September 20, 2008

Learning to say no. Again.

ad·dic·tion (É™-dÄ­k’shÉ™n) n. Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a problem with food. I have an insatiable sweet tooth. I grew up on Cookie Crisp, Trix, Apple Jacks and Fruit Loops and normally ate two bowls full every morning. Dessert was a regular part of the dinner ritual. My school lunches always had cookies, or Snack Pack puddings. I didn’t like to eat fruit and only ate it when I had to. The same with vegetables. If I ate toast, I’d load it with butter and sprinkle a mix of sugar and cinnamon on top. I loved ice cream sundaes and would fill the bowl with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I once had a babysitter who taught me to jazz up Oreo cookies by squirting Redi-Whip on them. Yum! When I was old enough to go to a school where I could buy what I wanted, I opted for peanut chews and chocolate shakes as my lunch. Even now, if I were to see a peanut chew, I would have trouble not taking a bite, or possibly eating the whole thing.

I grew up chubby and inactive. I thought I was ugly and fat. But rather than make changes to my bad habits, I took solace in more food.

When I was 13 years old, a lady came to our house to talk to my mom and dad about a revolutionary diet plan. My parents were interested in losing some weight, and this new plan was supposed to have tremendous results. Plus, it was SO easy! The success stories and before and after photos the lady showed us were so inspirational and convinced my parents to buy cans of powdered meal substitute. This was the “Perfect Diet” because it focused on the benefits of starvation and at just 400 calories a day, how could you not lose weight? They had a variety of flavors to choose from, to keep the diet interesting. You could have a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry shake. Maybe there were other flavors, but I don’t remember them. They also sold powdered soups, like leek. I don’t remember how I started the diet, whether the Cambridge Diet Lady saw my chubby thighs and suggested it to my parents, or I saw the success they were having and decided to do it, but I did it. My parents were hesitant, but I insisted. I seem to remember my parents recommending that I not have only the Cambridge Diet food, but that I substitute one meal a day (or maybe two?) since I was just a kid and needed real food to grow. I have a vivid recollection of heating up a measuring cup of water and pouring in the powdered leek soup. I think I even took some in a thermos to school. I lost weight, but I can’t remember how much. Ten pounds, maybe? Ultimately, once I stopped the liquid meals, I gained back most of what weight I’d lost. It was my first diet failure.

Later came SlimFast. It was basically the same idea, but SlimFast was more readily available and you didn’t need to endure a sales pitch from a distributor. Unlike today’s offerings, there were only a few flavors: basic chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, I think. I suffered through the gritty shakes and a growling stomach from the lack of calories, because I was a teenager and I was fat. While all the cheerleaders were wearing sizes 3 and 5, I was already in Misses sizes and shopping at “Mom” stores with uncool brands because the “in” stuff didn’t fit me. I wanted to be thin and SlimFast was the way to do get me there. I mean, how easy! Just drink these shakes and you don’t have to exercise. The weight would just come off! It worked, but then I went back to eating regular food, and my lost weight was again found. This was getting old.

When I started college, I scheduled my classes to be from 10 am to 2 pm each day so I could sleep in a bit, and work my evening retail job. For breakfast, I would go to The Roost on campus and get a huge coffee and that was it. Because my classes were back-to-back, I only had time for a Snicker’s Bar for lunch, or a quick stop at Jack in the Box, across the street from school. I was never too hungry, so I would just get the basic hamburger and a drink. After class, I’d go home and do some homework, and get ready to go to my job. I must have eaten something for dinner, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything wholesome or healthy. Instead of gaining the Freshman 15, I lost about 20 pounds without even thinking about it. I was basically starving and didn’t know it. I fit into a size 4 though, at that was all that was important to me. At my sorority all the girls were all tiny. I surely didn’t want to be The Fat Girl. In photos of the whole house, I didn’t stand out. I fit in. Although I was about the same size as everyone else, I felt fat.

Throughout college, I yo-yo dieted. I would lose some, then gain back more. I turned 21 and my favorite cocktails were Colorado Bulldogs and anything else with Kahlua or Bailey’s Irish Cream. Thick, sweet drinks that were just like milkshakes. And just like milkshakes, they were fattening and loaded with sugar. When I’d go out drinking, I’d eat. A lot. If I woke up hungover, Jack in the Box was the cure. I’d get a Supreme Croissant with hash browns and a giant iced tea. Because of my lifestyle, I gained a lot of weight. I needed to do something.

Enter Weight Watchers. Back when I was a kid, my parents had great success with WW. On WW, I could eat normal food, I just had to be sure to stick to the daily serving allowances. I was allowed a certain number of servings of Bread, Fruit, Milk, Protein, and Fat each day. I learned how to eat a balanced diet, and started eating vegetables and fruits and cutting back on fat. I wasn’t hungry, and I lost weight. I learned to enjoy healthy food. I drank all my water each day and my skin and hair looked healthier. I was successful and I looked awesome. The thinner me had finally appeared and I didn’t even crave the sticky sweet drinks I previously enjoyed. I opted for salads at fast food restaurants and didn’t turn them into soup by drenching them in ranch dressing. I reached my goal weight and was on my way to becoming a Lifetime member.

People noticed my transformation and complimented me on my success. I felt great and I looked great, and I could wear really cute clothes. I was not, however, prepared for some of the attention I got.

One of my managers at work began commenting me on my new look. Once, when I was bending forward to get something, he took a peek down my shirt and said “Nice ta-tas!” Because I was unaccustomed to receiving any compliments on my looks, I sort of ate it up. I didn’t think it was mean or perverted. I sort of liked it. I didn’t realize it was inappropriate. His comments continued and soon became sexual harassment. He made raunchy comments, asking me to do certain things to him, and telling me what he wanted to do to me. This made me exceedingly uncomfortable and I filed an official complaint. The manager was eventually fired because he’d been harassing other women, and even groped one. Even though he was gone, I wanted to be sure I never had to deal with that type of treatment again, so I resorted to my old ways. I took solace in bags of Ruffles and Pepperidge Farm cookies with my store discount. My new lifestyle was gone.

That was 15 years ago. Since then, I have probably lost 100 pounds. Before you get too congratulatory, that 100 pounds is the same 10 pounds, 10 times over. I lose 20, then gain 30. I have successes, and just when I’m getting close to a goal, I sabotage myself. I get bored and discouraged and I quit. Besides those plans I listed above, I’ve also tried Atkins, South Beach, Cabbage Soup, herbal Fen-Phen, Dexatrim, Special K, anorexia. You name it, I’ve done it. If I’m on a diet and someone bakes a batch of brownies, I don’t cheat by just eating one. I’ll eat three. Months ago, during another diet, I bought frozen cookie dough from a coworker whose son was selling it for school. I didn’t bake one cookie. Instead, over the course of just a few weeks, I ate nearly 36 frozen cookie dough clumps, directly out of the freezer. If there is “bad” food in the house, it is not here for long. I will eat it. I will feel like crap after I do, but I’ll do it the next time too. I will eat Cool Whip out of the tub, with just a spoon. I will eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting. I can plow through nearly an entire bag of chips by myself. All day long I think about food. I want to eat chocolate and chips and fattening foods. I want a fully-loaded baked potato with a nice juicy steak. Or a burrito the size of my head with guacamole and sour cream. I could eat an entire frozen pepperoni pizza by myself. I have a problem with food. Some people laugh and don’t take it seriously when I say this, but I am a food addict.

Diets do not work. They’re temporary. They have never worked for me. I need to make a lifestyle change. I need to learn not to use food as a hobby, a distraction, a cure for boredom, or something that makes me feel good. I need to control portions. I need to make healthier choices. I need to avoid fast food, desserts, and alcohol. I know my weaknesses and it is time for me to learn how to stand up to those weaknesses and overcome them. This will not be easy and it won’t be quick. Anyone who has quit smoking or overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol knows how hard it is to stop bad behaviors.

I have to get out of this cycle and get healthy. This time, I will succeed and I won’t shy away from meeting my goals. I will not let food control me, and I won’t take my body and health for granted. I don’t aspire to be skinny, I just don’t like being fat. I want to be healthy. I want my BMI to not be so close to obese levels. I don’t want heart problems. I don’t want high cholesterol. I don’t want cancer. There are no guarantees that I won’t one day have to endure some of these health problems, but I can decrease my risks for them if I start to care more about my health and break this destructive addiction with food.

And if that means I can fit into smaller jeans, well, that would be OK too.

P.S. If you have made it through this long diatribe, you are my new BFF. xoxo.

21 people have roominated about “Learning to say no. Again.”

  • Saj says:

    I’m so proud of you! Working in the hospital, I see so many co-morbidities of my patients, like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, that are mostly preventable. And they show up in very young patients. You’re taking the first step to avoid ending up like them!

    It’s not easy, but you can do it. Don’t deprive yourself of the good stuff, or it will be harder to maintain the healthy part. Everyone deserves a piece of tiramisu every now and then! 🙂

  • Green says:

    I too have the same issue but from everything you’ve said I’m more overweight than you, it seems. I have come to the conclusion recently that I simply can not have the “good” foods in the house. Portion control? Sure, I’m controlled by reaching the bottom of the bag.

    However. About a year ago I read an article by a woman who interviewed a food critic, and asked how she stayed thin while eating so many foods. The food critic said, “If you had a huge yummy brownie in front of you, but knew that whenever you wanted, for the rest of time, any time you wanted a brownie, you could have one, you’d have NO problem just tasting the one in front of you.” That made sense to me. And that’s why the bag of raspberry Milano cookies in my house have lasted over a week now.

    Big hugs to you. It’s so, so damn hard. If you want to talk or want a healthy-dieting buddy, email me.

  • 180/360 says:

    While I am no expert by any means, I’ve found the key to just about everything in life is balance. Whether it be with food, alcohol, exercise- whatever, there has to be that happy medium for things to function properly. And I fully agree that diets don’t work. You almost always end up craving whatever you aren’t allowed to eat.

    Several years ago, I made it a priority to get my life back in balance. I quit smoking. Started eating healthier. Exercised moderately (I’m an active person regardless.) Pretty much gave up eating out- both fast food and in restaurants. I started reading every label of what I bought and began to educate myself on what was going in my body. I began buying organic food and learned to cook it myself.

    After awhile, my body became way more sensitive to what went in it. Eating out almost always made me feel horrible and when I took a break from it, it became very clear that when I did eat it, I felt lousy afterward- to the point where I didn’t want it anymore. I learned about all of the dangerous food additives out there that make people crave food more and I abolished them from my diet whenever possible (Excitotoxins like MSG, Saccharin, High-Fructose corn syrup.)

    Saying all of that, I don’t ever feel like I gave up anything. I eat what I want, when I want. I am by no means skinny, but in general I’m healthy. I love cooking and sharing great food with people. Knowing that I made it and I know what was in it, is also key. Every now and then I crave In N Out Burger or Baja Fresh and so I eat it. I don’t really eat a lot of dessert anymore, even though I love it. But I also don’t crave it like I used to, unless it is front of me. Sometimes just a bite or two will suffice- or the occasional indulgence is all I need.

    Anyway… I wish you the best of luck in this. It really is SO important to take care of your body and make sure that what you put in it is good for you. Without a healthy body, you haven’t got much of anything. And remember, it is all about BALANCE!

    (Now that was a long diatribe!)

  • Jeff Pereyda says:

    Hey Cath, you have our full support. Lifestyle changes are challenging to be sure, but you have endured tough things before, and with M by your side, it’s a shoe in.

  • Sarah says:

    That was quite a story, thank you for sharing. I really admire the way you’ve identified what you want and what you want to do. Good luck 🙂

  • Jenni says:

    Best of luck to you Cath! You found a good balance before, and you can do it again. You’ve got the exercise part of the program down, which is more than most people (myself included) can say.

    I’ll be rooting for you every step of the way as you head towards your goal.

  • Sandi says:

    Lifestyle change is the only way to go. It’s hard, but at least it’s something that stays with you – and tastes a whole lot better than Slimfast. Ed and I both started counting calories 6 months ago and have both lost weight. Diatribe whenever you want. Support is important and we all support your goals.

  • Meroko says:

    My hat goes off to you for your bravery. I know it cannot have been easy to open up the way you did in this post. I could feel it in your words.

    You are absolutely right about it being a lifestyle change. Since I am on Jenny Craig right now, you could argue that I am on a diet. And, you would be right. Like you, I have been on almost every diet you can imagine. Even the liquid one. God, I remember those days. I would have murdered someone just for something to chew. French fries? NO! I wanted a friggin’ apple for the love of God! =)

    I am not going to be a JC ad, because I think what has made me successful this time is my mindset. JC *has* helped me learn portion control. The first week, I saw the food I was supposed to eat and I thought “you’ve GOT to be kidding me! that’s it? I’m going to starve!” I was very afraid. But as the week passed, I realized that I was NOT going hungry. As even more weeks passed I realized how little we really do need, and I learned to appreciate good food when I *did* go off plan. Every time I do go off plan, first I evaluate if it is “worth it” to me, and if so, I savor every bite and appreciate it. I look at portions in restaurants now and I am shocked. So that I will credit JC for, for teaching me about portion sizes.

    But I digress, it *is* more about my mindset. I know I’m going to be successful this time. Every time I drop a size, I clean out my closet and give the clothes away. I will recommend these two books, because they talk about the mindset part of losing weight. You are free to borrow them from me if you wish. They have helped me a great deal with the lifestyle change part of the equation.

    The Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook, by Judith S. Beck. Not a diet book in the sense it doesn’t give you a diet. It talks about how to deal with cravings, “food pushers”, etc.

    The other one (and actually, I enjoyed this one more) is 100 Days of Weight Loss, by Linda Spangle. Again, the “brain” part. Emotional triggers, motivation, help with situations that you may encounter along the way.

    Now I’ve written way too much. I will close with this. I have lost almost 50 and I have about 90 more pounds to go. You definitely have my full support and if you want to talk more, you know how to find me. I am happy to be supportive in any way I can. I’ve been there, I’m still there…but I’m making my way through.

    Apologies for the long comment… ~mero

  • Mandy Lou says:

    Good luck darlin’ – it’s a big undertaking, but you’ll be be happier for it. I know your running will help with all of that, just keep using that to move forward (no pun intended). Your body will thank you in the long run.

    My sister is fairly large and eats for comfort – I really wish that she would take the time to think about these things as well. I worry about her health on a daily basis, so I’m glad to know that you’re taking your future health in hand.

    Rant away whenever you need!

  • zOMG! I did the Cool Whip thing too. I could also inhale a whole can of Pringles in one sitting, something about the shape of the chip that kept me mesmerized.

    Feels good to start letting it out huh! You’re stepping more in the path of your authenticity and this is a huge key to healing. I’m very proud of you 🙂

  • abbersnail says:

    Amen. I’m working on this, too. Every time I think I’ve mastered the art of treating food like it’s just FOOD (not a life preserver or the Worst Thing I Could Ever Do To Myself), I suddenly find myself spiraling back into old habits. Good luck!

  • Bev says:

    I could have written this entry, except my gains and losses were more spectacular. In 2002-2003 I lost 85 lbs and then gained it all back again. I’m still struggling to find the will to change my lifestyle. Even learning I have Type II diabetes and am showing signs of peripheral neuropathy and perhaps diabetic retinopathy doesn’t seem to be enough incentive for me to stop eating. I try to keep “bad” stuff out of the house, but that definitely isn’t enough.

    I wish you luck on your lifestyle. You certainly have a strong support system. I could not have lost my 85 lbs without going public with my weight loss and getting support from the on-line community. I hope it works for you too!

  • Paula says:

    All of the responses are true. Perhaps by sharing this you’re finally ready to do something about your weight. I’d pay attention to food labels (a nutritionist told me that & to stay away from any foods that have the word ‘hydrogenated’ in them!!!)! Its great your active with your running/marathons. Good luck Kiddo, a mighty battle (for quite a few of us it seems) indeed! You can be our role model 🙂

  • Sister says:

    Word, sister. I know exactly what you mean. My story is quite similar, but I guess you know that. Good luck! You have a good attitude. I’m glad you’re my sister 🙂

  • sizzle says:

    I can SO RELATE to this post. I’ve tried all kinds of diets, grew up chubby, lost a bunch of weight in college (and had no idea how to handle the subsequent attention that came with it), etc. I think I have to mentally figure out how to separate food as fuel, not as a reward. I don’t actually eat poorly but I do have a sweet tooth and I do slack on exercise. It’s frustrating because I know what works for me and yet, I sabotage myself. It’s my biggest internal struggle actually.

  • Dagny says:

    One of these days I need to introduce you to my friend, Zombie Mom. I think you two may have quite a bit in common. In fact, I think you’re both running in the Nike marathon next month.

  • Plain Jane says:

    The paragraph in which you describe your eating habits could be a page right out of my own life…. But somehow when someone else puts it into their own words, it gives me a fresh look at the problem I’m having. So thank you for this post and good luck. A healthy lifestyle is a wonderful goal!

  • Noelle says:

    I had the same problem, and I still do, but at least I feel a little more aware of what I’m eating now. But growing up with bad habits makes it impossible to break those bad habits. I hope you have some luck and get to a place where you don’t feel trapped.

  • BethanyWD says:

    Can I just say that I understand? Because, HELL YA, I do.

  • Maybe it sounds like not a big deal, but I think it’s really good that you wrote this all out. I need to do more of that. I find myself thinking I understand what’s going on with my weight & habits, but when I actually write it all out I realize I didn’t really understand before I put it on paper.

    Thanks for sharing this…it really helps the rest of us too!

  • Roni says:

    Oh My WORD! I could have that myself! Just know you are NOT alone. I also just wrote about the fullness switch and how I do NOT have one. Keep sharing and relating it helps so many people including yourself.

roominate on this yourself