Driven by Distraction

January 8, 2008

I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me personally (why, yes, you’re absolutely right, that does sound like the opening line of a letter to Penthouse Forum! But sorry, it’s not).

Two whole days, and I have consumed not one single sweet. No cookies.  No cake.  No muffins, even.  But best of all:  no chocolate! My small intestine is saying, “thank you.”  My gastric juices are whispering, “we appreciate the time off.”  My liver is chanting, “Bless you, my child.”  The scale is even winking at me in gratitude. The Girls–well, they’re not as thankful.  (“We really do miss getting the leftover bits of those oatbran banana muffins, Mum.“)

How did I accomplish such a feat, you ask? Well (like so much else in my life, unfortunately), it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I have discovered since our new semester began this week that it is just soooo much easier for me to eat healthfully when I have some distraction.  During the past two days, I’ve had distraction squared.  Exponential distraction.  To wit, dozens of students emailing with questions, numerous pieces of coursework to put into place, several meetings with colleagues, coordinators and Chairs (and chairs, too, actually), a cooking class to present in a major grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, and myriad other little errands and domestic tasks that I’ve left by the wayside for too long (hmmmm. .. why don’t we see just how long we can live without unpacking the second half of our kitchen, still in boxes from our recent move?)

On some level, I guess I know that my dietary habits are curbed by being busy, so I tend to overbook myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.  But hey, I like it that way; I get too stressed out when I’m not so busy that I’m stressed out.

It just seems that the ability to exert willpower over poor dietary choices is much more effective when I have many things to occupy my time and mind.  This fact tends to convince me that my eating is, indeed, emotional, as I am able to easily ignore even the most insistent rumbling of my stomach during times that I’m involved in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I swear, that’s his real name) would call a “Flow” activity.

I guess I’ve always been someone who requires structure and consistency to be comfortable and stave off anxiety. As an undergraduate, I was exceedingly organized, so much so that I could work part time, go to school full-time, be a teaching assistant part-time, and still have a social life.  I was one of those annoying students who elicited the gag reflex in others by always having her course readings done (with notes) before class, and always finishing essays long before the due date (though I never actually handed them in before the due date, because I didn’t want my professors to think I hadn’t used the maximum time allotted, thereby designating me a slacker).

When it comes to my eating habits, however, I tenaciously resist the idea of structure.  Why? There have certainly been times in my life when I did diet according to “Diet Rules,” whatever fashion dictated they were at the time. 

Ah, nostalgia: I remember clearly when The Nurse first explained to me (a mere tyke at the time!) about the concept of calories. The rules were easy:  it didn’t matter where you got your calorie buzz as long as your sinful activity never exceeded a certain number per day (I think it was 1000 at that time).  You could eat anything you wanted, no matter how decadent, and you’d still lose 5 pounds a week as long as you followed the rules. But if you went too far, or enjoyed too much, you’d pay for breaking those rules by growing fatter and fatter, and your friends would ultimately reject you. So we went on a chocolate cake diet, eating one slice of it for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner in order to lose weight. (Come to think of it, that was also about the time she explained the birds and the bees to me as well, so maybe I’m getting those two sets of rules mixed up.)

Later on was the “same thing for each meal” diet (not to be confused with the previous one, which is technically the “same thing for every meal” diet).  In its second incarnation, the diet prescribed a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk for breakfast, a salad and orange for lunch, and chicken and vegetables for dinner.  At that time, I was working lunch hours in the high school cafeteria, so I’d get my orange and salad for free (I know, I can get my entire lunch for free, and what do I pick?  Salad and an orange).  Back then, in my early teens, that diet also worked beautifully. I did lose weight, my first large weight loss.  Unfortunately, I also lost my period and felt pretty crappy most of the time.  (Oh, and losing the weight didn’t help me get a boyfriend, either. Bummer.)

I could go on (but I’ll spare you).  Suffice it to say that, over the years, I tried sundry and various ways to lose weight, always keeping it off for a short time (except my one big “lose,” after which I maintained my slim self for about a decade).  But eventually, I gained back the weight in the most cliched fashion, even surpassing the previous “high” weight.

Lack of success in the past may explain why I’m diet-shy at the moment and bristle at any mention of counting points, calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else that would cause me to practise my rusty addition or subtraction skills before eating.  I am truly thankful that I haven’t felt the urge to consume anything unhealthy in the past two days, but I’m still not entirely sure why that’s been the case. 

What I’m aiming for, eventually, is to regain the power in that equation (there’s that darn math again!), allowing me to assume conscious control of whether or not I lean toward the slice of chocolate cake or the scrambled tofu for dinner.  And judging by the last couple of days, it would make sense to examine just what it is that distraction offers.  Because in the end, I think it’s far preferable to meander through your days, relaxed and aware, than to rush through a predetermined schedule just to avoid the temptation of unhealthy eating.

3 Responses to “Driven by Distraction”

  1. Johanna Says:

    it’s funny how different experiences affect different people – I love food too much to ever ‘diet’ – apart from one brief flirtation with weight watchers that was a useful way of watching what I ate – but I have lost a lot of weight twice – once when I was in love and once when I was heartbroken – the second time I learned to eat lots of vegetables and fruit to keep my diet lighter! (and luckily I don’t tend to drink much when stressed – does that make me a real freak?) I think it is a good thing if you can be distracted by more things than just chocolate!

  2. Dani Says:

    Interesting post…I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of food-emotions-and life. Life and food, just like mind and body, are so intimately connected. I just posted an article called “Play More, Eat Less” that touches on this topic as well.
    I think it is so important for us to realize that the food we eat is just one avenue of nourishment and good health…careers, relationships, activities, etc. all “feed” us as well. When things are going well in all arenas of life, food tends to become less of a focus no matter how much you LOVE food.
    I know for me, all you have to do is watch my eating habits for a week to know whether or not things are out of whack in my life or not.

  3. Ricki Says:

    Johanna,

    Thanks for the level-headedness about all this! I’ve definitely lost weight after being heartbroken. It’s the “in love” part that tends to pack on the pounds. (And I don’t tend to drink, either). But I like the positive spin on the distraction–it’s true, life is certainly more engaging when chocolate isn’t at its centre!

    Dani,

    It is a curious connection, isn’t it? And for so many people who struggle with weight loss, finding the “nourishment” in other activities or people is the key to controlling overeating. Hmmm. . . I think I feel a new post coming on. . .! Thanks.


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