The Monday Paradox (Food Diary, Part Three)
This is a long one, folks, so settle in. I suppose I could have broken this up into two posts, but it’s one story. Sort of. So, just read the damn thing.
We left off my last Food Diary post with me finally recognizing what “rock bottom” looked like. Gaining weight after having babies, stuffing every emotion (good and bad) down with food, and hating what I saw when I looked in the mirror. All of this despite being in a great relationship, having a job I love, and feeling like I was going deeper in my relationship with God.
I joined Weight Watchers, started attending support meetings for people like me who, amazingly, feel addicted to food as well, and you know what? I didn’t do either of these things on a Monday.
For you normal folk, this is just another day. The first day in the week, yes. The dreaded start to a hectic school, work, home schedule, yes. But, for those of us who have ever struggled with weight, Monday is a far less tangible thing. I believe unicorns live in the mystical Monday. Money falls from the skies there, and people sneeze butterflies.
You see, for dieters, Monday is the day they change everything around. Monday is the day that all junk food will leave their house, they’ll only put good clean food in their bodies, and Monday—oh sweet Monday—is the day they start exercising in an effort to finally lose that weight.
Why is Monday chosen as the highest holy holiday for well-meaning dieters? I believe there are two main camps, and people can reside in both.
First is the logical “beginning of the week” model. People like to be ordered and structured, and starting something new in the middle of the week causes anxiety and stress in some. New Week/New Me is often the model for those of us chasing the scale.
*My one complaint? Why start ANYTHING new on a Monday? They’re hard enough as it is 😉 *
The second, and more depressing camp that no one outwardly discusses is the, “I can eat my face off all weekend when I’m at home and no one can see me” camp. Sigh. I spent most of my Monday eves in this dark and dreary place. I would stock up for these “pre-life changing” binges, go out to eat, and frankly eat some things I wouldn’t eat on normal binges because, well, it was all going to change come Monday.
No wonder I couldn’t ever make a positive change on a Monday—I was hung over. Food hangovers are real. Don’t kid yourself, you’ve probably experienced one.
The problem with the “Monday Paradox”, as I’m going to refer to it from here on out, is that it’s kind of this closed-circuited vacuum of shame, bargaining, and justifying. Because, honestly, by the time Tuesday night or maybe Wednesday at lunch rolls around (depending on how much sugar and/or other toxins are being flushed from your body) you’re literally jonesing for something to take the edge off. But, guess what? Nothing will. Alas, you “cave”, and, along with it, you spew out an obscene list of justifications. This was a bad day/week/month/year to try to start anything anyway. Your period is due this week. You have to get through this one project, one chore, one family reunion, one holiday …
And it’s okay, you reason, because—LUCKY YOU!—there’s another Monday just around the bend! That. That will be the Monday that holds your ticket, dispenses the magic pill, makes everything better.
The Monday Paradox envelopes days other than Monday, too. The first of the month, your birthday, an anniversary, the first of the year (hello New Year’s Resolution), and so on. Basically the Monday Paradox allows you to make a sweeping change to your life on a day other than the very day you’re in.
The point of my long tangent? I knew I had to divorce Mondays. In fact, I would make no changes on a Monday. I would make them all on the day I knew they needed to be done. Period.
I went to my first Weight Watcher’s meeting on a Friday fucking morning, and my first support group meeting the next Saturday morning.
I know what you’re all thinking. I do, because I’ve been there. No, I did not weigh in at WW on Friday and spend the rest of the weekend eating, knowing that I could just “get back on track on Monday.” Why?
I was sick. I was tired. I was desperate.
A perfect recipe to throw in the oven and have God show up. And he did.
Don’t stop reading, please. I don’t care (for the purposes of this post) what religion you are. It’s just not important for this particular discussion. What I want you to see is this: I tried it myself. Remember that God job I applied for but, inexplicably, didn’t get? It was taken already.
By someone greater than me. Someone above me, above you, and above that person in your office who thinks they know everything. (They don’t).
What I’d learned over the course of my thirty-year empirical study on food addiction, and subsequent lengthy discussions with God here, and here, was this: I was not in control.
Not of the weather, not of what you thought of me, not of what he was going to say to her, and certainly not my food. That was it. I wasn’t in control of my food. I can’t control my eating any more than I can make the sun shine. I. Can’t. Do. It. And, weighing in on Friday morning and eating all weekend would only continue to prove that.
Some of you are undoubtedly shaking your heads and mumbling words like “discipline” and that God-awful “willpower.”
Let me explain something to you. I have a shitload of willpower. I fought tooth and nail to graduate with honors from an Ivy League university. I moved several hundred miles away from home and was an addiction counselor for delinquent teenage boys. I breastfed twins for a year, moved out on my own with three little kids, and became self employed.
I know willpower. I have willpower.
What I don’t have is control over my food the same way an alcoholic doesn’t have control over liquor. I can’t take a bite of chocolate cake without my brain lighting up like the 4th of July and begging me to finish the entire thing. It’s simply not an option for me to have a “taste” of most things. I go big or go home, quite literally. If it’s not sugar on top of sugar, dipped in sugar, then I don’t want it. And, if it is, I don’t want it. Because then I’d have to eat all of it until I felt sick and my pants didn’t fit and I’m staring at myself in utter hatred in the mirror.
I can’t. Control. My food.
So suddenly I—the girl who walked around for a couple of years praising God for getting her through her twins’ infancy—had to fall to my knees in shame (which later turned to the healthier humility)—and admit to God that I couldn’t handle food. That I’d abused the body he’d so carefully crafted for me. And, that I needed his help.
That three meals a day I talked about at the end of my last post was the first thing I clung to. My closest port in the storm. I didn’t yet realize how big of a problem sugar was for me, but I knew I had to try something.
** I had to—HAD TO—step away from the food at some point during the day **
There had to be several hours of my day when I wasn’t eating. And, in order to be able to do that, I had to turn to prayer. Just like I had to when I was nursing twins in the middle of the night and praying that Quinn, too, wouldn’t wake up. Every hard thing in my life I’d ever gotten into I’ve had to pray through. Why would food be any different?
In order to avoid slipping back into the exercise bulimia, which I knew would beckon me the second it sensed I was trying to take care of myself, I made it a rule that I wasn’t allowed to exercise for the first several weeks. If I wanted to do yoga once in a while, that was fine, but there was to be no scheduled, regular exercise at. All. I knew my relationship with food was too screwed up to invite anyone else in, and I needed to tackle it before it killed me.
Now, praying about my ability to handle food did not absolve me of any responsibility around it. People who pray for more money still need to get up and go to work. If they sit around and wait for their prayer to drop from the sky, they’ve pissed the purpose of God’s will in their life and lost out on an opportunity to see him work through them.
Same goes with food.
No matter how much I pray or thank God or beg God, at the end of the day it’s just me and the food. It’s my hand to my mouth. Period. Sure, I pray to God for him to help me make the right choices, to help me feel satisfied with the healthy food that I eat, and to re-learn my body’s hunger signals (which are horrifically damaged due to years of abuse). All of that being said, there comes a point where the rubber meets the road and I have to walk out in faith that I can do this. But, the caveat of course is, only with God’s help.
Once again, as has played out many times throughout the course of my life, it’s me and God linking arms and tackling it.
What started out as three meals a day turned into three meals a day and no sugar. That’s a fun little story I’ll share with you quickly. (It’s not quick)
It had been roughly six weeks of going to WW, support meetings, eating three meals a day, and praying my ass off (quite literally). During this time I was eating healthier, but would still indulge a few times a week in something sweet. As I started (slowly) losing weight, though, my body started tolerating less bullshit.
This all came to a head a week before Valentine’s Day this year (2014). Several hours after dinner, on a largely empty stomach, I ate a chocolate brownie at the local coffee shop. I’d eaten these brownies many times over the previous year, had planned to have this particular indulgence on this day, and didn’t think to much of it.
My body, though, had other plans.
Once the brownie was in my system, I felt sick. Not the kind of food poisoning sick or over-stuffed sick you might be thinking. It was just this uncomfortable almost carsick-like feeling. Soon after, I started to itch. Now, I’d noticed that on days where I ate more sugar, I’d feel less comfortable in my skin. Not like it was tighter, but it was itchy or my joints were swollen, etc. At this point, on this night in the coffee shop, I’d reached a breaking point.
My body was now immediately reacting to sugar in ways it probably always had, but I didn’t know since I was simply eating from sun up to sun down. If someone is high all the time, they don’t recognize when they’re high, right?
When I got home that night I was wired. Wide awake with no sign of going to sleep any time soon, despite it being 9:30 at night. I’m always in bed before 10 (by 9 lately) so this was a clear reaction to something else. I don’t drink caffeine, either, so … sugar.
Once I finally forced myself into bed, I turned to Charles and said the words …
“I’m going to have to stop eating sugar,” I spit out angrily as my body itched and ached.
Then, I started to cry. I cried. I cried about having to give up this food that was making me physically ill. Is that the sign of a sane person with a healthy brain?
Sure, I was crying that I had to give up my mom’s cookies, apple crumb pie during the holidays, and my lifetime subscription to Ben & Jerry’s, but there was more behind the tears. I was crying that I’d let it get to this point. That I became a person so married to a poison that I didn’t want to let it go, even when it was making me sick.
I was in a hole. A sticky, sugar-filled hole with maple syrup plumbing, and the only way out was to give it up. All the way up.
By the way, the next morning the joints in my hands were painfully swollen. I could barely close my hands into a fist without feeling like my skin was going to tear open.
And so began the most emotionally and physically challenging leg of my journey yet. Life without sugar.
To be clear, I had to do some experimenting. I had to find out what “no sugar” looked like for me. There would be absolutely zero white, processed sugar, but what about fruit-derived sugars? How about coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup? My answer to all of that is: it changes. There’s this great paleo cookie recipe that uses a small amount of honey and coconut sugar, and one bite DOESN’T taste like 100 more bites (you know what I mean). And, they don’t make me crave more, and I don’t daydream about them. That’s how I know that the makeup of that particular baked good doesn’t screw with my brain.
But those are details each person has to work out for themselves. I know people who even take it easy with fruit, or who avoid artificial sweeteners all together. Nothing is black and white, and personal responsibility HAS to take a front seat.
The next few days were filled with sugar withdrawal; cravings like you wouldn’t believe, headaches, fatigue, and moodiness. Let me repeat: sugar is a drug. Scientists know it, doctors know it, yet we still pump it into ourselves and our loved ones all the time.
Because it’s just food, right?
If you’ve read the other parts of this series, you know that for some people it isn’t just food. It can be a massive, physically and emotionally debilitating addiction that not only affects the user, but those around them. I wasn’t just getting mood swings while coming off the sugar—I had them while I was on it. The longer I stay drugged, the more even my moods were. However, you all know what blood sugar does (moves hand up and down like a roller coaster). And, the more sugar I ate, the more my brain needed me to eat just to be normal.
Sounds an awful lot like alcohol or cocaine dependency, doesn’t it?
That’s because … you guessed it … IT’S A DRUG.
Until I’d given up sugar, my weight loss was plugging along at roughly a pound a week. Some weeks would be a little more, and some a little left. This drove me crazy. I have like 70 pounds to lose! I’d lament. Why isn’t it coming off faster?! I don’t have an answer, but I do have an idea.
I think my body was sick of my shit. 30 years of up and down, back and forth, and around again was too much. My body didn’t trust me.
I had to earn back its trust.
Letting go of the sugar helped. The first few weeks after letting go of it, I lost 2-3 pounds a week. Once that portion of the detox ended, I went back to the pound a week. And, that’s the rate I’m on today.
There were non-scale victories my body, mind, and spirit thanked me for when I stopped sugaring. My skin cleared up, my PMS diminished to near non-existence, my periods are lighter, and my mind is sharper. My work productivity nearly doubled by the second week I gave up sugar, and it continues to improve.
Also, shortly after I gave up sugar, I started working out again. Remember, I had not allowed myself into a strict exercise regimen due to my fear of relapsing with the exercise bulimia. But, when I let go of the amount of food I was eating, and when I stopped injecting myself with sugar, I needed a release. And, a healthy one. I needed a way to fully reclaim my life, to make health deposits that I can cash in later in life. To strengthen not only my body, but my mind and spirit.
You know all those reasons I used to eat? The happiness, depression, loneliness, anger, victory, and pain? Those emotions still crop up. I live in the real world. I live my life. I have four children in my house and a relationship that I constantly work at. I have a job that has highs and lows and days where I feel tired and grumpy.
But, I’m not eating over it. There is nothing, and I mean nothing worth going back to that woman I was in December 2013.
I’ve lost almost 40 pounds (38 and change) to date, and I still have 30-40 pounds to lose. But, you know what? The top of the mountain looks a hell of a lot less scary than it did when I was standing at the bottom of it. And, I refuse to look back for long. I won’t say I never look back, because that would be an irresponsible lie. I sometimes need to take a look back. At old pictures, clothes, recipes, to remind myself where I came from—and where I don’t want to go back to.
For these three Food Diary posts, I’ve taken you on my emotional, spiritual, and physical journey out of the food. My food plan and exercise regimen have changed a few times since that day in February when I gave up sugar and brought my healing to a new level.
What does a typical week look like for me now?
I’ll post about that next week, and, going forward, I’ll continue to share the brutally honest, sometimes ugly journey I’m still on.
I encourage you to join me. No matter what your goals are, where you’re starting from, or what stands in your way, join me. Today. Don’t wait for Monday. Because Monday’s are a cruel, unforgiving trap. Don’t wait for your birthday, the first of the month, or the first of the year. You’re worth more than a future date on the calendar.
You’re worth now. You’re worth today.
Photo Credit: klsmith77