Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Examining My Relationship with Food

The first person I heard talk of having a relationship with a thing was Suze Orman.  She says that our relationship with our money speaks volumes about our mental/spiritual health. Other people have echoed the same sentiment when it comes to food.  Perceiving how I deal with money or food as a relationship makes a great deal of sense to me on a very basic level and I see how my mental/spiritual health directly relates.

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If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I lost 40+ pounds on Weight Watchers.  It wasn't particularly hard for me to do it.  I've watched more than one person really struggle on the program, feeling constricted and like a failure for not being able to follow the plan.  I never say that Weight Watchers can work for everyone because there's one big aspect of my personality that WW fed right into: my need for control.

Oh, I like control.  I long since recognized that I couldn't control anyone else.  As a child I remembered feeling like that because of the relationship I had with my parents (and witnessing their relationship with each other).  And so I developed into a woman who is very disciplined, very orderly and very in control of herself.  I love folders and other organizational devices.  I imagine my mind as one big filing cabinet.  The biggest criticism I receive from those close to me is that I am regimented.  I find it hard to deviate from the course I have set for myself and I experience great disappointment and sadness (bordering on depression) if I "let myself go".  In short, I never let myself go with the flow.  I make the flow (damn it).  

This tendency carries over to how I deal with food and why I think I was so successful on Weight Watchers.  I have no problem--even enjoy--tracking a week's worth of what I am going to eat.  Planning everything that goes into my mouth.  And sticking with the plan.  I derive deep satisfaction from sticking with the plan.  If I successfully stick with it, I feel elation.  If I don't, I feel like I have let myself down.  I don't feel bad about eating "bad foods".  I feel bad about not following my plan.   

So what's wrong?  What's the problem?  Every one wants to be more disciplined and have more will power and stick to their plans.  I'm at my goal weight.  Healthy.  What have you.  But I feel like eating should be intuitive.  You should eat when hungry.  Stop when full.  I eat when I should.  And stop when I eat how much I had planned to eat to meet my daily points target.  To top it off, I usually shut down when I eat.  I avoid paying attention to my food usually by reading.  I tell myself that I'm reading while I eat because it's the only time I really get to do it.  This is true in part but it's not a good enough excuse.  I also eat quickly.  Even when I try to eat slowly, I find myself eating fast as if I just want to get it over with already.  And I have always had a rocky relationship with food.  I am a picky eater.  One of the pickiest adults I know.  I don't like trying new things and now there's the added component of avoiding foods because I have no idea what the points values are for those foods.  My relationship with food is one of rigidity and control.  It's not pleasant.  It's not enjoyable.

There is only one point in my life (post-puberty) that I can pinpoint where I really relished eating and that was during my first year of marriage.  The hubby and I ate a lot.  Big breakfasts.  Big lunches (think double decker veggie burgers).  Big dinners (lots and lots of pasta).  I put on 10 lbs. in my first year of marriage but I did not care . . . didn't even notice.  I was just having fun.  

But like many things in life, that fun didn't last and now eating has turned into a serious affair.  No lightheartedness.  No spontaneity.  I don't bake anymore because I can't "afford" the points.  And when I do bake, I think of each cookie, muffin, slice of cake in terms of points and my plan.  

It's all deeply and painfully intertwined with my quest to find out what I have been eating that's been making me feel so badly.  I haven't quite placed a finger on it but as of late, so much of the time I don't want to eat (even though I may need to) because I don't want to feel worse.  (For what it's worth, I've come to the conclusion that my gut is damaged from years of eating things that didn't agree with me namely soy and other beans/legumes and wheat.  I am not eating those things now and following a regimen of slippery elm, probiotics and prune juice--and I hate prune juice.)

So maybe I should quit Weight Watchers but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me panic to think of not tracking.  I *really* wanted to quit when they overhauled the old program (because, of course, as a person who likes control, I am not comfortable with change).  But I didn't have the balls to do it. 

I've read books such a Geneen Roth's book but usually the target audience is people who overeat; who can't control how much they eat or control themselves around food or who are really strict with themselves and then fail and feel terrible.   I don't think of foods as good or bad.  I don't feel guilt at having eaten a whole bag of chips.  I'm more concerned about whether I have enough points to eat that food or not and will chide myself more so about the points than the food.  I don't know how to explain it really . . . there's a serious disconnect between the food I eat and me.  It's just one more thing for me to meticulously control.  I've read books about mindfulness in eating and all that. But honestly, my relationship with food is a manifestation of my mind state and so beyond reading books, I'm steadily searching for a practice that allows me to get grounded and centered.  On a deep level, I know that there needs to be some fasting-- complete separation from food for a while so that I can gain some clarity about why my relationship with food is the way it is.  Once I finish NROL4W, I probably will.  Nothing major.  Just a day here and there.  And I will try not to track during that time.

Anyway, doing Weight Watchers and achieving my weight loss goals has really been a great opportunity catalyst for examining my relationship with food.  
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