The Click and the Plan

I was once asked: If I understand you correctly, when you say you MUST be ahead only one day, you mean that you always have the next day’s food ready to go and cooked?

First please remember, I’m in my 21st year of lowcarbing, in my 19th year of doing this by leading with the diet, that is, by planning and being decided and food-prepared ahead of time. More importantly, the day I decided this for what now really appears to be the last time, I had a click moment in November, 1998, sometime right after Thanksgiving. I was standing at my refrigerator, ready to take, you know, just one big bite of semi-legal peanut butter, I was beginning to bargain with that when I stopped for a moment, and looked at what I was doing. At that quiet little moment, I looked back on my life and really, finally saw my single lifetime pattern, and I saw my single food-life truth, which had included several “momentarily successful weight loss events,” but had never changed me into a person who could permanently maintain the eating and therefore the body I wanted. All those “successes” had really been failures that just hadn’t fully happened yet.  And I knew, REALLY knew, that supposedly single bite of peanut butter would lead to more, many more “bites”, possibly half the jar, then in a gradual OWTHIMAW (oh what the hell I might as well) a fall off plan.  Another “I’ll start again on Moday.”

That was my moment of acknowledgement. If I wanted to get thin and healthy and STAY that way, I had to acknowledge that every single time, what made me do a U-turn on the path was waggling a firm, healthy diet—first just a little until I let that slide into a lot. That was the moment I decided to just grow up and eat a firm healthy diet, to put that decision, in almost every sense, above everything and yes, everybody else in my life.  I did not take that bite of peanut butter.

Only several years later—and only because I actually followed through on that decision consistently—could I see that what I always did was bargain with food, and that the decision I made in November 1998 was to stop bargaining. That is what we addicts do to keep ourselves locked in our self-destructive patterns. We play all kinds of hideously complicated games with food.  But it always distills itself into the same game, the same tired mulberry bush we keep going around.

All the rest—first the weight loss, then the sanity, the peace, the forgiveness, internal and external, and then the retro-fitting of myself sort of “back into the world”—came slowly as a result of actually enforcing and following through on that single no-waggling decision. That was all stuff I didn’t know I would need to do to stay with that decision.  I just wanted to be thin and stay that way initially. In many respects, therein lies the conundrum, the riddle of all this: had I not been willing to hold the boring, quiet diet line in order to let that other stuff come in, I don’t think I would have been able to stay.

“If you build it they will come.” “it” = the diet. “they” = all the emotional insights and other life pattern changes necessary to maintaining what you have built, which in this case is a healthy body and a changed, saner, healthy relationship with food.  Well, at least as healthy a relationship as this recovering binge-eater will ever get.  (Perhaps an important distinction—I will never be able to treat food the way some folks would call normal, any more than an alcoholic can treat alcohol in a “normal” way.)

I have made some minor mistakes since that decision, and learned and made minor adjustments in response to them. I took ONE meal off the diet after that click, very early on (December 26, 1998) and, thank goodness, the physical repercussions were so dramatic, they gave me a lesson I have yet to forget almost 20 years later.

I did this before Fitday which was the tracking program of choice back in those days, long before smart phones.  But I used that tool a lot for the first several years. I’ve learned how to do this almost effortlessly, or maybe I should say with just the least amount of effort required, which is a really nice place to learn your way to. But that “effortlessness” took lots of effort and years of practice.  Yes, I’d say it took several years of OVERdoing it, OVERthinking, maybe even OVERbehaving the way I wanted to be. The other way—trying to UNDERplay this—had never worked for me. That was a big part of what I acknowledged in that click moment.

Or should I say “click years”?

Do you always have your food both cooked and planned at least one day in advance? Or so you sometimes have it just planned, and cook it *on* the day you are eating it?

My answer is yes. And I know that seems contradictory.

Some days, just because of the way life is or can be, I do have to plan AND cook AND package in advance and have a lot of stuff in meal-sized containers ready to grab and walk out the door. I have a 5-point checklist/mantra I rattle off to myself every morning as I leave for work: Vitamins? Snack? Lunch? Water? Keys?

For instance, my plan for today:  Tonight I’m having salmon for dinner, I’m cooking enough extra so that I’ll have pieces for lunch for the next two days.  I set the salmon out of the freezer yesterday morning (and made a mental note that it’s my last package of salmon so I’ll need to get more soon). I also set some pork side out of the freezer this morning because I’m almost out of cooked, I’ll cook that tomorrow.

As soon as I’m finished writing this, I am also de-boning and chopping 8 large chicken thighs I braised yesterday, for chicken meat to put in my meal-sized salads. I’ll eat some of it for lunch today, and freeze the rest in 1 cup containers, and save the seasoned stock for soup making some other time.

I also set tomorrow night’s dinner meat in the refrigerator when I got up this morning, that’s another helpful routine I’ve put in place. Tomorrow night it’s bone-in skin-on chicken breast halves (including an extra one that will be leftover for another meal).  It’s my last package of those, so I need to watch for the next sale.  I have many many boneless chicken breasts though, because those were on sale last week. Thighs were on sale this week!

This is how I keep a simple, healthy food machine running quietly but constantly, I have it “underneath” me now as a matter of habit. I’ve learned how to do this, and I can do it pretty much without much thinking now. And yet, there seemingly always will remain this trap—“without thinking” still sometimes leads me to going slightly off track, not with eating the wrong things, EVER, but just by eating slightly wrong amounts of the right things. (Of course fundamental to knowing I’m on or off track is daily weighing, another thing I have never and will never stop doing.) Over this journey, by keeping my eyes on the facts, I have also learned what to do—and what NOT to do—when it’s time to shift into gentle “recovery” mode.

When my weight drifts up (to me 135 is high alert time), it is an outward indication that I’m getting a little careless and discombobulated. So I take a deep breath, face the Fitday, and switch as much as possible to the foods I know my body adores. That’s chicken thighs and salmon and lots of lowcarb veggies, especially broccoli. I cut back a lot on pork and beef. I also keep an eye on my protein portions, I can tend to overdo that when I’m not thinking. I have to make sure I get plenty of veggies—during busy times I’ve found it’s way too easy to let those slide. I keep my calories right about 1,600, but not very far under for long because anything less and I get hungry.   And hunger is what will still undo me every single time.

I have had only a few true “emergencies” in the years since starting this more mindful, planned lowcarb life approach.  One was a call in the middle of the night from our (grown and married) son to tell us he was about to have an emergency appendectomy. It was a weeknight, so my lunch was already packed in the fridge. I grabbed that before we walked out the door to go to him (to eat for breakfast in case we were there all night—I knew that by lunchtime, since the hospital was only 3 miles from our home, I’d be able to get something suitable, and I did.) The other was an emergency doctor visit for me, I was seeing flashing lights out of the corner of one eye, which is the prime symptom of a detached retina which needs immediate surgery. It turned out to be a false alarm, it was something called vitreous separation, an aging thing, not my retina. But I had my lunch with me for that 9:30 a.m. appointment, just in case I was admitted for surgery (where I would have also had to stand firm against a dextrose drip and who knows what else). By dinnertime, my husband or one of my closest friends would have come through for me food-wise, if necessary.  Several days-long power outages have also been challenging.

I have had lots of other challenges, including several days-long power outages, a breast cancer scare in 2001; a 16-day bedside vigil that included missing Christmas with the rest of my family 100 miles away while I sat with my aunt-like-a-mother who died in on January 2, 2003;  our older son’s out-of-town wedding, vacations, none of which were exactly emergencies, but things that I certainly could have latched onto as excuses to “lighten up and live a little”.  I went through 9-11 without eating a bite off plan; I endured my elderly father being enrolled in hospice and dying at our home in 2009.  In 2012 my closest friend died suddenly–for me that was the hardest one of all, so far.  In 2016 I had a ruptured appendix and spent 4 nights in the hospital after surgery.  I’ve endured several 1-5 day long power outages and managed through those.

Once or twice in the very early years I even had plates full of dessert in front of me, and walked around in a social setting, forking them but never took a bite.  Not easy, but not impossible, especially if you’ve arrived with a belly full of meat, fat and veggies. I do pretty much what I have to do to keep the beautiful peace and sanity. After a few years it became easier to answer “No thanks, I don’t eat sugar,” if someone asked me why I wasn’t having any dessert.

You will be amazed that there is almost no situation in which you can’t eat right for your body. The worst it gets is a little awkward socially (see Awkward vs. Regret). And that part slowly gets easier with persistence and practice, and with the people around you slowly coming to their own understanding that you are just a little unusual with food. Hard as it is to believe, after they get over their initial surprise, and sometimes some well-meaning attempts at “helping” and arguing with you about what really are your choices, that’s eventually as meaningful this gets—and as meaningful as this needs to be—to anyone else.