Food and other drugs

So, there I was happily eating slowly and mindfully, paying attention to my body telling me when it had had enough and starting to lose weight. I was losing about 1lb a week and that was fine. Then I was upset by a family issue affecting my daughter and grandson. I was upset for him AND upset by how upset my daughter was – no-one ever explains how hard it is to see your child upset, even when she is a grown woman! And as I was upset I wanted chocolate and I wanted it now. In fact I didn’t want it, I NEEDED it. It really threw me, how could I NEED something that I had decided was OK in very small doses but I didn’t really like in excess?

I spent a few hours trying to rationalise it and in the end decided that if I really felt that I wanted chocolate, I would have it. I bought a small bar of 70% chocolate and I ate it slowly, mindfully, enjoying the experience, the taste and texture.

I had had the “hit”, I tried to analyze what it was I had needed, why the urge to eat chocolate was so powerful. I realised that it was partly habit – that was always my comfort food of choice – but there were also the associations I had with chocolate. My grandmother had always given me chocolate to “make things better”. I loved my grandmother very much and felt that the unconditional love she gave me made me very happy. I had therefore always associated sweet foods with her, with love, comfort, feeling better in myself and about myself.

So what can we get from this? Well I think the main thing is that when we get upset we revert to learned behaviour from childhood. We turn to the things we hope will “make it better”. As adults we need to learn to make it better in healthier ways. We need to look at whatever it is we turn to – food, drink, drugs – and ask ourselves what it is we expect these things to do for us. Do they help us feel better? Do they distract us? Do they make it all go away – however temporarily? Then we need to give ourselves the time to work out better ways to look after ourselves when difficulties threaten to overwhelm us.

For me one way of taking care of myself has been taking up yoga. Through regular yoga practice I have learned to become more in tune with my body and become more mindful. This is a subject I will explore further in the next post.

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What is a portion size anyway?

OK so slowing down the speed of eating had reduced the amount I ate AND helped me to learn that I didn’t always like the things I thought I did! That was a start but I also realised that slowing down had helped me to become aware of when I was feeling full.

Initially I pushed on past this until everything on my plate was gone – old habits are hard to break and if you don’t eat this “whatever it was” now, who knows when you will be able to eat it again! Over a few months though I started to realise that perhaps I was putting too much on the plate? My family had never been ones for small portions but I think I was the only one who felt I had to clean my plate; just think of all the starving children who would love to eat what I was leaving!

The only thing I started to measure were my portions of pasta and rice; I had decided to follow the principles of the GI diet as far as carbs were concerned – worries about controlling my blood sugar levels for my diabetes were uppermost in my mind. The recommended portion of pasta was 40g uncooked weight. When I measured it out I couldn’t believe it – it was barely worth dirtying a pan to cook such a small amount! Still I’d read the advice to make half the plateful vegetables, greens, carrots etc, (not peas, sweetcorn or potatoes!) and to have a quarter plate of protein and quarter carbs, so I just increased the amount of veggies I was eating. I was amazed to find that it was very satisfying; I was eating plenty but not feeling overstuffed. Even my husband didn’t complain, in fact when we measured out the rice – 50g per portion – it seemed generous.

Adopting these ideas and also putting the food on a smaller dinner plate meant that I was reducing my portion size without feeling as though I was being deprived. I was eating a moderate breakfast of porridge with skimmed milk, a snack mid morning – either a fat free yoghurt with sweetners, some fruit, a few nuts or a portion of a baked treat from the diet cookbook, a sandwich for lunch followed by fruit or yoghurt and then a dinner using the principles above. I started to lose weight slowly – a pound a week – and had more energy. This was great! It inspired me to carry on! Unfortunately life is never straightforward and I had a set back! My next post will explain what happened, how I dealt it and how I managed to overcome the situation to move forward.

How to start losing weight

One of the first things I realised – I mean REALLY realised – was that having been overweight for 30 years, I was not going to lose all the weight I needed to lose in 30 days. I decided that 30 months was a more realistic goal and even that would be pushing it, but it was a start. You need to accept that changing your lifestyle – which is ultimately what you have to accept you need to do – is not an overnight occurrence. I think it was Einstein who said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results was insanity – it was time for the insanity to stop.

So how do you change your lifestyle? One thing that really helped me was a process used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I read a book which suggested that you imagine your life in 5 years time – where you live, who lives with you, what work you do, how old your children are, what your health is like, etc. Imagine all this if you do not lose weight, you may even gain some over 5 years – it is a natural tendency as we get older! Then imagine what your life is like in 5 years time if you lose weight and keep it off. All the things you imagined before, but with you as a slimmer person. Doing this made me realise how much will change in 5 years – how much older I will be, how much older my grandchildren will be, what they will be like. I realised that my mobility was likely to become so much worse in 5 years of maintaining – or even gaining weight. I was already having some issues with my mobility due to my weight and I hated not being able to play with my grandson because getting down on the floor to play was such hard work! When I saw what my life could be like if I made changes to enable me to lose some weight it had to be worthwhile.

Once I had decided that I was really going to do this, I had to decide how to do this. I had read a lot about NOT dieting and I knew this had to be the way I went about it this time.

One thing that several people had written in various books I had read suggested only eating what you wanted, but really tasting the food. Instead of shovelling the food in as fast as possible – after all if you are eating when you are obese you really shouldn’t be seen to be doing so! – slow down the process. This was a totally novel idea for me – really savouring food and enjoying every mouthful? Well it was worth a shot. So the next time I felt I wanted some chocolate I decided to really enjoy it – to my utter amazement, after about 3 small squares, I couldn’t really taste it! The first square was absolutely delicious, the second was very good, the third was ok and then – nothing! In the past I had eaten whole bars so quickly I hadn’t even realised that I couldn’t taste the chocolate. All those calories! On doing some further reading, I discovered that when we are hungry our taste buds are so tuned in that the food tastes amazing, but as soon as our bodies start to feel full, the taste of the food changes and – as in my case – it can even disappear. After 3 squares I really didn’t want any more chocolate – this from a woman capable of demolishing a 250g bar in about 2 minutes! What was going on?

Because of my diabetes I decided that I should really cut down on my sugar intake. This was not too difficult, I already drank tea and coffee with no sugar although I loved cake and biscuits. I found a good recipe book with sugar substitute in the cakes and biscuits so I just started using this to provide me with my “treats”. Interestingly as I moved away from sugar and reduced the amount of sweet stuff I ate, I found that my palate changed. I had always said I had a sweet tooth, but I discovered – by allowing myself to eat something if I was really wanting it – that after a mouthful, I actually didn’t like the taste of the things I had been craving. I think I had denied myself these things for so long that I wasn’t aware that my tastes had changed.

This revelation was another step towards losing weight – I could finally eat what I wanted – in moderation. If I really paid attention to what I was eating I ate less and still felt satisfied. I also found savoury food to be more enjoyable than sweet.

Thinking about this over the ensuing months, I realised that when my weight problems started I was in my late teens. I loved sweets, cake, biscuits etc. Because I had denied myself these things for so long, not tasting them when I did eat them, because the food barely touched the sides on the way down to my stomach, I hadn’t realised that my tastes had changed. Finally listening to my body showed me that the foods I thought I loved were actually not as great as I had imagined.

The process of changing things to enable me to lose weight had started.

Mindful Weightloss – the beginning

Well if you haven’t been minding about your weight loss – or gain – then you probably think there is very little you can do about it. Years of yoyo dieting with good weightloss followed by even more weight gain leave you feeling as though it just doesn’t work for you. I know – 30 years of yoyo dieting left me terrified to even begin trying to lose weight – after all why should this time be any different?

For years I kept saying “if only I could get my head sorted out then I’d lose weight”. After all I ate when I was sad, anxious, stressed, unhappy, angry, happy, so what was going on? I remember reading an article about a fabulous diet where there was no need to feel hungry and I thought, “What has being hungry got to do with eating?” In my experience, hunger was rarely anything to do with eating.

So eventually after being morbidly obese for about 15 years – or maybe even longer – I was diagnosed with diabetes. This should have come as no surprise – I am a registered nurse and I knew that it was very likely to develop. For some reason it really shocked me that I had actually developed this condition! The only member of my family ever diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes previously was my great grandmother who was in her 70s; here I was at 47 with a condition I had thought I might develop in my 60s.

My initial reaction was fairly positive – lose weight, keep it diet controlled, but then after a few months I seemed to go into denial again. I ate what I wanted and took little exercise. Still the diabetes seemed to be ok until December 2009 when my HbA1C – a blood test that measures what your blood sugars have been over a 3 month period – came back at 9.1%. The previous test had been 7.1% and my GP had reasoned that as a one off it probably didn’t require intervention, but 9.1% did! The news came as such a shock – though I don’t know why, I had gained 10lbs in the previous 6 months and was at my heaviest weight ever, my diet was appalling and I had taken no exercise at all. In desperation I asked my GP for a referral to a weight management specialist at the local hospital. The Consultant I saw was amazing – she agreed to refer me to a psychologist to help me deal with the head stuff and I pleaded for 3 months grace to try to get my diet back on track before being prescribed any medication.

My adventure into real, sustainable, long term weight loss was just beginning!

Mindful Weightloss – how I got going

Well after being referred to a clinical psychologist to discuss the “head stuff” I was feeling quite excited, however as I left the consultant she commented on the fact I had lost 8lbs in weight – due to a dose of Swine flu! – and said “Well done, maybe when I next see you you could have lost another 10lbs”

OK, panic set in – I had lost the weight before Christmas 2009 and managed not to put it back on by the time I saw the Consultant at the beginning of January, but after that comment I went home and ate my way through everything – toast, the remnants of the Christmas cake, snacks, you name it, if it wasn’t tied down – or on someone elses plate – I ate it! By the time I saw the psychologist at the end of January – thankfully she had a cancellation as I was told it would be a 4 – 6 month wait – I had gained 4lbs!

Through my sessions with the psychologist I came to realise that I felt I had to live up to other peoples expectations of me. That I was being very self critical and condeming myself for reactions to events that were natural and that I was using food as a comfort in difficult circumstances. Together we explored what I thought my roles should be – as a wife, mother, daughter, professional. I also learned through some suggested reading about how I had learned to react to situations and how unhelpful much of this learned behaviour had been to me and my health.

It was as though someone had lifted a lid on a whole lot of stuff that I had buried. I cried, got angry and upset and started to feel as though I was coming out from under a cloud. I am still a work in progress. I have lost 4 stones in the past year and have another 4 or 5 stone to go. I haven’t decided yet where I want to end up exactly but I do want to lose another 4 stone over the coming year.

I will share some of the things I have learned that I hope others can benefit from. I am starting a weight loss support group to benefit others as well as myself. During hour long weekly meetings I plan to share much of what I have learned over the past year. I am undertaking a course in obesity and weight management to ensure I have up to date knowledge of nutrition and research findings. I hope to offer an alternative to slimming clubs and other “quick fix” solutions being offered to people who despair of ever being and feeling healthy and fit.

So my next post will deal with what practical steps I took to change my lifestyle in order to achieve weightloss and how I discovered the power of mindfulness.