I am not a planner. This may come as a shock to the few of you who know me in real life, because I plan *some* things to the point of obsession. For example, social interactions, phone calls, meetings with strangers are particularly high up on that spectrum. I’ll plan a conversation well in advance and review all the possible turns it could take. What will I say if the response is x. What will I say if the response is y. Unsurprisingly, this rarely, if ever, works out the way I imagined, but at least I feel prepared. Rehearsed even.
But when it comes to things that don’t affect anyone but me, I fly by the seat of my pants 99.99% of the time. I don’t plan my outfits, which would be fine if I didn’t have to pack for a week of business meetings where I will need some combination of things that is not totally uncoordinated. I don’t really plan vacations, which is probably why most of them end up being “staycations.” And I definitely don’t plan meals. Planning meals is such a big part of dieting, I always thought my inability (or maybe unwillingness) to do it was one of the main reasons I wasn’t successful in long-term weight loss. Even though I’ve since learned that the reasons diets fail go far beyond my willpower or inability to plan, and frankly it’s more likely that I don’t like to plan meals because of the years of dieting, I still balk at the idea of planning the week’s food, diet or not.
Maybe you are thinking “being spontaneous is not such a bad thing,” but the problem is that decisions made in hunger are not usually that good. By the time hunger has set in, it is usually too late to determine that there is no protein in the house, or that we have run out of 3 of the ingredients to make a 4 ingredient dish. I also don’t make decisions that easily and so the dinner conversation between me and my husband always goes:
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t know, what do YOU want for dinner?”
“I don’t care, I’ll make whatever you want, just make a damn decision.”
Nine times out of ten, this conversation does not lead to me making dinner, because by this time I’ve waited to the point of diminished mental capacity, so a pizza is ordered, or a drive thru is visited. The food is then inhaled, probably on the drive home, without tasting or experiencing the food, and the only thing I feel “filled” with afterwards is a big ol’ dose of shame.
Do you ever notice when you are emotionally affected by hunger? Even though I come from a long line of well documented psychoglycemia (emotional outbursts caused by low blood sugar… ok, it’s not a real word, but it should be, because it describes the condition perfectly), I never really believed in it. I mean surely I should be able to burn some of my stored fat and turn it into enough energy to have a conversation, make a decision, or make dinner, right? What makes it even harder to believe is that my hunger signal is not usually coming from my stomach; I am much more likely to lose focus or get a headache, than to hear a grumble, so I have always dismissed that it might be hunger.
When I first started treatment, I insisted that I was physically unable to feel hunger or fullness, making it impossible to “eat when hungry and stop when full.” I realize now that ignoring my hunger is a “skill” I cultivated throughout many, MANY years of dieting and bingeing. For years, I bounced around between completely ignoring my hunger signals, going as far as celebrating hunger, or eating so much I never had a chance to get hungry to begin with. The hungrier I felt, the better it was, because the feeling of hunger meant that I had been able to abstain from food (my “addiction”) long enough to be affected physically. It’s kind of like when you quit smoking and suddenly notice that you can breathe better. It’s a milestone that pushes you to go another period of time without giving in. But there’s the ‘rub’ as Shakespeare would say: our bodies are genetically programmed (yay evolution) to store even the most wholesome, fat-burning meal, at the threat of “famine.” Hunger had a snowball’s chance in hell of having the intended effect.
The bottom line is that I am finally ready to unwind some of these learned behaviors. I am regaining trust in my body, and celebrating hunger, because it means after all these years of abusing the signals my body is still willing to communicate with me. I am paying attention to how long certain foods last, before a clock could tell me I’ll be hungry. I am teaching my body and mind that we are not always on the verge of another diet. I am allowing myself to “splurge” on snack foods I like and making sure I always have access to them (this is a hard one for me, because buying the proper kinds of snacks is also a big part of diet culture and I have a history of eating ALL the snacks during a diet rebellion binge). I am not worrying about what others might think about the fact that I, the fat person, always carry food, because, after all, it is none of my business what they think about me. And most importantly, I am reminding myself that honoring my health and my body means feeding it, not making it fit into some arbitrary chart in a doctor’s office (on that subject, check out this NPR report on 10 Reasons Why BMI is Bogus).