Red Light, Green Light, 1,2,3
Friday, July 12, 2013
Whenever I think about my current situation - overweight, some minor health issues - I realize that they are symptoms of something bigger. I didn't NOT know that I would be fat if I ate too much and moved to little, it just wasn't foremost in my decision making. That's why I can't really rely just on information to help me make the change to a leaner lifestyle; I always had the information. Like Dorothy always had the ruby slippers, I could always go home, theoretically, to a healthy body. But unlike Dorothy, I KNOW how to use the information to get thinner. I just don't put it into action.
As a special ed teacher, I know and believe that when a goal is not being reached, you break it down into smaller and smaller goals until you can move forward and reach the first goal. I have a food addiction. Overeating is a large part of my coping strategies when I have emotional responses to stress - and who doesn't have stress? I certainly have my share. Eating and sleeping has soothed me since I was a small child; I don't enjoy running or moving very much, so I didn't miss activity in my life. I like to think about stuff - rewarding, but not very taxing for my body. Since I like to think so much, I over-think. This can make me even more tired - and then I go to sleep again and rest.
I needed a way to stop this pattern. But, how do you confront an emotional pattern you have lived since childhood? In some manner, it worked for me for 48 years.
I broke it into a child's game. I know how tough a hold a behavioral addiction has on my mind and body; it's real, although it's not the same as a chemical dependency, thank goodness. It's not something that goes away just by rational thinking, because when those physical symptoms come calling, they propel me toward my behavior pattern and I have failed at every attempt I've ever made to change. So, I reduced the thought that I needed to access in the moment; I am taking baby-baby steps, playing the children's game "Red light, green light, 1,2,3."
While I'm trying to make the leap to a new behavior pattern, I need a drastically different behavior, but I need something I am able to do. I decided that I would label all my favorite "binge" foods as Red-light foods. It doesn't matter if I'm home or out, I can't eat them. Right now. Until I start to make changes, I will avoid the red-light foods. That includes things my mind labels as irresistible - milk chocolate, milk shakes, Chinese food, steak, chunks of cheese, butter, and cheesecake. These guys are absolutely out of my diet for now because when they are available, I eat them until they are gone. I may vow I won't, but when I have a weak moment, I haven't had any success at resisting them in the past. So, they are off the table for the present time - Red light. Don't move.
Green light foods, on the contrary, include watermelon and grapes and strawberries and oatmeal, sugar (I can't stand more than a teaspoon in coffee or tea, so it's safe) skim milk, seltzer, sliced turkey, tomato and lettuce, cucumbers, bananas, water, etc. All things healthy can be consumed with abandon, because - I won't. I eat until I'm feeling full-ish, and I can stop with no problem.
When I feel a need to overeat, I have a glass of water and then I eat as much of the green-light foods as I feel necessary. I pay attention to how I feel while I eat, kind of like an experiment. I want to see how I feel as I eat, and when I will lose the desire to eat. If I accidentally overeat healthy food, well, it's still too many calories, but it's nothing like what it would be if I ate a big chunk of Italian bread slathered with 1/4 inch of butter, or a quarter pound of cheddar, or three slices of cheesecake.
The game mentality is simple to remember. Green means "go" so I feel comfortable that I'm not depriving myself when I feel anxious and want to eat - there's no emotional conflict that inspires drama and more eating and sleeping. And now, I don't need to sleep as much. No long naps in most afternoons. Most importantly, I feel great that I've avoided the red-light. This is the small success I alluded to earlier when I said that I had to break the steps up so much that I was able to achieve a goal.
Being successful without any conflict inside makes me believe I can do it again. I'm heading into another green-light day today, and I know I can do it. If I mess up with my "yellow" light foods, I will adjust. I have no emotional attachment to them, after all. But avoiding the red-light foods for now has given me strength to do better, to add small exercise goals, to move at a pace - admitted, glacial, compared to most of you guys - but one that I can achieve and use to create new, better ways of living that I will be able to repeat, over and over again, until my routines area healthy. I have hope, first in a long time, that real change is coming. And those red-light foods will be welcome sometime after I achieve my weight loss goal, when their power is gone in my mind and they turn into 'just foods" again.
Red light, green light, 1,2,3 - time to play!