I’ve been a part of several online lowcarb communities since 1996, and I’ve seen a lot of people entering these forums asking for people to pray for or wish them luck. Although prayers surely cannot hurt, I haven’t yet seen luck be a factor in a single success. And without commitment and lots of plain hard work, prayers are of little use.
There certainly are times when it’s not a great idea to embark down this path. I would never suggest someone attempt to start this in the middle of a divorce, during or after the terminal illness of a close family member or friend, a career change or relocation, or during the major holidays—or any other predictably overly stressful time.
However, the primary truth I had to face was that if I wanted this badly enough, if I really wanted it to stick, I would have to come up with the wherewithal to eat the way I have to eat straight on through easy times and harder ones. I think I have a life that is about as normally stressful, and as normally “lucky” as anybody else. It wasn’t really the hard times and crises that were thwarting me, it was how I chose to handle myself while going through them, mostly how I tried to deal with how I felt—scared, mad, rattled, agitated, anxious, frustrated, tired, out-of-control, sometimes even deliriously happy—during those times.
It is helpful to establish and get comfortable with a new kind of rhythm with eating during a time that is not out-of-the-ordinary stressful. In my case I’d even say the first steps of cementing the new habit helped me to begin deriving a new, quieter kind of comfort and peace with the simplicity of eating fully and right no matter what else was going on around me. Unlike the false and momentary “comfort” of binge eating during rough (or sometimes just boring) times, eating quietly clean helps keep me emotionally anchored. And unlike bingeing, clean, simple eating has never done anything to exacerbate stress or a crisis or left me full of regrets for days and weeks later. My former pattern—eating junk or bingeing to put myself into a kind of a short-term trance to avoid thinking or doing something productive about any particular situation just added more problems tomorrow, when the problems and issues I was trying to distract myself from by eating crap have passed (which they always do—whether I binge or not!)
Armed with this new skill I honed (by committing to a policy of no-cheating—EVER), I learned to endure most of life’s more challenging events while keeping my eating in total control. I think this hard to believe for those of us who turn to food to attempt to do things that foods are not really capable of doing (except for momentarily distracting us from our feelings)—or try to use food as a kind of tranquilizer or antidote. I think it’s exactly like an alcoholic who can’t conceive of getting through the end of a perfectly normal day without “relaxing” with a drink.
I’ve been lowcarbing since 1996, and I have been following a fairly strict low- fruit, primarily paleo meat and veggie lowcarb diet since 1998. Those times have hardly been stress-free. Here are a few of the roughest patches I’ve endured while staying on plan:
- I’ve done this through the death of my mother-in-law which took place slowly but included an 8-week crisis (massive stroke) at the end.
- I’ve done it through the “friendly” divorce of my 80-year-old father from a wife with Alzheimer’s disease whose family wanted to take her into their home, and I did it through her death and funeral two years later. I later did it through his death at my home 12 years later.
- I’ve done it through a long “terminal illness” of a beloved childless aunt, she was more like a mother to me than my own mother was. Two weeks after I got to goal, she was given 24 months to live, but she ended up living 37 more months. I sat with her over Christmas and New Years 2003, as she died an excruciatingly slow and painful death.
- I’ve done it through the running away from home of my oldest son when he was in high school (he’s almost 40 now, and things are between us are all good!) and through his tumultuous separation from the family nest.
- I’ve done it through watching my youngest son have his young dreams come true by being cast in the lead role in his high school musical and watching him perform in front of 3 evening audiences of over 1,500 people each.
- I’ve done it through two rounds of chemotherapy on my boss and close friend with the resulting doubling of my own workload.
- I did it through 9/11.
- I did it through a failed root canal and an abscess tooth that happened concurrent with an 8-week-long personal inflammatory breast cancer scare (false, thank goodness!)
- And I’ve done it through the sudden death of my closest friend of more than 30 years in 2012—that one has definitely been the toughest. About 10 days after she died, I had one “slip” when I ate 3/4’s of a bag of sweet potato chips that were left over from the gathering we had after her memorial service. I was able to stop myself and “euthanized” the rest.
- Most recently, I’ve done it throughout a 4-day hospital stay, then a 6-week recovery from emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix in 2016.
I’ve also done it through the more ordinary everyday stresses—through countless dinner parties, pizza parties, work, school, and church events, through disagreements with my husband, through a few meals with people I hardly know, and through vacations. I’ve done it when it’s awkward or embarrassing, when it would have been so much easier, or cheaper, to NOT do it.
I had to quit finding reasons not to do it because if I wanted to I could find a reason to quit this just about every day.
I don’t mean to sound arrogant or self-righteous. I’m trying to illustrate in a real way that each one of our ordinary lives is by turns happy, sad, scary, overwhelming, boring, thrilling, frustrating, and stressful, and that to attempt to “fix” or in some way engineer away the stress, or to wait for a better or luckier time is futile. In my opinion, what we have to accept is a more fundamental personal truth. We food users simply are not capable of eating according to how we feel or what’s going on around us. I still cannot “wing it” with food decisions. I still lead with a plan—I am never without on-plan food that is ready-to-eat, or darned close to it.
Yes, some people can and do get away with it. That doesn’t matter. I can’t. Maybe you can’t either?
Fighting or denying that this is true about ourselves only makes us crazy and miserable and, of course, keeps us stuck in our own comfortable but vicious patterns. It keeps us fat.
So yes, always always always keep trying! If you don’t try, you aren’t even taking that first step. But I think it has very little to do with luck, or perhaps it’s that once we’re past the first few weeks of the withdrawal struggle, we mostly make our own luck, day after month after year.
It really comes down to accepting what is true about ourselves, about what we can control and what we can’t (my favorite take on the serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me”). Along with that courage, we need a plan and total responsibility for our personal eating needs at all times, good and bad and in-between.
Lead With The Diet.