Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Do thin people think differently about food?

Charlotte of The Great Fitness Experiment posed this question. She's read a diet book by Dr. Judith Beck called - wait for it - The Beck Diet Solution. Charlotte pointed out the book's neon pink cover "cause women love pink, get it?" So I suppose the question should really be "Do thin women....?" because men would never obsess over calories, body image and famine-chic, right?

Dr. Beck uses a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach to weight loss. She sticks to the eat less food portion of weight loss, rather than the exercise more. I guess that makes sense, given our TV-watching, computer-jockey lifestyles. From an interview w/ Dr. Beck about her latest book The Complete Beck Diet For Life at Crabby Fitness:
Judith: The truth is that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. There is a solution, though, to losing weight permanently.

Crabby: "Permanent" is the tricky part, isn't it? I tried to make some suggestions once, but somehow I got off track and ended up talking about Eleanor Roosevelt and Mr. Rogers instead. What's the real solution to losing weight and make it stick?

Judith: First you need to learn a specific set of thinking and behavioral skills, such as how to motivate yourself every day, how to get yourself to use good eating habits, how to cope with craving and negative emotions without eating, and so on.

Second, you need a highly nutritious diet you can stay on for life. That means it has to have a sufficient number of calories and be very healthy so your body doesn’t rebel. It also means it has to include your favorite foods—as often as every day—so your mind won’t rebel.
This got my attention. When I lost weight (30+ lbs over 12-18 months), it was due almost entirely to three things:
  1. Eat at regular meal time.
  2. If it's not meal time, wait 15 minutes before grabbing a snack.
  3. Eat a little dessert, every night.
At that time, exercise wasn't always an option. Three children in school, each with a different sport/activity. A 2-hour round trip commute to the office, three days each week, with the other two days being longish hours of work via telecommute, to finish everything I couldn't do during my partial days in-office . A husband with a daily commute time of almost three hours, meaning he was rarely home before 7:30, and often needed a nap before supper.

I stopped waiting until 8:00 for my own supper. Since I was eating with the kids, it meant I stopped nibbling during homework supervision and food prep.

I had breakfast every day. Sometimes cereal. Sometimes fruit & yogurt. Sometimes hot milk & instant breakfast, mixed into my coffee.

I ate a little dessert, every night. Stressful days had often led to chips or a candy bar, usually while driving from office to school for pickup. Knowing that I'd be able to sit down in peace at night to enjoy scoop of ice cream with an oreo (or two) or half a baked apple, or a dollop of whipped cream on berries with a couple of ginger snaps, made the quick fix less appealing.

Those were all behavioral changes. Over the last four years, they've become habits. Sure, there are rainy Saturdays when I'm scarfing chips and pizza with the kids, over video or board games and movies. Or when a friend and I meet for lunch and celebrate - or commiserate - over a particularly decadent concoction of sugar, cream and chocolate. That's now the exception, rather than the normal part of my days.

I think the reasons I lost the weight matter as much, if not more, than the way I did it. I don't have a great body image, but I haven't focused on a desire to "be thin" since I was a teenager. I woke up one day and realized it had been a very l-o-n-g time since had felt like anything other than a blob. It wasn't my size 14 jeans. It was being tired all the time. The constant drain of always feeling almost like I was getting sick.

Losing weight through healthier eating boosted my energy and improved my mood. Stress levels dropped. Sleep improved. My quality of life went up as the scale went down. The smaller wardrobe was just a side benefit. I had the luxury of beginning my exercise program with the desire to be fit, as a "want to", rather than the "have to" most folks face when they tackle diet and exercise on January 2nd, year after year.

I'm not great at this whole nutritional planning, by any means. I cook with butter. I splash heavy whipping cream into sauces. I think mashed garlic potatoes should be it's own food group. During the four hot weather months of heavier cycling and running, I struggled with getting enough calories into my body each day, to the point I was becoming ticked off about having to eat. I question my food choices, my motivations, and what kind of example I'm setting for my daughter and her future relationship with food.

I may not need The Complete Beck Diet for Life * to get started changing my way of thinking about food, but I think it is probably still a good idea for 2009 reading. Confirming what I've done so far is good and - hopefully - giving a bit of guidance to carry it into the future.

*Note the snazzy green cover.

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