I nearly titled this post as 'Diary of An Orthorexic', but that would be starting off on a negative footing, when the most important point I want to make is the importance of positivity!
As I pointed out in my How To Get Started post, I have spent a lot of time investigating psychology and the mind-body connection as it pertains to body composition and fat storage. The work of Jon Gabriel started me along this path; I read his book in late 2009 and cynically disregarded it as a flowery tome that boils down to encouraging fat people to eat less and move more. I was wrong. At the time of reading the book I was in a very happy place - I was at my lowest weight, I was feeling very confident in my body, and essentially felt that I was already at the end-point of the journey, which I achieved without having to 'teach my body that it was safe to be thin'. The rebound of 2010 obviously caused me a lot of psychological pain, and I remain unsure of whether it was purely the fault of chemical interference (DepTran) or whether I was bound to suffer fat regain, like 95% of dieters. What I am sure of is that every time I would work hard on cutting back carbs, calories, and sometimes all food (since it's very in vogue to fast in the paleosphere, this looked like health-wise activity), sooner or later I would find myself regaining the little weight I'd managed to lose, and then some.
I tried all the old tricks, and some new tricks as espoused by Stone & Jaminet - eating 'safe starches', cycling high & low carb days, fasting before exercise, fasting dinner to dinner most days, etc. Nothing made me feel bad, I felt pretty healthy (although I think my gut doesn't like sweet potatoes, since the oh-so delicious sweet potato mash would always give me mild stomach ache), but the fat wouldn't shift. I'm not about to get on a scale, but I'm pretty sure I now weigh at least as much as I did at the end of my pre-diet chocolate binge at the end of 2008! It didn't matter how much I knew about physiology - my results defied the science. I flip-flopped from desperate to disdainful, caring too much to not caring at all, all washed down with buckets of guilt and shame. Good times. However, I consider my 2010: Bests & Worsts post to be the finish line of that particular chapter of my life.
I returned to Jon's book a couple of weeks ago, now ready to consider the possibility that there were psychological reasons preventing me from losing the regained weight. From all the information my body was giving me, my metabolism was in great shape, my digestion was great, and my moods were pretty good (although I wasn't feeling very positive - nothing new there). I even had a very positive reproductive message (look away now, boys with issues reading about girl business); I took my usual break from the Pill (Yasmin) after being on it for 3 months, to check how my PCO issues were going, and - for the first time in years - I had a period that was not due to a pill cycle! I'm not ready to claim my PCO is over until I have another non-pill period, so I'll let you know in three or so weeks....
I've always been interested in the power of a positive outlook, although I tended to look at the outcomes of cynicism and negativity rather than the 'healing power' of positive thinking. My reading over the past two years has exposed me again and again to the importance of minimising cortisol, and the way blood sugar fluctuations can impact moods. I understood that what was going on in my body could powerfully impact my mind, but somehow I missed the possibility that the reverse could also be true - that the way I thought (given that thought triggers chemical reactions in body, something science knows to be true) could have game-changing influence over what went on in my body.
Jon focuses upon the ways our bodies and minds cope with modern stressors. He argues that we evolve with three main stressors - predators, famine, and temperature extremes. To be safe from predators, we needed to be fit and lean in order to get away or fight them off. From famine and temperature extremes, we needed to store a layer of fat that could be consumed when food became scarce. Our bodies took cues from those stressors to signal the need to gain and maintain fatness, or to achieve leanness. Life in the modern first world is all but immune to those three stressors, but is chock-full of other stressors such as money troubles, social pressure, etc. These modern stressors are not understood completely by what Jon calls the 'animal brain' - it only understands the three main stressors of earlier eras. Thus, the mind tries to interpret modern stressors in the way it did earlier stressors - as signals to gain fat, or lose fat.
Since I'm not one to believe what I read straight off the bat (else reading the new book by Gary Taubes would leave me carbophobic and blaming my freckles on the sandwiches Mum made me as a child... of so this review would have me believe), I went and did my research, enjoying the work of the lovely Emily Deans, MD (I'm committed to reading her entire backlog of blogposts, so it's slow-going!), among many others. I encourage you all to do the same - living in this cynical and negative world, it has been very helpful to be reminded of the importance of reflecting on the successes as well as the failures, the crucial need to let go and forgive past mistakes and crimes, and to appreciate what we have rather than focus on what we want (I would add 'and need' except I doubt many of us are truly lacking in that department). It seems really basic and obvious, but I know that I don't praise myself enough - it's culturally frowned-upon to really succeed, since Australian media sources and other influential people are quick to point out flaws or mock the slightest sign of pride or pleasure in one's success. I know the power of praise, and I always apply the ' at least 5 yays to 1 nay' formula in the classroom - but not to myself!
Whilst positive thinking is the main umbrella covering everything I'm working on and researching at the moment, I will list my particular 'therapy' approach here, in case anyone is feeling like they might be circling the orthorexia/negativity bowl:
The first move I made was probably the biggest - I decided that I would eat junk food if I felt like it. I first wanted to find out whether it would have any immediate physiological effects, but no - a dose of vegetable oil from KFC chicken and potato chips left me a little queasy, but I noticed nothing after a hit of gluten and sugar in cookie form. I had a couple of bad days of cravings and feeling crap about myself, but this coincided with my first 'natural' period in two years, so I hesitate to claim that the food was the culprit. The main psychological point behind this move is to avoid my 'animal brain' feeling as though it is being deprived of anything, in case that triggers a 'famine' response of fat accumulation. I'm not finding myself truly craving junk, and enjoy the things I eat without considering it 'cheating' or worrying about weight gain. I enjoyed the novelty value of fried fish & chips from the amazing place down the road, I reminded myself what milk chocolate and white chocolate taste like, etc. The message for my brain to hold on to is that this food is available if I want it, but it only tastes good for a few seconds, and it doesn't really nourish me so it's not worth pursuing. Being able to reach this place of acceptance after building such a focus on how unhealthy those foods are is quite an achievement, since not so long ago I burst into tears in a restaurant after being told my lamb dish involved breadcrumbs, and I'd already eaten some!
Beyond the junk food hurdle, I am not worrying about carbs or calories. I regret ever counting calories, since I know so thoroughly now that caloric restriction will not give me long-term health. If that's a new concept for you, Matt Stone's guest post at Belly Fat Loser is one of his less-bastardy pieces, and nails many of the flaws in the diet industry's arguments. However, rather than dwelling on the past, I am eating what I want, when I'm hungry, and stopping when I have had enough. I haven't perfected this yet since my satiety is all over the place and I never seem to feel full when I'm eating fruit. The key here is probably that I'm actually rarely hungry, but I feel like eating, so I eat. I'm on holidays and the weather is terrible - tropical humidity and rain, in Victoria! I'm also taking care of the kitten, so I'm inside most of the time, with nothing to do except sit and watch movies and read and become bored ;) But I'm not worrying about it, because it's worse to worry (stress) about things than just live.
Beyond not counting carbs or calories, I have the aim of not really worrying about food at all. As Jon says in his meditation CD, "it's just there.. and it's just not that exciting anymore". I'm not sure how successful I'll be in this area, given that I'm a foodie and like being creative in the kitchen, but we'll see how I go! I try not to think about what my next meal will be, I'm not intending to actively fast, and so on.
Not all of my 'therapy' revolves around food though - I am also taking advantage of my down-time at home by stopping to think about everything I have, and appreciating things rather than being critical. Sometimes this is laughable - my kitten broke my skin by accident whilst we were playing, so I had to stop myself from feeling hurt and instead think about all the fun we were having despite the incident! Cynical me pipes up occasionally to point out the hippy-dippy-ness of this, but then I laugh at that little voice, and it all ends up positive. I hope I can keep it up!
Every night I listen to Jon's meditation/visualisation recording as I go to sleep, and I'm interested in trying to incorporate more visualisation into my day. His ideas have been reinforced from many other sources, but for ease of reference I'll stick with his work since it's readily available online, his book is quite affordable, and he lives in Australia! ;)
The one area I'm not currently succeeding in is the physical activity component, but I'm not going to force myself to get active if I don't feel like it. I've done bits of belly dancing and some push-ups & sit-ups when I've felt fidgety - and feeling fidgety itself is a wonderful sign of health! I was always someone who could melt into the sofa and watch TV for hours, but now I need something to keep my hands busy (my jewellery-making has continued to thrive!) and I change position quite often. I'm keen to get back to my belly dancing classes, but the teacher tends to be quite negative and we often have one or more students feeling down at some point in the class. The last class before Christmas break, this was me, since I felt unfairly picked on, so there's a bit of a dark cloud there to break through before I will actively want to return. Hopefully I will feel better about it all by next Monday! In the meantime I have DVDs I can play if I feel the urge - but with this hot weather, jumping around in the stuffy TV room is the last thing I want to do!
So that's where I'm at. I'm feeling quite happy, light and playful, I'm letting go of things that have bothered me in the past, I'm developing a healthier attitude to food and my body, and am hoping that his will have positive returns in not only restoring my state of mind but also getting my body's fat stores burning. I will still design healthy meals and share them here, and continue sharing my journey with you. I am experiencing many internal rewards already, which fuels my efforts as intrinsic motivation.
And my extrinsic motivation? I have a colleague who is incredibly fat and incredibly negative. No matter the topic, she'll find fault and voice her criticisms loudly and proudly. She lives on doughnuts and other carby nasties. Just recently, she was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. She hasn't changed much, is still very negative, but sometimes she looks on the lighter side of things. I don't want to be seen as negative, especially if those vibes result in obesity and cancer formation! On the other hand, the colleague who is lovely and loved by everyone, who is pretty care-free and laid-back, is also very thin. She also lives on doughnuts and other carby nasties, but doesn't sweat it. I know that she might suffer from her food choices down the track, but what is more damaging - conventional 'nutrition', or attitude? I can't be sure, so I'll be covering both bases as much as I can - but I won't be letting the former control the latter.