Friday, December 27, 2013

2 Day Diet: Developing Willpower

Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 41 in.
Weight end of week 8:  193 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week: -1 lb.
Total Gain/Loss:  16 lbs.

Most people assume that what it takes to conquer an addiction or lose weight (same thing in some ways) is that almost mythical character trait, willpower. There is truth in that, but let's break down the concept of will-power and figure out what it is, so that perhaps it can be learned. I fear some people view willpower as something, like they see musical or artistic talent, as something you either have or you don't have, something you're born with. But I believe willpower can be learned.

Willpower starts with making a decision. Many of us, myself included, go for years thinking, I'd like to lose weight, but it's awfully hard. We might read about a diet or hear about one or have a friend who is on one or be told by a doctor we should try one, but when we start the diet we may not have truly decided to lose weight. As soon as it gets hard we decide, this must not have been the right time to start. We have a million reasons why: it's the holiday season, an upcoming vacation,  a rough time at work or with a partner or with the kids. Or fear that we lacke willpower.

But maybe it wasn't willpower that stopped us, but a failure to make a firm decision. To state it, if not publicly, as I did, but strongly to oneself, "I am going to change my eating habits. I am going to work hard to keep from gaining weight, to exercise more, to eat healthier food, to try my best to lose some weight. In my case, with the charts in the The 2-Day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week, Eat Normally for Five and some online tools I found, I determined a healthy weight for me and set a goal. I went shopping for more of the foods that were recommended. I didn't throw away any foods, but if I lived alone, I might have.

I realized that if I was going to be successful, it was going to take a long time. I estimated that if the diet went really well, it would take about nine months to reach my goal. However, I also acknowledged to myself that it might take years. The point is, I didn't look at this effort as a short term one, a sprint, a fast, a period of time when I deny myself the things that I love; I acknowledged that if I was to be successful in the long term, as in the rest of my life, I had to say pretty much say goodbye to some foods. I realized that to lose the weight and keep it off I would have to change my eating behaviors forever.

When I finally quit smoking, it was like that as well. When people ask me if it was hard to quit smoking, which had been part of my life from the age of 13 until age 40, I say no, I quit several times--it was easy! When I finally quit for good, it started with a decision that smoking could no longer be a part of my life…ever. There was no, well maybe I can smoke one once in awhile, or I'll do my best and see how it goes.

Having made the decision, I had an easier time when faced with temptations. First of all, every temptation is a decision itself. Will I satisfy this temporary desire, or will I stick to my decision to change? I have written at some length in previous posts about how the two days of restricted carbs each week in the 2 Day Diet, the generally small portions, and the healthy mix of whole grains and vegetables have reduced my cravings and my appetite, but they haven't eliminated them. At parties, I get bored, and I tend to find myself going back many times to the snack table, looking, nibbling. At first, I may have some vegetables and dip, or a couple crackers with cheese if I'm not on a restricted carb day, but eventually I face the temptation of the sweets arrayed around me.

At times like that, sheer willpower may not be enough. You need more tools in your belt than that. Here are some strategies I have used successfully when willpower has broken down and I've decided that this time I'm going to give in:

  • decide which one item to allow yourself, then, if it's large, cut a piece equivalent to not more than two or three moderate bites
  • ask someone (a significant other can help here) to give you a bite or two of theirs
  • look for broken cookies or unevenly cut pieces of cake and put a couple small chunks on your plate
  • don't eat it at the snack table at a party (I am SO guilty of this!), but take it to another area to eat it slowly and thoughtfully; if you're home, put the item away before you begin eating your small portion.
And one last strategy I've developed that sounds suspect, as if it could lead to an eating disorder. I came upon this one naturally, and I can't see the harm though if anyone saw me do it, I would understand their concern, if not disgust. I've only done this a few times. The first time I did it was a few years ago when I wasn't even dieting per se, just trying to keep myself from pigging out on the donuts and cake that seemed to fill the teacher lounge where I taught. I was alone in the room, and gave in. I started eating some cake with icing and for a moment I felt like I was eating lard. I spit the cake into a napkin and threw it in the trash. A few times since then, twice in the eight weeks I've been on this diet, I have given in to temptation and started eating something I know I shouldn't, but then decided, no, I'm not going to swallow this food. I spit it into a napkin, the trash, or a toilet, enjoying the sweet remnants. In this way I've enjoyed the flavor of the dessert, experienced the texture, the sensation of chewing, but not ingested many calories. As I said, I'm not sure this would be a healthy habit to develop.

When I see foods that I should not be eating, and there are ten million, from fast food delights like pizza (my plan allows it, but that's one food I don't know if I could limit myself to one small slice of), to chips and sweets, I have a designation for them that helps me put them out of my mind. I have labeled them "poison--the slow acting kind". If I thought of them as "not healthy", or "not good for me," that would be too weak. It's too easy for me to override that mental block. I'm willing to take risks and ignore things that I know are not healthy or not good for me. No, I need to think of these foods as POISON--they will KILL me. And that's true. Obesity leads to heart disease, and heart disease killed my father, his brother and his sister. People who have diabetes or are in danger of it know what I'm talking about. Too much sugar can kill them.

So the idea I'm trying to present here is that sheer willpower is a last resort. Perhaps I'm lucky or metabolically or psychologically different than you, but I suspect not: eating a healthy mix of whole grains, veges, fruit, and dairy with a small amount of carbs--the "Mediterranean Diet"--reduces cravings. Getting in the habit of eating small portions slowly and thoughtfully reduces appetite. Making a decision to limit or eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet makes it easier to exercise willpower. Having strategies such as the ones I mention above when your willpower is overcome will prevent binging. And finally, if you do "blow it" (and I have), you just start fresh the next day, forgive yourself, and reaffirm your decision to change the way you eat!

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