Friday, August 8, 2008

Creativity & overeating: Want to lose weight?

This weekend I read The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right Size by creativity guru Julia Cameron. I'm glad I did.
Like most women who have recently delivered a baby, I'm anxious to get rid of my extra pregnancy weight. (I know Brittany shares this feeling.) It's been 8 weeks now, and I got the all-clear from my OB at week 6. Many women seem to slim down quickly while nursing and chasing other kids around, but breastfeeding makes me voraciously hungry and I can actually gain weight despite efforts to lose. With so many positive things going on in my life right now, I'm eager to get set on the right path with diet and exercise. I want the energy boost that comes with being in shape -- and, let's face it, I want to fit into my jeans.
I should admit, for the record, that I have always had a tortured and self-destructive complicated relationship with food. Over the years I've figured out what works best for me, but I often slip off track. I was glad to see that the "Clean Eating" Cameron advocates is common sense and very much my personal preference: avoid refined sugar and refined carbs, avoid processed food, focus on lean protein, drink lots of water, eat five times a day (three meals and two snacks) to keep metabolism stoked. Cameron is a little Splenda-happy for my taste, and I have no intention of eating diet Jello, but I can ignore those details. I'm also a vegetarian, so lean protein isn't as easy as grabbing some sliced turkey, but it's doable.
In addition to Eating Clean, Cameron lays out seven tools to enable weight loss. The primary tool -- no surprise here -- is Morning Pages. (For the uninitiated, Morning Pages are three longhand journal pages written every morning, as introduced in The Artist's Way.) The genesis for "writing oneself thinner" came from Cameron's observation of her students; adopting Morning Pages for a 12-week program resulted in visible weight loss for many. So many, in fact, that Cameron realized she was on to something.
Cameron's premise is that overeating can block creativity, and conversely, that creativity can block overeating. I bet that many of us would agree. I'm certainly no stranger to overeating due to various unidentified reasons, or from simply stress. As potter Iris Milward observed when I interviewed her for my book, "Stress eating is when there is fear instead of creativity."
By journaling daily, Cameron theorizes that we work through many of the issues that cause us to overeat, and significantly increase our creative bandwidth. When we spill our issues onto the page, we are less likely to try and stuff them down with food. (During periods in the past when I was religious about Morning Pages, I often noted that the process was at least as helpful as psychotherapy, and a lot cheaper. Come to think of it, I was pretty skinny then, too.)
Cameron's second tool is a food journal. Everything you eat is recorded, along with notes about how you felt and if you were eating from hunger. I tried this yesterday, and found the process to be startlingly illuminating. I wasn't conscious of the fact that I'd pretty much been eating all day -- including lots of the junky carbs I know I should avoid. Rather than keeping a notebook, I printed out a bunch of these convenient log sheets. The result of recording what I ate, AND how I felt about it, meant that I ended up eating far less -- and far better -- than I usually would. Yep, gonna keep that one going.
Walking, at least 20 minutes a day, is the third tool -- one that fosters creativity and well-being in addition to fitness. Exercise is obviously a crucial element in any weight-loss plan.
I won't itemize all of Cameron's tools, as she probably wouldn't appreciate that, but I will say that several of them are extremely difficult to accomplish as the mother of young children. Cameron had one child, now grown, and doesn't generally address the experience of women in the domestic trenches. Sure, I would love to be doing Morning Pages right now, but simply setting my alarm an hour earlier every day -- as Cameron suggests -- is untenable with a newborn. Even walking 20 minutes every day is tough; my baby wants to nurse constantly and has no established nap pattern yet. I don't want to be a mile from the house when he starts screaming. Cameron's suggestion of a weekly culinary date (the restaurant version of the artist's date) is also not going to happen. Me, going off to a restaurant by myself once a week? Uhm, no. (Honestly, If my husband told me he wanted to go out to eat alone every week, leaving me and the five kids at home, I'd rip his head off be a little unhappy.)
Some of Cameron's prose seems repetitive, rather than reinforcing, but obviously she can get away with it. There are also a lot of 12-step references, some of which seemed overdone. On the whole, this is a useful book that increases mindfulness about eating just as The Artist's Way increases mindfulness about creativity.
I will certainly adopt the elements of Cameron's plan that are feasible: the food journal, walking when I can (also doing some yoga & Pilates DVDs and hand weights at home), and journaling when I can. I will follow the three meals/two snacks model, although as a nursing mother I'm throwing in a bonus snack when I need it. (It's no fun to get the shakes, as Cathy noted, and nursing mothers need to be careful about restricting calories.) I don't know if all that is enough to make a difference, but it's a good start. I already feel better. And is it simply a coincidence, that after my first day of Eating Clean, my baby slept through the night? Six hours straight, when the most he'd ever done before was four. If I needed even more motivation, well, there you have it. And if I end up being more creative to boot, then brilliant.
Stake in the ground: I've got nearly 20 pounds to lose, but I'm breaking that down. Goal #1: lose 10 pounds and redevelop some of that long-lost muscle tone. Since muscle weighs more than fat, I'll pay attention to how my clothes fit in addition to looking at the scale. I'm giving myself a generous 10 weeks to reach my goal: September 7. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Miracle weight loss infomercial

The ten day diet plan - The easiest diet ever.

The Ten day diet plan is still working a year and a half later. I have lost a little weight every month and was I never hungry. Yes, I got bored with it several times but not for very long because I wasn't on any particular diet for very long. Basically if the diet isn't easy and fun I quit doing it so I made a point of finding fun things to do for ten days and called it a diet. In its simplest stated form the strategy of the ten day diet is to do some new diet for the first ten days of each new month, then to coast for ten days and try to ignore the whole diet concept for the remainder of the month remaining reasonable of course. If you have a serious weight problem you want to keep within your overall dietary guidelines but the idea is to make that as automatic as possible and just relax into what ever is best for you. I don't want to tell you what to do but here is what seemed to work best for me.
1. Eat low glycemic index foods at every meal and avoid high glycemic index foods totally for ten days. This is as close as I ever came to a really strict diet but it worked. Basically avoid refined white things.
2. Wear a pedometer all the time and get 10,000 steps in every day, this may mean taking an extra walk in the evening.
3. Eating a serving of desert is okay but cut it into several pieces and share it with your friends.
4. No matter how small the desert get up after eating it and go for an extra mile of walking.
5. For breakfast eat a cup of yogurt with two rounded table spoons of mixed nuts and three rounded table spoons of "Fiber One" and fruit juice.
6. Lunch is the biggest meal and the one where I think about variety of what is to be eaten most.
7. The evening meal is eaten as early as possible and nothing is eaten within three hours of bed time.
8. When watching TV or movies never eat or drink anything other than raw vegetables and water. This isn't really eating anyway it is just fidgety stuffing things in your mouth.
There isn't anything unusual about any of this except in the attitude in which it was done. Perhaps one thing that made it easy was that I only did one small dieting change on any particular ten day stretch. That made it easy to do and easy to remember. It was easy to do because simply doing or not doing some unique thing makes it easy to remember and easy to do a good substitution for that particular food.
At one time, in the distant past, I would eat a pastry every day from a particular bakery across the street from my favorite coffee shop. Then I realized that all of the stuff in this particular bakery was laden with palm oil and sugar so it was a simple mental effort to just get my pastry at the coffee shop. The goodies cost more but they were much better quality, being made with butter and so that was sort of a reasonable trade-off. It was a simple change to make and therefore it was easy to develop the new habit. Later I changed from the chocolate rum cake I was practically addicted to, to a biscotti with my coffee and that also was easy to do and definitely a bit healthier. After a while I even went intermittent on the biscotti and started drinking my coffee black instead of with cream. Each of these were really small and easy steps and I only made one step per month and even that was only carefully attended to for the first ten days. These changes were based decisions that were made at the counter before I started eating what ever it was that was selected. Once I am at a table and chatting with my friends I don't really pay much attention to what it is that I'm consuming and as there are no seconds freely available I don't generally eat any more. So what I get at the counter is all that I eat. Once a month or so I still get one of those chocolate cakes but only when there are at least three other people at my table so I can split it four ways. It's enough and we all actually enjoy the much smaller portions more and we eat them guilt free.
I am not even sure any of this can legitimately be called a diet, at least not in the usual painful sense that most people usually think of when they think of diets. On the other hand I have gone from 196 pounds to 171 pounds in 18 months and at present am considering just sort of gliding on down to 165 pounds, my college senior weight, and staying there permanently. My current situation is just fine but perhaps a little lower would be just a bit finer.
This is the simpelest and easiest diet I can imagine. The only mental effort is on the first of every month for a few seconds trying to think up some tiny little diet thing to do for ten days. The doing this kind of diet hasn't been any problem at all. I write my weight down on my calendar on the first of each month and a couple of words to remember what the diet was for that month. Good Luck.