I think I’d like to start a new occasional series of themed posts on here. Oh, you’re all sitting there with baited breath biting your nails, eh? Wondering what, pray tell, will she prattle on about next? Well I won’t keep you in suspense long.
Last night, Chelsea and I were talking about how there are so many things that could have changed my journey so far if I knew them sooner.
Now, to clarify: Weight loss is an intensely personal journey. I know that; you know that. Further, there are a ton of things that no matter how many times someone tells you the thing, you won’t absorb it until you’re ready to do so. I get that. But when I started WW, I wasn’t someone who was eating three Big Macs a week, and I wasn’t someone who never ever worked out. I wasn’t someone who ate a gallon of ice cream because i was feeling my #feelings. If you ARE that person, then that’s okay too — but so much of the dieting/healthy eating literature out there (I hate the word “dieting,” because I’m not “dieting,” I’ve changed my life) focuses on how to like, avoid eating 3 McChickens for dinner rather than what to do if you’re someone who already eats baked chicken at home, who doesn’t mind salad, etc.
Finding advice for someone like me was harder, because though battles with weight are always both mental and physical/behavioral, it’s hard to advise someone whose most obvious struggles are sins of omission or things that exist only in his/her head. I read a ton of advice about drinking more water — but I’ve always drank enough water. I read a ton of advice on how to avoid full-fat cheese or fried food. But I was already DOING those things, and was unhappy with my weight. Where was the advice out there for someone like me?
The purpose of these “Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me” posts will be to share with you guys some of the things that I learned the hard way — things that (though some of them I wouldn’t have been “ready” for had I been told before I discovered them) might help you NOW, instead of months later. Things that might help you re-think behaviors or habits you’ve been stuck with so far. Things that, maybe, if someone tells YOU, you’ll change sooner and smarter than I did.
Here’s the first thing I wish someone had told me in 2011, the first time I tried to start WW: It’s OK to be hungry.
Some of you are thinking, “Duh.” Others are thinking, “Go on…” and for the sake of the latter, I will.
For my ENTIRE LIFE so far, I’ve had this weird kennel-dog mentality about food. I could never explain to you WHY, but I spent about 24.5 out of my almost-25 years of life being so terrified of becoming hungry. I would eat big lunches because “What if I get hungry before dinner?” At dinner, I would want seconds, because “What if I’m hungry before bed?” And the cycle went on and on.
I wish someone had said to me, “Karen, so what if you’re a little bit hungry?”
We’ve talked about this before, on here. I say often the awkward and privileged (but no less true) phrase: “In a first-world country where you are living above the poverty line, you absolutely will not die between lunch and dinner, or between dinner and breakfast.” I mean, will you? What is the WORST THING that will happen between when lunch ends at 1 PM and dinner begins at, say, 7? WHAT IS THE WORST THING? I wish someone had asked me that.
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “Well, I don’t know what time dinner will be tonight, so I better eat this now, right?” OM NOM NOM.
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “This piece of chicken can’t POSSIBLY be enough. I’ll be hungry in a half hour! I’d like two pieces, please.” OM NOM NOM.
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “There’s no way a salad can be filling unless there’s shit that’s not salad on there, too. Gimme some croutons. Gimme more of that chicken. Oh, and salad dressing please. Gimme more of that corn. Those black beans. Those weird little Asian crisp strips. More. I need more. Salad for dinner is gonna leave me starving in an hour, so I need more in it.” OM NOM NOM.
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “If my plate isn’t full, there’s not enough food on it.”
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “Feeling full is the same thing as having my stomach be hurting because it’s so stuffed.”
I wish I hadn’t thought to myself, “If you’re hungry, you absolutely need to eat right now.”
But I did think all those things. I still fight not to think them. I still remind myself that though it’s always very smart to keep a healthy snack in my backpack or purse for in case I’m hungry and in danger of making a really bad choice, I don’t necessarily need to plan my life around making sure I am a constant eating machine. I still remind myself that if I’m hungry in the evening before bed, that’s not dinner’s fault — and that I should go eat some berries or an apple, and get over it: BECAUSE I WON’T DIE OF HUNGER BEFORE BREAKFAST THE NEXT DAY.
Honest to goodness: I have found, in the real core of my heart, that my biggest problem with food was never type or even specifically portion control — but rather some strange, never-ending, body-gripping fear that I wouldn’t have enough. It makes very little sense, since I grew up in a house where I always had enough to eat — without question. SO where does this weird neurosis come from? Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. What matters is knowing that these thoughts and the behaviors they incur don’t reflect reality or genuine situations; instead, they just reflect a disordered pattern of thinking.
My friend Arielle tells me all the time about how it takes about thirty days to make or break habits. That if you can get yourself to do something for that long, it feels more natural. Same goes for breaking habits. My biggest WW break throughs came at times I forced myself through those 30 days with every bit of strength I had. One of the things I had to do without giving in for that amount of time: limiting my between-meals snacking AND my meals.
And letting myself get a little hungry.
Here’s the progression of how it went, back in the day: I would eat my meals, have my meals be pretty big, then I would eat a TON of zero point foods, especially fruit. Then, I scaled back my meals. Still ate a huge amount of fruit. Then, I realized that much fruit was still too much sugar and was stalling my weight loss. I began to eat a TON of vegetables instead of fruit. Then, I realized I was only eating out of habit — not because I needed the food (I realized this because when carrots are all you have in your bag, they don’t always seem appealing whereas pretzels always do, and so if the food wasn’t appealing enough to eat then certainly I wasn’t actually hungry, just bored). Then, I realized I needed to scale back my between-meals zero-point fiestas. So I did. And now, I eat fruit and vegetables freely, but only when I want ’em. And while it took me two years of yo-yo-ing and about 5 months of solid effort this time around to get it right, it has changed my eating habits and my life.
All this being said: I absolutely think that getting ravenous is a dangerous thing. Ravenous people make heinous food choices. WE ALL DO IT, GUYS. So don’t let yourself become ravenous — keep snap peas in your purse. Bring carrots with lunch. Have a CUP of grapes. Have some watermelon, an apple, etc. Don’t starve or let yourself get dangerously hungry.
But try to realize that if you are a little hungry between meals, or you think a portion can’t possibly be enough… think to yourself: So what if I get hungry later? So what if this isn’t the most filling thing I’ve ever eaten?
I promise you — I bet anything I have — that if you ask yourself those questions, do not over-indulge, and stick with it for thirty days, by the end of the thirty days you will literally almost NEVER think about being hungry. Nor will you BE hungry very often.
Of course, the caveat to the above is you’ll need to eat “real food,” not TV dinners or frozen stuff or snack packs. Eat real food, eat 3 meals a day, limit snacking, and stop being afraid of hunger… and you’ll see that, like most phobias, hunger stops being scary the less you live your life in deference to it.
These days, I drink a protein shake for breakfast, maybe snack on some berries and almonds during the morning. For lunch, Greek Yogurt with flax seed and some snap peas. Mid afternoon? Beef Jerky. ONE SERVING ONLY. Post-run? A banana or a protein bar. Dinner? Whatever nutritionally fortified concoction we’re eating that day, usually about 7-10 PP worth. Snacks: an apple, a frozen Greek yogurt, or blueberries and creme (see my previous posts for the recipe). That’s it. That’s genuinely all I eat. And I run, on average, about 25 miles a week. And I work 4 different jobs. And I am busy all the goddamn time and stressed all the goddamn time. I just stopped eating to make my stress go away, and stopped being afraid of being hungry.
I wish someone had told me that I could sometimes be hungry, and that it would be okay.
I wish someone told me that if I limited what I ate, after awhile I wouldn’t keep looking for what wasn’t there anymore.
I wish Arielle had told me years ago that if I made it through thirty days, I wouldn’t keep looking back!
But I know these things NOW, and that’s better than never having known. And so I’m telling you.
If hunger is your mental boogie man, you are far from being alone. Being afraid of being hungry is a real phobia that makes weight loss super hard. However, it can be faced. Face it with the knowledge that you will not die between meals. Face it with the knowledge that clearly, if you are trying to lose weight, something was wrong with your eating/working out efforts so far — so STOP MAKING FREAKING EXCUSES, and put down the extra cookies (or extra chicken, or extra… anything) and sit with that hunger for a hot minute and question if it’s real, if it matters, and if it’ll kill you before your next meal. If the answer to any of the above is “Yes,” then drink a glass of water instead and move on.
The boogie man can’t get you if you’re not afraid of him anymore.