Many happy returns

carrot bdayToday is my 63rd birthday. The week leading up to it has coincidentally not been a good one. Unfortunately, having a rough week means I ate constantly and skipped my exercise class a couple of times. This completed the gain-back of the 20 pounds I lost two years ago. Sigh…

But I decline to remain discouraged. A birthday is a great time to re-assess, re-group, and get a fresh start.

In reviewing what I have been doing since I started this blog, I realize that I have been dancing around the central issue like the elephant in the room dancing around a maypole.

I just don’t want to give up eating on the couch; with acrostics, with books, with Netflix.

So I’ve been trying to change all the peripheral habits. And having some success. More weeks where I eat lots of fruits and veggies, more mornings where I prepare ice water for the day to have handy, and, till this week, the occasional meal at the table.

But what I’m realizing is that the core of the issue is the couch eating. The mindless eating. The eating for comfort, the addictive eating.

So, “just for today”, as those wonderful 12-step people say, I am going to do the two most important things:

  • Eat only at the table
  • Include fruits/vegetables with every meal or snack

And I’ll keep working on the peripheral things which make it easier to do those two things. I’ll keep prepped fruits/veggies in the fridge, plan what’s for dinner, fill my thermos.

So far my birthday has been great. I went to exercise class, went out to lunch with Ed, (at a table!) and received a sung “Happy Birthday” message from my daughter.

Who could ask for anything more?

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What’s the difference?

Cucumbers, growing on an old CD rack, are dying. Queen Anne's lace is a weed but it feeds the pollinators.
Cucumbers, growing on an old CD rack, are dying. Queen Anne’s lace is a weed but it feeds the pollinators.

Blogger simplelivingover50.com (I shall call him Tom) is a very different person from me. He’s into power work-outs, measuring his biceps, and eating meat. I suspect he has a secret yen to drag his woman into his cave by the hair to ravish her (only with her consent, of course — Tom is a nice guy.) I want to be lithe and aerobically fit so I can hike, garden and dance. He weighs himself daily. I weigh myself seldom, at random.

Tom’s garden pictures show wide boards creating perfectly rectangular raised beds, with a neat two-inch border around them where the carefully manicured lawn dares not tread. My garden looks like a mash-up of an abandoned tomato patch, some hummocks of compost, and a weedy lawn. Tom is Mr Paleo; I’m Ms Vegan.

My husband Ed and I just returned from a visit to his mom in Iowa. My mother-in-law and I are also quite different.  When you look up “mid-westerner” in the dictionary, you’ll find her picture. Mine is likely in the Brattleboro, Vermont section.

As I ponder my differences with these two people, I realize that we have one very important thing in common: we all have food issues. All three of us are addicted to simple carbohydrates, and we all sometimes eat in secret.

Tom had an event in his car (http://simplelivingover50.com/2015/06/23/the-tale-of-the-scone/) that I completely related to. At my mother-in-law’s house, I walked into the kitchen one evening to find her standing up with her back to me, eating a piece of cake.

At home I don’t have to eat in secret. My husband never makes snarky remarks or nags. If he has any judgmental feelings, he has managed to keep them to himself for 22 years. But when I am in someone else’s home, I maintain a secret stash of goodies to eat in my room after the household has gone to bed.

I feel an affinity with these two folks. We all want to eat better, we all love treats, we all struggle.

But in addition, I think we have a more profound thing in common.

My mother-in-law talks about herself a lot. Tom and I blog, which is a way of talking about ourselves a lot. Each of us wants to be heard, to be understood, to be accepted.

And oh yeah…to be thinner.

Perhaps you do too. I’d love to read your comments. Join me!

Goal for next week:

The “eat breakfast at the table” habit needs more glue, so I am going to make it this week’s goal as well. And I’m reinforcing previous commitments in case I start forgetting:

  • Ensure the availability of prepped fruits/veggies at all times
  • Include fruit/vegetable with every meal or snack
  • Prepare two thermoses of water/tea daily with breakfast
  • Eat breakfast at the table

Ac-cen-tuate the positive*

Positive reinforcement works!

Last week I set a goal of listing (and posting) habits I have improved. Now why would I do that? Why don’t I concentrate on what I still need to change?

Well, of course there is the positive reinforcement aspect.

When I was 14, my mom dragged me to a farm in rural Virginia, where she and six other seekers planned to build Walden Two, the utopian society imagined by B.F. Skinner. Reading Skinner, I learned that positive reinforcement is a much more powerful tool for behavior change than punishment. I bought in. So as I work to continue improving, I want to pause for a little self-back-patting.

But there is also another reason to list these newly acquired habits. I need to remind myself that change is possible. Changes seem to come so slowly, after so many tries, that it’s easy to feel as though I’ll never improve. Stopping to reflect on achievements, even small ones, helps me keep striving to improve.

So, here’s my brag list. These are things I used to do less than 50% of the time, and now do over 90% of the time. These are small virtues. A large percentage of the population just does these things automatically. I can only say that I envy and admire you. In that order.

  • Flossing my teeth daily, even under the bridges
  • Making the bed first thing in the morning
  • Maintaining a sparkling toilet
  • Keeping the contents of my purse organized in pouches
  • Keeping my keys in the same place
  • Replacing my glasses (I use three different kinds) in their cases so I can find them
  • Waiting for my husband to finish fixing his cereal without nudging him out of the way to get at the spoon drawer
  • Getting some daily exercise
  • Keeping the living room within 10 minutes of “good-enough” company ready
  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Checking the calendar night and morning
  • Re-reading my emails before hitting “send”

OK, that’s my list. I would love to hear yours.

And for next week:

Eat breakfast at the table

*Here’s the incomparable Aretha singing “Accentuate the Positive”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w3AtKlY9oY

Ok, and…we’re off!

So I have this listNeed we say more? of 52 things that I hope to make habits a week at a time, and at the end of the year my eating faults will be magically cured. As I look over the list, I see that Item 1 is: “stop weighing myself”. Heck, I did that several months ago when I first thought about doing this blog, and I don’t need the scale to tell me that I ate 6 large, chocolate dipped biscotti on top of a full day’s food yesterday. The biscotti were delicious, and they accompanied my acrostic nicely. But eating that many left me with this “full dry” feeling in my stomach (which I ignored), and heartburn (for which I had to take drugs).

The ultimate goal is to un-link eating from doing other things, particularly puzzles and Netflix. (Oh, to have that “mindful eating” thing!)   Unfortunately, “mindful” to me feels kind of like “boring”. I’m not against it, “mind” you, it’s just not my personality.

Some habits are better changed a little at a time, some are better stopped all at once. Smoking is allegedly recommended as an “all at once” stop, yet using the patch is a way many smokers use to taper off and then quit. Some alcoholics go the total abstinence AA way, and some successfully use the “moderate” approach. I think which works depends on the individual and the depth of the addiction. I can substitute similar but less harmful behaviors, or try making a radical change.

The key is to develop alternate resting/soothing behaviors that are rewarding. (Come on, endorphins, I can’t dance ALL the time!) I don’t think I can take the radical approach, because it become all or nothing, and it’s too easy to say: “OK, nothing” and dive into the “XXL” bag of peanut M&M’s (available at a Costco near you).

So, back to the list. It’s too easy to say Week One will be “stop weighing myslef”, and it’s too hard to say Week One will be “stop eating while doing puzzles on the couch”. So I am going to pick:

Make sure there are fresh, washed, cut up ready to go fruits and veggies available at all times.

Thanks for being there, oh mysterious Internet ghosts!