Food: the Final Frontier, or Where Is My Bachelor Chow

Briefly on my shoulder: My last physical therapy session was on Friday. What a great experience, and what a worthwhile investment in my long-term health (thank goodness for great health insurance and low copays). I am most sad about not getting e-stim and an ice sleeve on my aching muscles after every workout; neither my therapist nor I think standing in a cold shower holding the toaster is going to have the same effect. Sigh. I did get my very own physical therapy graduation t-shirt, which my therapist suggested I could use to mop up spills. He’s a good guy.

I was all psyched up for my doctor’s appointment tomorrow (and having the day off), only to have the office call and beg me to reschedule for later in the week. I’m a little annoyed because it’s been on the books for a month and a half, and one of my coworkers in my small-staffed office will be out on my new appointment day. I was going to take off a whole day, but now I plan to work in the morning and leave in time for my appointment so enough people are in the office to get our work done.  Wah wah wah, I don’t get my full day off anymore.

A mocking man holding his fingers together; the text "World's smallest violin."

"Zut alors, I am inconvenienced! My first world problems are so much to bear."

Upon reflection, I’m kind of amused and ashamed at how irritated I was right after that phone call from the extremely apologetic nurse. I’ll get over my annoyance soon. It’s not a big deal. I think I just enjoy having something to complain about.

###

Now, let’s talk about food. I love food a lot. I have a problem with self control and portion control. This causes me to gain weight. I’ve lost weight before, and it was a tooth and nail fight to lose each pound. I have a tendency to slack off after two or three months and be much less discriminating about what goes in my face, using hormonal fluctuations, bad days, cravings, “because it’s there,” and other excuses to rationalize these poor choices to myself. I know this, and it’s something I’ve been dealing with for a long time.

I started tracking my diet via Livestrong in March of this year and lost 15 pounds. But since my last doctor’s appointment, I’ve stopped tracking my food and put on about 6 of those pounds. Maybe half a pound of that could be muscle from all the exercises I’ve been doing, but the majority of that is fat (and maybe water from sodium), and it’s due to careless eating. Realizing that I’d put on the weight in such a short amount of time, and that my doctor might bring it up, was what got me planning and thinking about what I was going to do about it.

So, today is the first day back on the horse. This poor horse is probably annoyed with me getting on it crowing about the wonderful places we’d go, only to eventually ride it to the drive-thru. And do you know how many places stock horse-friendly fast food? Yeah. Sorry. I love my ridiculous, extended metaphors. Anyway, back on again.

After doing some weight loss forum reading for inspiration, I was inspired to try meal replacement shakes for breakfast. It’s the dietary flavor of the week. I’ve been getting Jimmy Dean light turkey sausage sandwiches for a few months. Before that, it was the Lean Cuisine English muffin sandwiches, and before that, it was granola bars or protein bars or McDonald’s or making my own egg and cheese sandwich at home. I have a hard time making  up my mind and a hard time sticking to things for very long. So I’m going to see if I can switch out breakfasts and not have the same thing every day. My plan is to have meal replacement shakes, plus sandwiches, and maybe find a third option that works for me. I am hoping that more variety will keep me more honest, at least until replicator technology or Bachelor Chow brings me inescapably balanced nutrition.

Phillip J. Fry from "Futurama" pouring a bowl of Bachelor Chow in a kitchen.

Sadly, I would probably be OK with eating like this.

I have two main problems. The first is snacking. I go to the gas station during work hours and buying a bag of chips or a full-sugar soda, and I drink full-sugar sodas at home or have a piece of cake or a cup of ice cream because they’re easy, I’m there, I’m bored, I’m hungry and don’t feel like making something else – any excuse will do. Snacks I’ve brought home and to work to prevent myself from going haven’t worked out so well lately. And someone sent a snack basket as a goodwill gift to my department last week, and I went through an entire container of slightly sweetened cranberries in 3 days, eating more for the act of eating than for the enjoyment of the food.

Another problem is perfectionism. It starts with creating recipes and spirals down into me saying “Never mind, this is too hard and complicated,” and me abandoning my discipline for one meal, which turns into a day, which turns into a week, and so on. I track my food using the Livestrong iPhone app, which is awesome in its simplicity and ease of use. Sometimes I wish it had more features, but I can always visit the website proper if I really want to look at all the nitpicky details, and I have to use it to create recipes, though I can select recipes I’ve already created under “Food.”

A screenshot of data from the Livestrong.com iPhone app.

It's all very pretty until that "calories remaining" number is over your goal and turns an angry, judgmental red.

Sometimes, tracking isn’t easy, because preparing food and cooking can be imprecise. How much peanut butter did I really use? I didn’t measure it out. That sandwich from the grocery has no nutritional information on the side, and it’s not even in the database, and what kind of sauce was that on the bread? My boyfriend cooks for us frequently, and he doesn’t always measure.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be 100% precise, because that kind of perfectionism can lead me to be easily discouraged and abandon tracking food altogether. I can make reasonable guesses about my calories based on empty ingredient containers, similar foods, and similar recipes.

My boyfriend is always worried that he’s making too much or too rich or too something of a food for my diet. As long as I keep portions under control, I have no problem losing weight or maintaining weight on his cooking. But as I said, I have not had my portions under control, so all his worrying and support isn’t going to do me any good if I’m just sabotaging myself.

To solve snacking, I’m going to provide myself with better snacks with less sugar/more protein and not go to the gas station as often. I will keep diet sodas at my desk, use my water bottle more often so I won’t be prompted by thirst to get something to eat, and eat the small, healthy snacks I bring from home. One thing that helps is putting a label on packaging with the time I get to eat the food. I like that kind of concrete goal. If I need to get away from my desk, I’ll go take a walk now that the weather is reasonable. If I do go to the gas station, I’ll stick to cheese sticks, nuts, gum, and diet drinks.

To solve my perfectionism, I’m going to work on letting go. I can’t control everything, as much as I want to or as hard as I try, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to control anything. Moderation is a discipline I’m going to have to work on developing further.

On a final note: It feels counter-intuitive to learning self-control to set up lots of little fail-safe systems or coping devices, such as labeling food with times, tracking food, and basically segmenting every aspect of my health and fitness quest into quantifiable amounts that I must tick off one at a time. This is an idea that I need to explore later… but probably not while I’m at work, where I’ve been working on this post off and on all day. Any insight or recommended reading on this subject would be appreciated.

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