It’s About More than the Food

The question became, if I know what to eat, then why don’t I eat it?

I know that a whole food plant based diet is the way to go for optimal health, and a healthy weight. So, why does cheese, sugar, fried crap, snacks, and chocolate continue to find it’s way into my mouth? How do I change this behavior?

That’s when it hit me, I have to change my behavior.

The answer to weight loss does not come entirely from knowing what foods to eat. You can have all of the knowledge in the world, but it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t act on it. To get to the root of the eating, the cause of the eating must be identified.

The easy answer why I am eating food that I know isn’t healthy is emotional eating. And to some extent that is true. But, what drives both the behavior and the emotions that drive the desire to eat? Thoughts. My body is not failing me. It is my mind that is out of control.

When I stop to look at what was happening, I can identify a few processes that all lead back to a lack of mindfulness and awareness. My thoughts are in turmoil, and as a result I am behaving in a way that leads to poor health. My weight is an external barometer of my internal state of being.

One issue is that thoughts about food run away with me. I begin to fantasize about that something that I want to eat. I can’t pull my focus and attention from the obsessive thoughts about what I might be able to have for dinner. And, I can assure you, I am not fantasizing about brown rice, beans, and broccoli. Due to these runaway thoughts, there are times that I have made a decision to eat something before I am even aware of it.

The second issue is that I am moving too quickly and I am not even aware of what I am doing. I eat way too fast, I make decisions way too fast, and I don’t ever pause to question what I am doing. I am completely disconnected from my body and how I feel. Am I eating because I am hungry? Or am I eating because of some emotion or feeling? More often than not, it is the later, but I haven’t stopped long enough to even notice it. Then, the food goes into my mouth and reinforces the pattern.

That brings me to the third issue which are the ingrained patterns. I have unbelievably strong cravings that seem to become more monstrous and grotesque every time I give into them. Much like an addict, it seems I need more and more of whatever food I am after to feel even a bit satisfied. My taste buds are overstimulated. My dopamine receptors are down regulated. My pattern of behavior – now entrenched in my brain – is to eat the food.

I recognize that the way to change all of this has to come from training my mind. I have always sensed that meditation could help, and so I turned back to my meditation practice. But, that isn’t enough. I need a whole program to change. They say that when you are ready, a teacher will appear, and that is what has happened for me.

Between the classes I am taking in school on how the brain affects behavior, and a new mediation teacher, I have found a path forward to quiet my mind and change my behavior so that I can eat healthfully – and mindfully. The biggest key that I have found is the idea that, as part of my mediation and spiritual practice, I must learn how to train my senses.

Bam! This is the single most revolutionary concept I have ever heard of.

My Weight Story

I have struggled with being overweight and obese since I was a teenager. That is 20+ years of carrying around too much weight. It used to be an extra 30 pounds. Now, I need to lose over 100 pounds. I know that I am not alone in this struggle, so I am going to set aside my embarrassment and pride to tell my story.

I know what “skinny people” think (those who have never struggled with their weight), but the truth is that I am not stupid, uneducated, or lazy. I know what to eat, and how to prepare those foods. I am incredibly focused on my health, and yet I watch it deteriorate. Feeling as though I have no control over food and my cravings has been the most frustrating and demoralizing thing that I have ever faced.

I have been overweight for most of my life. Unlike many people, I never dieted or focused too much on my weight when I was younger. Other than eating a vegetarian diet when I was a teenager, for animal rights not health, I could sort of slide by. I avidly rode horses and that, with my youth, kept my weight in check enough for me to not focus on diet. I carried an extra 10 or 20 pounds – always. My weight ballooned up to 180 in high school after my step father passed away, but I shed it soon enough. I moved to Colorado after graduating college, and my weight ballooned again. But, when I moved back to Virginia and started riding again, my weight normalized to chubby once again.

In my late 20s, my weight crept up to 185 pounds (a size 14) and stayed there. That is when my true focus and obsession on health and diet started. In 2010, I decided to tackle my health (and weight) by becoming more educated. I took a year long course to become a certified holistic health coach. During that process I received health coaching, and I discovered the power of a whole food plant based diet.

That year, going into 2011, I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) in addition to growing my own garden. I ate a literal box of vegetables every week. I began experimenting with whole grains and new cooking methods. I was also working out with a personal trainer, through work, twice a week, and training to walk the Portland marathon. In October of 2011, I earned my health coaching certificate and completed the Portland marathon – at 186 pounds. All of the vegetables and exercise had earned me 1 pound weight gain. What?!?!?

That is when I lost hope. How could that be? My body must be broken.

Of course, that isn’t true. My body is just fine. If I were honest with myself, I was downing chocolate milk after every training session (on some marathoner’s brilliant recommendation), eating lots of ice cream, candy, wine, beer, chips, and other foods that were anything but healthy. A 12 mile walk washed down with chocolate milk. A lentil dal over brown rice, washed down with half a bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream.

Post Marathon and a cross country move, I stopped all of the exercise, let the healthy eating slide some, and all the while the unhealthy eating took a stronger hold. Over the next 5 years my weight ballooned to 258 pounds. Obesity had set in.

During those five years I only sort of realized what was happening. I went from a size 14 to a size 16. The day I realized that a normal 16 was smaller than a plus-sized 16 (who knew?!?) was a depressing day – but, hey, I could still say it was a 16. I was NEVER going to 18… until the day I had to. I had a form of body dis-morphia – I really didn’t see just how big I was getting. I still felt like me. In fact, during this time I fell in love and got married, and I felt more at home in my skin than I ever had. But, I was growing very unhealthy.

I knew I needed to change my eating habits. Over the five years that I gained all of my weight, I also read about, researched, and tried every diet under the sun. I even tried Paleo briefly, even though I am morally opposed to eating that much meat, don’t like eating meat, and generally knew better from all of my nutrition training. There is no way bacon and ghee are going to make me healthy, but I was desperate.

I continually returned to a whole food plant based diet. I knew that it was my way out. There are so many great doctors teaching about this – we will get into it later – that I knew that it was the healthiest way to eat, and what my body needed to heal. Yet, I couldn’t get it to stick. I just couldn’t make it more than a couple of days without eating something off the diet.

That is when I discovered Bright Line Eating which requires that you carefully measure and weigh your food. I lost weight doing this – about 10 pounds in 2 weeks, but it didn’t last beyond 2 weeks. I couldn’t maintain this diet either. I concluded that I was an addict and went to Overeaters Anonymous. Please, show me the way. Of course, Bright Line Eating mirrors OA so there was nothing new there for me either, and after 3 meetings I stopped going.

I was feeling defeated. Yet, I was taking a course in graduate school on neurocounseling. Neurocounseling shows us how the brain causes our behavior. The way to change the brain? By changing the mind. I had an epiphany. I finally realized that the solution to losing all of this extra weight is not (just) about the food and my body – it is about my mind.

This is where a new journey begins…