Two weeks ago, I read a book called The Thin Commandments by Stephen Gullo. My friend Teri brought the book to my attention. She found it noteworthy because like most diet books, it doesn't end with a sweet, hazy image of someone getting to their goal weight and walking into the swimsuit section of Macy's.
Instead, Gullo explores what happens after people get tired of dieting. What happens? They gain it all back, and sometimes more. Is it lack of willpower? Not completely, according to this book. People need frequent reality checks about which foods trigger them to overeat. They need to "think historically rather than calorically." After that, they need strategies, and lots of them. Food diaries. Substitutions. Eating often enough so that they don't get overly hungry and give into cravings, but on the occasions that this happens, they have to tell themselves that it's an isolated episode and mean it.
As I read, the information about food triggers seemed familiar. Recently, I had gone all day without eating (laziness rather than lack of victuals), and by the time I was on the subway home, all I could see in my immediate future was a baguette. It was looming; I really couldn't see anything else. At my stop, I stumbled into the closest bakery and seized their last baguette. How I was restrained enough to let the cashier slice the loaf for me, I'll never know. I do know, however, that once I got it home, the whole thing was history in a half hour.
Wiping away the crumbs (no, that's not true; I ate the crumbs as well), I felt as if I needed more bread. Couldn't go back to that bakery, could I? I went to Home Plus instead. No baguettes. No matter. I bought a loaf of bread and took it home. I made a grilled cheese sandwich, then another. The next morning, I made french toast. A peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch killed that loaf. I felt blissful, as if I'd happened upon someone's well-stocked medicine cabinet.
Obviously, bread is a trigger for me. Hell, it's probably the whole weapon. Dr. Gullo (he's a behavioral psychologist) reassures readers that they aren't worthless and weak. It might not be their fault. Something about brain chemistry, but then he says if people know this, then they need to get real and have a plan or twenty when the cravings hit, which they will, if they're thinking historically.
One strategy he suggests is to "box in" the food (only eat it on special occasions, on the weekend, etc.) or "box it out" (eliminate it completely). If the cravings persist, he recommends waiting a bit to see if they subside. There's other things people can put in their arsenal: "Throw some protein at it (the craving)". "Drink tomato juice". There's so much more. Dude is like a diet MacGyver.
After I finished The Thin Commandments, I was revved up to try... not dieting, but becoming a food strategist. I took a weekend to make my plan, shopping and thinking about how to head off incidents like the baguette one. Teri was visiting, and I probably drove her nuts with all my thinking aloud. I also allowed myself a "goodbye supper" Sunday night of six Dunkin' Donuts and a package of Peppero.
One thing that strengthened my resolve was Gullo's casual mention of "Carb Face". He wrote that he could see when people are eating too many carbs -- their faces are bloated in a way that is easily recognizable. I thought about how it would hurt my feelings to be referred to like that by him or any health care provider.
Last Monday (October 21), I pissed around until noon, drank a Schweppes Lemon Tonic, then decided I would begin. My strategy was to eat a mini-meal every 3-4 hours from waking until bedtime. I decided to leave in just enough carbohydrates (potatoes, whole-grain crackers) to keep the cravings at bay. Eating that often made me feel uncomfortably stuffed, but that seems to have passed, and what do you know? It's working! I feel more alert because my blood sugar isn't always roller-coastering, and the scale is showing numbers slowly but steadily going down.
On the second day, I decided to add in a food diary, then after I had the food diary, I thought of filling it out in advance, then eating what I'd scheduled. That felt normal -- like making lesson plans, and I was writing down good things. I'm sticking to the same few healthy foods, because Dr. Gullo says that too much variety can trigger cravings.
I don't know how long I'll be able to do this, but it takes a few weeks to build habits, so if I can get from the this-is-fun/euphoric stage to that point, I'll be OK. I'm thinking about really committing to this and doing an online food diary, but I also have a fear of appearing/feeling vulnerable. According to the latest book I'm reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, long-term goals have a better chance of succeeding when you add community. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, according to my food diary, it's time to eat again.