Processing Phase Two: An Academic Exploration of Life Outside “The Box” and the Creation of a “New Box”
I lived inside of a bubble for almost a whole year.
It wasn’t a real bubble. That would be a little bit strange. But it was a world where I had protection in the form of a very strict diet called HMR Decision Free. For those who have been reading for awhile, you probably already figured that out. But it still amazes me that for a whole nine months, I lived in such a confined world of food choices and after so long inside my bubble, I think I had forgotten what existed outside of that world.
As I transition from my bubble world to the real world, I have found that a lot of academic texts that were shared with us in health class have become much more salient for me. I wanted to use my journal (blog) today as an opportunity to explore my transition while linking some of these texts as well as next texts to help me connect my personal experiences with broader research. Because I have learned a lot in the last several months but it helps me know that I am not alone in this world full of food that we call “The Gap.”
Cornell researchers Brian Wansink & Jeffery Sobal found that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. While we learned about this study in our HMR health classes, I dismissed it at the time, because those were not choices I needed to make at that moment. My choices were much more limited. Did I meet my daily minimum of shakes and entrees? Which of the limited selection was I eating next? Since everything was tasty and nutritionally calculated, it was rare I really felt compelled to make a clear decision.
When I transitioned to Healthy Solutions, the number of decisions increased. Suddenly I needed to decide how to get my fruits and veggies in. I needed to go into grocery stores to acquire said produce. I needed to prepare them and write them down and it became more complicated that just jotting down the same several items in my journal each day.
And because I thought I missed variety, I quickly delved into produce diversification. However, perhaps I should have stuck with buying only what I needed each day to minimize choice and over-consumption. Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink found, in the Journal of Marketing Research, that stockpiling food leads to over-consumption. And so while I thought I was saving money and time in buying in bulk, I have since realized that I consumed even more produce just because it was there, not because I was hungry.
Fruits and vegetables are not the worst things in the world to overeat. However, the habits created could possibly transfer to other items. And so by discovering this in Healthy Solutions, I was able to minimize the total amount of food in the house and as I transitioned to Phase Two, I had to keep this in mind. Because even frozen dinners, that would soon supplement my HMR meal replacements, could be abused.
As I have transitioned to Phase Two, I have worked hard to keep my home environment and work environment as clean as possible. But I have learned a lot in the transition.
I learned quickly that I couldn’t be trusted to just show up in the school cafeteria to select a meal on the fly. The temptations of everything around me would add up. And even if I grabbed small portions of lots of healthier options, it would still add up to way more calories than I needed in a meal. And because I was now socializing at lunch instead of eating in my classroom, I found that I consume far more despite the fact I could have done with less. And I am not alone. According to John M. De Castro, a professor at Georgia State University, in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Simply eating with one other person increases the average amount ingested in meals by 44% and with more people present the average meal size grows even larger.” And so I either have a shake about an hour beforehand and strategically plan which stations I will go to and which I will avoid, or I bring my own meal and bypass the cafeteria entirely.
The social pressures to consume “normal food” have led me to stray from guidelines we are encouraged to follow in Phase Two of HMR. While traveling, I worked to fill my plate with mostly vegetables. I used shakes and produce and entrees to offset hunger, and I walked when I could. But eventually, I found myself caving to the pressure to consume the “special homemade meals” that were offered near where we were sitting. The food was free and the families were so eager to share. And it was delicious. But I have struggled to pull myself back into real life day to day living. It is so easy to justify everything as something special. And yet I lived for nine months where nothing was special enough to eat and I had a few events that probably were once in a lifetime events where I resisted!
I know it is easy to justify my choices. Not just because I teach debate, but also because in the Gap we are handed justifications to make bad food choices every day. However, although I may have had trouble with defining my life after Phase One, I am able to bring myself full circle. Brian Wansink writes in Physiology & Behavior:
“This Laboratory of Life experience – trying to change mindless eating in the real world – brings lessons of both discouragement and encouragement for those of us interested in helping change eating behaviors. On one hand, some results are discouraging because they show how some of our most robust academic findings are often not implemented by people because they do not recognize their relevance, they lack the motivation to make them work, or they lack the step-by- step encouragement and direction they might need. If we fear we are often talking only to other academics, perhaps we initially are.”
While I had some trouble with motivation during some of my initial weeks in Phase Two, I think my health educator helped me assess what a bigger problem was for me. I still hadn’t figured out what my new box was. I had done so much work to stay in the HMR defined box, and now that I “could have” things, I was having them because there wasn’t a box I had clearly laid out.
In the past few weeks, I have figured out my triggers. I also know that severely limiting myself forever won’t work, and I do need to eventually allow for life events to happen. But I also need to write out a box for myself that I can stick with day to day.
I am writing out my Phase Two box here. In published form. To hold myself accountable. While I know that eventually it may change, this is how it need to be for the moment. In order to continue my weight loss efforts and prevent the Gap from consuming me.
I will continue to allow shakes and entrees be a part of my life. The definition of a meal replacement being 300 or fewer calories with more than ten grams of protein. I will allow myself one bar a day but bars must be under 200 calories with at least ten grams of protein and cannot be consumed in my house (in other words, bars should be used as portable meal replacements when necessary, not a daily requirement). I will continue to enjoy fruits and vegetables as these are important for my nutritional health but also to practice “more is better” with. And I will limit myself to no more than one serving of lean protein outside of prepared meal replacements each day. Finally, I will allow myself no more than 200 “other” calories. This might be popcorn. It might be a small cookies. It doesn’t have to be limited in scope (variety) but it does have to be limited in magnitude (calories) and I must ask myself “is this worth it? will it keep me full? if it won’t, why am I eating it?” and if I am satisfied with the answers, I can have it.
I was asked as I transitioned where I saw myself in five years. What is my five year plan. And the truth is, I am still thinking about it. But I know I don’t want to regress. I want to move forward. To better understand and support my health with healthy behaviors. And I will continue to contemplate this as I learn to live inside the box again. The white board has returned. And I look forward to building up those numbers because I am #HMRStrong!
I swore I wasn’t ever going to post progress pictures on my blog. When I first started writing about the HMR Diet, I wanted my experience to be anonymous. I just needed a place where I could explore what I was learning, thinking, and feeling. However I realize now that I can’t be anonymous at this point. Not because so many people I know read this blog now, but because it would be selfish of me.
When I started HMR, I craved success stories. I wanted to see progress pictures. Even now I buy magazines like People touting normal people losing weight because it inspires me and shows me we can all do it. So at the end of this post I will share my nine month pictures.
First, I want to explore my thoughts. I am officially down 122 pounds at nine months and one week. I have also begun my transition to Healthy Solutions (started last week at the nine month mark). When I started this program I gave myself one year to be on Decision Free. My mental framing that it would take this long kept me going — knowing there would be an eventual end. However a year seemed too long so I think the desire to transition earlier motivated me to stay in the box and to seize every fitness opportunity I could.
I have been in the box every day since starting the program. I have had a few emotional eating days but used meal replacements when other tools like journaling or exercise weren’t cutting it. I have had two or three weeks where I didn’t lose weight (also didn’t gain) and I missed two weeks of weigh ins for travel (one week in June and one a couple weeks later in July). I can say from experience that being away from class made it harder to stay on the program because those in person accountability points aren’t just to keep up in check but also have me leaving class feeling refreshed and motivated.
When I started this diet walking at 3.0 on the treadmill was fast and there were days where walking at 2.0 for 40 minutes while watching an episode of Scandal was a big workout. I swam laps but only a couple and very slowly.
This past Sunday, just a couple of days after my nine month anniversary, I ran my first half marathon since starting HMR. And by ran, I actually ran and killed my previous PR by over 50 minutes! Super proud of this picture because I feel like it captures how far I have come:
Was it easy? Never. But did it become habit? Yes. When you reframe away from what you can’t have and focus on what you can, it makes it so much easier to manage Decision Free. When you focus on each day as becoming the best person you can be, the days pile up into making you an awesome person. When you seize every opportunity for fitness and give it everything you have rather than make excuses then you find yourself seeing physical results even when the scale moves slowly or not at all.
You can make excuses or you can make your move. I had ALL the injuries. Bad knees. Sciatica. Lower back pain. Asthma. I work 40+ hours during the week and 20+ weekends a year. I am traveling ALL the time. I am not wealthy. I don’t live alone. I spend time around temptation EVERY day. And I HAVE found success but it wasn’t handed to me. I had to fight for every single pound and while I have had people tell me I “make it look easy” — it hasn’t been. But nothing amazing is easy.
Now I am transitioning to Healthy Solutions and although I am loving the produce and I am trying to take it slowly, I won’t lie that I am also scared. I have confidence in myself but I am anxious and I can’t articulate why, other than I am constantly entering new territory and that keeps me on my toes.
I teach public speaking – it’s one of the biggest fears in America. Thus I understand having unexplained anxiety and trying to manage and overcome to the best of our abilities. I practice positive visualization (ordering a Healthy Solutions option at a restaurant when I inevitably go out) and I carry a touchstone to keep me grounded when I need to make a decision. I journal my food and exercise. I practice tricks like always keeping a zero calorie beverage in my hand in social settings. And I expel the rest of the nervousness through exercise. I will manage my anxiety like I will manage my weight. One day at a time with mindfulness and positive energy. And no excuses.
A rather lengthy post. And I feel like I have so much more to say. But tomorrow we meet up with our students for the first time this school year so I am off to bed. But as promised, here are my nine month progress pictures. I am proud of my hard work and continue to motivate myself every day to excel so that the work I have done is honored and not destroyed.
My husband and I volunteered to teach at a debate camp in New Orleans this past month. We flew in on a Friday night red-eye and I decided right before we hopped on the shuttle to see if there were any fun running events to keep me motivated. What I discovered was the Happy’s Running Club NOLA 5k which was happening that Saturday evening. So we arrived early Saturday morning, I took a nap, and then we were off to downtown New Orleans to sign up for the race!
First, let me just say that running in New Orleans in the middle of July in the early evening is a LOT different than running in San Jose early in the morning! Luckily, I had been running in Charlotte and Boston the previous week and spent a week in Florida the week before that, so my body was only mildly annoyed with the humid heat.
I was nervous upon arrival because I didn’t know much about the race other than it involved running in downtown New Orleans and it was affordable to register the day of. When we arrived I discovered this relatively small race had a fabulously festive atmosphere and there was clearly a tight knit running community in the area.
The registration and pre/post festival area was a parking lot off the main street where the race would occur. Just down the street in one direction was Harrah’s casino and in the other direction was the Superdome. The course itself was two loops up and down the main street with a small detour off the main drag. The course was relabeled a 3 mile race as they had issues securing the street needed to make the course a 5-k. However my GPS told me I still ran a 5k after weaving and zagging down three lane roads!
I wasn’t expecting to PR or even finish sub-30 because of the condition I was in after traveling and being out in the Louisiana summer. However, I wasn’t expecting that when I slowed for a walk at the 2-mile mark I would be taunted and “coached” by drunk pedestrians! I picked back up my pace and kept running until I was past the intoxicated crowd.
There is something really cool about exploring a new place via a race. From running through streets I wouldn’t have ever been able to run down, to meeting members of the running community, I got an opportunity to see the city from a local point of view!
The volunteers were fabulous, the course was solid, the random cheering groups that sprung up outside of bars was hilarious, and the other participants were all very supportive and friendly. A bonus was my husband standing outside one of the pubs cheering for me!
At the end of the race we got an opportunity to experience real Southern hospitality! Several restaurants provided free post-race food to participants, there was a beer truck, a local company offering samples of a low-calorie frozen electrolyte popsicle, and a live band. It was like a street party with everyone in running gear!
I am now motivated to try to find races on future trips. I probably won’t be able to do it when traveling for work but that won’t stop me from looking for other opportunities. And if we return to New Orleans around the same time next year, I will be back to run another NOLA 5k (3-miler)!
This has been a hard post to write and I have been mulling about it for a couple of days. I am currently in New Orleans aka “The Big Easy” aka Food Culture Lives Here aka a really tough trip to be on while on the Decision Free HMR Diet. However, I needed to work some things out and since that’s why I started this blog, I need to get it all out here.
I have been on Decision Free for 35 weeks and am currently in week 36. I have not slipped outside of the box once. Knowing my history with diets, I knew when I started that I couldn’t have a cheat meal and not risk derailing like so many diets before.
I am now at my lightest weight ever. Heck, I showed up on Saturday morning on a red-eye and decided to sign up for a 5k in downtown New Orleans that evening and ran it in under 31 minutes! I am so much healthier than I was in November when I started. (And crazier… do you know how hot and humid it is here?!?)
The problem with getting lighter and healthier is that I am finding it harder and harder to stay HMRStrong and inside the box. I have been on the road for most of July between personal and professional travel – I have survived three red-eyes, a week in Disney World, hours upon hours of stressful travel delays, revisiting old eating haunts in Boston… so much temptation. It’s becoming ridiculously hard to say no to temptations because I feel so much better than I ever have. My willpower is weakening by the day.
My health instructor has this demonstration that he does when he talks about willpower. He holds a pencil up in the air and tells us that eventually that arm will give out. Willpower isn’t enough – it can only take you so far. And my arm definitely wants to drop the pencil.
So I am in one of the most food-centric cities in the world and trying not to eat everything around me. Instead I am practicing more is better but second guessing after the ninth meal replacement if maybe that one bite of duck sausage or crawfish wouldn’t have been easier. Yet knowing full-well it wouldn’t have been “just one bite.”
What isn’t helping is that my weight loss has slowed down to about a pound a week for the last couple of weeks. I knew it would probably slow eventually. I also know how water math works and that I might see a bigger loss in the future. Additionally I have been weighing in right after returning from trips and I know that travel fundamentally messes with my routine and body. But the slowdown has me second-guessing if it isn’t time to stop. Rationally, I know I have a ways to go. I am still overweight and still have so much to do to make myself healthier.
The siren call of food will continue to beckon for the rest of my life. I know this. It will beckon whether I am “Decision Free” or in “Healthy Solutions” or fully transitioned into “Phase Two.” I know that the time I live “in the box” allows me the time to evaluate “The Gap” and learn how to handle these tough situations while still holding a barrier to protect myself from making those decisions now.
This is going to be a tough week. I will continue to be tested. I planned ahead and made HMR muffins and biscuits to carry at all times (like last night in the French Quarter) and brought bars and extra shakes and entrees. I have fitness plans in place. And I have work to throw myself into during the weekdays to keep me away from food. I have worked way too hard for way too long to not see this to the end. I want to be as successful as I can be. I want to do this the right way. I just needed to talk myself through my thoughts and remind myself that I can do it. It will be hard. Life is hard. As I tell my seniors going into their last debates – “Give it everything you have. Leave it all on the table. Do your absolute best. Because win or lose this debate, you want to look back and have no regrets about the choices you made. You’ve got this.”
Travel continues to guide my experimentation in the kitchen. I wanted a savory option that could be easily carried on planes, trains, and automobiles!
The 70 shakes have an egg protein in them that helps with the muffins but wouldn’t work well for a savory biscuit. I use the chicken soup but it took awhile to keep the end product from being very dense. The secret is stirring in the baking powder just enough so it’s mixed and activates but not to over stir and lose the bubbles that make it fluffy! I also use a 2-tbsp scoop to portion out the dough on the silpat which means less handling and fewer bubbles lost!
Savory Cheddar Muffins
- 2 HMR Oatmeal
- 2 HMR Chicken Soup
- 2 tbsp Molly Cheese
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix oatmeal and 1 cup of water. Microwave for two minutes. Stir and let stand for several minutes.
Add in soup, cheese powder and the remaining ¼ cup of water. Stir until combined.
Once dough is mixed, add baking soda. Carefully fold in without losing the air bubbles.
Gently scoop onto a baking pan covered with a silpat mat or parchment paper.
Bake for 15 to 25 minutes until the biscuit is cooked through. Cooking times will vary significantly based on how big you make each biscuit and your personal oven calibration.
This recipe makes six ½ shake servings of three baby biscuits for my prescription.
Don’t forget this is a low-density preparation of the soup and oatmeal. Make sure to drink lots of fluids while enjoying these!
During my 34 weeks on the HMR Decision Free diet, I have traveled more than the average American. And while some of it has been for fun, the majority has been work related and thus relatively regimented. So when I decided to visit my sister for a week in Florida and we decided to spend three of those days in the land of Disney, I got a little anxious about staying in the box.
First, a spoiler, I survived! However I thought it would be helpful to write about my experience for others and also as a reminder to myself for future trips.
According to the WDW Web site:
“Guests with food allergies or intolerances are allowed to bring food into Walt Disney World theme parks and dining locations. When entering a park, simply inform the Security at bag check that someone in the party has a food allergy or intolerance.
Refrigerating and Heating Personal Food Items
Guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel who have items that need to be refrigerated should ask the Front Desk to have a refrigerator placed in the room, subject to availability. An additional charge may apply.
Please note that Cast Members are prohibited from storing, preparing, cooking or reheating any food brought into our Resorts or theme parks by Guests.”
I had no issues with Security and didn’t even need to inform them about the food I was bringing in, they must see a lot of things come through.
Before we left, I baked both savory and sweet HMR mini muffins using the oatmeals, soups and 70 shakes. You can find some of my recipes here. I portioned them out into individual servings that were equivalent of a half a shake for me and a full shake for my Healthy Solutions at Home sister.
I also packed a shaker bottle with two 800 shakes, a 70 shake, and a Benefit Bar. As pictured here:
We also each packed an entree that could be enjoyed cold (Five Bean casserole!), several types of sugar free gum, and a sandwich baggie full of various water flavor squeeze-ins like Crystal Light Liquid (mmmm Sangria and Strawberry Lemonade!) and Dasani Drops (Cherry Pomegranate FTW). The gum and water flavorings allowed us to change up flavors we were experiencing without increasing our caloric intake.
Next, we each packed an empty water bottle to refill throughout the park. We quickly learned you could walk up to vendors who had fountain drink machines and request cups of ice water for free! We would fill up our water bottles with refreshing cold water and play with flavorings. We also purchased various diet sodas and unsweetened iced teas when we wanted a special treat.
The secrets for me were front-loading and keeping myself occupied. I ate an entree before we left in the morning and drank a giant bottle of water. Then I made sure to always have a low calorie beverage in my hand (yay iced water!) so that I could drink whenever I was tempted with food. And I won’t lie… I was tempted! I never craved a turkey leg before (I have never had one) and it was all I could think about for an hour or so after walking past a booth selling them. But we moved away from that part of the park, I enjoyed a couple of flavored waters and bites of a benefit bar, and I stayed in the box.
I think it is easy to give up your diet when you are on vacation. Your schedule is switched up and you are relaxing. You can justify things because you “deserve” them or it’s a special treat. But what I asked myself was if I were never going to return to Disney World, could I live without ever trying X or Y? And the answer I figured out was that I would be fine.
And I am planning my return. My sister and I are all signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February! So if that turkey leg still sounds good after running 13.1 miles, I may let myself have a bite. But I will be in control of the food rather than allowing it to control me. I will plan for the food. I will also be in a place by then where I have not only transitioned into Phase Two but I will have lived in Phase Two for several months.
I am proud of my success of staying in the box but I also realize my vacation wasn’t ruined by not eating Gap foods. I didn’t need a turkey leg or margarita or mouse-shaped pretzel to complete my experience. This realization has helped me further separate food from my day to day life. Food is fuel and it can be a delicious experience but it is not the whole experience.
Now to remember this all as I head into two weeks of travel into major “foodie” cities like New Orleans!