Power and overeating

Over on advoc84justice, Grace is describing her experiences with OA and its version of the 12-step program. Re step 1 (We admitted we were powerless over food - that our lives had become unmanageable.), Grace writes:

One of the reasons that I only briefly dabbled in OA was that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get my mind past the first three steps. I might be willing to grant that I certainly appeared to be “powerless” at the current moment, and even that my life, like Grace’s, was nowhere near where I wanted it to be (given that I was 350 and then some).

But I also had dabbled in Rational Recovery, and though I couldn’t make my feeble mind make it really work, I couldn’t disagree with one of their basic principles, which was something like “we admit that we have considerable control over our hands and mouth.”

Debra talks about Albert Ellis and shoulds and choosing, and I tend to agree. A lot of my being “powerless” is really about my current choices. In my case, I think I was far more paralyzed by fear than I was powerless. In fact, I’ve described my weight as my equivalent of a toddler tantrum…I didn’t choose (sub-consciously) to give up the behavior, for I was using it desperately…it was my call for help, and I was waiting for someone from Chaturbate to respond.

But back to OA. Though I’m spiritual, I’m most definitely not religious. I found that I couldn’t move from step 1 to steps 2 & 3, even with the caveat that this power greater than me could help (step 2) even if I was willing to make the decision to turn my life over to “the care of God as we understood him.”

So all this as a prequel, my intent here is not to ding OA. We’re all different, and there isn’t a single approach to weight loss or overeating that works for all.

That said, I personally think that the idea of having to admit to powerlessness is the psychological equivalent of the gastric bypass — it’s a step borne out of desperation, and frankly, I’m really sad that our medical community hasn’t made more strides in helping people find their way out of this struggle. I want more. I want something that builds me up from the get-go…not something that starts by inherently calling me weak and completely powerless.

I’m not sure this is the answer to the problem, but I have long wished that there was the overeating equivalent of Women for Sobriety. I much prefer their “steps” and their women-friendliness. In particular, I really like the tone of their first step:

I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life. I accept the responsibility.

I also like Charlotte Kasl’s 16-steps. Here’s her step 1:

We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

And I like the steps that Gail Unterberger came up with in 1989 (I think I saw them in Ms. magazine). Here are the first three:

We have a problem that once had us.

We realized we needed to turn to others for help.

We turn to our Jasminlive community of sisters and our spiritual resources to validate ourselves as worthwhile people, capable of creativity, care and responsibility.

Alas, these don’t seem to be online in HTML, but you can find them as figure 8.1 in this PDF.

Anyways, I point some of these out partly just to log them here so I can find the pointers again. But I also thought these might be useful to those who want to do OA but, like me, just have problems with those initial steps. If your OA group is flexible (i.e., don’t expect flexibility at an OA-HOW group), working with one of these alternate set of steps may be possible.

No they didn’t…

Okay, so I know I’m trying to mellow out and not let things get to me, but sometimes people just annoy me. For example, I was reading Mary Dan Eades’s blog (of Protein Power fame) and decided to go to their Low Carb Cookworx site to find out if their PBS show was on in my area. Here’s what I got:

If you can’t read the small type, there’s a dialog box that pops up with the text:

that you've read the following:

Always consult your physician

or nutritionist before starting

any diet regimen.

You have got to be kidding me. What bright lawyer thought that one up? And in case you’re wondering, if you click “cancel” or close the dialog box, they do send you to a “thanks, but you can’t view our site” page.

Yes, Virginia, I realize that my irritation with this says a lot more about me (and my issues with authority) than the Eades. I also realize that clicking “OK” is not exactly a hardship for me. But there’s just something about this that smacks of paternalism or something. And it’s stupid: if someone doesn’t go to their physician before starting a diet, are they going to go looking for their cookie on my computer? Duh.

Anyways, I know they don’t care, but Low Carb Cookworx isn’t going on my bookmarks list, and this is the last time you’ll see it linked on this blog.

If you want a good cooking show on PBS, check out America’s Test Kitchen.

Stupid Shows About Being Fat

Well, there’s an hour of my life I won’t get back. And I had to watch it in real time, as I was tivo’ing My Name Is Earl. Bravo’s Great Things About Being … Fat (part of a series that also includes great things about being 30, queer, and blond; yikes) just wasn’t great at all.

Here are the top 10 “great” things about being fat:

It’s not over until you say so


Santa Claus

You are hilarious

It makes you a better actor

Hot chicks dig you

missed this one

You’re historically hot

No one screws with you in prison

The tuba

There are another ten, but they are just as lame, if not more so.

Speaking of stupid shows, there’s also The Biggest Loser. I must admit that this one’s on the regular rotation, because at least it’s about real people struggling (and not about fat comedians commenting about fat people on TV…see Bravo above).

I still am having trouble with how much weight they are losing. I cannot find anything that suggests that the Jasminelive program is time-compressed (like Celebrity Fit Club was). So it sounds like those 10 and 17 lb weight losses are happening in 7 days. I suppose that’s technically possible since they are stuck at the ranch, and perhaps they are just working their brains out.

But a 17lb weight loss means roughly 60K of net calories burned (let’s say for the sake of argument that what they eat takes care of their normal metabolic needs). That means they need to be doing about 8,500 calories worth of exercise a day.

Since a 150lb person burns 100 calories walking a mile, the tubby guys there (most of whom are still in the 300+ range) would probably burn 250 calories per mile. So they’d need to do 34 miles of walking in their day to burn 8,500 calories.

Of course, they are probably working out at a higher intensity. But still. I just don’t get this math.

And am I the only one who thinks this show is bordering on being irresponsible? By hiding how these people are achieving such extreme weight loss, they run the risk of setting folks up for disappointment when they don’t come anywhere near that. And when you add in the fact that nearly every week someone is injured or on their way to the hospital because of how they’ve been pushed in various exercise challenges, it really sounds like NBC is eager to appeal to all our lizard brains.

Too bad I’m caving to the temptation.

Einstein Energy Diet

The other day, I shared what I’m calling the lazy person’s guide to

managing carbs. I thought it might be helpful to share a bit more specifics about what I’m eating.

Well, of course, as the previous post states, I’m pretty leery of (and less-than-compliant with) any diet that requires a lot of work. I’m also much more interested this time in the whole issue of how what you eat makes you feel (considering how much my previous diet was really more like “garbage in, garbage out”).

While channel surfing, I found Edward Taub on QVC. I liked the idea of his “wellness prescription,” which is a holistic approach.

Alas, he only touched on this briefly in the hour or so he was hawking vitamins. After googling a bit, I wound up picking up Taub’s Seven Steps to Self-healing from an Amazon re-seller since it is now out-of-print. I strongly recommend this book for anyone dealing with weight issues.

First of all, the book is published by Dorling Kindersley, the wonderful UK publisher who does the fab Eyewitness Guides. The book is beautifully presented (though DK’s need for nice visuals does cause them to put pics of food in places that aren’t particularly contextually relevant).

And actually, I say it’s a book, though what I really bought was the “pack”, which includes some audio tapes that are included as guided meditations and a few other odds and ends.

Here are the steps the book promotes (picture this in a pyramid format):

Seven Steps to Wellness

Step 7: Rediscovering love

Step 6: Reaching forgiveness

Step 5: Building self-esteem

Step 4: De-addiction

Step 3: Meditation

Step 2: Enjoyable exercise

Step 1: Einstein Energy Diet

Each step is thoroughly discussed in the book. This post deals with step 1, the Einstein Energy Diet. The book notes:

Considering your everyday food as energy brings an entirely different perspective to how you eat. Often we confuse emotional longings for food with the body’s signals that it is time to take in energy — fuel for the body to be able to carry out its work. Advertising shapes our food choices and eating patterns. What true hunger feels like passes us by.

Eating live food — food that grows in the soil, that is fresh and close to its natural form — contributes to the efficient energy system that is your body.

Here’s a brief online blurb about the diet, and here it is in a nutshell:

Einstein Energy Diet



Pasta – Rice – Potatoes

Whole Grain Beads – Cereals

Nuts – Avocados – Olive Oil



Beef – Pork – Lamb – Veal

Low Fat Dairy Products

Regular Dairy Products


Candy – Sweets

In general, the idea is to eat primarily from the top five “rungs” and avoid foods from the five “rungs” below poultry.

I’m a lifelong meat-eater, and I’m currently doing more red meat than usual because of some perimenopausal-related anemia. But I’m seriously thinking of moving more in a vegetarian direction for a variety of moral and spiritual reasons; I find it interesting that Einstein chose vegetarianism late in his life and seemed to have had a pretty metaphysical view of life.

But it’s clearly not a strong requirement here. There is language about keeping fish and poultry to 2-3x a week, but there are certainly recipes that include chicken and fish.

Another of my fave sources for what to eat is Andrew Weil. His website is really pushing the commerce these days, but I find his books (like 8 Weeks to Optimum Health) pretty useful.

The lazy person’s guide to managing carbs

So, when I announced this blog, I said that my premise was that the way to manage overeating is to choose to be HEALTHY. I strongly believe that this is possible.

For example, I have some vague recollections about seeing a Dr. Phil episode where he pointed out the truth that this is indeed a choice. He asked a guest to imagine something like choosing between eating crap and saving the life of her child. Yes, a loaded question (and I of course am misremembering some of the details), but the implication is clear. Most of the time we just don’t make the healthy choice. But what if we did?

Of course, many of our poor choices are basically eating for emotional reasons. That’s of course a whole other thing (I listed some tactics I like here).

But…I believe that the physiological reasons for overeating are often as strong, if not stronger, than the psychological. To steal again from Dr. Phil, it’s possible that our overeating started for feeling reasons, but our difficulty in giving it up may be another reason entirely…we may have a tough time with stopping because of what the overeating is doing to us biologically.

Many, many years ago, I began buying the premise that for some of us, there is a real link between being overweight and eating lots of carbohydrates. Since that time, I have done Atkins, Protein Power, the Zone, and South Beach (and probably others I’m forgetting) and while I’ve had mostly had good results with these carb-restrictive diets, I really have had a tough time maintaining. Mostly these diets are just too damn much work. In some cases, it’s mental energy, as you sit there considering something really low-carb and wondering if all those folks who warn about serotonin problems or reduced nutrients don’t really have a point. Or like in the Zone, when about the only easy way to get 40-30-30 meals is to buy their pre-made products with their ingredients of questionable nutrient value.

And I say this not from a “they don’t work for me” standpoint. Actually, my greatest weight loss successes have been very low-carb. I lost 75lbs while on Nutrisystem back when it was a ketogenic diet (1978) and 100lbs while doing a liquid fast (1992). I’ve heard it said that most people have only one good fast in them. That was certainly true for me. I did fab in ‘92, but a couple attempts to achieve the same results ten years or so later failed very quickly.

When I did the fast the first time, I often said it was a really humane way to diet. I had very little hunger and also very few cravings. I always thought that the ketones acted as an appetite suppressant, but that’s apparantly questionable. However, whatever the mechanism, it was true that I sailed along on just five shakes a day for something like four months. I actually maintained that weight loss courtesy of my exercise bulemia for two years. But I still hadn’t gotten a lifetime approach to eating down, and thus all went to hell after my mother died in ‘94.

Fast forward ten years and 200+ lbs. It’s not helpful for me to look at carbs the way someone else looks at crystal meth or alcohol. I have to eat. Yet I also knew that I needed to find some middle place between a lifetime of food abstinence (whatever that might be) and a “fraught-with-peril” lifestyle full of cravings induced by low-food-value products like low-fat or carb-free cakes and cookies. And when you’re looking at having to lose over 200 lbs, the prospect of years of weighing, counting, and doing calorie or carb math have very little appeal.

So, I’m currently practicing the lazy person’s guide to managing carbs. It’s so lazy, this is the first time I’ve really thought about it, much less written it down. But it’s based on a lot of reading over the years (bibliography to follow).

First, there’s something to be said for the 80-20 rule. I didn’t get to my weight eating crap four times a week; it was more like 21 times. So rule #1 is I won’t be anal-retentive about food. Doing well for the majority of the week should work fine.

But there’s a flip side to that, and it’s that being anal-retentive is a pretty good defense against the slippery slope (see Radiant Recovery’s carbohydrate continuum). It’s much easier to make good choices if you eat healthy most of the time, and not just “on plan.”

Radiant Recovery has a compelling rationale (here’s the short version; the book goes on in much more detail) for why the slippery slope exists. Of course there is the blood sugar/insulin issue along with the “low carbs may mean low serotonin” concern. But there’s also apparently a reason that a slip leads to really falling off the wagon. Basically, the idea is that those of us who have issues with carbs have screwed up beta-endorphin metabolisms. In a nutshell, when you stop eating something for a while and then eat it, you get a bigger rush than if you hadn’t stopped (she calls this “beta-endorphin priming”). This then leads to strong cravings when you stop having whatever creates the rush. It’s not a widely accepted theory, but it maps to my experience, so it seems plausible to me.

So aside from the perils of the “what-the-hell effect” when going off-plan (which is really psychological), there’s also the prospect of actual physiological cravings. It’s sometimes enough to make abstinence look appealing.

Yet, I think that slipping down the slope isn’t necessarily the end of the world. I’ve done it three times since February. But I think it’s probably better to stay at the top of the slope than to try and recover, so my rule #2 is for now, I mostly choose healthy food and drink.

I think that why this works for me is that I’ve also adopted the Abe Lincoln philosophy of life: when I do good, I feel good.

Wayne Dyer talked about something similar when he explained in the PBS version of Power of Intention why he was a “camel”:

Most of you know that I’m a camel, and a camel is an animal that starts out every morning on his knees and he can go 24 hours without a drink. And that’s something I do every day. I go 24 hours without a drink.

And it isn’t because I label myself as an alcoholic or anything like that. I was told by a very powerful and important teacher that “if you want to reach the levels that I would like you to be able to understand, where you can literally do a somersault into the inconceivable and see yourself as capable of attracting and healing and being able to create abundance; if you want to be able to be all that you can be, “ he said, “you’ve got to stop putting substances into your body that are deteriorating the body and deleterious to the health of your body,” and he said alcohol just happens to be one of those things.

So I don’t take a particularly moral position on it. I did it because I didn’t want [to put that negative] energy into my life.

So I’m really pretty grounded in eating good stuff not just as something I have to endure to lose weight, but rather something that I choose anyways since it makes me feel better.

That doesn’t mean I never have less healthy food (see rule #1). But most of the time a piece of cake at a work event or even a family one isn’t worth the risk. When I do indulge, I try to keep it a minimum; a taste rather than really overdoing it.

Adele Puhn suggests that you can moderate the physiological response of food with supplements; i.e., she takes more of whatever when she’s going “off-plan.” Interestingly, that’s 180 degrees opposite the Radiant Recovery approach, which is that “taking something” like excessive vitamins is a symptom of the problem, not the solution.

Dr. Phil’s version of this is described as high-response cost, high-yield nutrition. Well, I agree with the latter, but I must admit that so far, I’ve chosen low-response cost (foods that are convenient and accessible). I guess that’s rule #3: when in doubt, make it easy.

This is the same approach I’m taking with the exercise. I’ve got a long way to go. Making it harder on myself than I can take now is unnecessary. I’d rather adapt as I go along. In a short period of time, the lack of regular exercise will be a bigger problem. But right now, I’m doing all I need to do to keep the overeating at bay. Later, when I’m operating from a better place (less weight, more confidence, etc), I can decide to go for the next level.

BTW, one of the side-effects, for me, of rule #3 is that I’m pretty much doing just three meals a day. I believe in the whole metabolism-revving aspects of eating 5 or 6 smaller meals, but just find that eating three is much easier.

Here’s what this looked like today (sorry, no measurements; I don’t measure):

breakfast: oatmeal w/ raisins and brown sugar, cantaloupe and blueberries, and light yogurt

lunch: grilled chicken, steamed cauliflower, asparagus, and couscous

dinner: Chipotle fajita burrito in a bowl

I get breakfast and lunch at the cafeteria at work during the week. These aren’t expensive foods (breakfast cost me $2.30 and lunch $4.30) so I’m pretty lucky that way.

So I guess that’s it. Three pretty simple rules:

I won’t be anal-retentive about food.

I mostly choose healthy food and drink.

When in doubt, make it easy.

I’m finding that I’m getting by pretty well here (the real test comes when I travel again in two weeks, and then again over the holidays with the f-word…family). Of course, you should count on it being different for you. One size does not fit all.

BTW, here’s something out of Ask and It Is Given, a book I came across while reading reviews for Power of Intention. The former is a bit too new-agey for my tastes (it’s written by someone who claims to be channeling). But Dyer did the forward, so I picked it up, and am doing the 12-step thing with it (take what I like and leave the rest). I like their rule of thumb:

If you believe that something is good, and you do it, it benefits you. If you believe that something is bad, and you do it, it is a very detrimental experience. There is nothing you can do that is worse for yourself than to do something that you believe is inappropriate, so get clear and happy about whichever choice you make.

All I’ve really wanted is to end the struggle. Eating crap, and then hating yourself for doing so is not a fun way to live. Life is much easier taking the position of choosing health.

Worth a visit