Monday, August 27, 2007

Willpower

Saturday I went to a family reunion for my dad's side of the tree. While there I noticed a large scale under the claw-footed tub, and realized that this was my first real opportunity to weigh myself since beginning my diet on July 23. I had originally planned on waiting until my next appointment with my regular doctor (September 5) to find out my progress, and for a minute or so I debated whether to just wait or go ahead and step on the scale. In the end, instant gratification won out and I stepped onto the scale .... 195! I had lost 25 lbs. in the past month! I was elated.

I have now set my final goal at 170, a full 50 lbs. less than I weighed in July. I'm hoping that another 2-3 months will get me there. The gratifying part is that it's working, and I think there are a few keys to my success so far. It would probably be more appropriate to talk about this after I had reached (and maintained) my eventual goal, but I feel like blabbing now.

Portion Control. The whole key for me has been a change in attitude toward what a reasonable meal quantity consists of. Once you get yourself accustomed to the amount of food that comprises 1000-1200 calories a day, 2000 calories in a day feels like a gi-normous binge in sheer volume. Getting used to stopping at the point where I would be just getting started previously took an act of will. I don't know if it's physical or psychological, but I don't really have the shut off when it comes to food. I could/can eat until I'm physically uncomfortable and still want to eat more. It's especially difficult in fast food places where the meals consist of a number of small, inexpensive items. Taco Bell is the primary example of this. I order way too much food, then eat all of it. Well, I used to anyway. Nowadays I can safely get one or two small items (after carefully consulting the nutrition guide) that still leave enough room in my remaining calorie allowance for a reasonable dinner.

Availability. As odd as it sounds, having predictable food options easily available to me has helped tremendously. I know that for lunch I'm going to get a Wendy's small chili, and it will be 220 calories. Every now and again, when I feel especially hungry at lunch, I supplement with a side salad, adding another 40-50 calories. It appeals to my frugality (at $1.26 it's the cheapest lunch this side of ramen) and leaves me enough calories to eat whatever I cook for dinner. If I had to pack a lunch I know I would likely pack (and eat) too much food, and the calorie count would be harder to control.

Accountability. I have told enough people about what I am doing that I cannot reasonably deviate from it without being confronted about my excess. At home it's easier to munch and nibble without really keeping track of what I'm eating, and that can lead to uncontrolled intake if I'm not especially careful. It is also incumbent on me to produce the results my doctor has recommended, which helps with the delayed gratification aspect.

Perspective. While at family camp, I decided to make the adult banquet dinner on Friday night a "Diet Free Zone" and eat whatever I wanted. For two days I anticipated how great everything would taste, and how good it would feel to each a steak and a baked potato, and even a dessert! In the end I was disappointed, not because the food was bad but because my memory of food was so much better. I was full after a fairly modest amount eaten, and the taste just wasn't as extraordinary as I was expecting. I had been initially afraid that any return to rich foods would made continuation of my diet nearly impossible, but that has not been the case. I have since afforded myself very small, occasional portions of ice cream or popcorn, keeping rigorous track of portion and calorie count of course, since then. I love food, but doesn't mean I'll enjoy it more if I eat a lot of it. I'm also getting more concerned about my health (gasp! a nearly 40-year old who suddenly is concerned about his health! Unprecedented!) and would like to feel good as I continue to age.

Two things that have helped a great deal are my brother's gastric bypass surgery and my friend Bill's "popcorn diet" concept. The popcorn diet is just a psychology trick. Bill really likes popcorn, so he tells himself, "If I eat a small dinner I can have popcorn later!" Typically, though, the popcorn gets forgotten as the evening continues. This attitude of "not forbidden, just not a high priority" has helped me control dinner time intake. I had a chance to spend a few meals around my brother after his surgery, and was amazed at how small the portions were that he could comfortably eat. That, in essence, was the bulk of how the surgery worked for him. He was stuffed to the point of feeling sick after only a few tablespoons of food, so his caloric intake was dramatically reduced. Maybe there's more to it than that, but it seemed that simple to me. I thought, "Well, I can just eat meals like a gastric bypass patient does, and that will achieve the same effect without going under the knife." I haven't gone to quite the same dramatic portion changes, and I have been wary about entering starvation mode, but the premise seems to have been correct.

Anyway, I'll look forward to a big, fat load of ridicule if I falter from my goals now that I've made my methods transparent.

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