Thursday, June 24, 2010

Checking Premises, Part 2

Last time, I wrote about two big premises that I had to check, decide about, and improve upon so that I could become a healthier person, inside and out. I wrote a little about some of the reasons I switched to a paleo diet (mostly--still working on the nooks and crannies, so to speak), and how my perfectionism paralyzed me. I'd like to thank everyone for their comments on that post.

This time, I'll keep listing some premises (in as-they-occur-to-me order), and describing some of the mental work I've done to identify and change them. This mental work is hard stuff, but necessary to make real changes in one's life. I don't know a person who has improved his life who hasn't spent time doing this--thinking about wrong ideas he was holding, and trying really hard to put better ideas in their place. This introspection, as a friend pointed out on Twitter today, ". . . may be a, if not the, fundamental practical skill that underlies the virtue of pride." 

Okay, so on to the next premise change. This time it's:

Learning to Value Health

Somehow along the way to adulthood, I learned that it's better to be smart than athletic. It is better to read than to run. It is better to think than to move. Also, I hated to sweat in gym class, and the Powers That Be always saw fit to schedule my PE for 1st Period. (And here is where I'll wave to all of the 8th grade boys in 2nd Period History (or was it Science?) who basically pretty much sucked. I'm sure they're lovely human beings now, but at the time . . . notsomuch.)

At some point in my early adulthood, it dawned on me that I was not, in fact, immortal, and that if I wanted to live a really long time (and loving life, that seemed a laudable goal), then I'd better start valuing my health. And so that's when I began trying to eat better (still the SAD way for many years, which was a fruitless endeavor), and trying to move more. In my late 20s, we discovered Atkins and Protein Power, and gave those diets a try, with quite a bit of success. I lost tons of weight and got a treadmill and started using it regularly. Yay. Progress--not only on the physical side, but in the "caring about how healthy I am" side.

I sought help for my allergies, too. At that time, my environmental allergies were so severe I could barely function between the months of March and July, let alone do any kind of exercise on a consistent basis that required breathing. I started allergy shots, but had to stop when I got pregnant with Ryan (I hadn't moved up to my maintenance dose). I re-started after he was born, and continued them for 5 years, all through Morgan's pregnancy and birth. Allergy shots were a life-saver. I still have allergies, but this year, I took a Claritin every once in a while, as opposed to being nearly non-functional and having impaired hearing (from clogged ears) for a significant portion of the year.

When the babies came, I added a daily (well, mostly) walk around the neighborhood to our routine, as a way to just get out and MOVE, as well as to model movement and fitness for them. These days I'm much more active than I've ever been, with lots of walks and swimming and just general movement, too. Yay. And of course, it's been easier to stick with eating paleo, too. Valuing health FTW. Because you can be smart AND athletic (or at least active). You can read AND run. You can think AND move. It's not one or the other; no mind-body dichotomy. Because without a body, you ain't got no mind.

Body Image

Having not cared so much about health in general until my 20s, it took me longer to realize a curious thing--I didn't have an accurate self-image of how I looked. It was only in photographs that I'd think "oh my god!", but when looking in the mirror, it was like I couldn't see it. I wasn't exactly happy with what I saw, but I couldn't see how overweight I really was. It was similar to how I've heard anorexics view themselves, only in reverse.

(And of course, perfectionism reared its ugly head here, too. Since I'd never considered myself particularly good-looking (I'm a nice "regular" maybe), you know, why bother?) 

What got my attention about this wrong premise, apart from pictures--and I'd always taken care not to be photographed if I could possibly help it--was hearing that some celebrity (I can't even remember which one) was a certain size, my size. And I thought "Wow, is she ever fat!" D'oh! :o)

So what I started to do was notice body sizes and shapes. All body sizes and shapes, just so I could correct myself. I started to notice healthy bodies and unhealthy bodies, and then I started to want to have one of the healthy ones, which fit in nicely with my new desire to be healthy overall.

Free Will--or, There's No Such Thing as Fate

Another idea I had to shake was a certain feeling of DOOM that no matter what I did, I would necessarily end up like my mom and the other large people in our family. I really did think this. I figured it was inevitable, so why even try (oh hai, Perfectionism!)? This feeling of Doom applied in other areas of my life, too, notably regarding parenting. I felt doomed to repeat the mistakes of my parents, so there was no point in having children. (Note: my parents made regular kinds of parenting mistakes, and they parented according to different principles than I do, so our styles are quite different. But they weren't abusive or anything. Don't want to be misunderstood here.)

Well here's the thing. Free Will--you've got it, and so do I. Hm. Imagine that! I can choose to do certain things over other options. I have control over my choices. It's really amazing what you can do with free will, and I learned that free will is, well, freeing. I was free from the idea that I would never be healthy. Nice feeling.

The Clean Plate Award

I wrote about this recently on OGrownups, so if you've read this one before, bear with me, because I go into much more depth about the process of identifying and fixing this major problem.

When I was a kid, we had the Clean Plate Awards, and any kid who cleaned his or her plate--and I mean emptied--got dessert (if we had one). And if you didn't clean it, dessert or no, you got ragged on and bitched at and hectored to death about it. I know where my parents got this--this was how they'd been raised, and they were raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression. You don't waste anything, especially not food.

We were encouraged not to "waste" food, to empty our plates, and to do so at every meal. The result of this was that I learned how to ignore the signals of my body telling me when I was full, as I often ate past the point of fullness. After learning to ignore those signals, I eventually lost all ability to even identify when I was full--I only noticed that full feeling after reaching the point of what I now call "over-full" or "Thanksgiving-full."

So I just ate until my plate was empty. If I had a second helping, I ate that all up, too. Then add in my perfectionist streak--it is so satisfying to see the plate cleared!--and . . . it was really bad.

It was especially difficult to even identify that I held this premise. The process of identifying it began with a feeling, as I described in the perfectionism section. I found more than one, actually.

The first feeling was not actually a negative one (just to make this whole thing trickier, you know). It was a sense of satisfaction, of completeness--I had "completed" the meal. I first only noticed this when I had an empty plate and there was still some part of the meal to be served, like on Thanksgiving. I'd eat the food on the plate, feel like I did my job, and then experienced this odd sort of disconnect, because I was expecting more food to come up, like a second course. How could I be "finished" when all of the meal hadn't yet been served? Ah ha! It was because I'd emptied a plate. And I was happy, satisfied about that because I'd done my job.

The other emotion I experienced that clued me into the problem was a feeling of frustration if I actually couldn't empty my plate. And guilt, too. You can't just leave food on the plate! It's just not done! How wasteful and tacky!

Let me just take a minute to talk about emotions. Ayn Rand said about them:

Emotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.

My emotions gave me important clues to the nature of the incorrect premises I subconsciously held. I felt guilty if I couldn't finish a plate; I felt satisfied, like I'd just finished a job well-done, when I did. But those emotions didn't match up with my conscious evaluation of reality, which included such things as: observing that others left food on their plates and didn't seem at all worried about that; feeling physically full ("over-full") yet trying to keep eating; and noticing that I only considered food scraped off a plate as "wasteful"--but not food cleaned out of the fridge after sitting there a zillion years. Huh.

So through paying attention to my emotions, plus trying to be more aware of the circumstances in general, I was able to realize that what I'd been doing was eating thoughtlessly, eating (sometimes) what I thought was healthy, but eating for the purpose of cleaning my plate.

Once I became aware of this wrong premise, and formulated a better one ("I should eat until I feel full."), I realized that I lacked the skill to follow the better premise: I couldn't tell when I was full. I had become so accustomed to eating without noticing or caring if I was full (or hungry) that I actually couldn't do it. :(

Fortunately, around this time, I got pregnant for the first time, and that REALLY helped. Because if you've ever been pregnant, you will no doubt be aware that during pregnancy, when you're hungry, you're HUNGRY RIGHT NOW, and when you're full, you need to STOP RIGHT NOW. Or at least that's how it worked for me.

What happened after Ryan came was that I quickly lost that skill, which was interesting (and upsetting) to me. I kept trying, and got better at it, then got pregnant with Morgan. I actually looked forward to re-learning this skill because the pregnancy would force me to. I managed to retain the skill longer after Morgan was born, though it took lots of conscious effort and learning how to scrape my plate without feeling guilty. By the time I got pregnant with Sean, I had the basics down (meaning I could actually notice when I was hungry and full), and chose to use that pregnancy as a way to hone the skill, making sure to eat ONLY when I was hungry and stop pretty immediately after feeling full.

Okay, still with me? Only one more, promise!

Meal Times

Along with learning to always clear my plate, I learned that you are always supposed to eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, with maybe a snack or two. I learned that you must not skip these meals, and that such meals must occur at designated times. (Of course I did learn to skip breakfast as a teenager--doesn't every teenage girl do this?--but I had to be sneaky about it.)

This is a bad idea, particularly when combined with the Clean Plate Award, because it messed up my ability to understand when I was actually hungry. I would go to lunch with my coworkers at 12:00 because that's when you're supposed to eat lunch (we had flexible lunchtimes). I would eat dinner with Brendan at 6:30 because that's when you're supposed to eat dinner. I never skipped a meal, because you're supposed to eat every meal.

Really, you're supposed to eat when you feel hungry. I won't go deep into the process of premise-checking, because it pretty much occurred at the same time as the process described above (pregnancy helped, too, and I did touch on the hunger issue above). The emotions that clued me in were: frustration if I couldn't have a meal when I thought it was supposed to occur, combined with a slightly panicked feeling if it really deviated quite a bit from the regular schedule.

I have learned to wait until I actually feel hungry before I go and find something to eat. I have learned that you can eat something at 3:00 if you like, including a 4 course meal. I have learned to be more flexible (well, kid-willing) with when we eat. Being more in touch with my body's signals of hunger and fullness has made quite the difference, really! :o)

Alrighty then. Those are the rest of the major premises I've worked very, very hard to identify and improve my whole adult life. I have one more post where I will bring it all together somewhat, and talk more about the things I'm doing currently to remain conscious of the new premises (because I still must consciously struggle to overcome the old habits), and talk a little bit about how my life has improved immensely.

Let me know what you think so far!


C. August said...

I have a question about meal times and satiety.

My son, 4 1/2, gets distracted and bored sitting at the table to eat a meal, and because we don't force the clean plate club -- instead we say "eat until your tummy feels full" -- he ends up eating nearly nothing. Then, five minutes after the meal, he invariably comes into the kitchen whining "I'm huuuungryyy."

Of course, we usually just keep his meal in the fridge for just such an occasion, but it gets incredibly tiresome.

Do you have any thoughts about how to help him learn to actually sit and eat until his tummy is truly full, rather than being bored and distracted, and still legitimately hungry after the meal because of it?

We discuss with him at least once a day that he has to eat until he's full and listen to his body, but it's not having an impact. And because he's a growing boy and is really hungry, we don't want to say "No, you didn't eat at the table and now you have to wait until dinner!"

Basically, this is just a parental sanity question. I'm sure he'll grow out of the too-distracted-to-eat phase sooner or later. I just wish it was sooner.

Perhaps we should enable him to get his own snacks and food like you guys do? It's just the logistics of our fridge and his shortness don't jive well...

Jenn Casey said...

I'd suggest asking yourselves why it's important that he sit and eat until he's full all at once. Is it to participate in special family time at dinner? Is it too much trouble to keep his food until later? Is it really because you're concerned that he won't eat until he's full for some reason? Is he distracting everyone else at the table? Are you concerned that he will never learn this skill if he doesn't learn it now, at this point in time?

Also, is it possible he's learned to turn this into A Thing, just to see if you guys will play along? Lately we're having A Thing where just as everyone is getting ready for bed, suddenly everyone is hungry or thirsty, and I think it might have been a bad habit that we have allowed to continue. (Our answer to that is to give them a few minutes' warning about bed and suggest that it might be a good time for a snack.)

I hear you about parental sanity. I think if you could find a way to give him some independence with getting things out of the fridge on his own (putting the food he likes on lower shelves), then you would be off-the-hook for helping him after you're ready to be done with the meal. You could say "Oh well *I'm* all done with dinner, but you go ahead and help yourself."

I think it's probably just a crazy-distraction phase, and if he was able to fix his own food, then he would eat when he's hungry. That's the thing--they won't let themselves go hungry. But you don't have to cater to their hunger (apart from providing them with food, of course) unless you want to.

In the last few years, I have made it so that my kids can be as independent as possible in this regard (a result of identifying and fixing my own bad premises), and not only has it helped them in many ways, it's actually lightened my work load!

I'd be interested in hearing what you decide to do. Logistically, freeing them up can be confusing at first (for the Type A likes of me), but for me, letting go of the idea that there needed to be an Officially Designated Lunchtime helped. And they do join us for meals, too.

C. August said...

His distractability does impact our occasional family meals, and that's annoying in and of itself, but it's not the prime motivation for my question. I think he has made it A Thing, to some extent, but it's mostly that we just get sick of catering to his whims all the time.

I think empowering him is the best idea, and we just have to figure out how to make it work in our tiny kitchen. There's just not much room for things, and so a lot of things are high up and there's no getting around it. But we can start putting his leftovers and cheese and salami slices and veggies and things on the bottom shelf (it's a freezer on the bottom fridge, so it's already at head height for him) and maybe get a little stool for him too.