Monday, July 02, 2012
"There is no losing in Jiu-Jitsu. You either win or you learn."
-Carlos Gracie Jr.
Me vs. "Smashlee" in the Advanced Women's division.
The above quote by Carlos Gracie Jr. hit home with me because it actually sums up a lot of this journey for me. I stopped viewing myself as a failure, and began seeing learning opportunities in mistakes that have been made. Choosing to learn instead of seeing a setback at every corner has been the key to changing my life--the way I eat, the way I move, the people I choose to have in my life--everything. Choosing to learn has made me see that my weight is truly just a number and that I need not let my life pass me by as I wait to get to my "goal."
I was going to wait until I was closer to my goal weight to compete in martial arts, but decided to go for it now. My goal was to not have any expectations, just to train hard and get to the competition and have fun, and if I did well, it would just be a bonus. The feeling I got before doing the tournament was very different from when I had done triathlons and running races. There was no hiding in the crowd. This time, I needed the confidence to focus while a roomful of people stared at me while wearing tight-fitting clothes.
For this tournament, we had a 10 minute time limit, and it was "submission only." We just had to get the other person to tap out, instead of worrying about racking up points. I earned 2 medals (2nd place); the 1st place winner was a woman who was a blue belt with 2 years of experience and who has won several tournaments, so needless to say, she deserved to win. I really believe there is no shame in losing to someone who is significantly better.
Needless to say, I had a great experience with my first Jiu Jitsu tournament. It was one of the best days I've ever had, just taking into consideration everything that lead up to it. It took getting over body image problems, developing self-esteem, and taking control of my life. I was surprised that I never got particularly nervous in the days leading up to the tournament, or even on the day of when I got there.
I admit, I was not looking forward to weighing in at the event, but it was not like the old days in gym class where my weight was shouted out, followed by snickers. They just weighed me and wrote it down. Once all of the women got there, they realized that all of the women had less than a year of experience, except for one of them. I had heard about Smashlee (her name is actually Ashlee, but she is called Smashlee for a reason), who has dominated several tournaments and has a reputation in the region for being one of the best female martial artists. She did not have an opponent to compete in the Women's Advanced division, because she was the only advanced woman. I was asked if I would be willing to go against her. So, nothing like trial by fire--I agreed to do the Women's Advanced division against Smashlee.
I did not know what to expect since I had never met Smashlee. We had our first match almost right away, since the advanced people got to go first. Well--yeah, she was really good. All I could do was try to defend against what she was doing, and every time I tried to get to an offensive position, I made it worse for myself. This is usually how it goes when I roll (spar) with blue belts. They have earned a blue belt for a reason. She got me to tap by getting me with an arm bar. We hugged afterwards and I congratulated her. Now she has another first place medal for an advanced division, which is good for her future as a mixed martial artist, so I am happy for her.
The second division I did was the Women's Absolute, in which all of the women competed. I was told I would go against someone other than Smashlee for as long as possible. The first woman I went against tried everything she could to get into an offensive position, but I was making her play my game. When I got around to side mount (controlling from the side), I heard the whole room go "Ooooh!" I knew she could not win. I got her with a submission called Americana, which is a crank on the shoulder. I was ecstatic to win.
My next match was, unfortunately, against my own teammate. I won by getting a submission called Kimura (another type of crank on the shoulder), but was not thrilled about beating her.
Then, after all of the women competed, it came back down to me and Smashlee for first place. I felt a lot more warmed up at this time and was hopeful to do a bit better. The match started and it took her much longer to get into a really good position. We battled it out for quite a while, but I could not get her off of me. She finally got me with another arm bar. She said I did not make it easy for her at all, so that in itself is a little bit of a win. Smashlee was very gracious and actually gave me the rash guard that she had won, which was very sweet (she also won a raffle, so I thought it was very nice of her to share the wealth).
Smashlee got first place, and I was second. Considering she was the only blue belt woman there, I felt good that I had beat out the other women (although I really wanted my teammate to do well; she did not earn any medals). I consider earning 2 medals to be a very successful first tournament. My coaches were proud of me. My parents and brother were there, and I was happy I could share the moment with them.
Me being asked if I would go against Smashlee in the Advanced Women's division so she could have an opponent. Oh sure, why not, I make a good punching bag.
Getting smashed by Smashlee.
My second match, which I won.
After my first win.
Getting a hug from Dad after my first win.
My third match, the second match that I won. I felt a little bad because she is my teammate.
Smashlee winning by arm bar for first place.
Getting my 2nd place medal for the Women's Absolute division.
When I saw the picture of me hugging my dad, tears welled up in my eyes. I don't know that I have ever seen myself look that happy. It was way beyond winning that made me that happy; it was that I had the nerve to show up and find out what I'm made of. I have really nailed in that my weight does not determine how I live my life nor how I feel about myself. I was going to wait until I was closer to my goal weight to buy a tight-fitting rash guard. I bought one a few weeks ago. I was going to wait until I was closer to goal to buy Gi pants (traditional martial arts pants). I bought some over the weekend. I was going to wait to compete. I am glad I didn't because I discovered that not only can I show up and do it, I can do well. I kept thinking of all of the things I would do when I reached my "goal"...and then I realized I am already living it. If you think, train, and act like an athlete, then you are a real athlete.
"You miss 100% of the shots you never take."
I have been doing Jiu Jitsu for about 7 months now, and the moves are finally starting to come together. My teammates have been an invaluable source of support. I never would have competed if they hadn't encouraged me and told me I had talent. I guess I had to hold a medal in my hand to learn that I am actually good, not just some chick who is showing up and being humored. Now I want to up my game a bit. Smashlee was very nice, but next time, it is on.
June was a pretty good month. I was pretty focused on getting ready for this tournament, so I did well with eating for the most part, and trained hard. I lost 7 pounds in June, one of the bigger weight loss months I have had in a while. The weight loss was pretty painless--okay, Jiu Jitsu is not painless...but you know what I mean --because I just aimed to eat reasonably and work out a lot. I finally feel settled into my "new" way of eating and have adjusted to my new appetite (that is, a self-regulated appetite).
I have also adjusted my workout regime. I truly love exercise, but there are just not enough hours in the week to get in everything I want to do. I decided to pick one thing--Jiu Jitsu--and focus on it. Fortunately, Jiu Jitsu hits everything--strength, power, cardio, and flexibility. I try to squeeze in a couple of strength training and/or kettlebell sessions and get in some other cross-training, like running, Muay Thai, or other cardio a few times a week. If I skip a run to walk and have lunch with a friend, then so be it--exercise is supposed to be fun, not overtake my life. Following this schedule has been great this month because I didn't overdo the exercise and it felt much more laid back despite the intense training for competition.
The other news is that it is over between my boyfriend and me. I had been thinking about breaking up with him because I felt like there were some lying and manipulation issues, and something was just really "off" about the guy. Family and some friends kept saying I wasn't giving him a fair chance, and of course in retrospect I should have trusted my gut, ignored the people telling me I was expecting too much, and broken up with him. It really sank in how much he was playing my emotions and how I have been duped for the past 6 months. He was just using me to get through his divorce (and of course, I should have dumped him the moment that I realized he had lied about being divorced, but he had turned it around to make it seem like I had misunderstood him in the first place. Ugh--manipulation). He knew just what to say when I brought up issues to keep stringing me along. Well, I finally decided I was going to break up with him a little over a week ago; I had not said anything to him about it. I guess he did the work for me because I have not heard from him at all in over a week. Although he seemed to come across as withdrawn or depressed, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. Everything he did was calculated and he molded a "relationship" to suit his needs. I believe he moved on when he realized he couldn't get his hooks into me. There are no condolences needed, I knew he was a jerk and kept him at bay, so I did not have any feelings for him. While I should have trusted my gut, I am not hurt from not hearing from him. I just hope he stays away. So, even smart tough chicks get duped sometimes. I got duped, but at least I was not blinded. Fortunately I stayed level-headed enough to know something wasn't right and while I gave him beyond a fair chance, I had the self-respect necessary to dump the loser.
So I did not mean to end this blog on a bad note. I am not upset over breaking up with him, so no worries. I am very satisfied with how things are going in my life. I know myself well enough now to know what I am capable of and to know how I deserve to be treated. I am going to keep training hard, eating well, and surrounding myself with awesome people. July had better be ready.
Because it's hard to have a bad day when you have a handful of kittens...
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Picture of some of the Jiu Jitsu guys after class last week. I'm behind the guy in the "Aloha" shirt.
I am participating in my first Jiu Jitsu competition next Saturday. I have never actually competed in a sport before. I have done numerous triathlons, duathlons, and running events, but it is fair to say I wasn't competing against anyone except for myself. This time, it will be just another person and me on the mat. One will win and one will lose. I hope to have fair competition, that is, not to be against someone who is significantly worse or better than me. It is likely that all of the women will just be lumped together regardless of weight or skill level. At least my weight serves as an advantage in this case. I have been working hard, the guys have been doing extra training with me, and I feel as ready as possible.
I have decided I am going to stay at my current gym. I have a lot of friendships there and we are a team. After talking to some of the guys, if I feel like someone is being unnecessarily rough and is going to cause an injury, then I will get up and walk away. One of my instructors felt bad that I have ever felt unsafe. Until I can really stick it to them on the mats, I guess I will have to open my mouth more.
I had a good training week. I did Jiu Jitsu 5 times for 90-120 minutes each session. For the first time, I handled that level of training without feeling really sore. However, I have also been avoiding overdoing exercise otherwise. I did Muay Thai class on Tuesday, have done some walking, and did a power lifting session.
In Jiu Jitsu, I was also happy because I got a submission on a guy who is a blue belt (in other words, way better than me) and on another guy who is significantly more experienced than me. I was especially happy to get a submission by Rear Naked Choke, because it can be difficult to get, and I got it on someone who is really good. I don't do Jiu Jitsu just to get people to tap out, and I don't feel all that great about getting submissions on people who are newer than me. However, if I get a submission on someone a lot better than me, then it means that my skills are really improving.
Rear Naked Choke. Image from http://martialarts.about.com/od/training/s
This week was pretty good eating wise. I didn't go overboard on any days and tracked every day. I have made more of an effort to avoid wheat and dairy--I kind of got off track with that for a few weeks--and I definitely feel less bloated again. I haven't lost anything in a couple of weeks, but my body feels the strongest it has in a while (if not ever). I'll just keep on keepin' on.
I am not feeling nervous about the competition, at least not yet. It is what it is and it will be a learning experience. I am looking forward to bonding with the Jiu Jitsu guys more outside of class, too. In any case, this week I will be training hard and eating clean! Now if I could just get some of this fat to tap out...
Sunday, June 17, 2012
"When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED."
Jeff. As my boyfriend said when he posted this, "I wish you could hear this picture."
I had been thinking about quitting my sax lessons. I hadn't been putting in the practice time, yet have been getting frustrated that I am not improving a lot. I convinced myself that I didn't like my teacher Jeff all that much, but oddly enough, that feeling only came when I wasn't putting in the work and he had the audacity to point it out. While Jeff can seem like a bit of a hard-ass, I realize I have blown off every compliment he has ever given me. Jeff is not a guy who gives compliments without merit, but he does praise a lot of my playing. I have been so down on myself about my sax playing that all I have heard are the critiques. I concentrate so hard on every mistake I make while playing that I hardly hear any semblance of a song.
Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I went to see my teacher Jeff's blues/rock band (Kurt Jorgensen Band) play. I had never seen Jeff perform before. It was great show. When Jeff started his part in the song, all eyes turned to him. When he played his solos, the crowd roared, hooted, and hollered. One might look at Jeff and think, "Wow, what a naturally-talented guy!" He makes it look so easy. The truth is, Jeff was not naturally talented. Jeff started playing in his teens, and he was told that he stunk. He drove his teachers nuts. He was not someone who picked up a sax and heard, "Wow, you should pursue this!" What one hears in listening to Jeff play is the result of someone who outright refused to give up. He was going to be a professional saxophonist, and that was that. It didn't matter how treacherous the journey, come hell or high water, he was going to be good.
I knew bits of Jeff's story, but I never really appreciated what his story meant until I really saw Jeff play. Seeing and hearing the passion in his playing was intense. It was like listening to his soul. Seeing him play made me want to work harder. The next time I practiced, I psyched myself up to have more fun. I wanted to let go of criticism so I could more objectively hear what I was doing well and what needed work. "Just do what Jeff does...c'mon, loosen up...man, all this trying to loosen up is making me a little tense...bah, stop it, PLAY!" So, I played. And it sounded like someone else was playing. Sometimes the noises I make sound vaguely like music, but it was not until I listened to a recording of a duet I played that I realized how "tense" I sound. I'm not sure if it was so much that I was playing different sounds, but rather that I was hearing with different ears.
So, needless to say, I am not going to quit. I am going to stop whining and carve out more practice time. I made an effort to practice every day. I dropped the, "Man, this is haaaaaaard..." attitude and remembered that we are not all naturally talented. Deep down, I have just expected the music to come to me, not for me to make the music. Like anything else (changing habits, making music, playing a sport...whatever), a pro makes it look easy. But behind that "easy," there are thousands of mistakes. There were doubts from within and doubts from others. That "easy" required countless hours of hard work. Even the "easy" part continues to be challenging. I have made playing more difficult than it needs to be because I haven't been putting forth enough effort. I know how "easy" things can be once I get into a rhythm, whether it be playing, working out, or eating right. So, I just need to get in a groove of practicing more, while also not being so hard on myself about my playing.
Kurt Jorgensen Band.
Listen to songs at www.myspace.com/kurtjorgensen/music
"Luck is what you have leftover after you give 100 percent."
Onto other stuff...this week was an okay workout week, but I only did Jiu Jitsu twice. On Wednesday, some new guy landed on my spine and then started bending me backwards. I yelled at him to stop. My friend who was a few feet away heard my spine crack. Needless to say, I was not very happy. This guy really laid into me and was unnecessarily rough. I have been getting that a lot recently and my coach Nate does not say anything to these guys. Actually, he kind of pokes fun at me for not being tough enough. Since I did not know better at first, I did try to "toughen up." Some of my closer Jiu Jitsu pals have commented on how rough some of the guys are with me and that they probably have an ego problem about rolling with a women and not wanting to get submitted. Luckily this time I just have a slightly sore back, but I am worried enough about permanent injury that I am going to check out another Jiu Jitsu school. Admittedly, I became a little gun-shy and I skipped Friday. I don't want to worry about permanent debilitating injuries from martial arts.
I will be checking out the Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu program. Gracie Barra is renowned and has locations all over the place. I am planning to move to the Seattle area over the next few years, and I could simply switch to the Gracie Barra school there. I thought about giving my current gym more time, but I have repeatedly pointed out overly-rough situations and nothing is done about it. I will miss my Muay Thai coach Eric, but I have been so intensely focused on Jiu Jitsu that I haven't even been doing much Muay Thai. The Gracie Barra school does have Muay Thai classes, so if I really want to, I can check that out. I have 2 Jiu Jitsu teachers at my current gym; I am usually in Nate's classes (the one who doesn't react to potential serious injuries) simply due to the class times. My other teacher is Tim, and he is an excellent coach. I try to make it to his classes when I can, but I don't work with him nearly enough. Fortunately, he is one of the teachers at the Gracie Barra school that I will be checking out. I am going to talk to him this week about the pros and cons and make a decision from there.
I do need to up the workouts a bit this upcoming week. I need to get in some running time and do some strength training. It has been about 2 weeks since I have done a formal strength training session. I am somewhat okay with this because Jiu Jitsu really doubles as strength training--I will go from holding a side plank while squeezing somebody with my legs to pretty much bench pressing them. Still, I should be doing some power lifting and hypertrophy workouts to assist in my training.
I had planned on registering for belly dance this week, but unfortunately I just can't afford it right now. I will still be doing some classes with Cassandra, as you can pay a per-class fee. I know I won't progress as much, but I will be doing some dance. Hopefully I can work regular classes into my budget soon.
I have been good about food tracking, although I overate some on a couple of days. I am more okay with overeating when I am actually following my workout plan (actually, I NEED the extra fuel), but I feel a bit puffy right now. I have some foods ready to prepare some batches so I have healthy meals readily available.
I am excited because the time has started where I can forage in my yard for food! Right now I have an abundance of cherries and raspberries. I thought the raspberries were blackberries because they were so dark, but it turns out they are actually black raspberries. In any case, they are delicious! I have been eating a bowlful every day. My cherries are very tart and are probably better suited for cooking, but I still like to eat them as is. My veggies are looking good and I have some peppers ripening and lots of flowers on my tomato and pepper plants. I also cooked with some fresh basil and oregano this week. I have a large chocolate mint plant and have been adding the mint to my green tea--delicious! There is just nothing like having the food that comes from your own yard.
The cherry tree.
Cherries and black raspberries.
Hope everyone has a great week!
"Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce." -Vivian Komori
Friday, June 15, 2012
"Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that's real power."
This post is Part II to a previous blog entry, "The Impossible": www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_jo
When I was 11 years old, my mother took us to Michigan to visit a friend of hers. We were eating dinner one night and he commented on how much I was able to eat. "Aren't you full?" he asked me.
"I never feel full."
I remember that answer to this day. At the time, I did not know that was abnormal. I guess I just assumed that everyone ate as much as possible when they could, snuck food from the fridge and from cupboards, and even resorting to stealing food from stores. Nothing stopped me from overeating. The hunger gnawed at me constantly and was never satisfied. Eating rich foods only made things worse; I wanted more and more. Even feeling physically sick did not stop me from continuing to eat. My body and mind were always in a food crisis and I thought about food at virtually every waking moment.
I could not just change my "diet," I had to really ask myself, "Why?" Why do I overeat? The question may have wisped across my brain at times, but I never really thought about it. The simplistic answer was that I overate because I was sad. I was sad because I overate. The vicious cycle ruled my life. I finally realized that I had to become a different person. I did not want to fake being a changed person (kind of like what I did when I lost weight on WeightWatchers a few years ago), but I needed to become a different person who was true to myself. I would never be able to change as long as food ruled my life, so I had to break my addiction to food.
It is possible to overcome food addiction. I am about 80 pounds from my goal weight, but I have achieved the most important part of the journey: breaking food addiction. I never thought I would break free of my food addiction. It was a long road and the road ahead will undoubtedly prove challenging. I ended up (somewhat inadvertently) doing the opposite of what most people do. I had tried the road of mustering willpower to eat more healthfully, then lose weight, and THEN expect to feel better about myself. That backfired. This time, I concentrated less on food at first and more on stress, my emotional reactions to food, and the physical sensations in my body created by food. These steps helped to create a body-mind connection from which I could start to eat more healthfully. Of course there is some discipline involved, but the self-discipline came more naturally with learning about myself.
Of course, I have always liked (if not been obsessed with) food, but I don't think something can be truly enjoyed if it is such a major cause of stress. Eating almost never used to have anything to do with hunger. I would say food also did not have a lot to do with actual pleasure. I did not find binges to be pleasant. My body was so numb to the food that I barely tasted the food my brain was demanding. When my appetite started to change, I started to have actual pleasure from food. After a hard workout, a hearty and balanced meal actually tasted satisfying. I am able to eat a square of dark chocolate and be satisfied with it. My brain now knows why I'm eating and whether it is for fuel, for pure pleasure, or a little bit of both.
Denial was at the root of my food addiction. Primarily, I denied my feelings, focusing instead on food. With food, I could always tell myself I would "start over" again tomorrow. I was never sure when I would actually feel okay again, though. I could not grasp control of my emotions, but because eating was a physical manifestation of my feelings I could feign control. I had to break the deep emotional connection to food. This blog is about some of the steps I took to do that. It is hard to write separately about food, exercise, stress management, etc., as no part of our lives is isolated from the other. Diet cannot be isolated from everything else, which is why I believe that most people have difficulty losing weight and maintaining weight loss. The root of any successful dietary change leading to weight loss is to learn why we eat the way we do. I really don't think weight loss can last in most cases if this is not explored. Here, I share part of the journey of breaking food addiction and offer some advice that hopefully proves useful to some.
First and foremost, don't fight yourself; work with yourself. As soon as I stopped viewing myself as the enemy, I was able to stop using food as a drug. Food is not the enemy. YOU are not the enemy. Don't confuse overeating with being a bad person. You are not bad if you overeat. The mistake is easy to make. For many of us, food has become a part of our identity, therefore feeling out of control with eating makes us believe that we are a failure. Nor does eating within a planned calorie range make you a good person. Your food choices have absolutely nothing to do with being a good or bad person. This was the first thing I had to accept in changing my relationship with food. It is okay to associate eating healthy foods and eating reasonably with feeling good, but I think it is as important to understand why that makes us feel good as it is to understand why overeating can make us feel so bad. I think it goes beyond the fact that eating a certain number of calories will help us lose weight and eating over that amount will prevent weight loss or cause weight gain. Plenty of lean people have struggles with food, too. Healthy and lean people can also know the difference between what it feels like to eat the way that is right for the body and how it feels to veer from that. It sounds odd, but I had to disconnect my food from weight loss to learn to eat normally. I had to develop the mindset of how I wanted to eat on a permanent basis, not just to lose weight. At first, changing the way I ate in order to lose weight would have just traded one neurosis (obsessing over food by binging) for another (obsessing over food by trying to avoid overeating). I had to learn the basis of my emotional eating or I would never break free from the prison of food obsession.
"Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are."
From there, I started to work on separating food from "good" or "bad" feelings. We all know what it is like to experience a certain feeling (whether related to happiness or sadness) and to have an automatic craving for particular foods. I think we tend to associate certain foods with positive emotions and some with negative emotions. These foods will be very different for everyone and both will include some "healthy" foods and "unhealthy" foods. Because foods are unconsciously divided into "good" and "bad" emotional categories, we associate ourselves and our moods with those foods. I think this is why people feel bad if they eat foods that they associate with "bad" feelings, even once they are eating them in appropriate portions. I started to pay attention to what foods I was craving at particular times so that I could start to separate that food from the emotion I was feeling at the time.
Another thing I had to accept is that I would still overeat sometimes. Why would someone plan for that? Well, because that is how someone who has never had a dysfunctional relationship with food eats. I have lean friends who have never had a weight problem nor a dysfunctional relationship with food eating a meal, saying, "I want to stop, it's just too good!" and then giggling at how full they are afterwards. Sometimes overeating may be planned, and sometimes it will still be stress-induced. I made an effort to avoid planned overeating at first. My first goal had to be identifying and reducing emotional eating. Once I started to link particular emotions to wanting particular foods, I made a point to a neutral response to the craving. I tried to react by saying in my mind, "I do not have to react to this craving." This is a principle I learned from meditation.
At first, I just did my best to avoid binging, but of course there were still very frequent binges. I was still running from something. The emotional connection between food and myself was so deep-seated, I needed to figure out exactly what this "drug" was doing to my body. I started paying attention to the feelings in my body that came from eating. Not the emotions, but the physical sensations in my body. How did my stomach feel? How did my head feel? How was my heart beat? How did it affect my breathing? How did it feel to walk around? I tried to ask myself these questions every time I ate, whether it was a snack, a healthy meal, or a binge. How did each eating situation make my body feel? Over time, even though I would still binge, they became much less frequent and I could not (physically could not) eat as much as I used to. My brain was now aware of what I was putting in my mouth and the physical sensations in my body connected to my mind. Whereas I used to be able to finish off a large pizza, a pasta dish, a bag of chips, a pound of chocolate, and then some, I could eat maybe half of what I used to be able to eat. The amount eaten during binges eventually (over the course of about 2 years) lessened significantly. One day I almost heard a whisper in my brain during a binge: "Enough..." I looked down at the unfinished pizza. I went in the kitchen and put the rest away. I had never not finished a pizza once I got started. It used to feel physically impossible to stop. Now it is physically impossible for me to finish.
I also tried to pay attention to the sensations in my body when I actually felt hungry. How did I feel after a workout? How did I feel when I first woke up? Right before eating? Immediately after eating? I then started working on identifying what emotions seemed to be connected to those physical sensations. From there, I became better at identifying why I wanted to eat and if it was hunger or emotions. Don't get me wrong, sometimes, especially after a hard workout, I am famished and can't wait to stuff my face with a meal. But, that type of hunger is true hunger, hunger because my body needs some fuel. The other difference is that even though I may feel famished in my body, I don't have an emotional reaction to the feeling of being hungry. I know I will eat again soon, it's not a big deal.
The other thing I had to learn was how to actually taste food and slow down a bit. No, I'm not talking about the slow eating where you chew food methodically while staring at the rest of the food on the plate, wanting to finish it off right then and there. I actually started this process by learning to smell my food. Food and taste are intricately related. We already know this; the smell of some foods makes us salivate and others make us gag. Aromatherapy is used for physical and emotional healing. Our sense of smell works in ways that we cannot even begin to understand, even without having the keen sense of smell like a dog. I wondered if I could use the relationship between smell and taste to my advantage. I would inhale deeply while cooking, trying to identify individual odors as well as try to figure out how the odors interacted with each other. Rather than paying attention to the feeling of wanting to eat, I changed my focus to identifying how the smells made me feel. What sensations arose in my body? Was the smell of the food energizing or relaxing? What memories did the smells evoke? What emotions surfaced?
Smelling my food really made me pay attention to it. I had to be aware of the food because my body was already interacting with it before I ever put a bite in my mouth. I started to pay attention to how the smell and taste interacted. I paid attention to how the food felt in my mouth and the sensations created by swallowing it. Was it warm in my stomach? Did it send a cool sensation through my body? When did I start to feel full? Because I was focused on the sensations created by the food, the tastes became stronger. Food became more satisfying because I was aware of what I was eating.
I know that focusing on smell may sound funny, but I think it was pivotal in learning to eat conscientiously. It also had the unintended side effect of being able to learn to actually enjoy food. I figured if I ever was able to break my addiction to food, I was in for a lifelong struggle, an argument in my head at all times over whether or not I wanted to eat or whether I should eat this or that. Now, I actually enjoy my food. Most of the time I enjoy my food in appropriate portions. Even if I do overeat at a meal, I tend to even it out throughout the day. Before, I used to feel hungry immediately after eating. Even after a binge, I still had a desire to eat. Now, if I have a large meal earlier in the day, I may have a small snack a few hours later, then another small meal a few hours after that. On a typical day, I have 6-7 small meals that are about equally0sized. As you can see, I eat frequently and I eat well. I really love that this comes naturally now.
For example, a friend of mine and I went out for lunch last week. I got a veggie sloppy joe sandwich. We also shared some chips and salsa. They had malts, and at first that sounded really good. I thought for a moment whether I wanted one or not. I decided against it because it would have been too much food for me to finish. That is not "diet" thinking. I didn't skip it because I am trying to lose weight, I skipped it because my brain naturally told me, "Nah, you won't be able to eat that much. It won't taste good if you feel too full." There was no willpower involved. The old me would have practically been in a cold sweat deciding whether or not to get the malt, and then would have ordered it because I would have felt like I was missing out if I didn't get it, even if it made me physically ill to eat all of that food. Sure enough, I was satisfied with my meal as it was (didn't quite finish it, actually). It was a very good meal and I enjoyed every bite, but emotions did not dictate why or what I was eating. I continued to eat normally for the rest of the day, without the desire for a binge being triggered.
I will not say I don't get tempted to stress eat. However, the feelings are usually not as intense as they used to be. It amazes me that I can be having a stressful day at work and be hungry, and still avoid emotional eating most of the time. Sometimes I will be stressed and think, "Man, I want some (X) food right now." The thought is typically gone as fast as it had come. The constant obsessive thinking is gone.
Now, as you can see, this took some time--about two years. Two years of trial and error. Two years of soul-searching. Our habits and the emotions connected to them took some time to develop and will take an equal amount of time, if not longer, to change. A habit develops because on some level our body and mind feels the habit is a necessity. We have to teach ourselves first off that the habit is not necessary, and that other healthier habits can be equally pleasurable. It takes time for hunger signals on the neural and hormonal level to change. It takes time for our body to physically adjust to the new habit. The powers of patience and forgiveness have fueled my ability to overcome food addiction. I have no special super powers, though. If I can break a 30-year habit, you can, too.
I wrote about my food addiction for the second part of this five-part blog series, because it has been a lifelong issue. The next "The Impossible" blog post will be about my journey with exercise, including some basics on the exercise physiology of weight loss.
"In yourself right now is all the place you've got."
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
I was given the honor of being voted a SparkPeople Motivator this week...I had to read and reread the notification e-mail. I was shocked. Then I realized that I do deserve such an honor for sharing my journey in an open and honest way. I have lost 50 of the 136 pounds I have set out to lose. It has taken me a year and a half to lose those 50 pounds. While some may consider that a "slow" pace, I am happy with it. I haven't been very specifically focused on weight loss. The weight doesn't mean everything to me. Don't get me wrong, it feels good to hit weight milestones, but my happiness from the weight loss is that the mental changes are working. I am now more satisfied with myself and my life, so now the weight can come off. This did require a massive attitude and outlook overhaul.
I found out that my "category" of motivation is "Positive Attitude." Anyone who knew me 2 years ago probably would not have thought of me as a positive thinker. I saw doom and gloom in every moment. Sure, I had some hard knocks, I was a survivor...but surviving was all I was doing. I saw an impending disaster in every venture and I sabotaged myself at every turn. As long as I avoided succeeding at anything, I proved to myself that success is impossible. I have struggled with depression throughout most of my life, but a lot of that was wallowing in misery I created for myself. I did not know how to find the "bright side" until a couple of years ago.
Being elected a Motivator got me thinking, "What does it mean to be someone who has a positive attitude?" I tried to think about the first word that jumped to mind with having a positive attitude, and that word was "objectivity." Objective thinking has been the root of my success in changing myself and my way of thinking. Being objective means that I have learned to avoid the all-or-nothing thinking, not just about diet, but about life. When it comes to weight loss specifically, I do not believe that our "diet" can change without really deeply changing our overall thinking about everything. Sure, we may be able to muster the "willpower" to go on a strict diet and lose weight, only for it to all come back.
"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
I lost 95 pounds with WeightWatchers in 2005. It took me about 6 months to lose that amount and the weight just melted off. I wasn't intentionally crash-dieting, but knowing what I know now, I was not eating enough. WeightWatchers changed my "diet" and started changing my "lifestyle," but that lifestyle was not truly my life. There was too much disconnect between my mind and body. Because I did not really have objective thinking, I still fell into disaster mode when the slightest thing went wrong and euphoria mode when something good happened. What is wrong with being euphoric, you ask? Well, nothing. Not when something really IS a big deal. But constantly seeking that "high" is exhausting. Once I started struggling, I felt I had "failed" and did not implement the proper tools to pick myself back up. Hence, the weight crept back on. I stayed at almost 300 pounds until I started using SparkPeople about 2 years ago. I knew the first thing that needed to change was my outlook. I was at rock bottom. I was in physical pain because of my weight. My life spiraled into chaos. The first thing I decided to acknowledge was that struggling was not going to stop just because I decided I wanted to change. Actually, I realized that I would probably have increased struggling in the course of changing, so I decided to arm myself with a more positive attitude.
To me, positive thinking does not mean never struggling. It does not mean telling myself, "WOOT, everything's fine!" and stuffing my struggles down without addressing them. Positive thinking means that I approach struggles without the disastrous thinking. If a challenge arises, I try to look at it objectively and without thinking it reflects on me as a person. It means approaching and solving problems without turning to unhealthy options like binging, exercising too much, or berating myself. Positive thinking is being able to find the learning experience in the struggle. Positive thinking means having enough self-esteem to not let people trample over me and to have the strength to set strict boundaries with toxic people. Positive thinking means embracing that I am not perfect and being able to find joy anyways. I am not looking for happiness; I decided to open my eyes and see that it is already there. For me, that has been the power of objectivity. I have realistic expectations of what it means to have a happy life, only to finally find that my happy life existed all along.
I'm just going to say it: having some negative thoughts does not mean that you have failed at positive thinking. It is the REACTION to the negative thoughts that reflect how "negative" they really are. If the negative thoughts lead to self-defeat and giving up, then some more objective positive thinking is in order. If after reflecting about the thoughts you realize they are not true and work through them, then you are succeeding. Having a positive attitude means knowing that you can achieve the goals that are realistic to achieve (like weight loss, becoming more active, achieving fitness goals, improving diet, managing money, dealing with stress). A "can-do" attitude is great...as long as it is something we can do. A large part of success is simply not setting ourselves up for failure.
Since embarking on this journey, I have never said that I am "starting over." This is my one life and my one journey. If I made a mistake, I did not start over. The lessons I learned from the mistakes fed into future successes. I have treated weight loss as something that comes once other things in my life have fallen into place, including food, exercise, stress management, finances...everything. If we don't work on ourselves as a whole, then we are treating our weight as something that is separate from ourselves, something that can be isolated from the rest of our being. At whatever weight, we are who we are, and we may as well make an effort to find love for ourselves so our life can be richer. Losing weight in and of itself does not make life better. It may provide a temporary thrill, and some of the physical changes will certainly make us feel better, but as I experienced, it is unlikely to last without deep-seated changes in our very being.
There are several tools that I have used to change my way of thinking. I have done a lot of writing and blogging. Writing has been a tool that helps me sort through challenges and provide insight. Meditation has provided methods for me to stay level-headed in most situations. I take a lot of chances and try new things whenever possible, especially if it scares me. I have learned the anticipation is the most scary part. If I didn't take a chance, I never would have picked up my saxophone again, walked into a new kickboxing gym at 250+ pounds, tried Jiu Jitsu (a sport for which I seem to have a talent), work on writing a novel, or found the nerve to stand up for myself.
Most of all, I decided to have a sense of humor about the whole process of change. I have always been a humorous person, but a lot of my dark humor worked against me. I still have a dark sense of humor, but I have used it as a tool to get over fears rather than create them.
"I was going to buy a copy of 'The Power of Positive Thinking', and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?"
-Ronnie Shakes, comedian
Positive does not mean perfection. Overall, having a positive attitude means having the power to forgive. Forgive myself for not eating perfectly, or for accidentally letting someone down, or for not working out like I mean to. Forgiving myself for not fulfilling all of the "shoulds" for the day. Forgiving others for their wrong-doings, while being able to decide how much that person should be let into my life. If we overeat for a day, week, or month, we need to find the power to forgive ourselves and move on. Approach the little mistakes with objectivity, and forgiveness will quickly come easily. Having a positive attitude may not be pleasant 100% of the time, but it certainly provides the tools to pick yourself up and press on. Hopefully most of the time that will happen with a grin.
"If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."
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