Saturday, February 23, 2013

Week 6 Ends. On to the Next Phase

The first six weeks of Lean Eating are meant to be an induction phase, to slowly introduce you to following new habits and doing regular workouts.  Starting this week the workouts and the habits are going to be harder.  I'm both excited and scared.

I'm down another pound this week. That's a total of three pounds in six weeks. Coach has assured us that weight loss is not expected in the first phase and that the most dramatic changes tend to be in the second half of the year.  Still, I'm glad I managed to accomplish a little something.  It makes these struggles feel a bit more worthwhile.

I had to take pictures this week.  I'm not posting them because they don't show any differences.  I really don't see the point of asking us to do photos again this early in the program.

Struggle is an interesting choice of words.  How often do I really struggle?  This week the lessons were all about fear and discomfort.  Just those words alone make me afraid. 

I'm not ambitious and I'm not a risk taker.  I have lived my life almost entirely within my comfort zone.  I don't do things that scare me very often.  I don't like my life being disrupted.  People who write inspirational posters think that's bad.  If you aren't constantly taking risks you never enjoy life, right?  I don't find that to be true.  I do enjoy my life.  I have a wonderful husband.  I have hobbies I enjoy.  I have the most amazing set of friends.  The world should envy me for the friends I have.  It's not such a bad life. On the other hand,  I do know that life isn't always within my control and I do worry that I've had it so easy that I won't be able to handle it if anything were to come along and change things radically.

But this program, and any nutritional and exercise program for that matter, is about change.  Maybe it's not as radical as a career change or a relationship change or a change in health.  It's still about making many changes.  Those changes, like any change in life, can cause both fear and discomfort.

What is uncomfortable about dieting?  The first discomfort is food choice.  There is a reason why we use the term "comfort foods" when we talk about foods that induce positive emotions.  We like to eat foods that are familiar to us, taste good, and fill us up easily.  Convenience is also a factor in comfort.  Very often we seek foods that are easy to procure, easy to prepare, and easy to eat.  If given a choice, wouldn't you prefer a food whose taste, texture, and smell evoke nothing but positive emotions, and make you feel full for hours, and also don't require much effort to eat and prepare?

Here is an example of going out of the food comfort zone.  Last weekend I was on the road on the way to the barn and stopped at Quick Check for lunch as I always do.  It was a cold winter day and I was thinking about how good a nice, gooey  grilled cheese with bacon, tomato, and pickles would be.  I really considered ordering one.  It was a long drive on a cold day.  Didn't I deserve it?  I had to remind myself ten times over that eating such a sandwich, while not a poor choice in isolation, would not likely help me reach my goals.  I had just lost two pounds.  Why put them back on so quickly?  Maybe one sandwich wouldn't hurt, but it could easily snowball into more poor choices.  I ordered a grilled chicken salad instead (and even had them put pickle chips on it).  Was it the comfortable choice?  Was it the easy choice?  It wasn't.  Making the tougher choice is a habit I have to cultivate.  It's not easy.

Another discomfort is physical discomfort.  There is no physical discomfort quite like hunger.  Have you ever eaten more than you should at a particular meal or snack because you fear you'll be hungry later?  I know I have.  Most diet experts tell you to avoid being hungry or else you'll binge at your next meal or else ruin your metabolism.

Lean Eating is one of the few programs I have ever seen (along with the Beck Diet Solution) where I'm being told to let myself experience hunger and learn to tolerate it.  Being hungry and aware of your hunger can be key in regulating how much food you eat.  If you don't know how hungry you are, how do you know how satisfied you are?

I had two incidents that dealt with the fear of hunger in the past two weeks.  The first time was a Monday night when I had to head to dance class shortly after coming home from work.  I usually try to snarf down my dinner at this time so I'm not starving through class, which doesn't end until nine o'clock.  I'm supposed to be eating my meals slowly.  I should take twenty minutes to finish.  I didn't have twenty minutes.  Either I would need to wolf down dinner or else just deal with being hungry.  I chose the latter. 

You know what?  I survived.  Most of the time I was concentrating so hard at class that hunger didn't play into it. I was starving when I came home, but I ate slowly, and found I didn't overindulge.  I still held on to the eighty percent rule.

I tolerated yet another dance class this week and then also had to deal with Zumba class Wednesday night.  I had almost no time at all between when I came home and when I had to go to class.  I started seeking out snacks before I boarded the train at Grand Central Station.  Nothing really seemed suitable.  I rushed to Zumba feeling hungrier than ever.  I wondered if I could have enough energy for class without any food in my body. That's ridiculous.  My body has plenty of stored up energy.  All you need to do is look at my thighs and stomach to know that.  Class was occasionally uncomfortable, but it was not intolerable.  I still had an hour after class while I waited for Kevin to come home and eat dinner.  I spent that time doing laundry and doing an online check in with my friends.  Again, I ate dinner slowly and monitored my hunger and I didn't overeat once I sat down to dinner.

Learning to deal with the fear of being hungry seems to be one I can work through, but there are other fears as well.

I'm afraid of failing.  I'm afraid of falling off the wagon.  I'm afraid that this program will be like all of the other abandoned weight loss programs behind it.  As soon as I lose enough weight for people to notice, I maintain for a while and never lose as much as I would like.  Then I gain it back as soon as I have a series of special occasions.  It's the story of my life.  The consequences of failing at this program are twofold.  One is the loss of money because this program is so expensive.   The other is simply the embarrassment.  I have told the world about my being on this plan because that makes me accountable to everyone I know.  I fear people softly snickering at me if eight months from now I'm sitting down to a pizza and brownie sundae dinner, weighing what I do now.

I also fear the permanent changes needed to make this plan work.  How radically do I have to change?  Will I have to abandon all of my favorite foods?  Supposedly one should always make room for indulgences now and then so we don't suck all of the pleasure out of life.  Then again, didn't I just address the idea in a recent blog that there are other pleasures in life besides eating?  How much do I have to give up to make a lasting change in my body?  It's fine to say, "All things in moderation," but what is "moderation"?  Is it once a month?  Is it once a week? Is it once a quarter? How many times can you say, "Just this once," before you start heading down the road to weight gain again?  How many foods and how many occasions are "special" enough to warrant eating something you know is bad for you?

I had a perfect example of this during the week.  A group of my coworkers had ordered lunch from a place called Melt Shop that specializes in fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots.  It looked more delicious than a mere sandwich lunch should be.  Looking at my coworkers' lunches just set off the wild woman in me.  I was ready to pounce.  I considered getting lunch from there the next day.

Reason took over eventually.  I thought about how fragile and small my progress has been so far.  It seemed ridiculous to backslide so soon in the program.  I rationalized the idea of indulgence thinking about how I could eat it slowly and follow the eighty percent rule.  I doubted I could be satisfied eating only enough of the sandwich and tots to the point of eighty percent fullness.  Besides, lunch in Midtown Manhattan is expensive enough without having to throw away a chunk of it.

I began to feel a bit sad and scared.  Would there ever be a time when I felt I could have lunch at Melt Shop?  How much weight would I have to lose to justify it?  Every single weight loss program on the planet tells us not to reward ourselves with food when we lose.  By saying, "I will have lunch at Melt Shop when I lose X number of pounds," is rewarding myself with food.  Then I think to myself that if I've lost a decent amount of weight, a small backslide of a pound or so from an indulgent lunch wouldn't be the big deal it is now.  Then my conscience reminds me that once I allow one such an indulgence, others could likely follow.

There is no easy answer.  The future of this program is a mystery.  How much I will benefit from it is a mystery.  I have to just surrender to it.  I must do the workouts, read the daily lessons, and try to do the habits to the best of my ability.  What happens happens.

Speaking of non-food rewards, I have decided what my ultimate non-food reward will be, if I actually follow through with the program and am successful at achieving my dream body (whatever my dream body is-my thoughts on that will eventually be in a new blog).  Once Lean Eating is over it will be December.  I will have to bury my newly smokin' hot body beneath layers of heavy clothing.  I need to be someplace where I can wear a bathing suit.  For years I have been complaining that the last few weeks of winter are just  excruciating and I want badly to take a trip to warmer climes.  Should I achieve my goals, I am taking myself (and Kevin of course) on a nice warm winter vacation.  I'm thinking the Caribbean or the Florida Keys.  I'm also thinking I should do what I did for Paris and start putting away small amounts of money weekly starting now.  That might be added inspiration.  (If I fail at the program, the money I put away can go towards another year on the LE program.)

Monday, February 18, 2013


What does freedom mean to you?

I don't want your prizewinning essay from the 5th Grade Civics Fair.  I want a real, tangible, definition.

The word freedom is bandied about quite a bit these days.  I am constantly being told that my freedom is at risk.  My freedom is being taken away.  If I'm not afraid, then certainly many other people are.

Go onto Facebook on any given day and you'll see a posting, generally from someone with right-wing opinions, posting some meme regarding freedom that quotes the Founding Fathers, and quoting them out of context.  When I say they are quoting them out of context, I do not mean to insult the intelligence or the good intentions of the posters.  I simply mean that the context of the Founding Fathers has little to do with today.

Freedom in the Revolutionary War era was a very specific context.  The United States was just a set of British colonies.  As British subjects, the colonies were working to enrich the empire.  England was the only market for their goods and services and was also their only supplier.  They had no alternative to that overtaxed tea because they had to buy their tea from the monopoly of the British East India company.  To the angry colonists freedom meant the freedom to become self-governing and self sustaining.  It meant risking the off of  protection of the British Army and the security of knowing they would have a neverending, stable market for their goods and services.  They knew the benefits would outweigh the risks.

The Founding Fathers idea of freedom were pretty much lost on women and blacks.  They didn't count.

Speaking of women and blacks, the anti-slavery movement, the anti-segregationist movement, and the suffrage movement all had very specific definitions for freedom as well. 

I don't see much corollary today between the freedoms demanded by the Founding Fathers and the freedoms demanded by Americans today, but then again, I'm not sure what those freedoms are.

Not long ago I saw a political cartoon that was supposed to show the difference between liberals and conservatives.  (I tried to find a copy to post here, but was unable to.)  It showed the liberals standing at the edge of a pit full of hungry people and were lowering boxes of food to them shouting, "More food."  The next panel showed the conservative view where the people standing at the edge of the same pit were lowering boxes labeled "freedom" and were demanding, "More freedom."

I didn't get it then and I still don't get it.  Constitutionally speaking poor people have the same freedoms as everyone else.  They're not poor because they don't have freedom.  They're poor because they don't have jobs, or else the jobs they have do not pay well enough for them to sustain a decent standard of living.

Well, I suppose we're talking about a very specific type of freedom for only a specific type of the population.  "Freedom" is supposed to mean that people should be allowed to make as much money as they want, without ever having to consider the needs of others, nor making a contribution to the country that has provided them with both the place and  the opportunity to make as much money as they want.  That's what the PAC known as Freedom Works is working for.

Freedom Works is sponsored by the Koch brothers.  The Koch brothers, because they live in the United States, have been able to become fabulously wealthy.  The Koch brothers do not believe in respecting the cleanliness of air and water.  They have no problem denying basic human rights and dignities to workers.  They believe in using and abusing their workforce for as little money as they can get away with paying.  Their success and the success of others in the energy and banking worlds has yet to equal success among the lowest of us.  What exactly has their freedom done to contribute to the country?  The Koch brothers also pull the puppet strings behind the Tea Party.  They have used their wealth and influence to convince a segment of the population that there is only one kind of freedom and it is at risk.

The freedom of the very wealthy to grow wealthier at any cost has not benefited the country as a whole and has, in fact, caused much harm. Manufacturing jobs, once the backbone of stable employment in this country, have been shipped overseas, or else the unions that assured their stability and benefits have been destroyed.   Companies such as WalMart have spent years avoiding paying their workers a living wage and finding loopholes to providing benefits (well before the Affordable Care Act existed).  When their hard working employees find they need SNAP and Medicaid, they are sneered at and reviled for being "handout people" and "takers."  We talk often of "moral values" in the national dialog, but morality should be based in doing as little harm as possible, shouldn't it?

Franklin Roosevelt once outlined "The Four Freedoms" that all Americans should have.  The first two are the well-known and all-important Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion.  The other two were very different.  They are Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.

Why do Americans no longer care about freedom from want? I have heard it said that if you are hungry, you can never truly be free.  If you are working 12 hour days at two jobs and your children still suffer food insecurity, if you are in danger of losing your home due to medical bills, if you are having to choose between paying the rent and eating, what good does waving a flag and shouting "freedom" do to you?  To be hungry, to suffer from want, to be in debt because it is the only way to pay the bills, is a form of enslavement in itself.  How many poor people continue to be enslaved by mounting bills and predatory employers who want to milk as much work out of them for as little money as possible?  Should I tell the homeless veteran with no legs who sits in his wheelchair and begs for change all day that he is lucky to live in a free country where the Koch brothers can make as much money as they want?

What about freedom from fear?  Is that a legitimate freedom?  Even if it is, no one seems to want it anymore.  Americans love fear.  They revel in it. They get off on it.  They derive their outrage from it. Americans love a good slippery slope argument (quite evident now in the gun right debates).  Our government has effectively used fear as a form of controlling the American people for over 30 years.  We love fear.  We cloak ourselves in it.  Most of all, fear sells.  There is enormous profit to be made in peddling fear.

 Americans might say they want freedom from fear, but they remain enslaved to it.  To stop fearing is to stop hating and Americans love to find an "other" to hate.  They believe the only way to have freedom from fear is to destroy everything and everyone they fear.  Those that profit from our fear, those who derive financial benefit from our fear, will always make sure we stay afraid.

I started thinking about another period in history where the word "freedom" was heavily used in the public rhetoric, and that's during the 60s.  A few years ago Kevin received a gift of the entire Woodstock concert recordings.  They used to word "freedom" so much during those recordings that I think even Sarah Palin would be sick of hearing it.

What did freedom mean to those people?  Freedom of speech must have been a high priority both in the freedom of expression needed for the music played and also the freedom to protest the Vietnam War.  They wanted the freedom to say no to fighting in an unjust war.  There is the obvious context of sexual freedom as well.  Most of all, if you were at Woodstock, you likely dreamed of freedom from all societal constraints.  That was a generation that dreamed of new social norms and possibly even a new social order.  Hippies wanted to go off the grid and start their own societies.  In the case of Woodstock though, their rejection of the social order and social norms was so extreme as to be both unproductive and unsustainable, but while it lasted, it was sweet sweet freedom.

For those who believe in the ultimate freedom, it is possible to retreat from society and go off the grid.  That's not always a perfect answer, but it is an option.  If you choose to go this route, starting your own society could likely put you under a whole new set of constraints.  The Amish, for example, live off the grid and outside of the cultural norms, but they have constraints of their own such as clothing and a rejection of technology.  Most of all, they believe in helping each other (think barn raisings), making a contribution to the society, and yielding up the needs of the individual to the needs of the group. This would be unthinkable to most conservatives.  There are families who go off the grid in a more isolated fashion.  It is enormously hard work to sustain such a lifestyle.  When you live in such a way you have no time to contemplate your navel and argue about your freedom to do so it on the internet.  You're too busy growing your own food, maintaining your own power source, and educating your children.  It's not an easy life.

The more I think of it, the more I realize the sacrifice made by those whose freedom means so much to them that they withdraw from society entirely.  Being a member of a larger society has its own benefits.  I have services available to me to make my life easier and safer.  I  have a safety net if something catastrophic were to happen to me.  My world is maintained for me.  In order to live within a society, I do have accept a certain number of social constraints.  I may have to avoid actions, perform tasks, and make small sacrifices to the greater good in order to receive these benefits.  In that respect, I am, in fact, sacrificing some of my freedom for a certain level of security.  If I'm paying taxes so that my neighborhood is protected by police, my military is defending my country, my roads and bridges are kept safe and in good repair, and schools continue to churn out productive educated members of society, then I am sacrificing freedom (in the form of money I freely earned) for security.  I needed a license before I could drive a car and I have to obey the rules of the road in order to make it more likely that I and everyone else on the road arrive at our destinations in one piece. I may be contributing a small amount of tax dollars to a social safety net, but as someone who is contributing, it makes me equally entitled to that safety net as anyone else.  A functional society requires some sacrifice on everyone's part. 

As I bring this to a conclusion I realize that I still don't know what freedom is.

I can say what freedom is not.

If you are a functional member of a larger society, but are being denied the benefits of living within that society, then you are definitely not free.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week 5 - Success!

You could hear me whooping it up all over the house this morning when I stepped on the scale and saw that I was down three pounds from last week.  I have gained weight in the past five weeks, so what I really have is a net loss of two pounds.  Still, that's pretty significant.   I've shrunk a tiny bit in my measurements too.

What's amazing about Lean Eating is that so much of its focus is about how we eat and why we eat before we even begin to focus on what we eat.

The latest habit is to eat until we are eighty percent full.  That is a tough one.  I'm terrible at math.  What is eighty percent full?  How do I judge eighty percent?  Also, eighty percent of how full?  Are we talking about stopping at twenty percent short of stuffed, or twenty percent short of nicely satiated? 

I thought about how Weight Watchers suggests a hunger scale and where one is starving and ten is stuffed.  I remember in my WW days they said to keep your hunger levels between four (don't be too hungry or you'll binge) and seven(don't stuff yourself).  Was I supposed to keep myself at the Weight Watchers equivalent of  seven or of five?

Later in the week LE introduced its own scale, which is the reverse of Weight Watchers.  One is uncomfortably full and ten is starving.  They suggest stopping at two.  Okay.  I can do that - sort of.  I have to pay attention to hunger levels before, during, and after eating.  How hungry can I be?  If I pause while eating and notice how hungry I am, I should sit with it for a minute and understand how much food I ate and what I think might make it go away.  I can just stop eating at a certain point and try to leave some food on the plate.  What are my satiety levels?  Am I hungry later?

I was eating a delicious carnitas salad from Chipotle on Wednesday (romaine lettuce, fajita vegetables, carnitas, mild salsa, medium salsa, guacamole - total of about 470 calories).  I ate it slowly as my earlier habit dictated and a little more than halfway through it, I began feeling a bit bloated. 

My stomach said, "Step away from the salad." 

I thought that was ridiculous.  I eat entire Chipotle salads all the time.  I would often find myself hungry in the late afternoon after eating them for lunch.  There was no way I was going to stop eating.  I definantly took another bite. 

"Step away from the salad," my stomach said again.  I really was heading to the stuffed zone.  "Nope," I answered.  "This salad was expensive and I'm not wasting it."  I definantly took another bite or three. 

"Step away from the salad, " my stomach said again.  "Then my conscience added, "You're not hungry anymore.  You are ruining your compliance score this week.  STEP AWAY FROM THE SALAD."

My ID finally caved to the superego and I stopped eating the salad. 

Thursday I bought a huge tossed salad from one of the many deli/food bars in the neighborhood.  In the past I always bought a large and ate the whole thing.  This time I ate it slowly and paid attention to hunger levels.   I only ate half of it.  I had enough salad for lunch the next day.  The next time I know I can save money and order a small. 

I know my teammates and I worry if we're eating enough.  How much food do our bodies need to function?  The experts are always telling us to eat by the numbers.  Everything is about calorie counts. Maybe calorie requirements somewhat arbitrary?  How can we really know the magic number of how many calories we need?  Our caloric needs are going to change every day depending on activity levels.  How successful were any of us at counting calories and measuring and tracking food?  How about spending more time tuning into what our bodies are saying they need?  I need to eat far more on Sunday when I work out at the gym early in the morning and then go to the barn and have a lesson with Tara in the afternoon than I do on Saturday when I just give Riddle a light hack and don't do much else that's physical. 

There are so many external cues that make us want to eat.  For example I may decide I should eat just because it's lunch time.  The sight of some delicious cookies in the break room will trigger a desire to eat one.  I could have a bad day and decide I deserve a treat.  I have to ask myself all of the time, "Do I need to eat, or do I just want to eat?"

An excellent book on the topic is David Kessler's The End of Overeating.  Kessler goes into extensive detail about how the food industry creates hyperpalatable food by manufacturing foods that layer on sugar, fat, and salt in combinations meant to hit all of the right pleasure centers in our brains ("the bliss point").  These foods have such an addictive effect on us that we are nearly powerless over them.  The obvious solution to this is to avoid processed food in the first place.  If this isn't possible, then conscious, slow, eating has been very helpful. 

Pushing away the plate does give me an enormous sense of control.  I do have some power over what I eat.  It's a little scary though.  Isn't the high of control part of what creates eating disorder?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

LE Week 4 - What have I learned?

I finished my fourth week in Lean Eating and so far I've managed to gain and lose the same pound over and over.  It does feel frustrating at times.  I know my teammates and I are concerned and wondering if we're doing the right things. 

It's weird to realize we are doing the right things.  I'm doing the workouts as they are given and taking on the habits (although some days are better than others with the eating slowly).  Now that I'm healthy again, my compliance scores are high.  My coach and the mentors are telling me all of the time that I'm doing fine and have accomplished much.  I still feel as if I'm missing something.

The issue is that Lean Eating is so different from any other program.  So many of my teammates are like me.  We're gym rats who regularly pound out 90 minutes of hard work.  So many of us have tried other weight loss programs.  When you join Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, that first month is made of euphoric losses that make you feel as if you are truly accomplishing something. I know if I were on Weight Watchers I would have lost 5 or 6 pounds by now.  Looking back on it though, you have to ask yourself, "How did those instant-loss programs working for you?  How are those 90 minute workouts working for you?  If it's best to exercise long and hard and take on radical changes to your diet, then why are we spending all of this money on Lean Eating?

The program is definitely making me think about my habits and why I do the things I do.  For example they ask you to take a good look at who you are and how it relates to the kind of person who can do this program.  I thought about how stubborn I am.  I realized that I don't have to have that be a liability.  My stubbornness makes me stick to things.  It makes me steadfast.  It makes me loyal.  If my tendency to dig in my heels and refuse to budge tends to work against me, I can make it work for me.  I can stand my ground and say, "That is bad for me and I won't eat it."  "Sugar messes up my bodily systems 8 ways till Sunday."  "I refuse to stay fat."

We are also learning to refocus how we see ourselves.  We take on a "fit identity."  If you see yourself as  a fit person, you will take the steps to live up to that image.  In some ways I'm halfway there.  Being a gym rat has always been part of my identity.  

Although it wasn't part of the regular lessons, someone on the forums brought up a very interesting point about the drivers of weight gain.  What are the psychological reasons why we overeat?  I started thinking long and hard about this.  I always say that I love food, and it's true.  Eating as a form of pleasure is not going to go away from me.  I had to ask myself why it's such a central pleasure.  I am a woman with a full and varied life.  I do not need to depend on food for pleasure.  Then I realized that there was a time in my life when food was a central pleasure.  During my childhood I was so protected and sequestered.  I had few hobbies and I was limited to how much and how often I could indulge them, and they had to be monitored.  I was not allowed to go places with friends if it meant going without supervision.  My life was mostly food, books, and television.  The food was good and it was plentiful.  Eating as a source of pleasure is a fallback position for me.  I have to remind myself that I have other things in life that make me happy.  I can pursue anything I want to time and money permitting.  I don't have to eat my way through life.  I think that explains why I am a boredom eater.  I eat when I think I have nothing else to do because there was a time in my life when I didn't have anything else to do.

This week we're finally adding a third set to our weight training rounds.  For some reason working out feels more authentic when things are done three times instead of one or two.  I timed it this morning and I managed to complete all exercises in just over an hour.  That's important because I need to know I'll have time to complete workouts before work.

One of my goals this year is to complete a mud run.  It would have to be untimed because I really can't run very much due to my knees.  I really just want to know I have the strength to complete an obstacle course.  I have never really done anything like that before.  It's not something I want to do alone, however.  I just can't find anyone to do it with me.  I've put up pleas on FB and on the LE boards and no one is interested.  Maybe over the course of the next few months I can use this stubbornness to be persuasive and get someone to do it with me.