Habits: Emotional Eating and Food Substitutions
Last night in my HMR Phase Two class, we talked about habits. What they are. Discovering our motivation behind the habit. And how to work to break bad habits while establishing supportive habits.
A topic that was almost too timely for me.
Earlier in the day, I had fallen into an old habit that was surreal but vaguely familiar as it is one I thought I had broken but found myself rediscovering recently. The habit of eating until I was sickening full with no real hunger preceding it.
I have had several recent occasions where I have found myself falling into this habit and I have been journaling to figure out the triggers. It was thus interesting to participate in last night’s discussion as it solidified what I had been realizing about myself.
The eating starts when I am tired and stress. I feel rushed with too much on my scheduling plate and what seems like too little time. I know I need to eat, so I grab supportive foods.
This falls in line with what some people suggest. That when you want to eat, you should replace non-supportive foods like potato chips with supportive foods like carrots. Because then you can satiate your hand-to-mouth desires.
However, what I am slowly learning about myself over this past year, is that this doesn’t satiate my emotions and I end up stuffing myself until I am sick to my stomach. Even with supportive foods that might not cause too much damage, I feel gross and still unsatisfied.
Which means I feel gross. I am unsatisfied. And now I still want unsupportive foods. And while feeling full should keep me from eating those unsupportive foods, I still go for them. And maybe right now it is just small bites. But it’s small bites of high calorie foods on top of the massive bowl of beets and the banana and the bowl of cherry tomatoes and it all adds up.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Because as I reflect on my successes this past year, I realize that the times I have wanted to eat and I didn’t take the first bite, I was able to alleviate my stress and anxiety in other ways.
When I have been angry and stressed, I have found that dropping down and doing 5 push-ups (or more) immediately gives me a physical relief that is far more satisfying than a bowl of lettuce. And if I have more time, lacing up and going for a walk or run allows me to process my thoughts away form food.
When I am sad or feeling more of a low-energy emotional need to eat, journaling about why I want to eat helps me find the trigger without pulling it. And then I can figure out a solution to this need – do I need to feel pampered? Do I need a hug? Do I just need to cry without a reason?
While some people may be able to find a solution through replacing high calorie foods with low calories foods when they have an emotional trigger to eat, I am realizing that this won’t work for me.
So the new habit I am working to develop it to not take the first bite. To continue to work to recognize my triggers and to use my non-food toolbox to process my emotions.
The difference a year makes. One year later. HMR Diet Review.
Last Fall, I wandered into a 6am gym class with motivation to get fit. To lose weight.
I left less than 20 minutes into the class in tears. I couldn’t keep up. I felt like I was dying. I was embarrassed and I swore I would never go back.
Before anyone blames the teacher, it wasn’t him. He was awesome. It was me. I was ashamed at how heavy and how out of shape I had let myself become.
I did this to myself.
No one made me fat. Yes, life happened. Shitty things have happened in my life. Things that motivated me to stuff my face full of fatty foods. But no one sat there force feeding me except me. Wonderful things also have happened in my life. Things I had celebrated by, you guessed it, stuffing rich fatty foods in my mouth. And I had all the reasons in the book why I couldn’t work out. Hello I teach six classes a day, coach after school, and work at tournaments at least half the weekends during the calendar year (many of which require travel). I obviously had no time… except the time I was sitting on a couch stuffing my face or at a bar drinking and (you guessed again) stuffing my face.
So I was ashamed. And guess what I did?
Bought myself a high calorie beverage from Starbucks and drove myself through the McDonald’s drive-thru for TWO sausage McMuffins (with cheese!) and TWO hash browns. And a full sugar soda. You know, to wash the candy coffee drink down.
Here’s the deal. I know someone reading this is judging me. And that’s fine. I am putting myself out there and expect to be judged. It’s the Internet for heaven’s sake.
I know there are people who are out there who think that obviously if we just stop eating like what I described, we would all be thin. But for those who know me, or who have struggled with their weight, once you start packing on pounds, even if you switch to healthier choices, it is still incredibly difficult to shave off enough calories to start the scale moving down. I didn’t eat every meal at McDonald’s. In fact, I ate a relatively balanced diet most days out of the week. But between the amount of healthy food (portion control) combined with the comfort food combined with a lack of activity, my scale just kept climbing.
I was ashamed when I left that fitness class. And I never went back.
November 13, 2013 — I left work and took myself out for sushi. It would be my last meal where I would stuff my face freely and not worry about the consequences. I enjoyed and savored all the foods I knew I would be leaving behind. I was bloated and uncomfortable when I left the restaurant and I drove across the street to the HMR health class.
It was the first day of the rest of my life.
Nine months into HMR, I transitioned from Decision Free to Healthy Solutions. And six weeks after that I began the transition to Phase Two. I have spent the last six weeks battling life in the real world. And I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. It has been two of the hardest months I have had in a long time.
Losing weight in HMR, if you stick with the plan and don’t give yourself excuses to cheat, is incredibly easy. You are isolating yourself from the real world of choice. It’s safe. It’s easy. And throughout the process, the classes prepare you for life in the real world.
Some people have made judgey comments about HMR because they feel as though they are “better than that” and people should be able to lose weight on “real foods” and you “don’t learn how to manage life” and “the weight will just come back on.”
Here’s my take on those who judge.
Wow. I have been wanting to say that for years. Because I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager. And I listened to those judgey people for almost that long. And every time I attempted to “just eat healthier” and failed, I would spiral further and the scale would climb higher.
Maybe preparing all of your own food from scratch and choosing healthy options on every menu works for you. That’s awesome! I am not judging your lifestyle so please stop judging those who make the choice to seek outside help in getting weight off and learning to manage that weight.
But I live in the real world of balancing an 80 hour a week job. And I don’t have the luxury of just “finding a new job” or “taking some time for myself.” I have to work. I actually LOVE my work. I am changing lives. I LOVE being a teacher and a debate coach. And that’s not going to change.
So let’s stop the judging and the diet shaming. Because I want to tell you something.
I got the pounds off quickly. I learned a lot about myself and the real world in the process.
And although I alluded earlier in this post that the last six weeks have been a struggle, it’s not because of HMR. It’s because the real world is full of choices and I am battling between the person I was and the person I have become.
I am healthier. I am stronger. But there is still a part of me that wants to override the healthy choice machine and pick the worst item on the menu. So every meal is an internal struggle. But in reality, it has always been that way. Now the healthier side is winning more of those battles and the unhealthy side is protesting.
I will continue to attend the HMR Phase Two classes for at least 17 more months. They hold me accountable. They offer me support. And they continue to teach me valuable lessons about myself and about the world around me. Last night I tried to talk myself out of attending this “Total Athletic Conditioning” class. I needed sleep. I have been incredibly run down as I have not had a day off without teaching, coaching, or traveling with students since the first weekend of October. But then I remembered how I have empowered myself. How amazing I feel after getting in a workout. And how I wanted to celebrate life and not make excuses.
So I woke up and went to this 6am class described as combining “athletic sports drills, weight training and other techniques that are specifically designed to improve your speed, agility, quickness, balance and muscle definition. Start with a cardio warmup – progress into active stretching – move into strength and endurance – then some speed and agility – balance and core and added PLYO… You will enhance your cardio anaerobic threshold.”
Scary description right?
I was scared.
I remember running out of that studio. I remember hiding in the bathroom. I remember crying.
I looked in the mirror and began to follow the instructor’s direction. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt alive.
After the class, one of the regulars (who had been there when I ran out last year) approached me and complimented me on how well I kept up for my first class.
I mentioned I had tried it once before over a year ago. But I didn’t mention running out. I didn’t mention the tears. I just ended by saying I planned on coming back.
And I do.
HMR Decision Free Diet – Nine Month Review and Progress Pictures
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.
When Willpower Isn’t Enough
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.”
100 pounds lost. A reflection.
This week I officially hit the 100 pound weight loss club. Spoiler alert: It’s not an actual club. No clubhouse and no secret handshake. At least not that I am yet aware of.
As friends have learned about my accomplishment, I have had a couple ask me how it feels to have lost 100 pounds. And I don’t really know how to answer.
I want to say it feels fabulous. I want to tell them how awesome I feel. I want to extrapolate on the health benefits I am seeing both physically and mentally.
But I am hung up on something bigger.
I let myself get to the point where I needed to lose over 100 pounds.
In this truth lies the complexity of the triumph.
I started running while on this weight-loss journey. I have run several races and have signed up for many more. Every race so far I have had a faster time than the previous race. I want to shout my PRs from the roof top. I earned those. I am taking myself to new places I have never been before. I was never a runner and now I am. That makes me feel fabulous.
But reflecting on the 100 pounds lost yet only being a pound lighter than my lightest adult weight… It means I was a failure in the past. I let myself gain those 99 pounds. I treated my body terribly. I hurt myself and now I am making reparations.
Yes, I could say that “hey at least I caught it and am doing something about it” but in all honesty I feel like that’s a cop-out right now. I am instead choosing to use this time to reflect on the why and the how. Not why and how I lost the weight but on the gains. I think it is important to reflect on the reasons I gained so that I don’t repeat my mistakes.
So while I am happy to have finally hit this milestone and I don’t want to dwell on the negative, I am holding off on celebrating. I am realistically approaching the accomplishment. I still have many pounds to lose until I am at a healthy weight. The reparations are being made and the real journey is just beginning.
A review of the HMR Diet: Six Months Decision Free and #HMRStrong
If someone had told me seven months ago that I would be eating prepackaged entress and shake packets as my sole form of food, I would have laughed you out of the room.
If someone had told me seven months ago that I would be running a sub-10:00 mile and swimming a mile, I would have looked at you like it was a pipe dream. “Someday… maybe….” But my heart would ache because I would doubt that I had the ability to ever pull it out.
If someone had told me seven months ago that I would be down almost 90 lbs after six months, I would have asked what limbs would I be losing in the process.
I was recently asked why I decided to take a drastic move in my life starting HMR and all of my physical training. Why now? What prompted this move?
If you have known me for years then you will know that I have had a series of struggles with my health. I gained a significant amount of weight right out of high school. I continued to put on weight when I started teaching and commuting 90+ minutes each way to work. I then lost some of that weight in 2006 counting points but some significant events in my life brought back the stress eating and the pounds. I attempted to learn to run in 2009 and lost a bit of weight but improper training and an injury uncovered bigger health issues. All the while I half-assed various diets in an attempt to both control my health but also my weight. Finally, I gave up on all of it and just “enjoyed life” while the pounds piled on.
This past summer we took a cross-country road trip. And roadside hikes that should have been easy were extremely difficult. We went to Hawaii and I felt limited in everything I attempted. I was constantly out of air. I got tired easily. I didn’t find physical activity pleasurable because I wasn’t fit and was carrying so much extra weight. Multiple people in my life passed away in the months leading up to my starting HMR and many were due to weight related health issues. I had trouble sleeping at night worrying that every ache and pain was a sign I was next.
A friend had recently gotten weight loss surgery and I was seriously contemplating it after hearing about her experience. However I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it until the summer at the earliest and we were just a couple months into the school year. So I went to my medical group’s Web site and looked at what programs they were offering to help. I saw orientations for HMR and thought “well it couldn’t hurt to check it out?”
At the time I was opposed to processed food. I wanted to lose weight on my own. I wanted to do it naturally. I was judgey-mcjudergerson about everything I thought HMR stood for. I thought “well even if I lose any weight I won’t learn how to keep it off and it will come right back on.” I had tried Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem so I was *obviously* an expert about meal replacement diets… Ha!
However I forced myself to enter the medical offices with an open mind. After all, I had kind of sucked at doing it on my own. Despite years of weight loss meetings and web sites and books and talks, I was at my heaviest weight ever. I ate more veggies than most people I knew but along with that ate and drank super high calorie foods and considered 20 minutes on the elliptical as an intense workout. In other words, I knew I needed help and I wasn’t afraid to ask for it.
At that orientation meeting, I began to understand that the HMR Diet would be a major overhaul to my social lifestyle. No alcohol? No outside foods? A WEEKLY meeting? I work over 80 hours some weeks… where was I going to fit all of this in?
But something inside of me said that I could do it. That my life depended on it.
So I drove straight from the orientation to speak to my doctor. She said I should try it. She had been an HMR doctor at a previous practice. She thought it would be harder than surgery but it would be good to do it, even as a precursor to surgery, to learn healthier habits. And so I went in for all the lab work.
As a high school student, I didn’t follow good study habits. However as a high school teacher I have learned a few things about setting myself up for success. And so I spent the couple of weeks between orientation and the first night of class preparing my environment, talking to those closest to me, and mentally preparing myself. Confession: I also had a number of “last meals” where I ate whatever I wanted and committed those tastes and textures to memory. I will write more about preparing to begin in a future post but the process itself really set me up for a successful journey.
I have social anxiety. I get nervous in new situations and meeting new people. But luckily I have an amazing health educator, a fabulous clinic full of super positive staff, and a class that had some really nice and positive people in it to provide a safe and supportive environment. The clinic is my safe haven. The first couple months I would show up an hour early sometimes to protect myself from wandering off to a drive-thru because I didn’t know how to spend that hour. I cannot stress how that support helped me get through some tough time. When I felt judgement from others for taking on this diet, I knew I had a judgement free zone.
Judgement is a big thing on this diet. Because you isolate yourself from outside foods, people feel like they can make all sorts of snide and snarky comments to you. I am not open about being on this diet, both because I don’t want my diet to define me, but also because I want to spare myself the nasty comments. If someone asks and seems interested, I will tell them about it. But unlike previous diets where I would declare to everyone what I was doing, I started this one quietly and have remained relatively quiet about it. However through my health classes I have learned how to empower myself and to deal with some of the comments. I know I will have more to face along the journey, but I am building a toolbox of responses.
Cost is the other big hang up for many people on this diet. Yes, the medical tests and supervision is pricey and yes the shakes and entrees cost money. The gym, training sessions, new clothes all cost money as well. You know what else costs money? All the bad food I was eating. All the medical bills I paid. All the unproductive hours where I couldn’t focus and didn’t get things done that needed to be finished. And losing my life day by day to my obesity was the most expensive part of my life. So yes I have depleted some of my savings but I also know I am saving money in the long run. I also know that the improved quality of life is worth the investment. And honestly, I just cut out a bunch of crap I had been wasting it on. Even at happy hour prices those beer and french fry orders add up!
Over the last six months I have been on the road more than half the weekends. I have attended galas and other social events. I have run multiple races. Attended family events. Tried a variety of fitness opportunities. Struggled through exhaustion and stress. Celebrated life and mourned loss. In other words, I have lived. And I have lived “in the box.”
I will be honest. It has not always been easy. And it is getting harder. Because as I see results and feel stronger, I question why I am still in the box. I miss outside food. I feel like I can take a cheat meal… But I won’t. As long as I stay in the box, I am working towards my final goal. This time is truly different and I don’t want to give myself an excuse to halt the journey before I finish it.
I am on a lifelong journey of living the best possible life I can. I believe in myself and my inner strength. And while life happens, I am building skills to pursue health and happiness in spite of life obstacles. It takes dedication and a sense of purpose. But it also takes faith in whatever diet program you choose to pursue. The HMR Diet does work, if you put in the work. I am #HMRStrong.
Am I Powerless?
Everything I have read and heard about addiction says that the first step is admitting you are powerless to your substance. Whether it be food or an illicit substance, you are supposed to admit and accept that you have no control and these substances control you.
You see, I am a food addict by every definition I can find. I love the way food makes me feel. It is a comforting blanket on a stressful day. It is a celebration when something exciting has happened. It keeps me from being bored and it entertains me when I cook. When I feel lost or when I feel found, food is there with me.
I don’t think I had this addiction my whole life. I don’t remember food always being the comfort it is today. I have spent a long time reflecting and trying to figure out where my relationship with food changed. It’s a worthy exercise if you are as overweight as I have become.
It started in high school. Between the stress of overcommitting myself to a bajillion activities to the insecurity of transferring midyear, I found comfort in comfort foods. There was nothing more comforting that a bowl of potatoes, microwaved until baked, and smothered in butter and cheese. When I felt lonely, cheese was there.
When I entered college, the comfort I had found became something I needed. I did not always have the best choice in significant others and the first guy I dated in college was a doozy. Without reliving the pain, let’s say that I quickly turned to food and the need for comfort lasted over two years. Looking back, I know all of the mistakes I made, but at the time the pain of the day was minimized by a two cheeseburger extra value meal.
After this extended period of bingeing to comfort, my relationship with food was secure and my weight battle was full-force. This is reflected when I lost a significant amount of weight early in my career, only to pile it back on in what seemed like the minutes after a family member was critically injured in a car accident.
I acknowledge now that I have a sordid relationship with food. I have an addiction to the way food makes me feel. And that addiction has significant power.
But I am not powerless.
Admitting you are powerless is a cop-out. It means you can never interact with the substance again because you cannot control it. And that would mean that I could never eat again… something that is actually impossible to do and survive.
However, I can reduce the number of decisions I have to make about food. Stepping away from our complex relationship in order to exam it and correct it. We will always have a relationship. However maybe our relationship could improve.
I am not powerless. Recognizing and acknowledging I am addicted to food and doing something to change this addition is the opposite of powerless. It takes strength and motivation. It takes desire and action.
I am not powerless. I am empowered.