Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Gift of Air

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. One's late and the other is timely. I think I may get my Christmas cards out in spring, if I can manage to continue thinking about getting it done after another week or so. I'm not holding my breath.

Speaking of breath, asthma shaped our Christmas celebrations this year. Sophia, who was having a slumber party for her 13th birthday, dragged herself up the two flights of stairs from the family room early last Friday morning and sat outside my bedroom door, crying and trying to breathe. I thought I heard an odd noise, sort of a mewling sound, and went to investigate. There I found the poor girl, gasping for air, fearful tears running down her cheeks, her lips blue. My brain, which does occasionally kick into useful action, told me to get her to the emergency room right away. Since the hospital is only a five minute drive from our house, it would have taken longer to call an ambulance, so I put her in the car and away we went. Her birthday party guests, some of whom had driven in from The Big City, were left abandoned. I only shouted to Sian on the way out the door that I was taking her sister to the hospital.

The doctors didn't let her out for four days,but Husband and the other kids hauled the presents to Sophia's room on Christmas morning and we opened them under the kind and watchful eye of the respiratory therapist, who had to give Sophia her breathing treatment. Otherwise, Sophia's hospital experience was kind of pleasant, even if she was hooked up to a bunch of tubes. No one fought her for TV control, and she got to pick whatever she wanted to eat from the hospital menu. By Monday, however, she was pretty done with it, and we were very glad that she was released and allowed to go home. She's been fine ever since.

And her birthday guests did eventually get home, poor things.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why it Takes Four Days

I made myself stand on the scale this morning, just to see. Lo and behold, I've lost six pounds, and that's without actively cutting my caloric intake. I've been a lot more thoughtful about what I eat simply because I am not fighting cravings now. If you've never had the overwhelming guilt that comes with your weakness against food cravings, you don't know the relief I'm feeling. To let go of that constant tug-of-war between rational thought and irrational wants is like taking a vacation in the most peaceful, relaxing location where there are no cell phones, no insurmountable expectations to fulfill, and no guilt. I'm sitting on a beach, watching and listening to waves crash on the shore. I'm in the shade (since I'm not a sun lover) on a cool, deep patch of grass (hey, it's my dream. I'll have grass on the beach if I want it) under a palm tree.

Another side effect of all this mental work is that I'm dealing with stress better. Not perfectly, but better.

As promised, here is the reason why Martha Beck called her book The Four Day Win. Through her own studies and those of others, she noticed that beginning to make a change takes about four days. It's the first four days that are often the hardest, but after that, it's an exponential rise to making a habit if you don't quit. Habits take about 21 days to cement, so going through a series of five 4-day exercises plus one day will help you create a new, healthy habit. Since we humans really, really resist change -- even when the change is good for us -- it's easier to make these ridiculously easy daily goals for four day increments than it is to focus on the long term. Each day you achieve your ridiculously easy daily goal, you get a reward. You get a slightly larger reward for accomplishing four days of that goal. Setting ridiculously easy daily goals helps you ease into change without resistance.

One of her examples of how these four day increments can really work is from her own experience. When she wanted to begin working out, she knew that it would take a bit to get used to going to the gym and doing a workout routine. Based on her past failures to maintain a workout regimen, she started ridiculously easy. After the kids were dropped off at school, she drove to the gym and sat in the parking lot for the length of one song on the radio. Then she drove home. She did that for four days, and after four days, she was used to driving to the gym right after dropping off the kids. Then she went into the gym and walked on the treadmill for the length of one song. Then she left. After four days, she walked for the length of two songs. Suddenly, after all these extremely small goals were met, her body decided it really liked to work out, and she found that she was completing full length workouts with no resistance and no need to make that daily decision (do I go or don't I?). After 21 days, when the habit was cemented, it had become something that was difficult to change. The key was to start easing into that new habit without causing a "fight or flight" reaction inside.

Oooh, the latent psychologist inside me has been grinning from ear to ear.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Watcher

The Watcher is neutral and stands apart from the constant tide of thoughts and emotions running through my body and my mind , but The Watcher is full of nothing but compassion and love for Wild Child and The Dictator.

Following Martha Beck's instructions in The Four Day Win, I've been practicing becoming The Watcher. It's not very easy at first. You have to be able to step back from all the millions of big and little thoughts that race through your head and all the ups and downs and sidewayses of emotions that attend those thoughts. When I have sufficient quiet time, I have successfully achieved this state. Then I look kindly at Wild Child and The Dictator and tell them how much I love them and am grateful for them. After all, each of them is only trying to protect me in her own, extremely specialized way. As The Watcher, I speak to both Wild Child and The Dictator, thanking them for the role they play in my life and then asking how they can work together instead of fighting each other. I've had some incredibly insightful experiences doing this, and this visual has really helped me "see" the changes that have been made. Wild Child is starting to comb her hair and The Dictator has taken to wearing bright red lipstick. The Dictator is learning to ask rather than demand, and Wild Child is learning to trust.

Another exercise Beck has me doing is to communicate directly with Wild Child. Since my dominant brain hemisphere is the left side (I'm right handed), and I have begun to pay even more attention to the language of Wild Child (emotions), I'm teaching Wild Child my language as well. First, with my right (dominant) hand, I write down a question. Then I switch the pen to my left (non-dominant) hand and answer it. Here's what happened the first day I did this (Wild Child's answers are in italics, and she doesn't believe in punctuation):

How are you?

confused scared hurt

What can I do for you?

give me time don't judge don't starve

I won't starve you. What do you want to eat today?

bread olive oil apples

If we eat those, will that help you start trusting me?

We'll see need proof HCG was awful like a war zone don't do that again

I have no intention of doing that again. That was awful. I want to eat plenty of foods that make us feel good (healthy) but never deny us anything.

Good. I'll cooperate if we don't go hungry

What's crazy is that as I've been doing this, I have begun to lose serious cravings. I'm always reassuring Wild Child that I will not deny her anything, and because she's content that she won't be forced to go hungry, she doesn't make me fixate on how yummy a pint of ice cream would taste or linger on the smell and texture of pepperoni pizza. Peanut M&Ms haven't even been an issue. I love pie, but I haven't been compelled to seek it out. With most foods, I can  take it or leave it. There's no temptation to binge.

I keep checking to find out if I'm hungry, rate how hungry I am, and then decide (as a committee with The Watcher, Wild Child, and The Dictator) what to eat. I keep tabs on how my hunger is doing as I eat, too. It doesn't take very long and I don't spend inordinate amounts of time doing it, and at this stage, I haven't actively begun limiting caloric intake. Though I'm still in the pre-contemplation stage, it's already put me farther ahead mentally than with any diet I have ever attempted (or any non-diet guilt trip, for that matter).

I do know how weird it sounds to refer to myself as multiple people, but I know it's all just different aspects of me. Creating visuals for each aspect and referring to them as "she" helps me identify those pieces of me that are in conflict and give them a chance to have their say.

Tomorrow, in my final installment about this book and my preliminary experiences with it (until I want to report something again), I'll explain why it's called The Four Day Win.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Oh, I'm Just SOOO Complex!

Meet Wild Child and The Dictator. They both live in me, and both of them are very good at what they do. The Dictator is extremely talented at telling me what I need to do in order to reach my weight loss goals and also very good at telling me what a failure I am when I have a weak moment and lose control. The Dictator not only harasses me about weight loss but also about all the shoulds and must-bes and impossible standards I have floating around in my head as ideal states of being. With her hair pulled painfully back into a tight bun under her military hat and her little whip cracking ferociously, she's scary and powerful.

Wild Child is extremely timid, dressed in her bark and moss, with her dark hair a wild halo around her head. She might appear to be compliant and docile, but oh, she is so stubborn when she's backed into a corner. Put enough pressure on her and she'll literally grow in size, hissing like a cat and baring sharp teeth, threatening total annihilation to the enemy.

Up until now, The Dictator and Wild Child have been locked in a constant battle for survival, each against the other. The more The Dictator imposes strict diet regimens and goals, the quicker Wild Child whips out irresistible food cravings.

Martha Beck, in The Four Day Win, took my nebulous theory about what is going on inside my head and turned it into a vivid visual. The Dictator is my mind, the computer, trying to grant me my wish of effortless weight loss without the use of harsh diets and dangerous "miracle" pills and potions. The Dictator is logical and educated, if not entirely rational about her approach. She threatens and bullies and dictates in order to get me to comply with eating less and moving more. She's just doing what is natural for her to do, which is to pursue my desires, and she'll boss me into being thin if it's the last thing she does.

Wild Child is my body, the creature. Where The Dictator is the predator, Wild Child is the prey, and she reacts to the harsh orders from The Dictator by defending herself and her existence with every trick she knows how. In her view, The Dictator is ordering her to commit suicide, and the survival instinct is simply too strong. Her job is to keep me healthy, and if The Dictator is going to starve her, she will react by going into famine mode: eat as much as possible and store fat.

When Beck had me visualize Wild Child and The Dictator as two-inch beings on the palms of my hands, it was an ah-ha! moment of incredible clarity. There they were, those two warring factions in my self, suddenly so defined and crisp. But how to get them to stop fighting and work together toward the common goal of reaching a healthy weight?

Enter The Watcher.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Not Losing Hope, Just Hoping to Lose

It is a tomorrow, and I am continuing my thoughts from my last post. I simply can't make myself finish my work this afternoon since I've been writing exhaustively for the past few days while dealing with all the million other things that have come up. So the orthodontist is going to have to wait, along with the people who want their Lap Band blurbs. Sorry, y'all, my brain only works for free today (but I'll have it all finished by Monday, I promise.).

I believe I was in the process of telling you of my weight loss hope.

A while ago, a friend of mine was sharing what he has called his "Sneak Up on You Weight Loss Plan," where he basically made some minor changes over time that have added up to losing over 40 pounds. Instead of starting a formal diet, he just made sure half his plate was covered in vegetables, and he learned to enjoy the pleasant meditation of a daily walk. I was thinking about how I've often thought the same things, only when I think them, I suddenly crave an entire pizza. It must work to make these small lifestyle changes, I thought, because he's been losing weight, but how do I make it work for myself without going food postal? The big and sudden changes of a formal diet are out, but how small do small changes have to be to stop triggering that rebellious streak in me?

Then, last week, I suddenly felt a very strong and sudden need to go to the thrift store and look at the books. Since I had a little time that evening, I asked Husband to accompany me, and I went to check out the books while he went to find those amazing deals he has a knack for finding. After a while, I came across a book called The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, by Martha Beck, PhD. I did a quick perusal and decided to buy it, although I left numerous other diet books on the shelf. I hadn't gone with the specific intention of buying a book about dieting, just some vague notion that I simply must go and look at books at the thrift store, so I also grabbed a book about Color Code personality (turns out I am very definitely a White with almost equal secondary Blue and Yellow aspects), a thick coffee table book about China with some excellent text and amazing pictures, and a world Atlas that seemed pretty much up to date.

I read The Four Day Win in two days because I couldn't put it down except to attend to things like working and feeding hungry children. Not only is Beck hilarious (I couldn't help laughing out loud frequently), but she addressed every single one of the issues I've been dealing with when it comes to my dieting failures. In fact, after I read the entire book (because I like to read the entire book before I go back and start implementing things) I had already begun to change.

Tomorrow, I will tell you what has begun to change in my head so that when I woke up this morning, I absolutely knew that the pain of staying the same has become greater than the pain of change and that I am already making and keeping the "ridiculously small daily goals" that will make a big difference.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reaching Metabolic Nirvana Again, I Hope

I have often wondered why it is that the moment I even contemplate starting a diet, I balloon out like a desperate puffer fish on steroids. You know how people joke that  just thinking about a piece of rich, chocolate cake makes them fatter? That's me. With the power of my mind, I can literally add pudge to my thighs.

Now, I don't want you to get any ideas that I'm using two chairs at once to sit comfortably, or that I'm wider when I turn sideways than I am when I'm facing you, but for the longest time I've carried more weight than I like. I have thought of myself as somewhat defective in the whole losing weight area, since my childhood, teen, college, and mission years were spent in some sort of metabolic Nirvana. I ate what I wanted and never, ever worried about getting chubby. After I started putting on weight with each pregnancy (have I mentioned there have been six?) is when I learned of my defect. After all, I know what to do: eat less and move more. So why, oh why, if I have the key piece of knowledge to lose chub, is it so %&*$ hard?? Why do I immediately, upon contemplation of cutting out sugar or being virtuous about never eating after 8pm, run to my nearest grocery store and stock up on peanut M&Ms? Why do I -- without fail -- sabotage my righteous intentions?

Actually, I know why, because I've thought about it long and hard while I snorked down a pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream or absent-mindedly whittled my way through a bag of Fritos and a container of cottage cheese. I have a very stubborn streak. When I'm told what to do, even by myself, I rebel on principle. I can't even make a to-do list without feeling smothered. The thought of restricting my diet to celery, cabbage soup, or a slice of dry Melba toast makes me absolutely frantic. I obsess about food when I'm dieting. I think of nothing else, and I count the hours until I can eat another meager, unsatisfying meal. That HCG diet? Torture. And have I gained it back? Really, do you need to ask? I admit to having been extremely disappointed in my lack of iron will.

And yet, I have still searched for a diet that would allow me to eat what I want while I changed my gastronomic desires to more closely resemble a person who doesn't crave access to pounds and pounds of sugar and refined flour at every turn. If only, I reasoned, I could somehow WANT to eat healthfully while finding unhealthful food to be pleasant but not necessary (so I could indulge in the occasional slice of cheesecake but feel fine with leaving half of it on the plate, for instance). Is this diet heaven a possibility?

Yes. The answer is yes. Weep with me, gentle readers, for joy.

And I'll tell you more about it tomorrow (or, well, I say that, but lately things have been crazy, so I can't really promise that it will be tomorrow, per se, as much as a tomorrow. I'm just keepin' it real, my peeps.).