|A path on the hill Tom and I climbed on Sunday!|
The other day, I was cleaning out a drawer at work and found one of my special foil wrapped chocolate biscuits. I put it in my handbag, thinking I might have it on the train home. Fast forward to the weekend, and I found it still in there! I’d completely forgotten about it! After all this time, I’m still quite amazed that I can do that. That I can completely switch off around food and it just isn’t a big deal. If I want it, I can have it. If I don’t feel like it, I just forget about it.
Prior to six years ago, the picture was very different.
There was a time when a block of chocolate would not last the night in my company. Where a giant 4 litre tub of ice cream would be gone in a weekend. Where a six pack of cinnamon doughnuts would not survive the 10 minute drive from the supermarket to home. Whenever these things were within my easy reach, they would not last. If I knew they were in the house, I couldn’t rest until it was all gone. I would think of nothing else until the packet was empty, the foil licked clean of every crumb of chocolate, the ice cream tub dented in the side from my enthusiastic spoon. Once it was gone, I thought I was safe. The damage was done. I’d start again tomorrow. Or on Monday.
It was a pattern I had repeated for most of my life, up to that point. I remember most of my childhood Easters where the haul I got from Easter Bunny was usually demolished by lunchtime on Easter Sunday. Ditto Christmas chocolates and treats. Other people seemed able to “save” theirs, but I couldn’t. I would go out of my mind, unable to concentrate or think of anything else. I don’t know if it was as simple as just being greedy, as some people told me it was. It was just a nice distraction. With all my thoughts being monopolised by food, either the stuff that was right in front of me or waiting in the cupboard or the freezer for me, there wasn’t the time or energy to focus on other thoughts and feelings that weren’t particularly nice or comfortable. Far from being out of control, this behaviour and way of thinking was possibly the only control I had.
But it had its drawbacks, obviously.
In April 2005, as you all know, I started to unpack all of this chocolate coated baggage. That was what made it different from all the other times I’d tried and failed to lose some weight and get some illusion of control. I actually wanted to understand why I did the things I did, why these habits were so ingrained and what payoff I was getting from them that ensured I kept doing it even if it wasn’t in my best interests. I wanted to understand why I ate when I wasn’t hungry, why the presence of something “forbidden” had such power over me. Back then the idea of being able to have chocolate in the house and not demolish the whole lot in one go, or having a tub of ice cream and only putting two scoops in a bowl rather than eating it directly from the tub was some kind of bizarre fantasy. But it was going to have to happen somehow if I wanted to shift the extra 27.5kg from my frame.
At first, I knew having any of my previous lairs of temptation – chocolate, chips, ice cream – in the house would be too much. I had to minimise any temptation, but I also had to balance that by making sure I didn’t feel deprived, because if I felt that way then my plan would fall on its arse by lunch time, like all the others that had gone before it. So I decided on one treat I could have, and started teaching myself how to plan for it, savour it, and incorporate it into my every day life without feeling deprived or guilty. The treat I decided on was Weight Watchers ice cream, which came in individual portion-controlled little tubs. It was a tiny portion of ice cream, but because it was so small I ate it slowly to make it last, and felt oddly satisfied afterwards. The mind is a funny thing. My brain was happy because I was still eating the whole thing (as I had done with a 2 or 4 litre tub!) but I felt more satiated by that tiny tub. Realising that I didn’t need all that excess was so freeing. I was giddy with pride that I wasn’t as powerless as I believed I was. I enjoyed feeling satisfied, rather than full. I realised that they weren’t the same thing.
After about three months of learning to savour and enjoy food, to plan and look forward to treats, and finding that exercise wasn’t the drag I always thought it was, and about 10kg down, somehow a family sized block of chocolate found its way into my house. I kept it in the fridge, rather than the pantry. That made it easier to only break off a row at a time. By this time it was becoming second nature to me to ask “do you really want/need this?” and after nearly a week, only two rows of it had gone. It was a victory.
But, of course, the space in my head that all this obsessive thinking had taken up for the best part of 25 years was now clear. There were other things to think about. Things I hadn’t allowed myself to think, or feel, were now right at the surface. Behind this obsession with food, and the self loathing and inertia that accompanied it, was a very deep desire to feel worthy and loved, and to be living a life that I felt mattered. Once I realised that that was what I really wanted, it became harder to ignore it. Being self aware and being oblivious are both painful states of being, but I would rather be on the self aware side of the fence. You have far more power on that side. You are not immune from suffering, far from it, but it’s a more helpful and empowering way of life, I’ve found. You realise that you have the power to shape your beliefs, thoughts and hence your experience. When you are oblivious, that’s when you wake up one day ten years from now and just can’t figure out why you have never done all the things you wanted to do. I think that’s far worse than learning to say no to chocolate and having to sit with some discomfort instead.
I have a “treat box” in my house now; a little wicker basket where I keep, as the name suggests, treats. Chocolate perhaps, and Tom keeps his biscuits in there too. If I get given chocolate as a gift, it goes in there, ready for when I might feel like it. But I actually forget about the treat box and its contents most of the time. Again, that is something that gives me a little tickle of delight. If I see my favourite treats on sale, I usually cave and buy 3 for 2 (or whatever) but I know that I can handle having the stuff around and it won’t be a big deal. I trust myself. I trust myself to treat my body with kindness and to listen to what it wants and needs. And occasionally it does need chocolate! :)
It feels wonderful to no longer be held to ransom by food and the emotions I tried to smother with it. I enjoy my food and get a great deal of pleasure out of it, but I enjoy it consciously. I also have such an active life now, so any overindulgences can be managed.
I don’t get it right all the time. I do sometimes eat when I’m not hungry, or I finish off the block of chocolate even though I only wanted one row, or I can feel my body resisting another bite of whatever’s on my plate and I have it anyway. But it’s really not the end of the world. I think people need to know that. If you cave and don’t make the best choice, it’s really ok. No one thinks you’re dreadful. Just take a step back, see if you can work out what might have triggered it, work out a way you can minimise that happening again and resolve to do it, and then just move on. Don’t start again tomorrow, or on Monday, or after Christmas. Start again at the very next meal.
The way I see it, there is no “being good” or “being bad”. There is only behaviour and decisions that will get you what you want, and those that will not. Try to do more of what will get you what you want. Try to do more of what will make you happy. Even if it means being uncomfortable sometimes.
I don’t think I have felt deprived once in the past six years. Yet before, when I denied myself nothing, I constantly felt deprived. And resentful. And unhappy. I didn’t realise until I started caring for myself, nourishing and nurturing myself, and living life consciously what a smokescreen all that had been. I had to stop walking other people’s paths. I had to find my own.
And what I’ve found along that path beats the hell out of chocolate any day.
What are some things you have learned on your path?