Out of the Abyss
In 2013 I lost 40 pounds, from 220 pounds and a 38" waist to 180 pounds and a 34" waist. I did it in four months and in a way which has freed me from the fear that my eating will get out of control again. A few months later, my doctor suggested I lose another ten pounds. I did it in about two months! Those of you who knew me in the Washington area and in Arcata, CA, will remember me differently as to my weight when last you saw me. I would like to tell you how I made the journey.
Below is a somewhat detailed account of the experience, but I will start here with the short version. Note that I write in the present tense. It is because I wrote this piece shortly after my getting out of the abyss of overeating. My eating habits since my victory have changed a bit, although I'm still at what for me is a healthy weight of 175 pounds.
When I eat, I eat and do nothing else.
That's it! I do not read. I do not watch TV. I do not daydream. I do not socialize with others. (I eat alone.) When I eat, I eat and do nothing else but eat and let myself be aware of the experience. That is the essence of my "program." It has worked!
Obesity had been a severe problem for me for a long time. My descent into the abyss began with a depression which came on me in 1990. Within a year I was close to dangerously overweight and still gaining. I got out of the depression abyss pretty much by 2000 but was still very much in the other one. By 2009 I weighed about 240 and my waist was a lovely 44 inches.
In 2009 I took my first step on the way out of fat land when a life-threatening medical problem forced me to engage in vigorous exercise. I started playing racketball and within a year I was down to 220 pounds. Much better, but still 40 pounds above what at the time I felt was my healthy weight. It was destructive of my body and seriously interfered with my sports interests. I didn't like the 38" waist either. The main problems were an addiction to good soups and a midnight Ben and Jerry's habit.
In 2013 I made the final step when I discovered a very simple way to healthy eating.
When I eat, I eat and do nothing else.
I do not read. I do not watch TV. I do not daydream. I do not socialize with others. (I eat alone.) When I eat, I eat and do nothing else.
I make only one exception to this program. When a social commitment requires that I share a meal with another person, I do not of course eat alone. But I do eat in a restaurant and order something which does not distract me from being with the other person. In Mexico, for example, I usually order refried beans and taco chips. I would prefer a tamale to refried beans, but when I remove the husk from the thing or when I use a fork on it, I have to take my eyes off my companion and look at the tamale. If a tamale came without the wrapper, and good table manners allowed me to eat it with my fingers, I'd probably order it instead of the refried beans. I eat with others in restaurants to avoid offending them in their efforts to share their cooking with me.
Why does eating without distractions work for me? Because when I am free of distractions, I cannot still the voice of conscience. The voice of conscience of course completely wrecks the pleasures of overeating.
I do not by the way deny myself any sort of food: rich cakes, candies of all sorts, calorie-laden fish dishes and puddings both sweet and savory, and all the rest of it. None of these are out of bounds for me. And whenever I think of one of them -- carrot cake comes to mind -- I never think that I must not have it. I simply think of myself eating the thing without distractions and with the voice of conscience completely free to needle me. Usually my reaction to that thought is something along the lines of, "Sounds dreadful, or at best boring." But sometimes I'm OK about it and do it! But I do it without distractions, just me and my conscience enjoying the treat.
Conscience. Getting to conscience was probably the hardest part for me. When I was three years old I had an extremely traumatic experience. Basically, my mother convinced me that I had murdered another child. To this you might say, "But you were only three years old! How could you possibly even understand the concept of murder, much less commit it?" I will only say to such questions that this is the LONGER version, not the REALLY LONG version. To make matters much worse, in my early twenties I suffered another very severe emotional and spiritual trauma. (This one was so severe that it left me with tinnitus, something from which I still suffer.) These experiences made me terrified of the promptings of conscience, a state of mind which ruled me until a therapist got me talking and thinking about the experience I had had as a very young child, the experience -- so I had thought -- of killing an innocent person. I think that the only thing which kept me from becoming sociopathic during my many years without a normal conscience, was compassion for others and a horror of telling lies to anyone whom I knew personally and did not consider an enemy. But respectful behavior towards others had very little to do with the promptings of conscience. The relevance to the weight loss experience is of course that without a normal conscience my weight-loss "program" would be impossible.
Also, to be completely open about me and eating, I should say that I do eat breakfast and a before-bed snack while listening to audio books. Seemingly this does not create any dangers for me. I'm not quite sure why this is so. As to breakfast, I think it may be that I eat right after I get up and so am too groggy to think about doing anything for breakfast but stick with my habit of eggs and a bowl of cereal. As to the bedtime snack, I think the barrier is that overeating just before bedtime will interfere with my sleep.
I have also been experimenting over the past few weeks with easing up on the restrictions. I have for example been eating regularly with others. I'm not sure how this will turn out. I'm hoping though that an extended period of healthy eating will enable me to do more than focus on chewing etc, but my current experimenting may be too early. I have gained some weight since the change, though I'm still in my healthy weight range.
One thing which helped me a lot was the simple realization that although I had overcome some serious addictions -- tobacco and alcohol -- I was able to do it because neither of those things is a necessity. Food however is of course a necessity. But finally I saw that my real addiction was not to food but to the euphoria I got from eating while engaging in enjoyable activities, a euphoria which drugged me to the voice of conscience. My method of course deals with that quite well and perhaps this is its basic strength.