Here I am again. . .

Once upon a time I wrote this:

The trouble with dieting is you no longer have food to cushion your emotions.

I never thought I ate for any reason other than that I enjoyed food. I tried lots of diets over the years and could always manage to lose 10 or 20 pounds, but it came off so slowly, it seemed pointless to deprive myself of treats.

And then there were always the holidays, birthdays, celebrations, nights out at the movies, dinner out, fast food because I didn’t have time to cook or shop, and of course Friday and Saturday night. And Sunday brunch. I didn’t need much to come up with an excuse for why I needed to eat something ‘fun’.

When my friend gave me the Lean For Life book for Christmas 1996, I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s reading about the diet and eating the rest of the Christmas cookies. There are still frosting smudges on some of the pages.

I read it before committing to it, because I’d come be believe all diets are the same. Weight Watchers, The Carbohydrate Addict Diet, the Ab Diet, Atkins, South Beach, you name it, I’d tried it.

But as I turned the pages, I recognized myself on page after page. A very uncomfortable mirror catching me in my lamest excuses. Pointing out unhealthy coping skills. Highlighting the many bad habits I’d acquired over the years.

By New Year’s, I had decided to give it a try. Of course New Year’s wasn’t on Sunday that year, and everyone knows you only start a diet on a Monday. So I spent the weekend eating the meals of the condemned – the last Oreo, the last ice cream, the last bag of chips, the last Big Mac. I also made a shopping list and a menu, and I made copies of the daily diary page, the food lists and other things.

Although I have many shortcomings, once I decide on something, I commit to it wholeheartedly.

So come Monday morning, I weighed myself (and cringed). I did my first protein day, logged the paltry scraps of food and the gallons of water. I read the chapter for Day One repeatedly through the day and I took a walk to the park (which was maybe 3,000 steps round trip.

Day two I got to add some vegetables and fruit to my menu. I was still highly motivated. I read the chapter, did the exercises, walked, drank water, and peed gallons.

I followed the diet to the letter the first week. The weekend was a bit rocky, but I wanted to prove to myself I could last the weekend. Just one weekend was all I’d commit to. Monday morning, I weighed myself and I was down almost 8 pounds. A success which propelled me through day 8 and 9.

Somewhere around day 10, I was making Hamburger Helper for the kids and my husband, a meal I usually do not enjoy. But as I stirred the gradually softening noodles in the rich, cheesy gravy, my mouth started to water. “Just one,” I told myself. Then I remembered some of the exercises I’d done in the book. “No. I’m stronger than that. I can resist.” But I was weak with wanting. With tears running down my face, I thought about it, about the strong emotional battle that was raging in my head. I didn’t even like what I was craving.

I managed to get through that meal, then fix my own meager dinner of a baked chicken breast, salad and ½ cup of cantaloupe. I read my chapter again that night, read a few of the previous ones, and went to bed very early to escape the vicious cravings.

I made it through week 2, but barely. I limped through the weekend, snapping and snarling at everyone, certain that the ‘cure’ was only as far as the refrigerator.

Monday morning I weighed. I was down 11 pounds. 11! I could hardly believe it. Okay, one more week. Just one. I could suffer through anything for a week, right?

Each day I had huge mood swings, and would call my friend sobbing. “I’m such a loser,” I told her. “Only a loser would cry over stupid junk food. I’m eating good tasting food, I’m not hungry, and yet I’m crying like a baby because I want macaroni and cheese.”

Gradually, I realized that what was happening, was that without the cushion of food, I was having to face my demons. Face my fears, my insecurities, my bad habits, the ridiculous excuses, all the things I had used food to hide from myself.

I believe that no matter what diet you follow, what eating program, food list, exercise regimen, you will not succeed until you face the underlying reasons you overeat.

At first glance, the Lean for Life food plan looks like a starvation diet. Barely enough food to keep a rabbit alive, let alone a human being. Especially if you’ve gotten used to the super-size portions that are standard in American restaurants and homes.

The benefits of reducing your diet to the basics are many.

One difference I noticed between this and other diets is that on other diets, I was obsessed with finding the ‘low-fat’ ‘lo-cal’ alternatives to the foods I loved to eat. How could I bake cookies with Sweet ‘n’ Low? Fat free mayo allowed me to still enjoy creamy dressings and lo-cal bread let me have the sandwiches I loved. I still drank two or three cans of pop a day, except instead of regular, I switched to diet. I bought Weight Watchers ice cream, desserts, lasagna, pizza and popcorn.

And my habits never changed. I never faced why I was eating all those carbs and fats in the first place. And as soon as I stopped buying the expensive ‘diet’ food, I gained all my weight back because I didn’t change one single habit.

On Lean for Life, I had to retrain my palate. I had to learn to cook without lite butter, low fat sour cream and fat free cheese. I had to learn that I did not need bread to live. Or noodles, potatoes, rice or pasta. I learned that blackberries are sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. And if my meal is tasty enough, I don’t even miss the potatoes on the side. I realized adding cheese to salad or other recipes is more of a texture than a flavor most of the time.

As I lost weight, and learned more about how to prepare foods I liked, I felt better about myself. I started walking more (without the bad attitude) and I started to look forward to my exercise routine. And I looked forward to weighing myself every week. Some weeks I lost two or three, but other weeks I lost five or six. Over the course of six weeks, I lost 30 pounds. Which was more than one dress size. My skin looked better, and I was sleeping better, and feeling better than I had since I was a kid.

I did the weight loss cycle three times and lost 87 pounds in a little over 4 months.

What did I learn about myself? I learned that I eat to please others a lot of the time. I don’t want to ‘hurt someone’s feelings’ by saying no to the birthday cake or the donuts they brought to share. I learned that I eat when I’m bored. At least my taste buds were entertained. I ate because I was lazy and didn’t want to think or shop or prepare or cook. I ate because carbs and fat do raise the serotonin levels in your brain for a brief period and I craved that ‘high’ a whole package of Oreos could give me. I ate without even paying attention to why I was eating. I ate when I wasn’t hungry because it was mealtime. I ate because someone else was eating and I wanted to ‘fit in’.

To diet successfully, I believe you need several things. You need to keep track of everything you put in your mouth. Every single M&M, every creamer you put in your coffee, every handful of peanuts you eat.

I believe you need to drink all the water they say. I made a deal with myself. I could have my pop after I’d finished all my water for the day. Water isn’t magic, but it does help you feel more full and hopefully eating less. Breaking down body fat during weight loss produces wastes that extra water helps to flush from your system. High protein diets like Lean for Life produces more waste from digestion, in addition to the wastes from breaking down the stored fats.

I managed to keep that weight off for several years before life took a series of left turns.  I returned to my old eating habits, and here I am, nearly twenty years later, determined to do it again, and keep it off for good.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.