On falling backwards, food anxiety, setting goals, and trusting yourself
Sunday, March 20, 2016
It's been awhile, friends. I've had some pretty intense epiphanies, but backstories are required. I'll try to be concise, try to bear with me:
My last blog, two years ago, detailed my physical issues eating because of TMD (i.e., lock-jaw). Since then, I learned to love my jaw night guard, began work on my dissertation, became certified as a group exercise trainer, started teaching as an adjunct at my university, and accepted a part time job at non-profit which ultimately has turned into a full time, high stress job that I adore but regularly keeps me working long, emotional days. On top of all that, rampant anxiety attacks last year led to a formal diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from trauma I've experienced a few years prior.
....In other words, it's been a busy few years.
Working 40+ hours on the clock between my instructor position and my non-profit job, followed with running an evening group exercise class 3 nights a week, and spending my weekends working on my dissertation, I felt like I was still making great healthy choices and keeping up with my fitness. I packed lunches most days I was at work, ate primarily a vegetarian diet, and worked out 3-5 times a week. Either due to time constraints or my confidence in staying healthy, I stopped tracking my food and exercise. I did not think it mattered because I knew what I needed to do to stay in shape.
This past Christmas I struggled to fit into some of my nicer wardrobe pieces and noticed I looked bigger in pictures. New Year's Day I stepped on the scale for the first time in a long time and saw, to my horror, I had gained 25 lbs and 2.5 inches on both waist/hips since I stopped regularly using my calorie counter. I was devastated. A friend was starting a 'dietbet' for a new year's resolution boost, and I eagerly joined. For those unfamiliar, dietbet is a website/app where you place a bet [usually US$35] that you can lose a set % of body weight in a certain amount of time. Those who don't make their weight in time forfeit their entry bet, and the winners split the pot. I played in a 1 month dietbet,and easily lost the 4% required to win and was delighted to see my money doubled. Confident and thinking of the cruise I'd be taking in May, I signed up for a 6 month dietbet in February, sure that by May I would already be back to my 2014 size.
I forgot that changes are never that easy. Faithfully tracking again, I was eating within my range and meeting my calories burned goals, but the weight was not coming off the way it did in January. I became obsessive, measuring all my food and stepping on the scale multiple times a day to detect any possible change in weight. I started drinking 70 ounces of water a day, and then began taking diuretics as well, sure it must be water weight messing me up. The days leading up the first monthly weigh-in at the end of February I started doing double work-outs. I told myself I was just being dedicated and consistent, and by the skin of my teeth, I made the weigh-in.
Now the March weigh-in is only 12 days away, and I have 4 lbs to go to make that goal, the same it has been since my February weigh-in. I have added two work-outs each week, cut alcohol out of my diet completely, and refused even the tiniest treats at work. When I still made no progress, I began to avoid eating. I thought of food and my weight 24/7. I was becoming emotional over picking foods, feeling like every option was the 'wrong choice', and I was flooded with guilt every time I ate anything that didn't have nutritional information in print available, because that could mean I was miscalculating my calories. I was going to bed hungry most nights of the week, and eagerly running to the scale the next morning to see if my 'hunger sacrifice' had paid off with some weight loss. When the same number as the day before looked back at me, I was filled with disappointment. My mood for the rest of the day became directly tied to my weight.
I was eating a kale and quinoa salad last weekend, desperately trying to calculate nutritional information because I was worried I would accidentally eat too much of it, and in the midst of debating whether to stop eating it even though I was really hungry, I realized that my mindset was the least healthy part of my lifestyle.
I logged into dietbet and asked the group if anyone else was having such a negative relationship with food, and all the public comments back informed me it was unhealthy for me to think that way, and no, they did not have the issue I was describing. This made me feel ashamed and weak, until one individual sent me a private message to disclose she did have the same issue but hadn't been comfortable admitting to it, especially given the responses I received in my public post. In our conversation, I realized something important:
I don't trust myself anymore, at least not with food. I had spent 5 years crafting healthy habits with Sparkpeople, and it seemed the first time I really let myself navigate solo for awhile, I ended up 25 lbs heavier...so how could I trust myself to make the right decisions anymore? What's worse, I thought I was doing good for myself that whole time. My confidence is shattered, not just in my physical form, but in my capabilities. To put it more simply, I felt like I was doing great riding a bike with the training wheels on, so I took them off, and as I rode down the street solo I didn't even realize that I was wobbling until I fell down and broke an ankle. Making dinner now is like facing a bike sans training wheels again; I don't want to try without some reassurance that I can't fall again.
But the saying is that when you fall off a bike, you should get right back up or you may never ride unassisted again. I won't pretend like I know the best way for me to get on this metaphorical bike again, but at least now I feel like I've got a handle on why I'm so scared. Starting this week, I am going to work on reframing food, my body, and my progress on dietbet. Right now, I'm telling myself that I may lose $20 on this month's dietbet, but I've gained this insight on my food anxiety because of my experience on dietbet, which is worth well over $20 - so I am still winning after all.
I am even trying to reframe my weight gain; progress does not happen in a black and white context, I have been juggling 2-3 jobs plus a dissertation over the last few years, none of which I had on my plate during my initial weight loss journey. I can do this successfully, I just need to find out what works in my current life, rather than expect the solutions of yesterday to fix tomorrow.
I wanted to share this so that later I can't pretend these realizations don't have merit, and also for those who also suffer with food anxiety can know they are not alone. I don't have the answers right now, but I am trying to trust in the fact that sometime soon, I will.