A Half-Assed Plan for Saner Eating

Keep trying. It gets easier.

Why would anyone want a half-assed plan for anything?  Shouldn’t we be aiming for quality, be the best we can be?

Sounds good, and certainly would be the goal you would want a neurosurgeon to have if he were operating on your brain, but what about goals for healthy eating habits?  I would argue that people who tend toward perfectionism actually eat better when they don’t take it so seriously.

I met recently with a very bright young woman in a high-powered job, which she actually doesn’t really like much and causes great stress on a daily basis – the American dream, right?  Since college, she has gained and lost about 20 pounds over and over again, and she came to see me at a low point (not in weight, but in mood).

With her head bursting at the seams, overloaded with way too much nutrition information, she was at her wit’s end.  She had pretty much just given up altogether.  Fast food, candy, no groceries at home, . . . a dismal state of dietary apathy.

She had also grown weary of the dieting cycles that had become habit.  Losing weight on about 1200 calories a day was always followed by gaining it back on ??? calories a day.  I have seen this pattern enough to recognize the black and white attitudes and thought processes that go hand in hand with the scale flip flops.

Hunger, fatigue, and cravings when calories are way too low are the predictable precursors to overeating, guilt, and a stuffed feeling.  That sets the stage for the next cycle of deprivation and overeating, and on and on (up and down) the roller coaster ride  continues.

I have to admit that I love helping people who feel lost and kind of at rock bottom, because they are so very open.  After repeating an ineffective pattern for a long time, I find that they absolutely gobble up truth when they hear it.  Sometimes they just need someone to speak out loud what they already know in their gut – that this pattern has not gotten any more effective with each repeated attempt.  In fact, it’s probably more likely that it is less effective each time as frustration escalates.

While I have gotten pretty good at guessing the attitudes that drive different eating styles, I can never predict what will turn the lightbulb on in someone’s head.  In this particular situation, the light switch turned out to be what I thought was a reminder (which turned out to be a completely new thought for her) that emotional eating substitutes do not – and will not – ALWAYS work.

After telling me that she has tried deep breathing and a couple of other things, none of which worked, I realized that “working” by her definition meant completely solving the problem.  I suggested that maybe improvement was really the goal, not perfection.

Instead of giving up if a technique doesn’t work the first time, why not try  multiple times and define success as any positive outcome from any of the attempts?  I will admit that her reaction did make me feel good.  There is nothing like being able to actually see that I have made a difference.

She visibly lit up.  I could tell she got it.  This truly was a new way of looking at eating for her – so different from how she approached most of her life!  She may have even felt a sense of relief at the thought.  ‘Imagine that’, I could (almost) hear her thinking, ‘I don’t have to look at each challenge as a pass-fail test!’

I knew she felt better and had renewed hope.  I felt valuable.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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6 responses to “A Half-Assed Plan for Saner Eating

  1. healthdemystified

    Love this post, Kim! If me are willing to be flexible and allow ourselves to indulge every once in a while, we’re much more likely to follow through and stick with our dietary plans or “lifestyle changes”

    Great lesson for all of us!

    -Eric

  2. I realize you posted this awhile ago Kim, but I just had to comment because the young woman you write about sounds a lot like me! Perfectionism has absolutely WRECKED my eating habits. I’m convinced before I started thinking about food, I was better off. Right now I’m working on “loosening up” a little bit and ditching the “all or nothing” attitude, but it’s so darn tough! Anyway, thanks for the post! I’ll be following to glean more tidbits from your writing!

    • Thanks for your honest comment. I’m not surprised by what you say. There are lots of people who try to eat “perfectly”, whatever that is. I think we are all different, and needs/wants are different too. The key is listening to your needs (all of them!), honoring them (doesn’t mean you have to feed them all with food), and coming up with your own basic eating plan based on improvement, not perfection.

      Of course nutrition information is helpful, but never lose your own common sense. Eating extremely inconsistently (quantities, types of food, eating schedule) is a pretty good indicator that expectations are unrealistic. A more even keel style of eating means things are probably reasonably comfortable.

      • cardioswag

        Thank you so much for your response Kim. What you said about (in)consistent eating patterns really makes a lot of sense. Right now, I’m all over the place. And I think it’s because I’m shooting too high! I’m trying to make all my meals fiber- and protein-filled, and I end up feeling soooo deprived. When about 8 PM strikes, I decide I can’t take it anymore! I cave and eat what “bad” foods (they’re not even that “bad” but I’ve written them off that way! Cheerios, pasta salad, etc.).

        I don’t mean to pry for free advice, but do you have any suggestions for someone like me who has been trying to lose 15 pounds for the past year, but without success? I’m within my healthy range, but I want to get down to where I was in high school (120). And I’m becoming obsessive, and it’s backfiring. 😦 If you have any thoughts I would so appreciate it! That said, I know you probably get questions all the time, so no worries if you don’t get to this!

  3. Such a common problem! The first thing I would ask – and only you know the answer – is whether or not you are able to lose weight (5? 10? or the 15 you want to lose?) and maintain it without being hungry, deprived, and/or obsessed with eating thoughts. I am not sure, because that is so personal, and for you it doesn’t seem to be a health issue.

    It will help to shift the focus from wanting to lose weight to wanting more healthy (not obsessive) attitudes about eating. That is a goal, regardless of whether or not you lose anything, right? I think, when it’s all said and done, that’s what everyone really wants – to feel in control of eating choices most of the time.

    A more positive mental focus leads to more positive and empowered brain chemistry . . . which will cause you to feel more emotionally “together”. You will think better, more creative, thoughts and make more realistic plans to accomplish what you want. In essence, you remove the mental “noise” that negative self-abusive thinking produces, and all of a sudden, there is space to allow solutions to emerge.

    Then I think letting go of the outcome (on the scale) is important, particularly if health is not the issue. Your habits WILL improve, but it WILL take time, and your body will respond to your healthy changes in a way that gives you improved health and, very possibly, also a bit of weight loss. The number is unimportant.

    I have personally experienced the difference it makes to be more honest about needs (for calories, pleasure, comfort . . . ) and work toward finding realistic solutions that work most, but not all, of the time. Most of all, you must be willing to be more curious about yourself and your needs, without the judgments. “I shouldn’t want that.” (Really!?) I shouldn’t have done that.” (It’s done. Now what can you learn or do.)

    Thanks for the request for suggestions. I know there are others (many others!) who have the same patterns of under- and over-eating. It feels like emotional whiplash after a while, so take a deep breath and try something new. I think in your gut you know it makes sense.

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