Grrrr! This beast will gorge itself on just about anything! [Source]
The Ugly: The Monster Returns
Here it is, 2011, and it’s already time for a confession (don’t worry, it doesn’t involve criminal activity). Once again, it appears the dreaded beast has reared its ugly little head. If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you likely already know that I’ve been dealing with “the beast that is yeast” (ie, candida) since around December, 2008 (and following the anti candida diet, or ACD, since March 2009). And while candida is, indeed, beastly, it’s not the particular monster to which I’m referring. No, the beast I mention here is one with which I’ve struggled my whole life: the Binge Monster.
I’ve both been wanting to write about this issue and also avoiding it for a few weeks now. You see, over the past couple of months or so, after more than a year watching the numbers on my scale move steadily in a downward direction, they have once again begun to creep up–five pounds up, at last count. And while my weight has fluctuated by one or two pounds quite often over the last year, with a couple of days of “clean” and “green” eating, it tends to stabilize again.
But not this time.
Five pounds is real. Five pounds is substantial. Five pounds is a button on your shirt that’s now too tight. It’s one more hole on your belt (which, up until four months ago, you couldn’t wear at all). It’s a little less definition under your cheekbones, a bit more girth around the middle, a pinch around the elastic of your underwear. Five pounds is half a dress size. Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the scale seems to admonish you: ”I will not be ignored,” it screams, tacitly threatening the established routine.
I worried about posting this on the blog because I didn’t want to disappoint so many readers who’ve followed my progress up until now. After all the accolades, all the encouragement, I was mortified to have to admit that old habits have wormed their way back into my life (and let me be clear on this: I have not veered from the diet. Not a grain of white sugar or refined flour or mushrooms or alcohol or other forbidden foods have passed my lips; I am still eating ACD-friendly foods, and my candida symptoms, overall, miraculously still continue to improve. It’s just that the re-introduction of certain ingredients and foods—like flours, cocoa and baked goods–have generated more desserts hanging around the house, which led to eating more desserts, which led to. . . five pounds).
Would my readers see this slip up as a failure (as I did)? Would they think less of me? How could I let them down after all this time? How could I let myself down?
[It may be ACD-friendly, but too much of a good thing is still too much.]
The Bad: How Old Habits Are Revived
When I first began the anti-candida diet 22 months ago, I felt so ill and was so desperate that, honestly, I would have followed any regimen that could help alleviate the symptoms (the worst of which was an angry, painful and constantly itchy rash across my chest and most of my torso).
At first, I put no restrictions on how much I ate. The diet was easy: my old nemesis, the Binge Beast, lurked in the shadows but never dared venture into the light. The notion of bingeing simply wasn’t in the realm of possibility back then (seriously, who binges on zucchini or broccoli?). Even when I experienced a fleeting desire to “cheat” on the diet and eat something with sugar or gluten, the lingering raw, pink rash was enough to dissuade me. Like a photographic afterimage or the barely discernible outline of a house blown away in a hurricane, that pale, freshly scarred skin was a visible reminder of why I needed to persist.
But then I began to feel better. Baking, and desserts (of a sort) and chocolate returned to my life. Sure, they were ACD-friendly, but they still triggered that buried, recidivist impulse when I ate a chocolate cookie, a piece of brownie, a bowl of ice cream. And before I knew it, I was eating not one, not two, but four brownies at a time.
For most people, sugar cravings are supposedly eradicated after 5-10 days on the ACD, but that has never been the case with me. Instead, my cravings continue to cling more ferociously than the toddler at Mama’s knee on the first day of school. One day, I suppose, I’ll get used to it.
As with other addictions, the binge mechanism requires a constant ratcheting up of the stimulus–in this case, certain foods–before satiation is reached. You may be pumping food in at one end, but your stomach doesn’t register it the way a “normal” digestive system would. And so, someone who binges is able to consume perhaps twice as much–three times?–as a healthy eater before the “fullness” switch is flicked. And even then, it sometimes takes nausea for the breaker to finally trip, the “overload” signal to get through.
I already knew that the feedback mechanism, in those of us who binge, is damaged. It’s like filling a bucket with an old leaky hose: for the bucket to be filled, you’d have to turn the faucet on full blast, expending more and more water with more and more waste that never reaches the target, until the container is finally replete. In the same way, my own fullness circuits require more and more alimentary input to finally register “enough.” But how does one fix this damaged circuitry?
Geneen Roth advises us to honor the true source of the hunger–be it physical, psychological or emotional. Each time you listen to these messages, it’s like fixing one tiny leak, filling the hole that allows the nourishing foods to escape without your notice. Eventually, the sequence is completely restored to its original condition, and your body and mind both register the full impact of the food you eat. I know I was waylaid from that journey over the holidays–it’s so easy to become sidetracked by old habits. I am still waiting for that day when I am effortlessly aware of my body’s signals and, like the HH, can pass up even one last pea on the plate because “I’ve had enough.”
Bingers never have enough.
In her latest book, Women Food and God, Geneen Roth talks about emotional (or compulsive) eating with the same accessibility, insight and sagacity as always. And food, she points out, is a fallback position when we seek nurturing. She writes:
The bottom line, whether you weigh 340 pounds or 150 pounds, is that when you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or loss or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection. Food is only the middleman, the means to the end. Of altering your emotions. Of making yourself numb. Of creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable.
After 22 months (and before this latest turn of events), it appeared that both my health and my weight had more or less stabilized, yet I found myself still dissatisfied. Yes, my health has vastly improved, but I’m still not 100% better. I had grown tired of writing “no progress” or “status quo” on my Progress Tracker page.
Is it because my recovery has plateaued and I’m bored? Is it because my health is not where I’d like it to be, my symptoms (albeit drastically reduced) still lingering? Is it because, despite major strides with candida, other health issues persist, and I’m simply frustrated? Is it because The Ellen Show hasn’t called me yet?
When I think of the progress I’ve made, I can’t help but notice there’s a little voice in the back of my head,the child’s voice that begins to whine, “Twenty-two months, and still not all better?” Sure, there are many worse things than a candida rash that just won’t disappear, and I am thankful my illness is no more serious than this. But the part of me that connects to that little voice still wonders, ”why can’t you just disappear already? When will you leave me alone and let me live my life without having to think about you every. single. day? When will I be able to return to my old life?”
The answer, I now realize, is perhaps, “never.” I can’t return to my “old life.” And then, rather than accept that this diet will likely be my new, and perhaps permanent, way of life, there comes the whining toddler again, pouting and complaining, ”Well, if I can’t eat what I really want–sugar and chocolate and frosting and layer cake and fudge–well, then, when I concoct something that’s at least moderately tasty, I will eat more than I should–heck, I’ll eat it all–because I need something that’s at least a little bit sweet in my life.”
Do I capitulate and repeat old behaviors, because that’s the easiest, the most comfortable plan of action? Or is there another solution?
The Good: Renewed Commitment and Determination
When it comes to matters of karma and fate and previous lives, the HH is more of a devotee than I; yet I do believe that events, circumstances, people and personal issues come into our lives for a reason. In this case, I was delivered a mini-epiphany by none other than Nietzsche himself, in the form of a book written by author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom.
In discussing a patient who relapsed and manifested psychological problems that had already been vanquished years before, Yalom cites the great philosopher, who theorized: ”when we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” In other words, we regress to earlier behaviors after trauma or too much stress or overwork. Well, that made total sense to me: over the past two years, I’ve made huge strides in the battle of the binge and combating candida. Slowly, but certainly, I’m beginning to tap into what my body craves as compared to what my psyche craves. But when one’s reaction to chocolate harks back more than 45 years, a mere 22 month-timespan on an anti-candida diet isn’t enough, on its own, to vanquish that impulse.
[This may offer some comfort, but it's only ephemeral.]
But more food is not the solution.
Well, duh. Of course food isn’t the solution. Food is never the solution, unless you’re the lone survivor on a desert island with no chance of rescue, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Rather than abandon the ACD, I’ve decided to recommit with renewed vigor; a renewal of our vows, so to speak. For a while, at least, I’ll be stepping back to an earlier stage of the diet that removes some of the foods I’ve recently re-introduced (such as chocolate or agave nectar–sniff, boo hoo). I’ll begin a candida-focused cleanse and return to some of the best principles of the NAG diet.
I recently read through a copy of Meghan Telpner’s latest ebook, 21 Days to Health, and found it a great refresher course for me: these are all steps I’ve either taken before or still maintain, but having them written out in logical succession will be a wonderful motivator as I work through this renewed challenge. Rather than extend an already too-long post even more, I’ll save the details about what, exactly, I’ll be eating (and not eating) for another time. (I plan to post an entire “ACD Diet” page in the next month or so.)
I hope you’ll continue to stick around for the journey, bumpy as it may be (I promise I’ll still serve you yummy food along the way).
As I’ve said before, I see this blog as a chronicle not just of weight loss (or gain), but also a journey toward wellness and learning to eat like a “normal” person, making peace with sweets and cravings and emotional eating. I feel a bit like the novice tightrope performer whose step has faltered and now sees clearly what the next moves must be to regain balance; I’m determined to forge ahead on that journey. With that approach in mind, I’m confident that, eventually, the ever-elusive goal, wellness, will be revealed.
There’s nothing better than celebrating a special holiday with balance. A bounty of food and alcohol may abound, but the best approach is to simply eat well, eat with a level head, and enjoy the abundance without going overboard. Wake up the next day feeling great, ready to take on the day as if the previous night’s festivities never happened. Hmmm. . . too bad I wasn’t able to accomplish that this year.
I’m guessing it will likely take a few days before my body feels like itself again. Despite the best of intentions, I must have taken the wrong cue from The Girls, eating as if I might never again have the opportunity to fill up on any of this stuff (and really, some of it wasn’t even worth having again! “Dump Cake“?? Whatever possessed me to acquiesce to my HH’s wishes for that thing? And then–eating two portions of it? Even if I did buy organic cake mix in a meager attempt to convert it to something a smidgen more salubrious. . . Gak.)
(“But Mum! Everything was wonderful–we just loved Christmas! And what’s wrong with eating something special once in a while? Or on every occasion you can get it? Turkey, Mum–Turkey. We. want. turkey.”)
The ideal experience at a holiday feast, for me, would be to enjoy a moderate portion of everything, including dessert, and possess the innate ability to simply stop when I’d had enough. (Forgot to use the small plate/two item trick at my own holiday dinner–did that have something to do with it?). Instead, yesterday, I found myself drawn to the least healthy elements of the meal–repeatedly. Today, I don’t feel so hot.
Perhaps that’s a good thing, though. For “normal” eaters, the “STOP EATING” switch goes off much faster than it does for those of us with a propensity to overindulge. But I can honestly say that, finally, my own switch has tripped, and I am craving–seriously, craving–vegetables. It may have taken me a lot longer than it took my honey, but I got there. In the old days, I might have gone on a binge for days, finishing up the dessert leftovers in one afternoon. Today, I’m at the point where all I’d like to do with that Dump Cake is dump it in the garbage can.
One of the principles that keeps coming to mind is Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Since the law applies to everything governed by the laws of physics, it would, of course, also include the way we eat and how our bodies react to the way we eat. In other words, overdo it one way, and your body will subtly suggest that you underdo it the next. This is a principle that my friend Karen, in her book Secrets of Skinny Chicks, documented well. As her subjects told her, when slim women pig out at a special occasion, they always compensate the following day, either by eating less or exercising more. I suppose this is a variation of the approach I adopted when I skipped dinner after overdoing the Halloween chocolates. And today? Treadmill, here I come. (Oh, and my Holidailies entry, of course).
Another facet of this principle is one perfectly summed up by Sally in her great blog, Aprovechar. In her post, Sally compared the patterns of eating/overeating to the financial principle of opportunity cost. In other words, every opportunity brings with it a certain cost, and if you assess the cost beforehand, it can help you decide whether or not to take the opportunity. I knew that last night’s dinner would cost me today (perhaps not quite as much as it seems to be doing, what with the backflips in my stomach, but still), and I made a conscious choice to eat anyway. For me, true progress will be achieved once I learn to make a better choice, with a lesser cost.
Still, today’s craving for veggies is progress of a sort. And while it may be difficult to find something positive in overeating, I am determined to let my body learn what it can and cannot comfortably do when it comes to food. The initial mistake was allowing the unhealthy food into the house in the first place, but the ultimate goal remains the same: being able to enjoy a variety of foods (including dessert) at a multi-course meal, and naturally stopping when comfortably full. That kind of action will signal a huge milestone in the way I approach food.
In the meantime, I’m off to raid the fridge for some broccoli and carrots. And I’ll just glance away as my HH polishes off that Dump Cake. (“Did you say carrots, Mum? Because we love those. Especially with turkey.”)
Yesterday, when I finally made it back to the workout club after my recent hiatus (Nice to see you again, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! Good day, Sixty-Something Woman with the Spiky Hair! How ya doin’, Teenaged Girl with the Chirpy Giggle!), I was astonished to find that I had actually lost more weight. (Oh, and also that an earlier blog entry appeared in the Best of Holidailies! Awesome!!).
I got to thinking about what, this particular time round, has made the difference that’s allowed me to lose weight. Did I suddenly acquire some new form of willpower?
Well, “willpower” isn’t exactly the right word, I think. Because what I’m experiencing just doesn’t seem to take that much effort on my part. Oh, and wait a sec, I did eat the majority of a 150 gram white chocolate bar the other day–so I’m not consciously depriving myself, either. In fact, I seem to be able to basically eat whatever I want, whenever I want—even if it involves ingesting copious amounts of chocolate—without the same repercussions as when I last did more or less the same thing, about a year ago (when I capped off my weight gain with yet another 10 pounds, pushing me past my previous all-time record).
Something struck me as odd about this latest turn of events. Decades ago–before there was even a term to describe it–I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety attacks. Lacking confidence, living alone in a strange city without any close friends or family, I began to find myself at 3:00 AM fretting about the sudden pains in my chest or the alarming pace of my racing heartbeat. After hours of internal battles and too scared to sleep, I’d finally wear myself out and fall into an exhausted slumber for a couple of hours before daybreak.
After fielding endless frantic queries about the myriad symptoms of heart attacks and several other fatal illnesses over the course of a year, one day The Nurse finally said to me, “Look, I just don’t get it. Instead of staying up all night stressing about whether or not you’re having a heart attack, why don’t you just go to the emergency room as soon as it starts? You’ll get examined, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, and then you can go back home and go to sleep.” And of course she was right; the few times I did go, the doctor’s reassurance caused the the symptoms to subside, and I was able to relax and go home to bed.
It had never before occurred to me to just “give in to it.” I’d always felt that I was required to somehow vanquish the fear, that if I succumbed and went to the emerg, it would mean that I was intrinsically weak willed and would, therefore, never overcome those panic attacks.
Well, after about 3 or 4 weeks of acknowledging those symptoms and having them deemed harmless, those panic attacks naturally began to diminish. To this day, I don’t really know why; it was something about giving up the fight, acknowledging them as the current reality–however negative–instead of trying, for the entire course of an excruciating night of pain and hyperventilating, to deny their existence. They just went away.
As I’ve mentioned before, the last time I lost a fair amount of weight (also rather effortlessly) was about 4 years ago, as a student at my much beloved nutrition school. About a year after that, the weight began to sneak back up. Since then, I’ve been struggling to lose it again, failing miserably time after time. Except now, since October. Why?
Perhaps the same principle applies to binge eating as to those anxiety attacks. Accepting the bingeing as reality (which is NOT the same as condoning it or embracing it as a welcome practise) without trying to deny, suppress, erase or judge it–may just be the ticket to eradicating it. At that point, the binges may just decide to go away of their own accord.
I don’t know whether this is the case in my situation, but I am most thankful for the current trend. It may simply be that trying too hard to prevent a particular activity–protesting too much–may, ironically, exaggerate the activity even more. I’d love to know how others feel about this one.
(“Well, Mum, we think it’s a great strategy. We just eat whatever we want, too, though we never do get quite as much food as we’d like.”
It’s my obstreperous streak, probably. Today, barely the second day of Holidailies–during which I’ve pledged to write in this blog with unwavering regularity–and already I’ve decided I don’t want to adhere to my self-imposed schedule of writing topics.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not the topic, so much, that I don’t like, as the results of focusing on the topic. For today is the Day I Must Record My Weight for all of the Blogosphere to See. All right, perhaps I’m being a bit histrionic. Let me correct that: For today is the Day I Must Record My Weight for all of the Four People Who Read My Blog to See.
Despite snow drifts as high as my knees, I ventured to the workout club, as usual, this morning. Had a fairly good go at the machines and free weights among the early-AM regulars (Good morning, Septuagenarian Italian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts! How ya doin’, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! Top o’ the Mornin’ to ya, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!). Still, I knew that last night’s dinner with my friend Deb (plus those two glasses of our latest favorite–and highly economical!–red wine) would waylay my otherwise descending weight.
It’s a burden to always be right, I tell you. Got on the scale with great trepidation to find my worst fears realized, with a weight gain of .5 pounds . So, rather than allow that disappointment to alter my mood and blow a black cloud over my otherwise cheery countenance, I started to reassess this idea of regular weigh-ins. Yes, after only five weeks of them.
A couple of months ago, in her regular column in a prominent women’s magazine, Geneen Roth talked about this issue. Why weigh yourself at all, she asked, even if you are trying to lose weight? It’s a lose-lose situation (except for the number on the scale, that is).
If the number goes up, you may have previously been feeling pretty self-satisfied, you may have been wearing your new Lululemon sweats like a banner-covered swimsuit at the Miss Universe Pageant, you may have been holding your head high feeling slim and taut and flat in all the right places–only to have that delusional euphoria instantly deflated, your mood for the day permanently altered by the fact that you’d gained 3/4 pound. Even if you’d had no idea before stepping on that scale.
If the number goes down, it will probably only reinforce what you already knew, anyway: you’ve been feeling better, lighter, lithe-r; your clothes are starting to loosen; and you’ve been walking just a little bit taller down those supermarket aisles. Do you really need a scale to tell you all this?
The upshot is this: if you gain weight, do you really want to know? And if you lose weight, don’t you already know? If the true goal is to focus on healthy eating and ultimate optimum body weight above all, can’t that be accomplished without the aid of a small, square, possibly incorrectly-calibrated mechanical object?
About three years ago, my older sister (let’s call her The Nurse) had a wicked crush on a coworker who didn’t happen to be her husband. And though nothing but a benign friendship ever came of it, she was consumed by guilt on a daily basis. I mean that literally: she basically stopped eating food most of the day, and her guilt apparently ate up up excess body weight, somewhere in the vicinity of 60 pounds over 5 months.
Did she use a scale to track this progress? No, of course not; she wasn’t even aware of trying to lose weight initially. Did she notice that the pounds had melted away? Of course she did; her clothes hung like tarpaulins on her newly slimmer frame, she was forced to go out and purchase new clothing, even down to her operating room scrubs; and everyone she’d ever met in the world commented on how great she looked (ironic, huh, since she felt like crap about the illicit crush thing going on).
In any case, here’s my point: if my quest is to become a “normal” eater, I need to behave like one. And all the normal eaters I know don’t weigh themselves compulsively on a weekly/daily/hourly basis, if at all. And as soon as I even write down that thought, I can feel the fear in the depth of my (all-too-expansive) stomach, conveying the message, “But if you don’t weigh yourself regularly, how will you put the kibosh on that rising number? Won’t you just spiral out of control and suddenly start bingeing recklessly and gaining more and more without end?” Uh, I hate to break it to you, stomach, but that’s what I seem to be doing, anyway, even with the weekly weigh-ins.
In the end, I’ve decided to keep up with the weekly Progress Tracker, mostly because I’ve set up the blog this way and have sworn to do so. And knowing that the four of you are reading on a semi-regular basis does help me, to some extent, feel accountable. (Though I’ve had friends on Weight Watchers tell me that the weekly weigh-in, in front of others, acts as motivation to keep them on track during the week, that’s never really seemed to work for me. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I need to tap into motivation from within myself, rather than from an exterior source, to stay on any kind of healthy eating plan).
So, I guess it’s back to an earlier principle, picking oneself right back up and starting all over again as if nothing has happened. And I do believe I’m going to tag that as my second “What Actually Works” strategy.
“Mum, we don’t care if your weight goes up. We will still love you anyway. And if you decide to finally stop eating those Banana Oat bars, we’ll help get rid of the leftovers, no problem!”