One of the most complicated parts of weight loss, for me, has always been that dreaded “no.” I’ve written essay after essay after essay about how to develop the ability to say no, which is totally doable… but that says nothing about how hard it will be. It says nothing about the fact that learning how to “say no” doesn’t erase all the memories you’ve connected to saying “yes” for your entire life.
The day I gave up processed food is the same day I gave up smoking cloves. It was just one day when I decided I wasn’t going to buy them anymore. It was an expensive habit, it was a lethal habit, and it was a self-enabling habit. The smokes, much like the processed food, made me happy in a situation and lifestyle where I was increasingly unhappy. I was frustrated, hurt, feeling really hopeless, and wasn’t dealing with it at all – I didn’t have the tools to do so. I felt so out of sync with myself, that I felt like the only way I could feel any semblance of peace or happiness was through smoking. Or cookies. Usually both.
It’s officially been four years since I last smoked. I’m proud of the choice I made to hang up the habit, but sometimes I get this urge… if I walk past someone who’s smoking a clove – not a regular cigarette, mind you – or if I feel that feeling I used to feel before I’d smoke, I’d say to myself, “Damn, I really wish I smoked.” I’d eventually go on about my business, still not smoking, but I had to at least admit to myself that I felt the feeling. I’d also follow it up with “…but I don’t smoke anymore.”
I’ve spent a lot of time, in these past few months, really analyzing this feeling. I gave up something that I enjoyed, because I could actively recognize that the benefits of letting go would outweigh the benefits of clinging onto it. That’s the obvious part. The more interesting part, at least it is to me, is that even though I can acknowledge how “good” the indulgence felt to me, I can still let my “no” stand firm.
Lately, I’ve had to start analyzing my food journals to look for little holes in my eating – places where extra calories might creep in, little indulgences where I might not be sticking to my portion sizes, and things I can swap in and out to make my consistent calorie goal. Training looks and feels different when you’re training for muscle development – you eat tons of calories way more often, and your body gets comfortable growing in healthier ways. But now that I’m back to focusing on fat loss, I’m scaling back. In short, I’m right back at square one, learning how to say “no” to things I said “yes” to in large quantities.
The memories associated with all those “yes”es are damned powerful. Just like I can still feel the smoke billowing out from me after my first deep exhale, I can feel the first rush of sugar from biting into those cookies. Those memories, they try to serve as little promises of what would come if I gave in. Whenever I’m faced with the challenge of saying no, I do it in the face of those memories. It’s hard, and I wouldn’t be doing myself justice if I didn’t admit that I’ve been brought to tears at the realization that saying “no” would be denying myself the joys of that indulgence.
Everything feels so much more exaggerated when you’re an emotional eater, in recovery or not. You know how they say that people have “addictive personalities,” meaning they’re the type most likely to develop an addiction? That’s the kind of fear you live under – worrying about whether or not your next choice will send you ten steps backwards. Whenever I have to say “no,” I fight all the memories of “yes” using this fear – nothing will taste as good as the ability to keep myself from bingeing will feel. Nothing. Those memories tell me a lot about the feeling I’d gain, but that fear tells me so much more about what I’d have to lose.
Sweets, sugary treats (boy, did I love my candied ginger), smokes, alcohol… knowing that I’m the kind of person who is still developing coping mechanisms to accept and embrace my emotions and feelings, and knowing that I’m still trying to be a better problem solver, I had to give all of these things up in order to both strengthen my resolve, but also protect myself from backsliding. I don’t always get it right and, in some cases, I’m even becoming better about giving myself a little taste and tucking away the rest. Even I can use a reminder, every now and again, that saying no never becomes easier than saying yes has ever been, and I will never forget everything that comes with saying “yes.”
When I look at my food journals and think to myself about how much it’s gonna “suck” having to give up what I enjoy, I might groan and lament the new changes, and it might be one hell of a challenge to let go. But now, I have so much more to live for and enjoy, such a new perspective on life and living, and such a deeper understanding of how I’ve been handling my emotions… that I can adequately say that I have far more to lose by saying yes, and it makes saying “no” even easier.
Your thoughts are interesting so thanks for sharing. I have lost 125lbs and while I am thrilled with my health and size now, I would love to lose another 30 or so, for improved athletic performance and, yea, more so, vanity. I was thinking today on my way home how tracking food and saying “no” initially seemed so much easier than it does now. I see why people always say maintenance is harder than losing. For me, it is not that the “no” is so much harder, it is that previously the “no” came with a finite goal, a target, whereas now the “no” just seems endless. Before that “no” translated into drops on the scale and smaller sizes, while now “no” just lets you keep the status quo. After a while, everyone stops reacting (including the most important person, yourself) and you are in a new normal. And that “no” is more motivated by fear of regressing versus anticipation of progress. When I combine that difference in point of view with the fact that I have not fully developed other healthy, robust coping mechanisms, “yes” is attractive. Way attractive, at times. So I find myself overeating foods that are fine in moderation (like plain, unsweetened full-fat greek yogurt, which is now my personal crack) and not tracking faithfully and so on and so on.
Ramble, ramble, ramble…I feel ya. Thanks again for sharing. It is encouraging to know I am not alone.
I understood and related to every single word of this. It’s hard, because you feel like this part of the journey should be exactly like the first part of it, but it’s literally a completely different ballgame. It’s like switching from football to hockey.
I went through that overeating “healthy” foods phase, too – that’s probably a whole new blog post. Whew.
Saying “no” is indeed very hard to do. It takes a lot of willpower and strength. You have done so well and have inspired so many others to stick to their goals despite how difficult the path may be sometimes.
Thanks for sharing your story. Some days, I am able to say no and resist many temptations, but eventually my willpower and resolve weakens, and I will indulge to my detriment. I have learned that willpower is a muscle, and the more I exercise it, the stronger it becomes. The mental game of my weight loss journey has been very challenging. Exercise is very easy for me, it’s just building up the discipline to follow a meal plan is where I really struggle.
The maintenance phase is so hard. I lost 100lbs in 2004/2005 & I have fallen off the wagon several times since then. I never gain it all back but I have had moments were I gave into the yes and put back 20/30lbs.
I have used I jury, frustration at still after all this needing to watch my weight, etc. as excuses.
I have accepted it’s important for me to keep a food diary. It keeps me honest. But writing it down helps. I can’t pretend I only had 1 snack size candy bar when it was 4. Seeing the number of calories makes me ask is it worth it.
If I am going to blow 400+ calories on a dessert it will be after snowshoeing in the Alps with friends not on M&M’s. I hand decided when I give in it should be worth it.
thanks for this post.
For me, the only thing that helped me with the elusive willpower issue, was Overeaters Anonymous. A lifesaver for me.
I decided I (my ego) don’t have the necessary willpower, so I get help from a ‘higher power’. For me, my higher power is the subconscious part of my brain that keeps me breathing and alive and knows what’s best for me, even when “I” don’t.
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