Thinking About Food… or Not

Frequently, I read weight loss bloggers lamenting the amount of thinking they have to do about food in order to lose weight and/or maintain that weight loss. I have periodically complained about that myself on this blog.

But first I want to point out that there are at least two different ways that I (and maybe you) think about food.

The first is the way we are usually thinking when we complain. The obsessive “can I eat this?” or “will this fit into my points/calorie allotment/food plan?” This thinking is what wears us out.

The second thinking we can do about food is completely pleasurable. You know I watch a lot of food shows. Those chefs think a LOT about food. They love everything about it, like an artist enjoys his paints and canvases (or fabric and thread :) ) I enjoy reading and then trying a new recipe. I love to think about how I can increase the flavor of something without adding calories. Re-working a recipe to make it healthier, so I can enjoy it on a regular basis, is more fun than doing a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, bad example. Jigsaw puzzles aren’t really that fun. Anyway, there is no reason to eliminate this kind of thinking.

For most of us, we will always have to be vigilant, and we will have to spend some time thinking and planning our meals so that we can lose weight or maintain a weight loss. But there are plenty of things you can do to minimize the amount of thinking you have to do.

  • Find a basic assortment of “favored” healthy foods that you enjoy.
  • Keep those foods stocked in your refrigerator.
  • Batch cook, and freeze in individual portions.
  • Watch for new recipes, or experiment yourself with different ways of combining your favored foods.

The longer you continue to eat in a certain way, the more familiar you become with the nutritional information and calorie count of those foods. I’m not talking about eating the same three foods over and over. You can have a pretty diverse diet without having to think too much at all.

As much as I enjoy food and food preparation and baking and cooking, it might surprise people to observe me for a week. Many days I don’t do any cooking at all. It is more assembling or thawing. This works very well for me. I don’t really have to do much thinking at all. I already know the calorie count of so many of the foods I eat. I still use my measuring cups to portion out things like yogurt and cottage cheese. I have a food scale on the counter for when I do need to weigh food. Sometimes I track my food online, and sometimes I just write it on a scrap of paper. Lots of times my food choices are so familiar that I just track it in my mind.

Think about food now. Its like practicing the piano. Pretty soon you will be able to play that melody (or make a healthy meal) without thinking about it at all.

Two Loops

Lately I’ve had a couple of thought loops running through my mind. I think it has something to do with turning 60. The loops do not intersect. It seems they run on separate tracks, although they are about the same topic.

The first loop is this:

I am 60 years old. I do not want to spend the rest of my life obsessing about food and weight and weight loss and weight gain and weight maintenance. I want to live the best possible life, the most meaningful spiritual life that I can. I want to enjoy a meal with friends, accept a treat when offered. I want to celebrate with food occasionally. I want to physically be able to serve God and serve others. I think often about Dallas Willard (the author I loved so much.) He lived the life I seek. “Dallas Willard would not obsess over food decisions like this,” I often think.

I am not talking about gaining weight back. But to eat this way, I need to be content to maintain at a higher weight range.

The second loop is this:

My back hurts. It would help if you lost some weight.

Yep, that’s the whole loop. While my back would not be healed by weight loss, I know for a fact that losing weight does decrease pain.

For a while, these two loops went through my mind on a daily basis. Each of them I acknowledge as truthful statements. But each of them requires that I make a decision and act on it. That has not exactly happened. One day I will follow one loop, and the next day I will follow the other. This, at least, keeps me maintaining my weight at this higher level.

You know, the truth is, that by “not making a decision to follow one loop or the other,” I actually have made a decision. For now, the truth is that I have made a decision to not actively pursue weight loss. To hold life a little less tightly. To live with a bit of pain and a little less angst. To still eat from a very healthy food template and to exercise on a regular basis. But to understand and agree that weight will not be lost this way. And for now, that’s okay.

A Blip.

Well, when last I wrote, I was climbing back on the diet bandwagon (removing sugar/ logging calories, upping exercise…) And then last week happened. I don’t know what really happened.

I could blame it on my mascara. My eyes are really sensitive, and so I always use Almay mascara (hypo-allergenic.) This time when I went to get a new tube, they didn’t have the same one I always buy. No biggie, its all Almay, right? Well, my eyes didn’t like the different mascara. And then they get itchy and sore, and I can’t stop rubbing them, and pretty soon, I just feel rotten.

I could blame it on a burst of creative energy. After taking an “artist’s holiday” during the holidays, I got right back into working with more ideas than ever. I’ve been finishing projects and starting new ones. I want to work on them all all the time.

So whatever it was, I didn’t want to go to the gym. I even got as far as getting dressed and going to town several days, and I still didn’t go to the gym. I usually came home and took a half-hearted walk with Noah.

And I wanted to eat MORE. So I ate more. More of my healthy food, and more of my not-so healthy choices.

When this happens, I can start to panic. Is this the beginning of the end??? Then I review all the years past. Times when I over-ate, or didn’t exercise for a week, or didn’t log my food. And I’m still here, plugging along. Its a concern, but its not reason to panic.

I just thought I’d keep it real, and let you know I have days and weeks like this.

Thinking about Food

A few posts back I mentioned that I was slightly disturbed by HOW MUCH I think about food. Some of the commenters said that they also thought about food a lot, and recently, a couple of other bloggers have mentioned the same thing. One blogger’s therapist called it an eating disorder. That bothered me, so I started thinking about that.

And here’s what I came up with.

First, back to Dr. Sharma’s talks. When Dr. Sharma talked about obesity being a chronic disease, he pointed out that treating it (maintaining weight loss) requires abnormal behavior, just like a diabetic who sticks themselves to check their blood sugar each day–that is abnormal behavior. To maintain a large weight loss, most people have to track their food, make careful food choices, etc. That is abnormal behavior. But it is what is required to control this chronic disease. So right there, you can see how that would lead you to think more about food.

The second thing that came up was this. Several people that are about my age and height have said that 1400 calories seems to be the amount they can eat to maintain their weight loss. I know that’s true for me. That’s not normal either. I input a 60 year old, 5 foot 1 inch, 155 pound active woman into the USDA’s calculator. They said I could eat 2200 calories a day to maintain that weight. IN MY DREAMS. So us weight loss maintainers get to eat about two-thirds of what the “normal folk” eat on a regular basis. That said, if you make good choices, you can eat very well, and be very satisfied at 1400 calories. BUT IT REQUIRES YOU TO THINK ABOUT FOOD A LOT.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this morning.

P.S. If you are waiting for the code so you can watch my episode of The Quilt Show, I am too! The Quilt Show is having some technical difficulties. I will get the code to you as soon as I hear from them!

Thin Enough

“Thin enough.” That’s how I described myself after seeing the trailer for The Quilt Show episode that I am going to be featured in this coming Monday. There are so many layers to those two little words. Because “thin” is not a word any normal person would use to describe me. At 5 ft. 1/4 inch, with my weight regularly fluctuating between 155 and 168, thin just doesn’t come to mind.

But following up on yesterday’s post, I am working on being satisfied with the weight I am. I am fast approaching 60 years of age (I KNOW, I can’t believe it either :) ). I don’t want to spend the next 20 or so years being unhappy with myself.

I also feel a little pressure to meet a certain expectation–after all, this blog is about “living a whole and healthy life.” And on The Quilt Show blog, I am a semi-regular contributor as “The Healthy Quilter.” I think that pressure is a good thing–a form of accountability that I can’t escape. So I was relieved to see that I looked “thin enough” (and healthy enough) on camera.

I went to the doctor last week. We talked about my ongoing knee pain (yay–finally got the referral to go back to the ortho doc) and I told her all the things I am doing–walking, riding the exercise bike, P.T. exercises. And she said mildly, “well, maybe you should lose a little weight.” I took no offense at her statement. Its a good idea. Its just a little more complex than that. Because really what she should say is “maybe you should LIVE at a lower weight.” And to live at a lower weight would mean restricting my food intake to a degree that I am unwilling or unable to do at this time. I reminded her that it was not on her computer record that I had lost 100 pounds before she became my doctor. I’m not sure that meant anything to her. And so for now, even as a person who is facing eventual knee replacement surgery, I am thin enough.

Anyway, it is a very good feeling (make no mistake, I don’t feel like this 100 percent of the time) to be content with the way I look. Sometimes I try to think about what my perception as a 20 year old was of what a 60 year old woman should look like. I think I look better than that :)

Thin enough is definitely a term that needs to be seen in perspective. For a woman who spent well over 20 years weighing 257 pounds, I am thin enough.

What is Left to Say?

Us bloggers tend to have a lot to say, no? That’s usually why we started blogging in the first place. When I first lost my weight, I loved talking about it. I wanted to encourage other people that it Could! Be! Done!! Now I feel a little like my grandpa, who used to say ‘the older I get, the less I know.’ Obesity and losing weight and maintaining weight loss are such complex issues. And actually losing weight is the least  complex. Everybody can do that. But understanding obesity, the source and type of it, and then maintaining weight loss long term turn out to be extraordinarily complex issues. What can I possibly say that might help?

I’ve listened to a couple of lectures given by Dr. Sharma on Youtube. Some of the things he points out might be perceived as discouraging. But I have always found comfort and strength in hearing the truth, even if it isn’t the magic bullet I would have wished for.

Dr. Sharma points out that obesity is not just a disease. It is a chronic disease. A chronic disease without a cure. It doesn’t even have very many effective treatment options. The best you can do is to manage it. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. As discouraging as this might sound, I found comfort in it. I was beginning to feel like there was something very wrong with me. On my last trip to Tahoe, I worked hard at balancing enjoying special treats with eating really healthy foods. Overall, I think I did a really good job on this trip. But I remember one day saying to myself, “MY GOSH, you think a LOT about food. Its abnormal.” After I got home, I kept on thinking about this. One day it occurred to me that at my heaviest, I also thought a LOT about food. I got a good laugh out of that one.

Dr. Sharma also talks a lot about exercise. He says that exercise has very little to do with direct weight loss. VERY LITTLE. But he pointed out that all the side benefits that come with exercise can have a beneficial effect on your efforts to lose weight. Stress relief, better sleep, and just feeling better about yourself so that you WANT to eat better are all side benefits of regular exercise. I totally believe this.

Dr. Sharma also talks about the time it takes to maintain weight loss. How it almost has to become a second job. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep (you all know there is a lot of information tying sleep to weight loss, right?), planning, preparing, and/or journaling your food all take a good amount of time.

So as I reach the tenth year of when I STARTED this last weight loss, and I do still struggle with maintaining that loss, I guess I just want to say that it is very much worth the struggle. I would love to be able to convince people that learning to be content at a weight that is much lower than your highest weight, but still not as low as your “ideal” might be a key to at least maintaining weight loss.

I Bought Another Diet Book

I bought another diet book. (Disclaimer: this is not a book review.) As I virtually thumbed through this book on my Kindle, the question that kept running through my mind was “why?” Why did I buy another diet book? What was I looking for? I’ve been dieting and/or maintaining for almost 10 years now. Did I really think I would find something new?

Was I looking for the magic bullet, just like the rest of America? If I just do this or that, I can eat whatever I want and still be thin and fabulous.

But what I really think I was looking for is reassurance. Reassurance that my thinking is not wrong. That I am doing the best I can. That it is okay to eat what I eat. Its okay that I am not as thin as the “American ideal” (haha–that’s a funny one, isn’t it? In our all-powerful country, a huge percentage of us are obese, but our “ideal” is borderline underweight.)

This book provided that reassurance.

There are so many voices out there on the inter webs yelling at us that their way is the only way. That their way is the best. If only you would eliminate this or that food, you would be cured of all your aches and pains and you would be thin and rich (okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration.) I admit it–sometimes I get lost in the melee. I start to doubt myself. I wonder if what I have learned over the years is true. This book provided a voice of reason, backed by the author’s solid scientific background and years of experience in the weight loss and weight loss maintenance field.

Maybe another time I’ll review this book, but for now I’ll just tell you that I recommend it. Its chock full of good and true helpful information for the person who wants to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.