Keep Your Diet Away From My Holidays

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I’ve been reflecting a lot about past holidays. I remember sitting in Weight Watchers meetings around this time of year hearing the leaders talk about how to portion out your plate and comparing the different Points values for each of the traditional side dishes. If I remember correctly, Weight Watchers even had an interactive web page where you could build a Thanksgiving plate of food and see how many Points you would be using. Most of us hoarded our “extra weekly points” for this meal, and there was a lot of anxiety over leftovers as well.

I also remember always worrying about what my family would think of however I might look that year. I’ve been a lot of shapes and sizes, and I almost never look the same from one Thanksgiving to the next (and this year is no exception). I’d change outfits a half a dozen times trying to find the right combination of flattering and comfortable.

During my binge eating days, I remember sneaking a lot of food during and around the meal when I thought people were not looking. I remember eating until I was in pain and then doing it again and again with leftovers in the days that would follow Thanksgiving. I felt out of control around those leftovers and, to this day, Thanksgiving leftovers cause me a lot of anxiety, which is why I have always tried to “forget” my leftovers box when we leave my mother’s house (hi, mom! I know you’re reading…)

During my restrictive days, I have some pretty dark memories of how I handled the food during holidays – the details of which I’m too ashamed to share. There was also one Thanksgiving during which I used veganism to avoid eating pretty much anything. Instead, I brought along my own box of “safe” foods so that I could at least appear to be eating something.

Reflecting back on all of these holiday memories really makes me sad: why are so many of my holiday memories about food and weight anxieties? I LOVE the holidays…or, at least, I thought I did.

This Thanksgiving is going to be different. This Thanksgiving, I will not be tracking my food or calories; I will not be weighing or measuring my food; I won’t even be weighing myself. There’s not a single food I will avoid; in fact, if the little voice in my head says to avoid a certain food, I’m challenging myself to eat the thing its telling me not to eat — even if it’s just one bite.

This Thanksgiving, I will not starve all day to “reserve calories” for this one meal. I will eat when I am hungry, and I will eat until I am full. I will trust my body AND my hunger to guide me in how much I should consume. This is the challenge my nutritionist and I have agreed upon: I am to follow my hunger so that we can see what happens. So far, nothing catastrophic.

This Thanksgiving, I will happily and, with gratitude, take those leftovers home and actually eat them. Yes, even the stuffing and pecan pie.

And, when Christmas comes, I will have Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, Christmas Eve AND Christmas dinners. I might eat past fullness — overeat, you might say. I might gain a little weight. The world will not end.

I’m talking as if this is all easy; it isn’t. But, I’m setting the intention anyways. I’m tired of worrying about calories during the holidays (and every other day too); I’m tired of centering my life around food and body shape. I thought that my life would no longer be all about food when I finally got thinner, but the opposite was actually true.

Food, diets, weightloss, “lifestyle changes” to be thinner, eating disorders, whatever you want to call it…have robbed me of enough time. They are not welcome at my holiday celebrations this year.

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Eat Less, Weigh Less: A Woman’s Mantra

43117043_10102349786336293_6428486540736856064_nMy whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.

That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.

After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.

It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”

Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.

I am so tired of being hungry.

Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.

For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?

And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.

I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.

And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.

There is an entirely different world out there.

There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.

There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.

But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”

At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”

What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.

That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”

And, so I am.

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Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.

I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.

And, it’s working.

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I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)

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If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.

I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”

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Yes, even for you.

 

Getting Comfortable with Being Anxious

It has been 3 weeks since I last stepped on a scale; I have no idea what I weigh right now. Not only that, but for the last 3 weeks, I have eaten the number of calories that somebody else has set as my target number of calories. It is higher than I would choose to eat on my own.

I’m anxious, but that is OK.

I am anxious, but I am doing it anyways.

I’ve been relatively quiet on here about what exactly I’m doing right now, because I was honestly not sure that it would last. I was afraid to tell you all and then to fail…not unlike how I failed to give up tracking my food. But, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it now; if I fail, you’ll get to see it, but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey.

Nearly 3 months ago, I joined a small local gym and began exercising regularly for the first time ever under the guidance of group personal trainers. I expected to burn out on it quickly, but, actually…I think I kind of love it.

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I quickly noticed that, in order to perform well, I needed to eat. But, of course, the eating disorder part of my brain panics about that. So, I was caught between a rock and a hard place: one part of me wanting to perform well in the gym; one part just wanting to lose weight.

I am choosing performance.

Right now, I am taking part in a challenge at my gym during which I have made some commitments:

  1. To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
  2. To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
  3. To eat enough protein — (I am still tracking my food; but, I am eating more than I would typically eat. And, in fact, my goal is to be eating even more in time)
  4. To not weigh myself except for those weigh-ins required by the challenge (one at the 4-week mark; one at the 8-week mark both on a body composition scale – because scale weight is a crappy tool for measuring anything worthwhile)

I am also working with my eating disorder nutritionist to challenge my eating disorder; it is becoming a lot easier to distinguish that ED voice from my own, because while I am focused on performance, the ED is not.

Right now, I am at this stage where pretty much everything I’m doing makes me (and/or the eating disorder) anxious:

  • lifting weights = stalling out on the scale
  • eating more food = fear of weight gain
  • not weighing myself = feeling out of control
  • eating fear foods = feeling like I am completely losing control of myself and am a bad person

I’m doing it anyways. All of it. Because enough is enough. Because life is too short for this bullshit. Because I want to actually be happy and live life and not sit on the sidelines terrified that a plate of pasta is going to mean that nobody loves me.

My nutritionist told me that if I continue to “do it anyways” (listen to the other trusted professionals who have told me what it is I should be doing rather than listening to my eating disorder (previously thought of as “myself,” but I prefer now to think that I am not my eating disorder)) that one of two things will happen: either the anxiety will fade or I will be able to say “I am anxious about this thing, but I am doing it anyways,” and that will be OK. I’ve already seen this starting to happen.

I don’t want to make this blog too long, but I do update my Instagram regularly now; you can find me @saladflambe

I’ve been posting a mixture of “What I Eat in a Day,” race and lifting videos and photos, eating disorder challenge posts, plus pics of my daughter and my cats 🙂

I am 3 weeks into my gym’s 8-week challenge, and I am already thinking about what I will be doing next. I discussed it with my nutritionist this week, but I’m not quite ready to “commit to it” here. So, stay tuned… If I can work up the courage, it’s going to be big (for me), and it’s going to be terrifying (but, in a good way). Good thing I’ve got these guns to keep me safe now 😉

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