Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boxing By Myself

Pastor Jay had been standing at the pulpit for the better part of an hour now. He was talking, I could tell, because his lips were moving. And the mic wasn't broken, because sound was definitely coming from the speakers. And anyway Pastor Jay (he's a preacher so he has to) has a voice that could call hogs in three counties. He could address the masses on the mount with a burlap sack over his head. And a mouth full of cotton. Standing on his head. He is not a man people don't hear.
But I could not hear a word he was saying. All I could hear was the sound of my brain nagging me for like the millionth time about the Very Large Piece of Chocolate Cake I wasn't going to buy at Safeway after church. I wasn't going to buy it because I was determined not to eat any cake. Possibly never again. I was going to conquer my cake addiction and exercise my iron will and newly learned self control come Hill Or High Water and I Did Not Care What It Would Take.
And now I was sitting in church not listening to what may or may not have been an interesting and relevant sermon because I was possessed. I was not sure if I was possessed by the actual devil or just by the piece of chocolate cake, but I WAS possessed and I Would be Exorcised. Come hill or high water.
An hour later I was sitting in the car outside the Safeway. The cake container devoid of its contents, wiped clean of so much as a dribble of chocolate butter frosting.
I was guilty. I was ashamed. My will of iron had proved so weak I could not even resist a piece of chocolate cake. I had been to church and totally missed the boat on the sermon because I was so chocolate-cake obsessed that I Couldn't Even Make Out what pastor was talking about. As if the sermon had been in the original Aramaic.
I was a flop.
I was a failure.
I was
I was
What was I? I decided to do something I had never, ever dreamed of doing before: I asked my body.
What was I?
The answer resounded as if off the very same purple mountain's majesty freedom is supposed to ring back and forth on.
What was I?
Not, as I had told myself, bloated and fat like a whale, heavy like a rock. Sick, slow and sloppy like a banana slug.
Satisfied. So saith my body. And, it added as if that had not been enough, I do not need anything else just right now. Thanks. I'm full. And happy. And now I am going to relax with or without you.

And so my body sat back in the convertible and soaked up some warm sunlight while the rest of me babbled unhappily to itself.

I shouldn't have done that.
I have no self control.
I am just going to gain back the whole 130 pounds.
I'll be a fat ugly whale and all that hope I had built up in myself I've just totally blown. Because I cannot and do not have any faith in myself because I am a hopeless, hapless schlemiel with no self control or determination or ambition and No Hope Of Success.
I hate me. I especially hate my body. Which of course is not really me, just an appendage I wish I could cut off but am stuck with.
Maybe when I'm dead I'll have some peace from the thing.

And that was where my body drew the line. Apparently it could take being blamed and hated but death was a different story.

We've been on a diet. My body reminded me. We've been exercising. We've been wielding our self control like a medieval battle axe.
We needed a break.
We needed a piece of cake. Trust me. I know.

We're going to get fat. I told it.

That piece of cake only weighed a few ounces. It's not going to make us fat until we've had several more like it.

We'll be...
We'll have...
We're gonna....

I couldn't argue with that. My body was right. A piece of cake was not going to make me fat. A hundred pieces of cake were not going to make me fat, not unless I ate them all at once.

Stop beating us up. My body protested. We are only human.

It was then that I saw them, stretching on behind me like a giant diet and fitness rubber band:
Diet and lose weight.
Make one false move like eating a piece of chocolate cake.
Beat myself up over the piece of chocolate cake.
Create a LOT of worry, anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, disappointment, helplessness, not to mention anger around the one, lousy, stinkin' piece of chocolate cake.
Sooth myself. With more cake.
And some ice cream.
And a soda.
And beer.
And pizza.
Lament some more about the weight I've gained from the cake and ice cream and beer and soda and....
Eat some more.
Until I really have gained 130 pounds.
From very little more than what my body had so casually referred to as beating myself up.
In fact, if I thought about it I had just threatened my body with murder. Or maybe not murder, but I had just said I'd be better off without it. Same thing.
So I was beating myself up and my body too. I was punishing it. I was punishing myself with all the indulging, starving, splurging, over-exercising crap I was putting us through.
And all because it wanted an innocent piece of cake. Heck. I wanted a piece of cake. My poor body wasn't to blame.
And then it dawned on me: neither was I.

I had wanted cake.
I had eaten cake.
I did not do this all the time.
It was not the end of the universe.
I was not going to wake up tomorrow a size 24.
In fact I was going to wake up tomorrow and run 6 miles. Because that was on my plan. And that was what I'd been doing for weeks. Consistently. Without fail.
So I was not a flop.
Or a failure.
I was merely satisfied.
I went home.
I did not have any beer or pizza or ice cream. I just waited until I got hungry and had a reasonably sized, essentially healthy dinner.

And I did not wallow in shame or tremble with anxiety or dwell on my disappointment or feel helpless to change my behavior.

For once, instead of getting out my battle axe to beat myself up, I had dug something out of the far reaches of the dusty attic that is the "stuff I never use" section of my brain:
common sense.

Common sense told me I was clearly not lacking in self control. I had just spent 18 months on a diet. That did not exactly scream reckless abandon.
I was not a glutton.
I was not weak. I had spent the better part of my life carrying 50 + pounds of extra weight around on my back. Nothing weak about that.
I was not going to gain back all the weight I'd lost because of a piece of chocolate cake.
I did not need an exorcist.
Or a lobotomy.
I had just needed a piece of chocolate cake.
And to go easy on myself.
And not have a piece of chocolate cake every day.
And everything was going to be OK.

And it was.
I am the same weight today as I was that day. Dozens of pieces of chocolate cake have crossed these lips since then.
And I have stopped getting into boxing matches with myself over them.
And my body is delighted to report I have decided to keep it.
Whole Health Renovation Specialist

"You will be quite amazed to see what you can do when you dont know you can't. You will be downright speechless at what you can do when you know you can." -Me

Friday, February 5, 2010

Burn It All!

"Burn it all?" It was the offer I made to my sister as the two of us sat, for the thousandth hour in a row on Gramma's beautiful, antique, pristine, Spanish-Inquisitionesue torture device of a couch. We were editing and reworking the manuscript for her book. 9 hours a day. For the tenth day in a row.
We were tired.
We had had enough.
We had been locked in the war room together for what seemed like a year editing what seemed like an extended version of the encyclopedia Britanica, drinking what seemed like a thousand skim lattes a day, nibbling gramma's candied walnuts until our collective blood sugar surpassed that of a baboon on a banana plantation and then crashed over and over like a tidal wave.

In short, we were crabby.

We were overworked.
We had reached a creative block with the section we were working on and hit a block and all our efforts were for naught and nothing would ever work and why weren't we just working on our CPA certifications or getting our teaching credentials for teaching sign language to gorillas or something that Did Not Require Creativity. Or Inspiration. Or Talent.
Because it was now clear that we, between us had not one stitch of any of those things. And never would.
We were failures.
We were flops.
We might as well BURN IT ALL! The Manuscript! The Thumb Drive it was backed up to and Yes, the snazzy Apple computer on which it had been written.
Burn it all!
And the Spanish Inquisition Torture Device Couch, Too!!
With extra exclamation points for emphasis!!!! So there!!!!

Of course we did not burn it all. We took a break, had a beverage. We went for a walk. We replaced the coffee with water. Had a healthy dinner. With vegetables. And moved Gramma's candied walnuts well out of sight.

So today, when my client called and changed my carefully thought out plan, and one of my business partners flaked out on a major deal we'd had in the works and one of my newly committed clients had to put off her program start because of a mere heart issue, and this guy I was all keen on called and said he was going back to his ex and the dance video I'd ordered from netflix turned out to be lousy and...
Oh just Burn It All! I will never be a success. I will be a poor, starving artist/ writer/ trainer coach/ whatever... FOREVER.

Burn it All!

And then I will comfort myself with a cup cake.
And beer.
And by next week I will be back to 277 wondering why I did all that work in the first place.

So I might as well just burn it all!
Everything was moving forward nicely and then one thing went wrong and of course everything is going to go to hell in a hand basket.

Burn it all!

And this is of course the number one reason for weight loss failure: all or nothing thinking.
If I can't do one thing, I can't do anything.
If one thing goes wrong everything else will, too.
If I gain a pound after slouching around for a week and eating too many candied walnuts ala gramma I Will Be Fat Again and Forever.
And I will never be able to...
And I don't have the talent, or the courage, or the ability to... Fill in the blank.

Burn it all.

I was doing so great, following my diet plan and torturing myself on the treadmill daily, and Not Thinking of a Pink Alligator and then I had a ham and cheese sandwich and somebody offered me a cookie and that of course only went down comfortably with a caramel machiato and pretty soon I had gained half a pound and now I am a complete and utter failure! And I might as well blow off all my diet and exercise efforts and sit on the couch watching biggest loser with a beer and pizza and giant piece of chocolate cake.

Burn it all!!

Give it up and be overweight and accept failure and teach sign language to gorillas because you will Never Be Successful at Reaching a Healthy Weight.

Burn it all!!

I remember the first time this thought occurred to me seriously.
I had lost 120 pounds.
I had just quit smoking.
I was training for a half marathon.
I was in the middle of my crazy month, when I thought I would forever be fixated on food and was doomed to regain every pound I'd lost plus a few just for punishment.
I was driving to Sacramento to go dancing with my beloved Arturo. I was on highway 16 on the corner at Bradshaw Road. Where there is an AM PM. Wherein one can find both cigarettes AND diet soda AND ice cream sandwiches galore AND even though they are disgusting, slimy, grease balls with the insult-to-cheese-products-everywhere-food-item-known-as-American-Cheese, cheese burgers.
I decided to stop the car and satisfy my incessant desire for cigarettes, grease and sugar. I couldn't take it any more. I was about to be a failure, and I might as well turn around because I would never learn to dance and anyway dancing wouldn't be fun anymore when I was back to 277 pounds from all the grease burgers and cheese-like-food-products and I wouldn't be able to do anything anyway because I wouldn't be able to breathe from the 4 packs of cigarettes a day I was going to be inhaling.

Burn it All!!!

If only this stupid Subaru in front of me would turn off so I could get into the parking lot. Stupid Subaru drivers. Those guys were probably in there, nibbling their granola and adjusting the straps on their Birkenstocks and just generally being the kind of goody-goody non-smoking cheesy-food-product-free wholesome types that would have a license plate frame which read....
Which read....

"You only fail when you give up."

I am not making this up.
I kid you not.
As the lord God Almighty is my witness. And you know I take that stuff seriously.

"You only fail when you give up."

It was on the license plate of the wholesome, Birkenstock, granola Subaru people who Would Not Turn Off and Let Me Into the Parking Lot of The Junk Food and Cigarette Wonderland that was the AM PM at Bradshaw and highway 16.

You only fail when you give up.

The heavens did not open up. The face of God almighty did not appear in the clouds and the image of the holy mother did not form on a piece of toast.

But the Subaru did finally turn off. And the parking lot of the junk food wonderland opened up before me in all its glory.

And I drove past the entrance. And I arrived safely on the dance floor where I danced all night.
And no, I was not an instant success. And I did not become a lifelong healthy, thin, perfect, together, totally rockin' filthy rich business person over night.

But I did not fail, either.
Because I did not give up.

I did not burn it all.

And I discovered that when what I was doing stopped working for me, I could try something else. Until something did work.
And I have been a non-smoker longer than more than 90% of all quitters. And I have been at a healthy weight longer than more than 90% of all dieters.
And I ran a marathon.
And learned to dance.
And I can do the splits on roller skates.
And I am building a client list faster than a speeding bullet.

And I am so glad I did not stop at the grease ball and cigarette wonderland.
I did not burn it all.

I did not fail. Because I did not stop trying.

And that was all it took to ensure my success.

Whole Health Renovation Specialist

"You will be quite amazed to see what you can do when you dont know you can't. You will be downright speechless at what you can do when you know you can." -Me

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't think of a Pink Alligator

Especially not one with purple eyes who is wearing a bow tie. Now don't think of the pink and purple bow tied alligator at all. The whole day.
If I had asked you before you read the title of this entry whether you had ever so much as dreamed of a pink alligator, you would have wondered what I'd slipped into my skinny latte along with the fake sugar, or whether the crazy that runs in my family had finally been triggered by the stress of being a fitness professional in January. A pink alligator. And don't forget, you are not supposed to be thinking about pink alligators, so you'd better get them ruddy well out of your head. Pronto. No pink alligators.
Now the question is, now that the suggestion has been made that a) there is such a thing as a pink and purple bow tied alligator and b) you are under no circumstances supposed to be thinking about one, how, pray tell, do you banish the thought of it? Remember, I have commanded you not to think of it.
Just as daily, at the very least when you are trying to watch your calorie intake, you try to force yourself not to think of food. You berate yourself for thinking of food. You give yourself an emotional slap on the mental hand every time you eye that 950,000 calorie brownie behind the counter of the Starbucks and force yourself to get a mere skinny latte. OK with just a dash of caramel. And real sugar. What the heck. I didn't have the brownie, I saved myself 950,000 calories, right?

Brownie. Nope, not thinking about brownies.

Maybe I should make that a mocha instead of a latte. It's a good substitute for chocolate.

Brownie. And the little tea cookies. They're small.

Brownie. Still not thinking about brownies.

Yes. That was nice. That satisfied the urge for the 950,000 calorie brownie nicely.

Brownie. #*@!!@?! Brownies. It's a whole lot harder not thinking about them than just fixating on them. But I am determined not to think about them.

You know the thing about brownies is that they have that texture from the eggs with the flower and the butter.

Brownie. You know Safeway has those little brownie bites....
And before you know it, instead of eating a brownie with a cup of coffee (approx. 450 cal) you have had 14 brownie bites (1200 calories) and a mocha (400 calories) and some chocolate cookies (250 calories).
And all because you were very busily and diligently NOT thinking about brownies.
And now, having just read about brownies, you are no doubt at this moment standing in the firm belief that you could be satisfied with just a taste, just a smidgen. Then you could throw the rest away. Really.
And because of the brownie you have forgotten all about the mission you were given at the beginning if this blog - not to think of a pink alligator. With purple eyes and a green bow tie. And red and yellow candy striped teeth. And nails painted sky blue.

So now that you have failed in your mission of not thinking of a pink alligator, I want you to work back through the process that has just occurred in your head:

You were specifically told not to think of a pink alligator.

You immediately, probably for the first time in your life, imagined a pink alligator. Let us call her Gertrude. With purple eyes. And a green bow tie. And orange tap shoes.

Then you thought about brownies. Until it made you so crazy you really did think, just for a moment, about the Safeway brownie bites and wondered how far away the nearest Safeway was and whether there'd be much traffic this time of day.

And then you gave yourself that mental slap on the psychological wrist. What IS wrong with me? You wonder.

And then Gertrude waltzed in with her pink scales and purple eyes and fuchsia, heart shaped hair bauble. And suddenly you were thinking about Gertrude again. Exactly what you were not supposed to do. Darn you.

Why can't you control your thoughts? What precisely is your brain doing, thinking thoughts that are clearly not in your best interest.

But you know that whole years have gone by when you never thought of pink alligators. And whole weeks, months, who knows how long can go by when you don't give brownies so much as a passing thought.

It is not the pink alligator, in other words, nor the brownie itself, which is actually the subject of your fixation. It is, in fact, 2 things:
1) The command "don't"
2) The ensuing shame, guilt, surprise, anger, frustration helplessness, disappointment, and anxiety that arises in your feelings toward yourself as you fail to not do what you expect to be able to not do: think about something, whatever it is.

Freud identified this phenomenon in his usual Freudian way in relation to sexual thoughts: Victorians weren't supposed to think about sex, so they repressed those thoughts, had bizarre dreams involving balloons (or anything else Freud could justify as a symbol for sexual repression. And Freud could do that with almost anything. Probably says more about Freud than his patients), and in essence, made themselves sick. Women especially during the Victorian era were known for ailments like hysterics (stress, anxiety etc). You can imagine given how upsetting your recent thoughts about brownies were, that hysterics could easily be brought on by trying to constantly repress thoughts.

In our current, fitness obsessed, junk food centered, food and consumer loving society it's pretty clear that food has replaced Freud's favorite obsession.
Look: a McDonald's commercial. Look: a weight watchers commercial.

Think about food.
Don't think about food.
Whatever you do don't think about food. Something's wrong with you if you're always thinking about food.

I learned the pink alligator effect during what I call "the crazy month" - the month after I had achieved my weight loss goal, attempted to go back to eating normally and ended up nibbling, snacking and utterly failing in my efforts not to think of pink alligators (or rather food). I remember watching the pastor preach and thinking of nothing but food and wondering if perhaps I was possessed. I wasn't supposed to think about food. I was supposed to be thinking about God. Not food.
Or pink alligators. With turquoise grass skirts. Eating grapes.

So now that we realize that the reason why we Just Can't Leave Half the Chicken Fillet On The Plate (because we are not supposed to think about it and are therefore obsessed with it) or Not Eat 14 brownie bites (because it actually is calling our name in a very nearly literal sense) is because we are Not Supposed to Be Thinking About it combined with the fact that we are Very Ashamed of and Anxious about our Failure to Not Think about it, what is one to do about it?

Answer: think of a pink alligator.
Then forgive yourself when you fail anyway.

In other words, as you were reading this, eventually what made you stop thinking of Gertrude the pink alligator was that your thoughts were directed toward the brownie.
Then you were so obsessed with the brownie you really very nearly did run out and get one.
Then your thoughts were directed back to Gertrude.
And Victorians.
And the author's temporary sanity issues.
And pretty soon brownies flew right out of your head.
And now they're back.
Alligator. Pink. Gertrude. Cartruese socks.
The point is, your brain is always doing something. It wants to be occupied. You can't turn it off.
If the last suggestion was that you think of, or don't think of a pink alligator, that is what your brain will rest on until it finds something better to do. It will go down whatever path the pink alligator leads it on until it arrives at brownie.

Pink alligator. Silver, spangly anklet with elephant charms.

So when you find yourself at the dinner table, beating yourself up about the second helping you're not supposed to think about or the dessert you're not supposed to even consider, instead of building shame, anxiety, fear helplessness, guilt, disappointment and a hundred other things that will make you want them even MORE...
Just don't think of a pink alligator instead.
In other words, turn your attention to something ELSE. Think about a complicated problem you've been working to solve. Call your sister and be her person to vent at for a while. Have a piece of gum.

Think about Gertrude. The Pink alligator. With the indigo bangles.

And when Gertrude isn't enough to help, when Gertrude doesn't do the trick and you end up having to Eat The Darn Thing After All, don't make things worse by beating yourself up. After all, you've been thinking of that particular pink alligator a very, very long time to break the habit all in one go.
Whole Health Renovation Specialist

"You will be quite amazed to see what you can do when you dont know you can't. You will be downright speechless at what you can do when you know you can." -Me