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Intuitive Eating Hits a Roadblock

            I’m not losing weight from Intuitive Eating. In part, that could be because I’ve been feeling really sick to my stomach lately, which clouds my ability to judge when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And I know that part of my inability to lose weight comes from my health issues, because I don’t have the energy to exercise enough to burn extra calories each day, and because some of the medications I take impact my weight. But, according to the Intuitive Eating workbook, it could also be that my body believes it is at the right size already, and I hate that idea. I’d prefer to believe that I’m unconsciously cheating in some way, allowing myself to eat past fullness and just telling myself that I’m still hungry. That would be a relief, because then I could hold onto the hope that when I do everything right I’ll lose weight.

            I’m still working my way through the Intuitive Eating Workbook (by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch), and one of the biggest blocks I can’t move is that my brain still tells me that in order to be a worthy human being I have to lose weight, and preferably have a smaller frame, including smaller feet. Because I am too BIG.

“Do I have small feet, Mommy?”

            The workbook characterizes thoughts like these as part of the Food Police – a set of destructive voices (picked up from diet culture, societal beliefs, and family rules) that try to keep me dieting and believing that I’m not okay as I am. These are the voices that yell at me for eating a piece of chocolate cake, or for buying 2% milk instead of fat free, or for eating carbs or fat, or for eating anything at all.

“I’m the sheriff!”

            One method the workbook suggests for how to deal with these internal messages is to question whether the beliefs are reasonable, and supported by scientific evidence, or not. For example:

            Distorted thought – I have to be skinny to be loved, to get a job, or to be successful in any other way.

Has this proven to be true? There is some evidence that love and attraction is conditional on body size, but it doesn’t really seem to hold true for work or friendship, so this is at least partially untrue.

That method did not feel especially helpful. Another method they recommend for combatting these negative thoughts is to answer them with a more positive, ally voice, like what you’d say to a good friend:

            A destructive statement – I am a glutton and selfish and eat too much and try to get away with everything and never hold myself responsible.

            Ally response – None of that is accurate. You often think too much about others before thinking of your own needs, and many of your needs have gone unmet because you are afraid of taking up too much space, care, attention or money.

            That seemed a little but more effective, so I kept trying:

            Destructive statement – I’m accomplishing nothing and annoying everyone who believes in my potential. I’m not writing enough or losing weight or getting a real job and they will all give up on me.

            Ally response – It would be impossible for anyone to meet all of those goals at once, and making long to-do lists can overwhelm your ability to get anything done. In reality, you work very hard at everything you do, and you’ve made an enormous amount of progress. You are creating your own path and the people who know you well are proud of you.

“Yeah Mommy!”

All of that sounds good, but the destructive voices keep coming back and telling me that I’m making excuses and lying and being a Pollyanna, and they get more creative and more stubborn with every attempt. This is not what the workbook tells me to expect, and I resent that the authors don’t acknowledge that this is a predictable response for someone whose Food Police voices are so deeply ingrained.

“Grr.”

I’m doing my best to keep doing the work anyway, even if I can’t shut down the Food Police or lose weight, but it’s frustrating that even though I stop eating when I’m full, I still feel empty and wish I could eat to fill the emotional void. I started doing a writing exercise from the workbook in the moments when I know I’m full but I still want to eat: I’m supposed to take five minutes to sit with my feelings first and then write down anything that comes to mind, but I don’t have the patience to sit first, so I just do the writing. Sometimes I list the foods I want to eat: like spaghetti and meatballs, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Sometimes I just rant about how angry, guilty, frightened, frustrated, sad and hopeless I feel about the state of my body. Sometimes I actually try to figure out where all of the feelings are coming from, and what underlying need they are trying to tell me about, which is the stated purpose of the exercise.

Most of the time, just the act of writing seems to be enough to stop my momentum and prevent me from overeating, in that way, the exercise has been successful. But I’ve never finished the exercise and said to myself, aha, now I know what I really need to do in order to feel calm/comforted/satisfied/relieved/finished. There’s some relief in being able to acknowledge that something is missing, and I’ve learned that I can sit with the feelings of pain or loneliness or confusion or anger or sadness, or even hopelessness, and keep breathing. But not for very long. I still want to feel better and lose weight, and I still want the Food Police to go away, and figure out what it is that makes me want to eat more than my body needs.

            My Nutritionist thinks that the real battle behind all of this is that I struggle to respect my body as it is; that the destructive messages and the feelings of not-enough come from an underlying belief that I don’t deserve to be loved as I am. And she wants me to move my goal from weight loss to body acceptance, but I’m reluctant, because I don’t think that goal is reachable. Weight loss, at least, I’ve been able to achieve before; body acceptance sounds like a fantasy to me.

            But I worry that my Nutritionist is right, and that’s bringing up a lot of hopelessness, and I don’t want to feel hopeless. So I’m going to put the goals themselves out of my mind, or off to the side, and just keep going through the workbook and doing the work I can do; and I’ll see where it takes me.

“On a walk?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Weighty Issues

 

My weight has always been an issue. I was a chubby kid, and then anorexic, and then a compulsive eater, and then on every diet known to womankind, and then mostly normal for a few years. But then, during the trials of endless medications for my body pain and neurological symptoms, we found one that really helped, but also increased hunger and slowed metabolism. And no matter how helpful the medication has been, it hasn’t increased my ability to exercise at any reasonable pace. That means that I can’t maintain the weight I want to be. I don’t overeat, by much, and I do exercise regularly, but I would have to cut or burn at least five hundred calories more per day to make a dent in my weight, and at this point, that’s not possible.

I do what I can. I’ve tried protein shakes and high fiber foods, I’ve cut out refined sugar (and added it back in), and cut almost every other kind of food at one time or another. But if I try to go below a certain number of calories a day, I feel like I’m dying, and if I try to exercise more often or more vigorously, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

And I’m angry about it.

I had hoped that, at some point in my life, my relationship with food and exercise would fall into a regular pattern and stop being a problem. I’ve worked hard on the practical side of eating and exercise, and the emotional and psychological sides too. But it’s all still there, still making me feel like a stranger when I look in the mirror, or making me panic when I open the refrigerator. I want to be one of those people who doesn’t have to think about her weight: someone who exercises because it makes her feel better, or can say no to chocolate frosting without feeling the residual longing for the rest of the week. But I’m not there yet.

Both of my dogs, food obsessed as they are, have zero weight problems. Butterfly can eat kibble all day long – and she does – and it never impacts her weight. Cricket could probably eat a whole chicken without showing any signs of it, except in the stomach upset that she would inevitably pretend she was not experiencing. They exercise when they feel the urge, and then rest most of the day without guilt.

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I keep a food and exercise journal. I drink bottles of water every day. I try out new, healthier recipes, and buy single portion low calorie snacks, but I don’t get anywhere with it. If I could stop taking the offending medication and still function, I’d do that. But I had to make the decision to function, at some point, rather than to maintain my weight. Most days it doesn’t feel worth it, until I try to stop the medication and find myself struggling to breathe, and struggling to walk, and then I remember why I made this decision in the first place.

But it still doesn’t feel worth it. And when I look around me, I see millions of people who believe that a woman should be willing to be sick and in pain in order to look the way she’s supposed to look, and hate herself for eating when she is hungry or resting when she is tired.

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The puppies know they need their rest.

The dogs think this is insane. They believe that how they feel is everything, and how they look is only useful when it gets them more scratches or treats. And even then, they’re pretty sure that it’s their powers of persuasion that get them what they want. I don’t think they even know how cute they are; though I could be wrong about that.

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“You want to give us food.”

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We are not relying on our cuteness to get what we want.”

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“We’d never do that.”

 

Sugar

I love sugar. Well, not straight sugar. I was never a big fan of Pixie Stix, or rock candy, or sugar cubes. But I love chocolate frosting and Nutella and Twizzlers and marzipan. I like candy in every color and shape and size. When I first watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I was pretty sure it was a vision of heaven. I don’t like bitter or sour very much, savory is good, salty is okay, but sweet is my thing. Sushi was a wonderful discovery, because it looked and tasted like candy but had actual food value.

One winter, Mom and I took a series of cake decorating classes. They were inexpensive, and once a week, at the local Michael’s craft store, and once we finished level one, we went on for levels two and three, and would have done level four if it had been offered. I loved making cakes, and frosting, and doing crumb coats, and lattice work. I learned how to make royal icing flowers, and animal characters out of fondant and marzipan, and experimented with Nutella cream cheese frosting. I made chess pieces and roses out of molded chocolate, and white chocolate molded flour pots with chocolate frosted dirt. I tried to make petit fours and failed miserably.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Chocolate music on a flourless chocolate cake.

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Marzipan fruit is just as good for you as real fruit, right?

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

Chocolate dirt, enough said.

The trouble with petit fours is, even after you find the right recipe for the cake, so that it’s moist but not delicate, you need a sure hand for the cutting and placing of layers, and then you need to be willing to waste a lot of icing by pouring it over the cakes on a wire rack so that the excess pools underneath. This is where Cricket came in, waiting for the overflow to overflow.

"You can start pouring, Mommy."

“You can start pouring, Mommy.”

Cricket was an only dog during the cake decorating winter, and she made full use of her prominent place next to the table, standing by the edge as the icing dripped onto her head, or jumping as high as she could to reach the counter to inspect whatever was going on up there. She cried and scratched at Grandma’s leg to get access to the mixer as it rumbled and tumbled and created glossy white frosting. She’s not especially dexterous with her paws, so she couldn’t participate in molding marzipan figurines, but she loved to help with clean up whenever something fell on the floor. We all had a great time that winter.

Cricket, after icing removal.

Cricket, after icing removal.

But, my father developed adult onset diabetes by the time he was the same age as I am now. In fact, his brother and father also developed diabetes, and then diabetic neuropathy and strokes, and a whole host of other problems, so it is definitely in my genes. I focus on moderation, and go to doctors regularly, and eat my vegetables, and take the medications I’m required to take. I use a lot of vegetables in my cooking, because I like my food to be colorful: red and yellow and orange peppers, tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, red onions, and French green beans, and perfect heads of broccoli cut into individual trees. But I worry.

I am always being told to cut sugar out of my diet completely, that it will solve all of my health, mood, intellectual, spiritual and whatever other problems I may have, immediately, and I will have the energy of a cheetah.

This, of course, is never true. I try it, I suffer, I keep trying, and then I stop. And whether I’ve tried the diet for two weeks or two months or two years, someone is always certain that if I just tried a little bit longer it would all work out and I would be perfect. I’ve tried sugar free, and dairy free, gluten free, and wheat free, and it’s all terrible and squeezes my brain until there is not even one drop of serotonin left and life is not worth living. Mom tells me that too much sugar makes her feel sick and tired, but I’ve never felt that way myself. I might refuse to notice such a thing.

My father went on a high protein diet, eventually, to try and manage his diabetes and ate mostly chicken and spinach. This would not work for me at all, but it would be Butterfly’s ideal, without the spinach. Butterfly, my ten year old Lhasa Apso, has diabetes too, but her diabetes is more like type one, or juvenile onset diabetes in humans, and is controlled by twice daily insulin shots. She also has a special diabetic-friendly kibble and eats a lot of chicken, though not as much as she’d like.

"Yummies?!"

“Yummies?!”

She doesn’t look or act sick, unless her sugar gets very low, and then she gets maple syrup on her gums and she bounces back. It’s a relief to know what’s wrong with her and how to fix it. For Butterfly, sugar is directly related to how she feels every day; no matter how much she craves things like pizza crusts and pancakes and bread, which were among her favorite things in the world before her diagnosis last year, she’s better off, and happier, without them.

The same isn’t true for me. There is no diet that will fix what’s wrong with me, at least that I know of. And while, theoretically, I’d be healthier overall without sugar, I would not be happier, or even happy at all, with a diet like that. I tend to think, and I know this is not the prevailing view, that a little bit more sugar in our diets might help us like each other a little bit more. Maybe I should try to make those petit fours again, and pass them out to my neighbors. I just have to make sure that the icing doesn’t drip to Butterfly’s level. She’d be licking the floor for days.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Cricket, licking the bowl.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.

Butterfly, staying on her diet.