In the Habit of Eating

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

In my last post, I discussed my change in eating habits, especially my new abstentions. Here I just want to elaborate a bit.

Warning: I’m not saying any of this will help others facing similar challenges. Everybody’s different. But I’ve gained knowledge and inspiration from the stories of others, and so I’m sharing my own here.

Breaking the Chains of Habit

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.

Samuel Johnson
  1. Let’s start with my abstention from processed sugar. This keeps me away from a lot of the things that trigger bad eating behaviors, especially foods that combine sugars and fats, including ice cream, baked desserts, milkshakes, etc.
  2. I now eat more salad and vegetables in general. By eating more salads (with lots of good stuff on them in terms of avocados, olives, regular dressing, etc.), I get better nutrition in addition to more fiber and roughage, which reduces feelings of hunger. 
  3. I don’t eat anything after 8 pm. This used to be hard for me. Now I’ve internalized that I won’t starve between 8 at night and the morning. (Sometime I vocalize this to myself, saying something, “You are not gonna starve between now and breakfast, so just chill out and work your plan.” When I first started down this road, I allowed myself a piece of raw fruit after 8 if I was truly hungry. The idea was that if I’m not hungry enough to eat a piece of fruit, then I know it’s my compulsion talking; that is, I’m not actually hungry, only craving food to fill some psychological need. Nowadays, I simply don’t eat after 8.
  4. I strive to eat three square meals a day with only a piece of fruit between meals and after dinner. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule yet. Sometimes I’ve been known to eat other things between meals, such as seeds or even cold cuts. But experience has shown me that if I can follow this simple plan, I’m more likely to lose weight or maintain my current weight.
  5. In the morning, I’ve tended to consume rice-based carbs (usually Rice Chex) and fruit. For some reason, rice carbs don’t make me crave other foods as much as other carbs do. There’s some science to this but I pretty much go with what works. In recent months, however, I’ve been able to eat shredded wheat without developing any other cravings.
  6. No eating in front the TV or other media playing device. This is a major one for me. I can’t break the chains of overeating without breaking the bonds between eating and television.

For a while, I kept a spreadsheet with checkboxes that I used to track my meals, daily exercise, abstinence from TV, etc.. It was kind of satisfying to check the boxes after I’d done something (or not done something). That helped me get through the first couple of months of more sensible eating but I stopped using it after that as the habits became more engrained.

Some Resources That Helped

Nearly every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources.

S. Truett Cathy

One thing that helped a lot when I first starting go down this road was listening to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) speakers because they share a lot of stories in which they tell of their own challenges and lessons learned. One app I found especially helpful was OA Speakers Free, which I downloaded from Google Play Store. I listened to these speakers quite often for a period of several months. There are a lot of interesting speakers (at least for me), many who have some version of the same problems I’ve suffered.

I also listened to the audio version of Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book”, which is like the Bible for AA members. No, I’m not an alcoholic, but part of the thinking behind OA is that some of the same principles that apply to alcoholics can apply to people who are overeaters. This book was written in another era from ours, but it’s a seminal work and I’m glad I listened to it.

So far, I’ve never been a physical OA meeting, partly because the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020. But I know how to locate local meetings and other resources, and I joined the Overeaters Support group on Facebook. That said, I’m not a traditional 12-stepper (so far), though I see no problem with that approach if it work for folks.

The Whole “Higher Power” Thing

There are some things you have to give up to the higher power.

Jimmy Smits

One of the tenets of OA is that you turn to a “higher power” to help support you in sticking to your abstinences and better eating habits. This originally stems from the religious component of AA. The idea is to pray to God (or some other “higher power” for the more secular-minded) to help alcoholics refrain from drinking. One of the tenets here is that a person’s unaided willpower is not enough to keep them abstinent.

So, how does an agnostic or atheist deal with this part of the tradition? There are various alternatives. One is to just ignore it, though this means not truly following one of the mainstays of the philosophy. Another is to visualize something aside from the traditional idea of God or gods as your higher power (that is, a power “greater than ourselves”). This could be nearly anything. The universe, the Earth, the network of humanity, love, etc.

Personally, I’ve found the higher power tenet to be useful. There’s something about taking the emphasis off ego-driven willpower that makes the transition to healthier eating more achievable. Is this just a bit of psychological judo? I’m not qualified to say. I only know that it’s helped me.

Food Journal

Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.

George Bernard Shaw

Part of my approach is to write a food journal, though I don’t typically track food in it. Rather, I use it to write about my personal “food journey,” which is a fancy way of saying I write about how I approach food today and in the past. To put this journey into a larger context, I also research and write about obesity-related topics.

The journal helps me understand my own relationship to food and how my issues and habits reflect those of the larger culture. It turns out to be a surprisingly deep topic that goes well beyond the topics covered in a conventional diet book. I don’t really believe diets work. I believe healthy eating does.

In the end, no one gets out of life alive, no matter how healthy their diet. So, healthy eating is, above all, enjoying the life you have while you have it. If better eating happens to extend that life a little, that’s just a bonus.

Featured image by Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party; Français : Le déjeuner des canotiers