I was miserable for the first two months of my “diet”. Although I physically felt better and was pleased to see the numbers on the scale dropping and to feel my body shrinking, I was in a state of emotional turmoil. I grimly ate my grilled chicken and salmon and salads and steamed broccoli while watching others enjoy pizza and French fries and cookies and soda. I told myself sternly “You can’t eat those foods” and I suffered from this perceived deprivation. I had to wrestle with my desire for sugar and use huge amounts of willpower when anyone offered me a delicious forbidden treat or when the donuts called to me from the breakroom or the Girl Scout cookies beckoned from the freezer.
My plan from the very beginning was to reach my pre-pregnancy weight and then return to all of my favorite comfort foods. In fact, that was my main motivation. “Hurry up and lose the weight, so you can have ice cream!” my brain shouted. As someone who has always struggled with my weight, gaining and losing the same thirty pounds over and over again, I knew this was not logical. However, I could not conceive of a life without sugar. The prospect seemed so bleak.
When I had lost over half of my excess weight, I discovered a weight loss podcast by a fellow physician, Katrina Ubell, MD. Her words completely changed my perspective. She said “I want your food to be boring and your life to be exciting.” I teared up thinking of all of the times I declined invitations to go swimming because I did not want to wear a swimming suit in public. I even stayed home when my family went to California because I was overweight and did not want to pose for vacation photos in shorts. I realized that I was hiding from my life and that only by releasing this obsession with food would I be free to chase after the things I truly want.
I started working on my thoughts about food with the help of Katrina Ubell and Brooke Castillo, life and weight loss coaches. I stopped saying the word “diet” and starting thinking about what I ate in terms of an eating protocol: all of the foods that I choose to eat on a regular basis because they make me feel good physically and support a healthy weight. I stopped telling myself that I can’t eat certain foods. Instead, I tell myself that I can eat anything I want whenever I want, but there are certain foods that I choose to avoid most of the time because they make me feel poorly and will lead to weight gain if consumed regularly. Instead of “cheating on my diet”, I plan ahead to eat off my protocol. I find that I make much better decisions ahead of time than I do in the moment. I have also noticed changes in my body every time I consume processed carbohydrates. For two days after eating Halloween candy as planned, I experienced nausea, stomach discomfort and fatigue. When I eat popcorn at the movies, my allergy symptoms worsen with increased post-nasal drainage and a dry cough.
Slowly but surely, these techniques have decreased my desire for sugar and flour. I used to believe there were only two ways to respond to an urge to eat a certain food: eat that food or use willpower not to eat the food. Eating the food does not decrease your desire for the food, and using willpower actually increases your desire for the food. There is a top secret third way to respond to an urge which decreases your desire: simply allow it. Even now as I search for the right words, I have an urge for that leftover Halloween candy. Amused, I relax and allow myself to want the candy. Of course I want Halloween candy. I have always loved candy and maybe always will. I check with myself to make sure that I’m not hungry. Nope, not hungry at all, I just want candy and am feeling a little restless as I write. I am not surprised, frustrated or disgusted by my desire for candy. As I explore this desire, I realize that my desire not to have any candy is stronger than my desire to eat candy, and the urge fades away. I feel so confident in my ability to maintain my weight because I love the way that I eat and think about food. I no longer feel restricted or deprived because I can and do eat whatever I want, I just want to eat healthy foods most of the time. The urges still occur, but not as often as they used to, and the drama has been quieted.