at the right point.
  8. I can't trust myself around food. Change to: I implicitly trust my body to inform me when I am full and satisfied with the amount of food I eat.
  9. If I eat foods that I really love, I'll never stop eating them. Change to: By giving myself permission to eat the foods I love, I am able to eat them in the proper portions.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Emotions Stored in Fat?

Along my weight loss path, one of the primary issues I have dealt with has been how to work with my emotions without turning to food. In addition, especially at the beginning of the process, I ran into quite a few issues, such as neck and back spasms that had no physical cause, but were obviously emotional in nature, stemming from anxiety and fear. All along, I have thought that as I lost weight, I also released a lot of the emotions I was feeling at the time I originally created the fat cells (or stored energy in them, however you wish to describe it). In other words, that we store our emotions in our fat. I’ve spoken to other people who have lost a lot of weight and gotten mixed reviews of this theory. From a scientific perspective, this would not seem to make any sense. However, for me on an emotional and spiritual level, it really resonates. I have emotions and memories being released that very much relate to what I was going through around the last time I was at the same weight. I feel fortunate in that I have a very good support system, a loving husband and good friends, because learning to find other outlets for my emotional eating has been challenging.

Differentiating between emotional hunger and real hunger is something I always have to evaluate, not to mention figuring out the third type of hunger I have - mouth hunger, that is, the true pleasure I get from the taste of good food. Not everyone feels this - my husband doesn't really, he just eats to stoke the fire.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Intuitive Eating - Book by Evelyn Tribolet and Elyse Resch

I recently finished reading this book and found a lot of extremely useful information in it and wanted to provide a summary of the main points of the book and to point out one or two areas where I do not agree with their conclusions. I definitely recommend reading this book. The authors, both of whom are registered dieticians, define Intuitive Eating as eating what you want without experiencing guilt. They state that we can eat intuitively by listening to our bodies' hunger cues and levels and by not denying ourselves. They discuss their philosophy that dieting does not work, but in fact sets us up for massive cravings and feelings of guilt and failure when we give in and eat more than we think we “should”.

They spend a good amount of time discussing the outlook of those on a diet, which they define as a form of self-imposed deprivation or starvation. This is so because in order to lose weight, we must create a calorie deficit, thereby creating a period of what our under-fed body may interpret as a mini-starvation, to which it responds by intensely asking for more food. Hunger is a real biological urge, it is strong and it necessary to keep us eating, alive and healthy. When we are extremely hungry, we can more easily succumb to an intense bout of overeating as a normal response to the body’s call for more food.

The book asks us to learn what we want to eat, and then eat it. We are counseled to learn what it feels like to measure our hunger level and then eat until we are no longer hungry, but not overstuffed.

These are all good pieces of advice. However, there seems to be a philosophy that if we do this, all of a sudden, we will stop eating too much, start eating the right foods and that magically the weight will start falling off our bodies.

I don’t believe this. I think if we want to lose weight, we need to understand as much as we can about nutrition, and then deliberately create a calorie deficit to achieve it. Yes, we need to know what we like to eat and then give ourselves permission to eat it and enjoy it without guilt. At the same time, if what we want is a high calorie/low nutrition item, we need to have only a little of it and not very often. There must be thought and knowledge behind our choices as well as Intuition and we must take deliberate action to set the stage for a larger energy burn than calorie intake. Yes, we should eat what we want within the realm of all the healthy choices available – right up to the point of meeting our calorie goal. Knowing that number is just the facts, ma’am. We know we’re going to be a little bit hungry because we are intentionally creating that deficit.

Buried in a couple of small sentences in the book is the author’s acknowledgement that some people need to lose weight for health reasons, and that for those folks it may be necessary to embark on a calorie deficit scheme (not a diet).

That being said, the authors offer a lot of really good information about how to identify what foods we love, how to make peace with food and how to overcome emotional overeating. Their discussion of what they call the “Diet Backlash” sheds light on some of the reasons we have a hard time changing our eating habits (especially in reducing the amount of food we eat) as well as modifying the thought patterns that may have kept us stuck for so long.

One quote that sticks out is this one: “Chocolate starts to take on the same emotional connotation as a peach.”

Some key concepts:

1. There is a strong and very real, biological urge to eat. We are hardwired to want to get enough nourishment in the form of food; this food keeps us alive. We are supposed to get hungry and when we are hungry, we are supposed to eat. That’s the biology of it. They refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and state that “Food and energy are so essential to the survival of the human species that if we don’t eat enough we set off a biological fuse that turns on our eating drive both physically and psychologically.” (More information about Maslow)

2. Deliberately restricting calories in order to lose weight can in and of itself, can cause our brain to stimulate a very strong urge to eat more, because our bodies think they are getting starvation rations. “Dieting is a form of short-term starvation. When you are given the first opportunity to really eat, eating is often experienced at such intensity, that it feels uncontrollable, a desperate act. In the moment of biological hunger, all intentions to diet and desire to be thin are fleeting and paradoxically irrelevant.” In addition, when calories are restricted, you can start to obsess about food.

3. The Diet Backlash. The authors discuss the phenomenon that happens sometimes when we are starting to think about going on a diet, where the mere contemplation of the diet brings on the urges and cravings that sabotage us. They have found that we can fall into what they call “The Last Supper Syndrome” where you gorge on food, and especially your trigger foods, right before you start a diet because you think that it will be your last supper – you think that you will never be able to eat again.

4. We need to rebuild our trust in ourselves with food. They urge us to experiment with foods, trying new foods and revisiting old favorites, so that we truly understand what foods we love and what we don’t like at all. Once we know what we love, we should eat those foods. I would definitely agree with the concept of this, but would add that in many cases we need to retrain our taste buds so that we can learn to love foods that are healthy and shy away from foods that are not. I don’t agree that this will be automatic. Rather, I believe we need to take a deliberate stance in changing our taste, and that once we have made progress, to eat those foods we have taught ourselves to love and that are healthy.

The authors put forward ten principles of Intuitive Eating, which are:

1. Reject the diet mentality
2. Honor your hunger
3. Make peace with food
4. Challenge the Food Police
5. Feel your fullness
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
7. Cope with your emotions without using food
8. Respect your body
9. Exercise – feel how good it makes you feel
10. Honor your health

Principle 1 – Rejecting the Diet Mentality

We are urged to give up the notion of dieting, because it self-imposed calorie restriction can trigger overeating. When we believe that we won’t be able to eat again, it’s harder to stop eating once we begin. Dieting can cause us to ignore our hunger cues because we are deciding whether we “deserve” to eat based on our mental calculations of what we’ve already eaten that day. They offer the following set of questions for us to use when we are deciding what or whether to eat:

1. Am I hungry?
2. Do I want it?
3. Will I be deprived if I don’t eat it?
4. Will it be satisfying?
5. Does it taste good?

Of these questions, the one that most intrigued me was the third – “Will I be deprived if I don’t eat it?” If we believe we will feel deprived by not eating the object of our desire, we may end up eating more of something else in a futile attempt to conquer our feeling of deprivation. Principle 3 expands on the feeling of deprivation.

Principle 2 – Honor Your Hunger

Here the authors further discuss our biological drive to eat and our requirement to get adequate nutrition. We need enough energy to fuel our bodies, which we can only get from food. Learning how to honoring the biological signals our body sends when hungry starts the process of learning to trust ourselves with food. The book offers is a great discussion about how the body uses carbohydrates, reminding us that we need to eat carbohydrates. “The brain, nervous system and red blood cells rely exclusively on glucose for fuel”, which we get from carbohydrates. In addition, they urge us not to get too hungry and talk about reasons why we may not recognize real hunger – we may drink water or tea or diet drinks to trick our body for a while, or we just deny hunger until we get used to it. They suggest that we go no longer than five waking hours without eating as a guideline for paying attention to our biology if we have become numb to what honest hunger feels like.

Principle 3 – Make Peace with Food

In this principle, we are exhorted to give ourselves “unconditional permission to eat”. The authors discuss the paradox that once we allow ourselves to eat whatever it is we want our intense urges to eat will abate. Here we must learn to trust ourselves to be able to eat reasonable amounts of whatever foods it is that we don’t allow ourselves to eat, and thereby have strong cravings for. We may find that previously forbidden foods become undesirable once we are allowed to eat them, especially if those foods are available whenever we want them. We learn to trust ourselves with food, since self-trust may have been damaged by early eating experiences, especially if our parents attempted to over-control what we ate.

The authors connect our feelings of being deprived of food to emotions in other parts of our lives: “Deprivation is a powerful experience both biologically and psychologically. Psychological forces wreak havoc with your peace of mind, triggering cravings, obsessive thoughts, and even compulsive behaviors. If you are someone who has also experienced deprivation in areas outside of food, such as love, attention, material wants, etc, the deprivation connected to dieting may be felt even more intensely for you.”

Principle 4 - The Food Police

The Food Police are defined as internal censors that induce guilt by engaging our thoughts in self-criticism. The authors urge us to challenge the thought patterns that engage us in disapproving finger-pointing: “Negative self-talk often makes us feel despair. The feeling of despair can trigger sabotaging behaviors.” We can be incredibly hard on ourselves; I have certainly been much more critical of myself than anyone else ever has been critical of me.

Suggestions for combating the food police:

· Replace black and white thinking (should, must, ought to) with statements that give you permission to eat, such as “I can have anything that looks good to me.”
· Replace pessimism with positive statements, “I desire healthy foods.”
· Become aware of the actual thoughts you are having about food and eating.

Principle 5 – Feel Your Fullness

This principle directs us to listen to the signals that our body sends as we are eating so we can more easily determine when we are approaching getting full and have fulfilled our biological need for the food. The primary tool for this principle is the pause, where we ask ourselves whether we will continue eating. Anyone who has been a member of the Clean Plate Club, as I was, has been taught to ignore our fullness in order to finish all the food on our plates.

Some specific suggestions for pausing:

1. Does the food still taste good?
2. How full are you – how much food is in your stomach?
3. Don’t feel obligated to leave food on your plate.
4. Eat without distraction – do nothing else while you are eating.
5. Reinforce a conscious decision to stop – for example, push your plate forward a bit in the classic “I’m done” maneuver.
6. Defend yourself from obligatory eating by telling the food pushers “no”.

Principle 6 – The Satisfaction Factor

The idea behind this principle is that eating should be a pleasant and sensual experience, and that the more satisfying we find it, the less we will be compelled to overeat or make poor food choices. When we slow down and savor our food, eating what we really want to eat, we can “discover the pleasures of the palate”. We are exhorted to set the stage so that we are eating in a relaxed atmosphere, avoiding tension to whatever extent possible. The authors tell us: “If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you love it, savor it.”

Principle 7 – Cope with Emotions Without Using Food

I have been an emotional eater, and have found that coping with my emotional states without resorting to food was one of the big challenges of my own weight loss. I have eaten when sad, anxious, frustrated, annoyed, lonely and especially, bored. I did this even knowing that food couldn’t possibly be the answer to my emotional upsets. And even knowing that I would beat myself up with guilt and shame for overeating. I have also used food as a reward when happy about something.

The authors tell us how to determine if we’re eating emotionally (we probably already know): “If you find that you’re doing quite a bit of eating when you’re not biologically hungry, then there’s a good chance that you are using food to cope.” They offer the following suggestions for changing an emotional eating pattern:

1. As yourself if you are biologically hungry? If the answer is “Yes”, then you should eat. If not, then ask yourself what is the emotional you are experiencing and what you really need instead of food. If you need help, ask for it. (This last one can be very difficult sometimes, speaking for myself.)
2. Find another way to nurture yourself other than eating. For example, you could take a wonderful bubble bath or go get a massage.
3. Deal directly with your feelings by writing in a journal, talking to a friend, pound the crap out of a pillow. Finally, if we are very troubled and unable to cope with our feelings alone, we can seek the help of a therapist.

Principle 8 – Respect Your Body

So many of us, and especially women, do not respect our bodies and in fact, we spent a great deal of time internally criticizing each and every part of our body that does not meet the “ideal” standard. Intuitive Eating urges us to “accept your genetic blueprint” and learn to honor our bodies and treat ourselves with respect.

One thing the authors recommend, that I do not agree with, is to stop using external assessment tools, such as weighing ourselves or measuring ourselves. Although I understand why they recommend this, which is that by using these tools we can set ourselves up for failure and can use a “bad” measurement as a reason to beat ourselves up, at the same time there seems to be some evidence that those of us who have reached a healthy weight have an easier time maintaining it if we continue to get on the scales. I find that weighing myself helps me keep myself honest, and as long as I stay within a weight range of five or six pounds, that’s good enough. Also, if we are exercising regularly, and especially if we are doing resistance training, knowing measurements is essential to tracking our progress in gaining muscles and losing fat.

What do the authors mean by “respect”? They tell us to:

1. Treat your body with dignity.
2. Meet your body’s basic needs
3. Make your body comfortable

In addition, they list some words of wisdom that we can tell ourselves to combat negative thoughts we may have about our body:

1. My body deserves to be fed.
2. My body deserves to be treated with dignity.
3. My body deserves to be dressed comfortably and in the manner I am accustomed to.
4. My body deserves to be touched affectionately and with respect.
5. My body deserves to move comfortably.

Principle 9 – Exercise

This chapter tells us about the health benefits of exercise and asks us to focus on enjoying how our bodies feel when we exercise, instead of using exercise for its ability to burn calories as part of a weight loss plan. The authors spend some time debunking the “carbs are evil” camp, explaining that carbohydrates are the premier fuel of exercise. Note that they don’t tell us to load up on carbs, just that we don’t have to shy away from a healthy mix of nutrients, including carbs. In addition, we are specifically told to include strength training to encourage muscle growth, as “muscle is metabolically active tissue that helps keep your metabolism revved up.”

Principle 10 – Honor Your Health

Here the authors discuss nutrition and how we can select healthy foods, while at the same time picking what tastes good to us. They point out that there is merit in variety, moderation and balance, and tell us that “balance is intended to be achieved over a period of time. It does not have to be reached at each and every meal…It is consistency over time that matters.” Their nutritional advice is very similar to the best such advice you can find just about anywhere. Finally, I love this quote: “In matters of taste, consider nutrition, and in matters of nutrition, consider taste.” Yes, healthy foods do taste good!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Secret Eating

One of the behaviors I had was to hide my eating by eating in secret and sneaking food out of the kitchen to eat alone. This allowed me (in my own weird way of thinking) to eat more without having to admit to anyone how much I was actually eating. Of course, the results were obvious: lots of extra weight and a big reduction in the number of cookies in the bag. As part of my weight loss journey, I have cultivated carefully the principle of honesty about what I’m eating and the quantity of what I’m eating. If I ate two pieces of carrot cake, I’ll say I ate two pieces of carrot cake, both in my food journals and to anyone that might be interested in knowing about it. In fact, I think that if I start hiding food or lying about the quantity I eat, that is a big red flag that I’m falling back into the old disordered way of thinking about food.

The habit of hiding food started a long time ago, when I was a girl. I have specific memories of sneaking as many Cheetos as I thought I could get away with as well as cans of tuna. I had quite a few empty cans “hidden” in the storage space in my bedroom. And I can’t remember how many times I made sneak raids on cookies and thought I was cleverly hiding them as I sidled away. As if no one could tell that the quantity was mysteriously getting lower.

I got to thinking about this recently, because as I was returning from my Nevada City trip I found myself thinking that I could look forward to having some time to myself and that “I can eat whatever I want.” That thought was an old one from the pre-weight loss days where I gorged on stuff like vast bowls of mashed potatoes, humongous Jamba juices, canned green beans and pints of ice cream or large quantities of cookies whenever my husband wasn’t around. I wouldn’t do it when he was there because I wanted to be able to pretend I didn’t do stuff like that. What I was very happy about this time around was that I recognized the thought right away and was able to laugh and tell myself that I can always have whatever I want and know that what I wanted wasn’t the aforementioned gorge-menu.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for the new habit of desiring healthy food.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nature Walks

This week I took a short road trip to Nevada City (in California) to visit a friend. The highlights of that trip were a couple of walks we took along the Yuba River.

Thursday we went to the Buttermilk Bend trail on the South Yuba River State Park. The walk was a designated "wildflower walk" with many of the plants identified by little signs which made it so much more interesting once we knew what we were looking at. There were so many wildflowers - including the quintessential Cal combination of California poppy and lupine. I also loved the blue tomcat clover, the glowing yellow pretty face and fiddlehead which is yellow also but the flowers lie on the stem shaped like a fiddle. There was one wildflower we never did figure out the name of which had small purple/maroon puffball flowers with the tiniest white poofs on the tips. Oh, and there is a wildflower with the hilarious name of Blue-Dick. And, I saw an American Dipper (water ouzel) doing his thing in the river, which of course lifted my heart, as these birds are one of my favorite. John Muir wrote a wonderful essay about this bird, and Harriet Monroe penned a lovely poem.

On Friday, we went back to a different spot on the Yuba, and went for a longish hike on the north side of the river. The microclimate on that part of the river was completely different from what we had seen the day before, but still lots of wildflowers and unbelievably scenic views of the river. The Yuba River has the most amazing green pools where the river is deeper. Oh my goodness, don't I just love a nature walk, or just a good hard hike, wherever it may be - the desert, the mountains, the seaside, the beautiful rolling hills of California. For me, it's a chance to come out of my thoughts, to abandon my overblown sense of importance and to become merely another being breathing in and breathing out. It's liberating. There are so many other creatures and beings of all sorts to learn about, to understand how this place sustains them. It puts me on the earth and in my body at a particular place and time.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for spring wildflowers, green rivers, and friends who have open souls.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Gratitude is Subversive

One of the new keystones of my spiritual practice has been incorporating gratitude into my life to whatever extent I can. This started in November 2007 after I read an article in Shambala Sun by Joanna Macy. This article had a big impact on me and since then I have been including a daily gratitude into my journal. Sometimes it is very difficult to identify something because my outlook that morning is not especially positive. Other times I can barely pick from so many things to be grateful for - those moments are ones of great and joyful abundance.

This quote from the article is very powerful: "Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more - more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us."

Yes, this is a pointed analysis of society. At the same time it tells us how to break out of mindless belief in the message of inadequacy by incorporating a habit of expressing gratitude. Over the years, I had certainly bought into that message and on a fairly reliable basis considered myself inadequate on some level.
I do believe that gratitude is a choice, we can move ourselves into an attitude of gratefulness. The processes of each day writing down what I can be grateful for has helped me see the parts of life that are bigger than me. It has opened a window for joy.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for breath. Breathing in, the earth. Breathing out, the sky.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Weight Loss Story and Philosophy

One of the most important changes I have made in my life over the last couple of years is losing 130 pounds to get to my current healthy weight. It’s been an incredible, rewarding journey with lots of ups and downs – both on and off the scale! Because my relationship to food over the years hasn’t been very good – I’ve used food as a drug – a great part of the “battle” was emotional. Right now, as I am starting to maintain my new weight, I am still keeping track of all of the calories I eat so I don’t fall into the overeating trap. There’s a great website that offers a lot of tools and support for those of us trying to achieve and maintain our weight through healthy eating: http://caloriecount.about.com/. This has been a huge boon and I highly recommend it.

I started out at 278 in September 2006. The reason I started down the path was because I was scared about my blood pressure and my doctor was warning me that if my blood sugar tests got any worse I would be heading down the path to diabetes. I did not want to continue that direction.

I've had weight issues since I was a teenager. I've lost and gained a lot of weight over the years, but that fall I was at my highest yet, and I didn't feel very good. I didn't feel good physically and I didn't like myself much either. Pretty much at that point, the light went on and I made a pact with myself that I would Do Something. My doctor gave me 3 months to try a diet-based approach to reducing my blood pressure, and because I did not want to go on blood pressure medication, I decided to start there. I found a book on reducing hypertension through diet and incorporated those changes. I also knew I needed to make changes that would prevent my slide towards diabetes, so I threw out all of my cookies, candies, cakes and sweets and didn't buy any more. I hoped that what I was doing would help me lose weight too, but I didn't really start out with that as my goal.

The dietary changes I made were the same ones you hear everywhere:
  • Eat veggies. Eat a LOT of veggies. Eat a lot of different kinds of veggies. Even if you're not a big veggie fan, find ones that you like and eat them. Try new ones and if you don't like them, try something else till you find more that you do like. If you can afford it and they are readily available in your area, buy organic, buy in season and buy local. Go to the Farmer's Market if there is one near you - it's fun!
  • Eat fruit. Eat a good amount of fruit. I prefer to eat way more veggies than fruit because they are lower in calories, but eating a variety of different kinds of fruit is also important.
  • Eat whole grains. Eliminate the refined stuff to whatever extent possible. Again, aim for a variety. I had to learn to like whole wheat pasta and brown rice - now I prefer it.
  • Eat lean protein. I am a vegetarian, so for me this means tofu, beans and lentils primarily. However, most everything you eat has some protein in it, even veggies.
  • Eat healthy oils. I prefer olive oil. I also eat some raw nuts, primarily walnuts and almonds, and like to allow for avocado from time to time.
  • Eliminate as much processed food and sweets as you can.
  • Keep your sodium low.
  • Drink water or herb tea. I'm not all that great at this part of it still, but make the effort. I've found a few herb teas that I really like and that helps.

The other Very Important Part is EXERCISE. To whatever extent possible, incorporate exercise into your daily routine. When I started out, I could only walk at a very slow pace for 20 to 30 minutes at the most. Gradually I was able to increase it, and get faster. Now, although I'm not very fast and I'm no marathoner, I can jog four to five miles a day, five to six days a week. Also, again to whatever extent possible, start weight training. I wish I had started that earlier. Ladies, you won't end up looking like the Incredible Hulk, believe me. I go to the gym and lift weights 3 times a week for about 30 to 40 minutes. This made a huge difference for me and will make you appear slimmer even if you don't lose weight. Seriously.

I am an emotional eater. I have used food to soothe fear, anxiety, anger, depression, boredom and general feelings of emptiness. I also love the taste of food and I prefer to feel full after I eat. I found that the hardest part of losing weight was, well actually still is, learning to cope emotionally without turning to food as a balm. It's harder to talk about this side of the equation because we are each so different and have our own approaches and feelings and reasons for having gotten to where we are. The one thing I would say: love yourself anyway, use positive thoughts to combat any negative self-talk, and most importantly seek, and ask for help.

I also believe that we occasionally need to relax a little bit and let ourselves have a "day" off. That means that having a fancy dinner once in a while, or a small piece of birthday cake, or insert your favorite indulgence here, is OK. I truly believe that food cannot be the enemy, it is what nourishes us and keeps us well fueled. Not only that, but we must allow ourselves to feel the honest pleasure that comes from a delicious meal.