Monday, March 14, 2016

An Old Dog Learning New Tricks

Whole almonds and pumpkin seeds, packaged into measured snack-packs.

One of the things I have learned through dog-training is that you can't simply stop one behaviour without concurrently installing a new behaviour. You can try, but the drive to follow through on the dangerous or maladaptive behaviour will still be lingering in the animal's mind unless you give it a new direction.

I'm discovering that the same is true for me when it comes to diet. I am, so to speak, training myself out of bad habits and into new ones. Instead of popping bread in the toaster while my morning coffee brews, I'm thinking about what kind of protein I'll have for breakfast. When the evening munchies hit (and they do hit!), I grab some fruit and nuts or cheese or yogurt.

I'm only 30 days into this, so those old impulses are still there, but I'm aware of them and I'm consciously making different choices. And, as I go, I'm also asking myself: Is this something I could live with happily  for the rest of my life? Because attempting to instill a hateful habit (even if it's better for my health) will surely fail.

That is one of the key takeaways from Dr. Yoni Freedhoff's book, The Diet Fix. 

Freedhoff is an Ottawa doctor and founded the Bariatric Medical Institute which provides non-surgical weight management. What I like about this book is that it is not a traditional diet program. In fact, he straight-up says that there are any number of diets that can work for you. He addresses some of the popular ones (e.g., Atkins, Weight Watchers) and suggests minor tweaks, which he calls "resetting," that can help you make it even more successful over the long term.

Throughout the book, he talks about "traumatic dieting" -- something that many of us are familiar with: the stringent diets that leave us feeling deprived and perpetually hungry. They get results quickly, but they distort our relationship with food.

He goes through ten concepts to transform a weight-loss program, but the one that really hit me was "banish hunger."

As a borderline-anorexic teenager, I would actually derive pleasure from hunger pangs, believing that it meant I would stay small. I was very proud of my 24-inch waist. On other diets, I've also welcomed those grumblies, treating them as a clarion for having successfully fought my urges.

But this time I refuse to accept hunger as part of my life. I am not ascetic enough to nurture a lifestyle of deprivation. I love food. Unapologetically.

So Freedhoff's tips for handling hunger were particularly helpful, among them: add protein. In the past, the snacks that I used to "tide me over" were almost exclusively carbs -- it was an ongoing battle to keep a trickle of carbs going into me in order to keep hunger at bay. But hunger is such a primal urge that it refused to just go away.

Accuracy, so that grabbing eight almonds doesn't turn into eating eight hundred almonds.

The trick to dealing with the hunger has been bumping up the proportion of protein in my snacks. For me, this has meant adding nuts, seeds, and cheese. Nuts and seeds have been especially great for bringing along on my walks.

As with many food-loving "traumatic dieters," one of my downfalls has been all-or-nothing eating. I can't eat one almond; I have to eat the whole freaking bag. This gets expensive both in terms of calories and money. The other hurdle is that when I want to eat something, I want it NOW!

So I bought an inexpensive packet of candy-bags at Bulk Barn and used my fancy new weigh scale to precisely measure my $10 bag of almonds into 40 pouches for a 25-cent snack. (I've also used pill pouches which are a little more expensive, but have a zipper seal so you can reuse them.) It took a few minutes to parcel everything out, but now I'm good for the week and it didn't break the bank.

At the same time, I'm not going to deprive myself of everything that I find yummy. I had a piece of birthday cake the other morning and enjoyed every morsel of it (cake, tiramisu, and ice cream are my three favourite things to put in my mouth). I've had a small bowl of granola on occasion, carefully measured, so it's not the off-the-charts carb load it would have been previously.

And if my calorie-counter shows that I'm "out of calories" for the day but I'm still hungry, I eat. Period.

At this point, it all still feels a little obsessive. I'm a little too aware of what I'm eating or not eating, when I'm eating, how much I'm eating, and whether I'm hungry or not. But I figure this is all part of the retraining: I'm stopping an old habit (impulsive, carb-heavy eating) and redirecting it to a healthy habit (planned, conscious, protein-rich eating). Baby steps.

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