I am working with a coaching client, Shanice, who had regained 30 pounds since reaching her bariatric-surgery goal. To address her regain, one of the actions she chose to try was recording what she ate.
Tracking food is one of the most effective tools to help someone lose weight, after all.
After two weeks of intending to track, but not doing it, I suggested she explore what else might work for her. This exploration is an important step in quieting your food obsession and cravings.
Give yourself permission to not know what might work, to not force yourself to follow regain ‘rules,’ and to spend time being a scientist instead of a judge.
All you have to do is try something and observe the results without judgment. If it doesn’t help, try something else.
“But I want to record what I eat” she insisted. “I’m just too embarrassed to write it down and share it with you.”
That’s a great observation. Now she knows her shame is influencing her decisions and her ability to take advantage of support.
I assured her she was going to be sharing this information with someone who well understood her problem – someone who, for example, has eaten candy bars while hiding in a closet and has grazed mightily during times of extreme stress.
“Okay, so if I take my embarrassment out of the equation,” she reasoned, “I’m still left with not wanting to admit to myself what I’m eating.”
In the next breath she blurted out, “Why is it so hard to stop eating? I want to be thin. I don’t want to go back to not being able to get out of a chair!”
She paused. “But I don’t want to give up the foods I love. I want to eat them anytime I want! I want the freedom to choose when and what I eat, and not gain weight.”
Isn’t this the puzzle most of us are trying to solve?
We want to be in control, but we don’t want to live in food prison. The constant vigilance and obsession with what we eat and what we weigh is exhausting and discouraging.
Of course, despite our desire to have it otherwise, eating anything we want, whenever we want, is not necessarily freedom.
If you really think about it, eating with free abandon does not feel like freedom for people who struggle with compulsive eating. In fact, being a prisoner to food thoughts and compulsive eating 24/7 can be miserable.
Trapped by food obsession and cravings, a person (ok, me a few years ago) will conduct their daily business and make their daily decisions based on the eating they want to do.
“I can’t go to the play tonight,” I had told my friend. “I am not feeling well. I think I’m coming down with something.”
But what I was thinking was, “I want to eat the rest of the bread I bought today. With butter! But, I’ll have to pace myself. It will take me all evening to eat it.”
Does this scenario paint a picture of a person who is experiencing freedom?
After weight loss surgery, many people behave as if grazing is a way to be free from the shackles of dieting and food plans. And many hate diets and food plans! If only their weight would cooperate.
There are two things I asked Shanice to consider. First, I encouraged her to really think about what she wants, but in the context of her whole person, not just her inner hungry monster.
Second, I asked her to think about what freedom meant for her, because if she wanted freedom, she might want to sit with the concept for a while and understand its depths.
Maybe freedom was something other than the impulsive, unstructured eating she was doing.
She came to understand she didn’t want to give up choice and she didn’t want to regain. She was determined to solve her puzzle.
The people who are the most successful at solving this puzzle, have decided they want to experiment intentionally and notice what works and what doesn’t. This takes time and focus, but the freedom to sort out what works for her, rather than being told what to do, has given Shanice the motivation she needs to move forward.
Rather than using food to tamp down her emotions, she has learned to pay exquisite attention to herself and face the reality of what works for her and what does not. Tracking wasn’t her thing, even though she had been telling herself she should do it.
After some experimentation, Shanice discovered making a food plan for the day was really helpful to her. She also experimented with ways to soothe herself with things other than food.
She told me, “I’m amazed at how much less I obsess about food now that I make my plan every morning. I also sometimes plan my focus for the day, to help me move beyond my obsessive food thoughts. Most of the time I write down what I’m going to eat for the day. Sometimes I include what I used to call ‘bad choices’! Then I go live my life.”
I don’t mean to imply a magical “cure” here. Shanice continues to dance with her food obsession to some degree, but she’s not doing the jitterbug anymore.
She makes her plan, follows it as best she can, notices how it went, and lets go of the results. Over time, she is noticing she feels freer, and her scale is ever so slowly going down.
So, make some experiments! Try something. And never give up.
What experiment will you make? Do you have something you want to tell me? Reply to this email and let me know.