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.

Well, I hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year.  Ours would have been very pleasant and laid back–after all, we were guests at my friend’s 8000 square foot “cottage” (you read that right–were we lucky, or what??), we were in a pastoral wonderland of snow, lake, birch trees, rare birds and other wildlife prancing past the picture windows between the stone and wood walls, and we spent the time with two of my very favorite people in the world, Gemini I and Gemini II, as well as their families.  Could it get any better?

In our pre-Chaser days, we used to go up there fairly frequently, and have spent many a lovely Thanksgiving or Christmas with the Gemini I family. This time, however, we discovered a tiny, heretofore unseen quirk in our (post-Chaser) Elsie Girl, something we’d never witnessed before:  she has a newfound propensity to lunge at and–if permitted–eat any of the other dogs up there (Chaser excluded).  What the–?? 

My beloved fur baby, the one I’ve adored since we got her from the pound back in 2002, the one who is consistently docile and sweet and gentle?  The one I refer to variously as Sweet Face, Sweet Girl, Honey Girl, My Darling Girl, My Little Love, and innumerable other nausea-inducing, endearing sobriquets?  The one who timorously permits Chaser to nibble endlessly on her ears like popcorn at the movies, who hangs her head in submission when I see her even walking toward the open garbage can, who lies at my feet silently here at the computer and reminds me, with a barely perceptible, feathery whisper of a touch with her nose, that it’s dinnertime? 

Yes, that one.  What on earth has gotten into her?

As a result of this sudden possession by the Dog Satan, we spent most of the time hovering over Elsie to ensure that she didn’t consume Gemini I’s new cat, or bundling up in our snow suits to accompany Elsie on the leash to do her “business” outside.  How I wish Cesar Millan lived in Canada. Sniff.

I also realized, as soon as we were on the road and past the point where it would be feasible to turn back, that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Granted, it’s a cheap little unit (I must be the only blogger on the face of the planet who takes pictures with a camera she got for free using Air Miles), and also I have no photographic ability, but I am inordinately fond of the thing and it feels like traipsing around the house naked to post without photos of any kind. 

The final rather unpleasant discovery to greet me after the weekend (well, actually, the last two weeks) is that it appears I have gained a couple of pounds (really?  pigging out on baked goods and chocolate can do that to you?).  As a result of all these events, I’ve been feeling pretty disheartened since we got back.  Boo hoo.

Well, as Cesar himself would say, it’s the owner, not the dog, that needs training whenever there’s a problem.  Don’t I know it: time to listen to The Great Emperor of Dog Training and get my ass in gear, literally and figuratively.  Also, a perfect opportunity for some goal setting (notice I didn’t say, “resolutions”). 

Every year around this time–sometimes right on the first of the year, sometimes not until April–I sit down and write out a “Five-Year Plan,” a set of goals to reach within 5 years, 2 years, one year, and the next six months.  This is something I learned about from the original study at Harvard (I didn’t participate, just read about it) that confirmed how those people who actually write down their goals are more inclined to someday achieve them.  Some years it works better, some years worse, but it always seems to help keep me on track and steer me toward my goals, even when I immediately put the list back in its desk drawer and promptly forget about it till the next year. 

I’m also always amazed at the goals that eventually come to fruition even when I’ve literally forgotten about them in the interim.  To wit, a couple of years ago one of the goals I wrote was “Work with a business coach for free.”  Through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up with three full months of terrific coaching. Similarly, “guest appearance on TV morning show.”  Or, “Adopt second dog.”  At the time I wrote that, my HH’s response was a definite “no.” As the months rolled by, for some reason, he ultimately changed his mind, and eventually he succumbed.  Now, he’s Chaser’s greatest fan, and the two of them are almost inseparable.(“Thanks for changing your mind, Dad!  You’re so much fun to wrestle with. . .but wait a sec, Mum, if you’re not also my greatest fan, then whose fan are you–?“). 

So, to that end, I am going to list my goals.  I will say straight up that this isn’t the complete list, as there are still some things that I’ll keep private (goals related to relationship, family, etc.), but given the name of the blog, I think I should at least include all the food-related and health-related ones here. 

Of course, everyone and their cousin is making resolutions about now, and to that end, there was a humorous send up of these kinds of lists in the Arts and Life section of the National Post today.  Near the top of the list was this goal:

“Shed those unwanted pounds, or, if that’s too hard, spend some quality time with those pounds at a Wendy’s and make them feel wanted again.” 

In that same spirit, I shall not berate myself for those “unwanted” two pounds, or the fairly unstable wagon off of which I’ve fallen. Instead, I’m going to set about outlining some goals for the next while.

And So:

Five Years Hence:

  • Post and Beam.  My lifelong (okay, adult-long) dream is to own a post and beam, slightly north of the city, with my two dogs and HH (and in it, I’ll still be writing this blog, of course).
  • maintain normal, healthy weight and eating habits (continued since year one), following the plan I outlined, below, in the 6-month goal. 
  • go swimming on a regular basis (something I used to love as a kid/teenager, and have been too embarrassed to do in public since the weight gain).
  • Have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga (or other easy-on-the-joints, meditative exercise) as a weekly part of my life.
  • continue to have an easy, healthy relationship with dessert, able to enjoy with moderation without being thrown into binge mode, as outlined below in the one-year goal.
  • have a healthy, effective method in place for dealing with stress (hey, may as well reach high once I’m setting goals, right?).

Two Years Hence:

  • maintain normal, healthy lifestyle and eating habits since year one (as outlined below, in the 6 month section).
  • maintain a healthy, normal relationship to dessert, as outlined below in the one year goal.
  • have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga or similar type of exercise as weekly.
  • go swimming again–take lessons if necessary.
  • have healthy, effective method for dealing with stress in place and almost perfected.

One Year Hence:

  • reach normal, healthy weight (about 50 pounds from now) 
  •  achieve a sense of control around desserts–that is, the ability to eat them within reason, without breaking into a binge because of one chocolate bar, or brownie, or piece of cake
  • continue to create healthy, delicious desserts for fun and profit
  • continue to eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.
  • complete an intro to yoga course, and continue throughout the year.
  • improve work on weights, to previous levels, working with trainer if necessary.
  • continue with regular exercise at least 6 days a week, as outlined below.

Six Months Hence:

  • down 25 pounds from now
  • eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.  (I know from past experience that this will help me with the dessert goal, above, as I seem so much less inclined toward unhealthy foods when I regularly consume veggies, whole grains, and the like).
  • exercise regularly:  weights/club at least 3x per week; treadmill at least 4x per week (I know this can be done, as I’ve done it before, for years at a time)
  • take intro to yoga or similar exercise course; begin meditation, with the help of a course if necessary.

I think these are realistic goals, especially since I know I’ve mastered some of them in the past.  I’m also giving myself a fairly lengthy period to establish new habits (I’ve read that it takes about 6 weeks of repetition to establish a new habit, but have never found that to be true for me; even after 2 years of eating no sweeteners whatsoever, it didn’t take long to return to old habits once I allowed sugar back into my life).

Now, of course there are many other goals on the piece of paper written out here at home, such as those related to my writing career or travelling (basically, I’d like to do some).  But for now, if I can focus on the physical health and psychological wellness, I think I’d have a great head start toward everything else. 

(“You go for it, Mum!  My goal this year is to earn more treats.  Oh, and I suppose not to attempt ripping apart other dogs would be good, too.’)