Monday, July 9, 2012

Omphaloskepsis, Part 1

After a lovely two-week vacation during which I gave myself permission to eat the potato chips (and pretty much everything else that crossed the threshold), it is time to return to ordinary life.  Including, alas, facing the fact that all of the pictures that were taken for our parents' Christmas cards are going to include me looking pretty saggy.

Good thing Christmas comes every year.  I have some time to do something about it, assuming the Mayans were wrong about 2012.

I did take the time to identify several habits that are contributing to the things about my figure that I find unsatisfactory.  And I should take a moment to point out that while I'm complaining about my appearance in the family portraits at the moment, what I am also unhappy about is my overall fitness.  I am not an athlete, but I have had periods in my life when I was very fit and pleased with what my body could do.  For several years I took yoga classes, which was awesome not only for my flexibility but also for my sense of calm and my feelings of connectedness in my spiritual life.  At several different times in my life I have been a fairly strenuous walker, at my best covering as much as 6 miles a day, three days a week.  When I trained for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3 Day, I walked 6 miles a day during the week, and then 10-17 miles on Saturdays.

What has happened to me?

Here are a few habits I have fallen into that keep me from being the person I want to be:

  1. Not exercising regularly.  This is bad for me not just because I'm not burning off the bad food choices I make, but because I'm depriving myself of the satisfaction that kept me from overeating in the first place.  I gradually gave it up when the house was on the market, after one too many notices that the house was going to be shown during the time I had designated for exercise.
  2. Reading while I eat.  I definitely, definitely overeat when I'm not focusing on my food.  I noticed this one the most while I was on vacation; the thought of not reading while I munched my lunch, quietly, away from other people, was so uncomfortable that it almost sent me into a panic.  This is where I will begin applying what I've learned from The Power of Habit
  3. Not having a plan for my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.  I have no problem with portion control at dinner time, but my earlier meals are sometimes a little haphazard.  Because of poor planning during those times of day, I often go too long between meals and then end up starving and shaking so badly that I feel like I have to stuff myself during the mid-afternoon.  I'm hoping that the measures I'm considering for Item #2 will help alleviate this problem.
  4. Too much alcohol.  It's only a glass or two a night, but considering what sugar does to one's metabolism, and also the fact that I can't drink when I'm training for something because it makes me feel horrible, I probably should cut back.  A lot.  Although that might be a habit I tackle later, when I've worked out to do about the reading while I eat thing.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes a habit loop, whereby a cue triggers a behavior or routine, which, when completed, is rewarded by a kind of neuro-chemical shot.  The initial description of the loop is established by recounting an experiment in which a rat is placed behind a closed gate, which opens with a click.  The rat then makes its way down a very simple maze to find a bit of chocolate, which it then eats.  Over time, the chocolate becomes associated with the click, in what most people would describe as a Pavlovian response.  Duhigg illustrates it thusly:

In my case, the need to eat a meal when I am alone (or when I wish I were alone) is the cue or click.  Reading the book while eating is the routine.  I have identified that a sense of relaxation is the reward, and that when I am anxious or reluctant to take on a project (like the laundry) that is on my agenda, then I will stretch out the experience of relaxation by adding portions to my meal.  Sometimes, a lot of portions.  The challenge will be to figure out how to meet my need for relaxation (in spite of the difficulty I find in relaxing generally) without continuing the problematic behavior.

According to Duhigg, you can change a habit, but you can't kill it.  So I won't be able to simply stop reading while I eat and expect that to go well.  Neurologically, I need something to disrupt the routine part of the loop while retaining the reward.  To do this, I'm going to have to poke around a little bit.  

Duhigg also stresses the importance of having a plan for tackling a behavior.  I don't really have one.  But lucky me, some of the other ingredients for successfully altering habits are including a community and Belief.  You, lovely readers, are my community, and Belief... well, that is going to have to develop.  (In the book, Belief generally came about as a result of some sort of crisis.  I'm not sure unflattering family pictures are enough of a crisis to generate the belief necessary to make this happen, but here's hoping.)  

By tomorrow I will have a Plan A to share, as well as a few measurements to incite me to victory.  I will also share some highlights of going on vacation for 2 weeks (I flew with an underweight suitcase, hurray!!) and of coming home (I still love my baking soda and my reusable grocery bags!).  And later this week, I will be introducing a new tab to the blog... are you on the edge of your seats?

Thanks for being my community, friends!

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