When the Cat’s Away…

I am a cheater. My husband has been out of town for the past week, and while he’s been gone, I’ve been cheating. About a year ago, he regularly went out of town once a month for work, and I cheated back then too. I cheated in the kitchen, I cheated in the bedroom, I cheated in the car, and I even cheated in my office.

It’s not something I’m proud of. This weakness of the flesh is a sore reminder that I’m human with carnal urges. How can I say no when temptation is staring me in the face? When I can feel the intense yearning deep within me…

Whoa, stop me before I get carried away and start talking about something totally unrelated to what I really mean to talk about: Snickers bars, chocolate covered pretzels, McDonald’s french fries, and hot fudge sundaes. Mmm…

*Sigh* So I know I’ve talked about the 90% rule and allowing yourself a cheat meal 10% of the time. And I admit that this is probably easier to uphold when your husband is your personal trainer. Here’s a secret: when my husband is away, the temptation to cheat is, like, 500% greater.

No one is here to slap my hand. I’m like the kid after trick-or-treating who is stuffing her face with the candy her mom told her to put away because she turned away for two seconds.

What about personal accountability, you say? I know, I know. Hey, just because I’m a trainer’s wife, and just because I have chosen to start living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean I stop having all urges to indulge. Especially when no one is watching.

But I’m watching. I’m watching, and I have to live with myself afterwards. I’ve heard about a few strategies to stop yourself from reaching for the food that you know shouldn’t come anywhere near your mouth. Things like saying, “Oh well, it’s not part of my plan” and moving on from the tempting situation, or saying, “Thank you that I have food, but not this food.”

What tends to work for me – when I truly apply myself to doing this – is to just quiet my mind. Because usually while I’m reaching for the chocolate chip cookie, thoughts are churning through my mind like a whirlwind: “Mmm…chocolate. I love chocolate. But I shouldn’t eat this. Think about how you’ll feel after you eat it. But it’s just one cookie, it can’t hurt. But one cookie will lead to another cookie. And I didn’t even work out today, so I didn’t even earn it. But chocolate is so goooood…”

So the trick is to cut it off at the “Mmm…” or as soon as you can. Some have described this as the “chatterbox” in your head. And then move your body away from the cookie. As Alton Brown says, “Step away. Just step away.” (Well, that’s usually in the context of over mixing wet ingredients with dry ingredients when baking, but it works for my purposes too.) And then occupy your mind with something else. Like updating your status on Facebook or something useless like that. Or finishing that email you meant to send to your co-worker before lunch.

Okay, so tonight my method didn’t really work for me. I knew I should have eaten the salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette, but the Panino Italiano with prosciutto and hot coppa was just crying out to me.

At least I’ve moved on from the hot fudge sundaes, Take 5’s, and Whopper Juniors from the cheating days of my past. This is progress. Next business trip he takes, maybe I’ll take the cheating down another notch. Probably a good idea.

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It Just Kept Pulling Me Back

Believe it or not, there was a point in my life when I had never set foot in a gym.  At least, not by direction from my middle school P.E. teacher.  I had never played sports – again, not when it wasn’t a requirement to pass the 8th grade.  And I never ran or participated in any outdoor cardiovascular activity – unless I was chasing my dog across the park after he decided to ditch the collar around his neck.

So when I met my husband, and I reluctantly agreed that partaking in some kind of physical activity would be a good thing, I knew I was in for something that was way out of my comfort zone.

That was 2001.  Today, I can proudly say that I exercise regularly.  However, what might shock some of you is that I’ve only been exercising regularly for about ten months.  [GASP!]

In the words of Dr. Meredith Grey, “Seriously?”  Seriously.  Oh, there were streaks of a good two or three months when I was religiously going to the gym every week.  But for the most part, I was going in streaks of three weeks here and there, take two weeks off, go for another two weeks, one week off, and so on.  There were times when I wouldn’t go for months.

Needless to say, with the exception of the three-month streak, I never got any good results with such inconsistency.  I would get all gung-ho about it, lose interest, and then make up some excuse as to why I had to take a “three-week break.”

When I look back on that seven-year cycle of trying and failing, I think I can now see what was going on.  I’ve heard it best described as a thermostat.  I first heard this idea from James Ray, author, philosopher, and entrepeneur, and recently was reminded of it when I read a former colleague’s blog, “When your Mind is Stuck.”  (I highly encourage you to check it out.)

I described the termostat effect in my comment on his blog:

“Your mind is like a thermostat, where the temperature you set it to (usually a comforable 72 degrees) is your comfort zone. Every time you step away from that 72 degrees, it wants to pull you back. Back to what is safe and what it’s used to. When you carry out actions that are outside what you normally do, it will do everything it can to pull you back to what resonates with your current programming (limiting beliefs, values, etc. that serve that bad habit).

Breaking free of this pull is perhaps one of the toughest things to do. You must acknowledge the programming that is pulling you back, and re-adjust your programming to something that serves you (much easier said than done)…you can start small, but the most important thing is to just start. The more often you step away from that 72 degrees, the weaker the thermostat’s pull will become.

This is something I by no means have mastered, but every day I try to be ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable.'”

You see, over the course of those seven years, I was constantly being pulled back to what I was used to – a life of physical inactivity. Although I knew in my head that it was an unhealthy way to live, my past programming and unspoken limiting beliefs – that I’m not coordinated enough, that I’ll never have the figure I want, that people in my family just don’t work out, that I just don’t have time – were dictating my actions (or lack thereof).

It wasn’t just that I was lazy, it was that breaking free of any bad habit that supports that past programming is a freakin’ hard thing to do. It takes a vision of what you want to accomplish, compelling reasons driving that vision, a serious commitment to accomplish that vision, and it takes a shift in those unspoken beliefs that are holding you back. 

First step is to figure out what those beliefs are.  Then replace them with your vision and know that the vision will come to fruition.  (If you’ve read the book Eat, Pray, Love – another read I highly recommend – understand that your vision is your tree calling to you.)  Focus intensely on that vision, shut up the chatterbox in your head (more on the pesky “chatterbox” later), and just act.  The thermostat’s pull will eventually weaken.

Whew, I think I’m getting a little too deep, even for my standards right now.  Bottom line, recognizing why you keep going back to your comfort zone, i.e. recognizing the thermostat’s pull, is the first step in breaking the cycle. Like I said, this is not an easy thing to do, and is easier for some than for others. (Sciences have been dedicated to studying why this is and how to conquer it. Check out a blog on my husband’s website about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.)

In my next post, I’ll share with you how I broke free from my thermostat. Until then I ask you, “What’s pulling you back?”

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