Disordered Thoughts

09
Feb
2020

I ate the pizza

It must have been two or three years since I’ve eaten proper takeaway pizza, and at that point I was only able to eat a couple of slices, skipped the garlic bread, ate a heap of green salad with it, and was thoroughly anxious about the amount of calories and fat involved. Ever since then when the family’s had pizza I’ve either made my own low calorie version or dodged it altogether.

But I broke the drought on Friday night, because that’s what I felt like. Ate pizza and sides til I was satisfied (but not stuffed… there were slices left) and didn’t feel guilt.

Did some grocery shopping on Saturday and felt like taking home something sweet, kinda tossing up between a danish or a donut. I think most donuts are overrated, honestly – but I  ended up buying a Black Forest donut because there was a Donut King nearby. I ate it with my post lunch coffee, and once again, it felt like a letdown – it was ok, but it didn’t have me moaning in ecstasy or anything.

In the past, when I’ve eaten really high calorie food like this it’s often triggered the ‘more, more, more!!!!’ urge – especially if the food itself is a bit less of a treat than I’ve built it up to be like the donut was. But I’m taking it as a good sign that this time round, it was fine. Don’t get me wrong – I was tempted to reach for the nearest chocolate bar, but I was able to check in with my body and think about how I actually felt and honestly – I was satisfied. There will be more opportunities to eat.

I’ve stolen so many phrases from others lately. But stuff I’m using a lot is

  • Food is just food
  • Food doesn’t have to be perfect
  • This isn’t your last opportunity to eat!
  • Once it’s in, it’s in
  • Opposite actions

The last one is really powerful. I often struggle with indecision around what to eat, and based on a question on Facebook the other day, I’m not the only one. What I’m trying to do now when I get this way, is to choose the option that is the highest calorie, or that I’m the most scared of. The other day, I was tempted to and could’ve easily chosen a small cinnamon or iced donut to save calories but I said no, get the gourmet filled one because that’s what was most scary. It really wasn’t so bad, and next time it will be even easier.

07
Feb
2020

Update

I forgot to mention in my prior post – the book that I happened to be reading in the park for a bit of self soothing yesterday? It was Christy Harrison’s book – Anti-Diet 

I’m not a long way in – but I am really enjoying it so far. I’m not sure if this is helping to rid myself of the obsession with food! But it’s a good read nonetheless.

07
Feb
2020

Been a long time

I haven’t posted for a while, basically because it’s just been the same old struggles. There’s been a few short runs of what feels like ‘normality’, but mostly it just feels like I’m making the same mistakes over and over again. I get depressed, and I binge. I tell myself I need to just eat normally and get into a routine for a while and not worry about weight loss. Then one of two things happens – I get depressed and I binge again, or I get cocky and start trying to do stupid shit and restrict food because I feel fat, and ultimately I end up giving up and binging anyway. As an example – I decided to do a bit of an aggressive diet leading up to Christmas, and for about 3 weeks I restricted calories heavily and lost a few kilos. The intention was always to eat at maintenance through Christmas, what with family meals and stuff it is not really practical to diet then and besides, those are times for enjoying ourselves, right? And even with the obligatory work BBQ and family lunch on Christmas Day, I seemed to be tracking pretty well until just after Christmas I absolutely lost the plot and had some fairly severe episodes of uncontrolled binging. I think that was about as low as I have ever felt since this whole thing started, and at times I was seriously considering my future in this world – not good.

The other day I went through my training log to try and figure out exactly when these episodes started. It looks like it was as early as July 2018. That means I’ve been going through this crap for 18 months now. When I’m in the middle of an episode that timeframe makes me feel absolutely despondent and hopeless, like there’s no end in sight. Right now, I am on my 5th day binge free and while I’m able to look at the situation objectively I feel pretty positive about the progress I’ve made and the fact that there is a future for me that doesn’t involve obsessions with food. So that’s something.

So anyway, much has happened, but I’d like to talk about my latest episode. I was scheduled to go into hospital for some minor surgery last Friday. This meant fasting from the night before – unambiguously not my choice, but medically necessary before going under general anaesthesia. I was originally supposed to be in hospital at 7am, but they pushed it back to 11 so by the time I got there I’d already been fasting for 14 hours and wasn’t even allowed to drink water from 10am.

Well, they admitted me and (an hour or so later) put me in a hospital bed with a drip in my arm, and kept me there for the rest of the day, constantly telling me my turn for surgery would be coming soon, until at 4pm they pulled the rug out from under me and said sorry – we’ve run out of time to perform your procedure today, you’ll have to go home and wait to be rescheduled for another date.

Although I had always known this was a possibility, I didn’t think it would happen at this late stage and it threw all our plans into disarray. My wife had another commitment so couldn’t take me home, I ended up walking a couple of kilometres to meet her and pickup house keys before I could Uber home and find something to eat. Of course, I felt like I deserved a decent meal after that, so I made some burgers and chips, and that kicked off an epic weekend of eating everything in sight that didn’t end til Sunday night. Sure – I let this happen. This was a lapse in willpower on my part. But that willpower wouldn’t have been required if I hadn’t been forced to go without food for so long, I don’t think – and then the added disappointment of losing the 2 weeks off work to recuperate, which I’d been really, really looking forward to just compounded things. But that’s life.

Anyway – I came back to work this week and have had a reasonable week. I’ve aimed for three meals and three snacks a day, haven’t skipped any meals, have partaken in two work morning teas when they were unexpectedly offered, and been moderate without restricting – I think. So once again, we try to keep the ‘sensible’ eating going and learn how ‘normal’ people eat and think about food.

Some random thoughts and things that have happened in the past few days that seem to me like more progress:

  • I am getting better at recognising thoughts and moods that trigger these destructive behaviours – and remembering the mantra that MegsyRecovery often cites – ‘opposite actions’! Yesterday, there was cake at work for morning tea but I was tempted to just ignore it – I decided that it was there and I wanted some, but only had a couple of small pieces with my coffee and left some for everyone else!
  • Despite that, I was really feeling quite delicate by lunchtime – absolutely jonesing for food, wanting to eat everything in sight, and very stressed – for no good reason, really. I had only packed quite a small lunch (a salad and a wrap with some meat, and some strawberries) and didn’t think it had enough protein. But instead of going ballistic at the bakery or the takeaway, I bought a tub of cottage cheese and added that, plus a couple of leftover sausage rolls from the fridge. That was a decent lunch, and I felt pretty full afterwards but my brain was still going haywire for something else to eat. So I went for a walk, sat in the park and read a book on my phone for 10 minutes. That was pretty effective in terms of self-soothing.
  • Last night was chicken schnitzel night at home. I usually turn my wife’s into a parmagiana but sometimes don’t do mine, and if they’re unequal sizes I’ll often give myself the smaller one even if I’m ravenous. Well last night one was significantly bigger than the other, and my brain was screaming at me to take the small one and eat it plain, especially after cake and sausage rolls during the day! But no… ‘opposite actions’! I parma’d them both and ate the big one. Heck I even ate one of my daughter’s chicken nuggets to try and encourage her to eat her dinner without fuss. No guilt.
  • We’re having pizza for tea tonight. That would have filled me with fear once, and even as recently as a few months ago I would have just made my own low calorie substitute, on a wrap, with limited cheese. But screw that. The women of the house are having frozen pizza singles but honestly, and it’s not just my fear of processed foods talking, they are just not that nice. I’m either going to buy a decent fresh pizza, or make my own (on a proper pizza base, with proper toppings) and make sure I enjoy the freaking thing. No low calorie substitutes – just food that tastes good but hopefully is also somewhat nutritious. I’m worth it.
  • This last thought brings me to something that I battle with every.damn.day – planning my next item of food before even finishing the one I’m eating. Like I’ll be in the middle of a meal, and I’ll be thinking ‘after this I’m gonna have x… and after that maybe even x….’ and just continuing to think about food like that all day. So not only am I thinking about meals in the times I’m not eating, I’m thinking about food in the middle of my meal! It’s just insane. But I am definitely getting better at recognising when this happens, and using CBT (well actually, ACT therapy is where I read about it) techniques to defuse them and move on. Typically my go-to thought here is the ‘thanks, mind’ technique. So during meals I’ll say to myself ‘thanks, mind, for trying to make sure that I’m not going to starve, but there is plenty of food and I can see how I feel after this and decide if I actually do want something else’. Between meals, it’ll be more like ‘thanks, mind, for trying to make sure I don’t go hungry, but there is plenty of food and I can eat whatever I feel like having when the time comes, so there is no need to worry about that right now’. It does seem to be working in terms of letting those thoughts dissipate and not become totally all consuming to the point where they’re distracting me from stuff that does actually require my attention.

So that’s the story of my week. I hope anyone reading this is having a good one and being kind to themselves. You too, are worth it.

03
Dec
2019

Boring life update, but little wins

Well, last week was pretty torrid, to say the least. I let work and family stress get the better of me, didn’t eat enough, and had 4 days of totally out of control gluttony, including the two I mentioned in my most recent post.

On a more positive note, I had a good weekend. Saturday I was on parental duties by myself all day, which is often a major source of stress and triggers, but I managed to hold it together even with our five year old having an absolute meltdown during dinner. Sunday was also a good day, including dinner at the in laws (where I didn’t skip dessert, despite Dmitri’s anxiety over pikelets with Nutella and ice cream). To cap it off, there was an F1 Grand Prix that night at the rather inconvenient start time of 12:10am. Being the last race of the season I wanted to stay up and watch it live but being alone in the lounge room late at night can be a really dangerous place for my appetite to be, so I almost took the weak option and recorded it to watch in the morning. However I decided to stay up and watch it live anyway, on the basis that I can’t avoid being alone in the kitchen for the rest of my life! So that’s what happened… and while I did enjoy my normal pre-bed snack and a couple of decaf coffees, there was no urge to raid the pantry, so that was alright. Shame it was an utterly boring race.

Speaking of decaf, I’ve been off caffeine almost completely for over two weeks now. I say ‘almost’ because I’ve enjoyed the odd kombucha and have just reintroduced Pepsi Max, but I’m still off the caffeinated coffee and energy drinks. Honestly, I don’t think my sleep is any better but it is possible my moods have been a little more stable, though it’s hard to be sure. Anyway, I never intended it to be permanent but I’m not sure when I’ll reintroduce coffee, although I miss it especially at 5am before a lifting session.

I’m trying to celebrate all of the above as little wins.

Now that my boring life update is done, the real thing that prompted me to write this is that my wife has a family photo on her bedside table that we had taken professionally just over 12 months ago. Looking at it now, I’m struck by how slim I was and how drawn my face looks (even though by then I’d gained some weight from my lowest point). I remember the day well – it was a Sunday afternoon, and I’d trained legs that morning, so when I discovered that the venue for the photo shoot involved a bit of a walk out into a piece of quiet bushland I was not well pleased! I was tired and sore and couldn’t wait to get it over with, so the fact that we all look so happy is a credit to the photographer’s skills. We got some nice photos from that day.

This Sunday just gone, we took our annual family Christmas photo – my daughter, wife, dog and me in front of the Christmas tree. I’m a lot bigger now, obviously, and not overly happy with my body composition (again). But I look healthier and the photo looks much more natural and it wasn’t that much of a chore (I guess being taken in our lounge room also helps). Yes, last week was shit, but life is generally easier; I’m more productive at work, I’m eating a much wider variety of foods with less anxiety and indecision (though a lot still exists). Although I’m still often snappish and cranky I think I’m generally easier to be around and a better husband and parent than I was.

So I guess that’s progress, although it’s nowhere near as fast as I’d like it. And it reminds me so clearly that it’s so important to focus on all those other things in life that matter. My self worth is not determined by how my body looks or how perfect my diet is or how much I can lift. It’s far more important that I’m a good parent and husband and provider and employee. When I die, nobody is gonna remember me for how thin or fat I was. They’ll remember me for the way I treated people and the things that I did.

 

25
Nov
2019

Back on the recovery train

So, seems I still haven’t learnt. I had a fairly big binge and was feeling pretty down after my last post. Had a decent week or two, then two solid days of eating my face off last week. I guess after 6 or 8 weeks of no issues, I got complacent.

Back on the wagon again now, trying to stamp out restriction wherever I see it and eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. Back to basics.

21
Oct
2019

Living, not surviving.

I’ve been quiet because, well, I haven’t had much to report.

No binges since my last post. That makes more than 5 weeks now, and I was feeling confident enough to actually attempt a conservative diet. I’ve been making an actual effort to drop a little body fat over the past couple of weeks, and things seem to have been going well. I’ve stayed off the scales, but judging by the fit of my clothes and appearances in the mirror, I’ve leaned out a little bit.

This past week was interesting, because it was my daughter’s 5th birthday. This meant I had to contend with a restaurant meal one evening, and an extended family barbecue last night which included birthday cake. I won’t lie and say there was no anxiety about these, but whereas in the past those feelings might’ve taken over my mind for many hours, I just tried to accept that what happened happened, and enjoy the time together.

The restaurant meal was kinda fun, although I did actually compensate by skipping lunch. Bad, maybe, but I was cooped up in a meeting all day struggling to stay awake and not that hungry anyway. I made up for it by filling up on loaded potato skins, panookie and chocolate ice cream. The barbecue was fine – not my favourite meal, since there were no lean protein sources, but I had a burger and a small piece of chocolate cake and loaded up on the salad.

This is where I’m at right now. Food is just food. I can control my body weight and appearance by eating mindfully, but no foods are off the table and flexibility is key. I don’t expect to eat this way for more than another couple of weeks, as I’m not trying to get shredded, just take off a little fluff – but I’m not unhappy with how I look or how things are going right now.

04
Oct
2019

On Updates, and Tracking, And Relapses

Three quick thoughts.

As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon, and this Sunday (2 days away) will make 3 whole weeks since my last episode of binge eating, or extreme hunger, or whatever terminology you use.

Considering I had a 2 week break before the last one, that’d be one binge in 5 weeks, which would be far and away the best period I’ve ever had since this whole shenanigans started. I am getting really, really confident in my routine and my progress, BUT….

Old habits are creeping in. I am still scared of gaining weight, so in trying to ‘not binge’ I’m tending to fill myself up on salads and other calorie sparse foods, eat low calorie desserts, and generally restrict – just a little bit. And I’m beginning to think about throwing in a day a week (maybe just one.. maybe two) of skipping breakfast to try and get a little weight loss happening and take off some fat. I don’t ever want to get as lean as I was, mind you – I just feel like coming into summer it’d be nice to drop four or five kilos so my belly isn’t quite so big. I’m definitely not planning anything too aggressive but I’m also not sure if this is too early – which is why I thought maybe one day a week might be a good place to start.

Finally, I just finished listening to a podcast from 3D Muscle Journey about transitioning away from tracking macros – I highly recommend it, if you are in a similar situation to me. There’s lots of fantastic takeaways in there. Oh, and (spoiler alert) – they’re working on a course to help people transition away from tracking macros and getting back in tune with their hunger and satiety signals, which will be released in the 3DMJ Vault later this year. And… it’ll be free to access! So that’s super good – I did pay for a similar course from Sustainable Self Development, which was also useful, but knowing the 3DMJ guys this will be well worth checking out.

That’s it for me. I’m off to drink a milky coffee (decaf) and wind down my work week.

28
Sep
2019

And for tonight’s meal, we have….

I had some daddy daughter time tonight and we got takeaway.

My meal was a schnitzel on a bun, specifically this: 

With seasoned potato chips, sweet potato fries and a big salad. Plus some of my daughters schnitzel bites since she is an incredibly fussy eater and didn’t like them much. Afterwards I had a decent hot chocolate with whipped cream and some biscuits, guilt free. It was a big meal, and I’m still pretty damn full a few hours later.

This would have been utterly unthinkable six months ago.

Unfortunately, I had a rather unpleasant encounter with my next door neighbour afterwards, when I confronted them about the loud music they were playing. It left me feeling pretty irritated and could’ve easily triggered a binge but I managed to drink a cup of tea, calm myself down and move on.

I’d call tonight a double win. Just hope I sleep ok and don’t dwell on it – it’s likely there’ll be fallout / continuance of the issue tomorrow and beyond.

23
Sep
2019

Do I really need to track macros?

This post was inspired by a discussion I had in a Facebook group on the weekend. It started with someone sharing this Instagram post from Dr Spencer Nadolsky about the dichotomy between HAES advocates and Fitpros attitudes towards obesity, and the lack of nuance that often exists in these conversations. It’s something I’ve noticed myself – on one hand there seem to be the militant macro trackers who tell everyone to track all their food and get shredded that way, and on the other are the militant HAES advocates who tell everyone to eat whatever they want (with little regard for food quality) and let your body weight fall where it may, without regard or mention of the risk factors that obesity brings. The grey area in between is massive, and in a world that’s dominated by infographics and physique shots, most don’t expend much effort to individualise their advice or caution people about the downsides of extremes in either direction.

Thankfully I think things are slowly changing in the fitness world. There seem to be more and more people in the industry like Eric Helms, Emilia Thompson, Abel Csabai, Stephanie Buttermore, Jordan Syatt and others who are aware of the potential pitfalls of macro tracking particularly with regards to food anxieties and disordered eating. These folks generally encourage their followers to seek out body composition goals and nutritional approaches that are sustainable for that individual – even if it means they carry a little more weight than they’d ideally like, without ignoring the fact that obesity is a risk factor for many diseases and is something we want to avoid. And that, to me, is the kind of message that I want to support.

So I’m going to put down some opinions here, and then share my experiences and thoughts on how I came to them.

Should I track my macros?

  • Do you have ambitious body composition goals, either to get to extremely low levels of body fat (say sub 8-10% for men)?
  • Do you have a fairly tight deadline to lose a significant amount of fat – for example for a photo shoot or a bodybuilding/physique show?
  • Are you an athlete competing at a high level, who needs to ensure their body is optimally fuelled for all training sessions and competitions?

If you answered yes to at least one of these, then tracking macros is probably the best approach to meet your goals, providing you don’t have any contraindications listed below. If you didn’t, then I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t track, but I think you can probably smash your goals out of the park without needing to track anything, it might just take a bit of setting up and experimentation to begin with.

Is there any reason why I shouldn’t track?

  • Does tracking your food add additional stress and burden to your daily life?
  • Do you suffer anxiety about social events or eating food prepared by others due to the impact on your nutritional plan? Do you sometimes avoid these altogether because it’s easier than trying to estimate macros and fit them in to your daily targets?
  • Are you fearful that you’ll be unable to hold back at buffets and parties where there is lots of food available?
  • Do you tend to avoid entire food groups that you’d otherwise enjoy eating simply because it’s too hard to fit them into your daily macros?
  • Do you have a history of disordered eating – whether that’s restrictive eating, binge/purge behaviour, or something else?
  • Is your life hectic and busy, such that you’re quite often under stress, eating on the fly, and have difficulty planning your meals most of the time?

If any of these apply to you, then I’d really question whether tracking macros is a sensible idea. At the very least, if you’re going to do so, at least take the time to consider whether tracking is actually adding anything worthwhile to your life or whether it’s making things more complicated. And on that last point, I would argue that ‘keeping my weight under control’ doesn’t really ‘add’ anything; if you absolutely need to track in order to keep your weight under control then in my opinion you’re either trying to maintain a weight that’s too low for your body to healthily sustain, and/or you’re probably quite capable of maintaining that weight without tracking, simply by learning good habits and eating mindfully. However it does take a leap of faith to let go of the MyFitnessPal safety net and go it alone.

Why do I think this?

Firstly let me say, I don’t hate tracking – at all. I think it can be a fantastic tool and I don’t really regret my time doing it, despite the mess I got myself into with it. As someone who used to be obese and didn’t have any idea or care for what I crammed in my mouth so long as it tasted good, it taught me a lot of important lessons that I’ll continue to use for the rest of my life. For example:

  • What’s a sensible portion size – for me – both in terms of what will satisfy my hunger, but also make me feel good
  • What’s an appropriate amount of protein to be eating at each meal and throughout the day
  • What sort of macro breakdown most foods contain, and how calorically dense they generally are

However, as another commenter on the thread stated: ‘I have no “off” when it comes to food. Can eat and eat and eat and eat‘ – and I totally relate to that. For me, when I was tracking, I always felt like I was restricting and eating less than I needed. The longer I did it, the more food became the central focus of my life, the more tired and grumpy I became, and the more food anxiety I experienced. The problem with tracking is that the more you ‘eat by the numbers’ the further and further you get away from your own hunger and satiety signals, and the more your forget where your ‘off switch’ should be! So while the lessons I learned were important, in the long term, for me it was really just putting a bandaid on the problem.

Another commenter suggested that perhaps I was just not eating enough carbs – but no, that wasn’t the problem. Now I’m a fair bit heavier, it’s clear that I was simply trying to maintain a body weight that was too low for my individual body. I dieted to such a lean state that I had barely any muscle mass and was a starving, tired mess – but yet I was still shit scared of gaining weight. Many people who were once obese and go through a weight loss journey will relate to this – I’ve heard it called adiposephobia, Former Fat Boy Syndrome, and other such names.

Now I’ve come out the other side and I’m in a bigger body, I’m also carrying a lot more muscle and feel like I’m maintaining my body weight without depriving myself much at all – and I’m in a far better position to get a little leaner when I decide that I’m ready. Could I track food now without anxiety now though? I don’t think so – not for very long, anyway – now I know I’m predisposed to these issues, I don’t want to risk going down that rabbit hole again. And anyway, I feel like I’m so much more in tune with my body and so much better at eating mindfully (not without slipups, though… yet) that I strongly believe I could diet down to an acceptable body composition without needing to track anything, just by manipulating the portion sizes and composition of my meals.

This brings me to the point I wanted to make, which is that saying ‘I have no “off” when it comes to food’ perhaps creates a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy. In my professional life, I have no time for people who don’t want to learn to help themselves, and I guess I feel like this attitude might be similar. If being out of touch with your body’s nutritional needs is a problem, then is tracking the answer? Maybe, maybe not. I had one person say that tracking is ‘The complete opposite of anxiety for me. I just do the math then eat guilt free or whatever’. If someone has this attitude to tracking and it genuinely causes no issues, then I say, track away.

But on the other hand, if tracking causes issues (and I can’t see how it won’t, at least occasionally) then in my limited experience, eating mindfully and intuitively is a skill that can be learned like any other. I’d be willing to bet that most of us could figure out where that off switch is and how to utilise it with some practice and experimentation. The problem is, it does take more time and effort than tracking – it’s not as simple as ‘eat X calories to maintain my weight’ – there are lots more factors at play. But the more I learn and the more I practice, the more confident I feel that this is the most sustainable approach for me to achieve my training and body composition goals while still finding joy in all types of food.