I have been away from home for five weeks. Three for work and two in the middle of that for vacation. And at some point, despite all my best intentions and attempts at environmental control and planning, I gave up.
The last two weeks have been especially difficult. I have lived in a dorm on the opposite coast with doctor’s orders to rest an injured leg. I ordered shakes and a shaker bottle to be delivered to my dorm and I brought all my physical therapy equipment along with some workouts I could do without aggravating my injury.
And every morning, I woke up and had a shake. Most mornings that was accompanied by fruit, and sometimes an egg. I did my physical therapy. I rarely did any other exercise. And I used my injury and exhaustion from travel as excuses not to try to do more.
Lunch and dinner started out okay the first couple of days. I would load up on veggies. I would make giant salads. I would figure out if there was a lower-calorie entree. And I would be full. But the longer I sat at the dining table during our extended meal breaks, the more often I would get up for second and even third servings of high calorie foods. Eventually I gave up on hitting the salad bar first. I.gave.up.
Then I flew home and attempted a half marathon. I knew I would be taking it easy but my injury flared (probably honestly from the weight I gained adding extra impact) and I walked the last five miles. So the next day, upon finally returning to my apartment, I stepped on the scale and faced the truth. And I added that truth to the truth of my previous semester.
At my lowest, I was 150lbs on the HMR scale. Tonight, the scale showed 188.9.
Back to the title. Because I probably owe some explanation to the rambling thoughts that have been racing through my head over the last several days.
I felt like a failure when I stepped on the scale in my apartment on Monday. I did not want to come back to class because I have managed to gain a significant amount of weight since transitioning to Phase Two. But rather than feed my emotions, I actually locked myself in my apartment (save for a trip to the dentist) for the last 48 hours in an attempt to figure out what has been going on and how I let myself get to this point. Let’s call it a personal intervention. I figured out many of my triggers. I journaled a plan for the next several weeks as well as a plan going into the school year. I cried. I binge-watched “Extreme Weight Loss” and prepared lots of veggie dishes (I had produce delivered – I didn’t trust myself in a grocery store right when I got home).
So I have plans going forward. I have reflections on my past. I even have a fridge stocked full of supportive food. But I still had not come to class. And this was causing some serious anxiety for me. I even considered feigning illness or exhaustion. Anything to avoid confronting my behaviors and the HMR scale.
But I showered. I got dressed. And I got in my car. And I drove myself to class an hour before it started because honestly I thought I might back out. I am ashamed of my behaviors and how I gave up on my healthy habits, but I also know I am human. I know through my previous classes that I needed to confront myself to stop the guilt-shame cycle. And I remember class as being a supportive environment that would help me as I face the obstacles ahead to lose the weight I found over the last seven months.
I didn’t want to come to class tonight. But I needed to come to class. And so I am here. Ready to learn. Ready to continue to work to better myself.
Weight loss is a battle. It’s an absolute struggle and I completely relate to anyone who is fighting to take off those pounds. But I have discovered an even more difficult task.
Keeping it off.
On Monday I was working out with a friend and talking about how gross I felt. I began to review all of the terrible things I had eaten while working at a middle school debate tournament. For the first time in over a year, I had eaten at McDonalds and over those two days I had actually had TWO meals from the Golden Arches. And that wasn’t all!
What happened to me? What had possessed me, during a week I was trying to eat on the lower end of my calorie range due to an upcoming vacation, to eat so many of the terribly high calorie foods offered to me?
I started off each morning with a blended shake. I even packed meal replacements and vegetables. I was exhausted but I had a semblance of a plan. To stick with a Healthy Solutions “More is Better” approach because I knew it would be very stressful and I make terrible choices when I am stressed out. Something I have learned about myself over the last 13 months.
However, people offered me lunch delivery from the lunchroom. And I accepted. And then they went around taking McDonald’s orders. And I placed one for myself.
I realized upon reflecting on the weekend that I just wanted to appear “normal.” After a year of being on such a strict diet, I wanted to be like everyone else and eat whatever I wanted. I wanted to eat like they did.
Like a carnival funhouse, I was tricked by this notion of “normal” and I was the fool.
My concept of normal used to be “what everyone else is doing” but I realize that this isn’t what gave me success in my weight-loss journey. What gave me success was setting a new standard of what normal looks like. And when I reflect upon the weekend, other people turned down these various options in favor of something healthier. Which meant what I had perceived as normal really wasn’t the norm for everyone.
While I anticipate a gain on the scale this week, I have also gained something else. I have gained a better understanding of how I operate and the triggers that entice me further into the Gap.
In middle school we would joke that normal was just a setting on a washing machine. Maybe I just need to listen to my 7th grade self again. Embrace the idea of being me and not being like everyone else. After all, being me is what got me this far in life. And I like who I have become.
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!