Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Of orthorexia, addiction, catastrophic failure, and raspberries.

I have fairly good body mass data going back almost a decade.  What you notice looking at that is that it is punctuated by weeks or months longs regimens of weight loss, followed by a slow upward creep.

Why then have I been able to relatively easily maintain a program since last November?  There is a lot that feeds into it -- stress reduction comes to mind first. 

What tends to happen to me, and I suspect a lot of people, is that we fairly orthorexically (strictly, or overly strictly) hit a diet for a month, but then we consider the first deviation a catastrophic failure.  A single candy bar, plate of Chinese food, or hoagie roll can de-rail a lot of otherwise good work.  In that single moment we are "off" the diet, and it is very hard to get back on.

One of the things I have done differently this time is to use an addiction model for those foods.  I know, and don't resist the fact that its exceedingly hard to get back on a diet if your psyche is telling you that you have "failed".  To that end, I treat processed carbs and sugar as a drug, and just abstain.  I also abstain from artificial sweeteners for a similar reason involving the adjustment of the pallet. 

I do have a secret weapon though --  I have found a treat that my brain doesn't consider a psychological failure:  Many people talk about berries as being the lowest-carb fruit.  Sites like DietDoctor give permission at various levels of carbohydrate to eat a few here and there.  For that reason, a half pint of raspberries, though with my new pallet exceedingly sweet, is not considered a discontinuity in my progress.

My weight loss would probably stall if I engaged in this every single day, but the capacity to have a treat that is "on" the diet feels hugely important for long term sustainability.

An interesting more advanced effect of this is that if something sneaks into my diet that I don't have control of, I can compare that to my berry desert.  I was on the road last week, and had a dinner of chicken wings at the hotel I was staying at.  They came out breaded, though not heavily.  Orthorexically I would have sent them back and made a scene, but they looked and tasted really good, and after an 11 hour drive I just didn't have it in me.  The psychological perspective shift from "catastrophic failure" that I'm now able to do is to compare a little bit of panko breading to the nutritional composition of a tin of berries.  I don't do it scientifically, it just feels similar.  

This idea that if I eat something, my weight loss will probably stall for a day, or at most a couple of days is important.  If it provides a relief, without triggering compulsive / addictive behavior, then it feels like I can carefully tolerate it.  

For me, this manifests occasionally as Sag Paneer at the local Indian joint, a box of strawberries if they look great, the raisins in my favorite Whole Foods curry chicken salad, or a "keto" chocolate bar/cup.  However it does not manifest as diet soda, desert, ice cream, cupcakes, brownies, candy bars, bread or tortillas.   The important thing is recognizing that its not something to engage in every day, and to recognize that overdoing it could pull me back into a food addiction.  It's a balance.