" /> Ducks in a Row: January 2006 Archives

« December 2005 | Main | March 2006 »

January 03, 2006

Tossing the Junk

One of the things I have had trouble with while dieting is avoiding snacking rather than eating meals. In September I changed my diet to be three meals a day, doing away with snacks in order to save my calories for a really filling meal.

To keep myself on track, I threw away all my snack food.

You know this stuff: it's the mac-n-cheese boxes you bought on sale, brownie mix, cookies, a candy bar or two, crackers and cheese, even bowls of cereal that you can pretend are actually healthy. When you're ranging around the house wanting to chew on something, this stuff is right there, and before you know it you've eaten 350 calories of food you didn't need to eat. A week or so of that and you've gained a pound without really trying.

So I threw it out. All that snack food. It was an enormous waste of food (actually, not so much because I had eaten most of it, but I filled one trash bag). But then it was gone and I made a decision to stop bringing it in the house (if you have a partner who brings this stuff home and won't stop to help you out, I have no help for you; if you have kids, remember that you're the parent, and you're the one who gets to decide what they eat). When I only had food for my three meals, I found myself snacking a lot less. I would feel a little hungry, and check the fridge. There would be makings for a whole meal, but that seemed like too much effort. So instead I would have a glass of water and walk around a bit, or take a break from what I had been doing to read a book or do some knitting. Usually feeling hungry was just being tired of doing work I was not enjoying, or being bored with something tedious.

I also got rid of snack food I used to keep on my desk. I'd find myself eating that all afternoon instead of having lunch and then dinner, so I dumped it and made a ritual out of going to have those meals instead. It actually didn't work out to fewer calories to eat that way, but my digestion improved and I was eating much healthier foods than I had been.

Christmas is the worst. Everybody gives you chocolate and cookies and cake, and you go to cocktail parties with trays of food lying around to graze on. So I set a deadline: anything left after January 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany, and the official end of Christmas) goes in the trash or gets given away to somebody who wants the calories. I don't need it, and I don't want the consequences of eating it.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to throw away food. When you make the decision, it feels so freeing, as if you've thrown away some of that body fat. Better, of course, is to not buy the stuff in the first place, but we're not all perfect all the time. Instead of eating your way through your grocery store mishaps, give them to a food bank (now that Christmas is over they will need your donations) or throw them away.

Technorati Tags: ,

On Making Resolutions

You'd think that somebody as obsessed as I am with the idea of making things better would be a big supporter of New Year's resolutions. You'd be wrong. I stopped making (and trying to keep) New Year's resolutions five years ago, and I haven't regretted it one bit.

Does that mean I never decide to make big changes to improve my life? Um, no, obviously not. What it means is that when I decide to make a change, I do it right then, rather than waiting for some arbitrary date. I do this for any number of reasons, but primarily because this keeps me from putting off doing it, creating arbitrary reasons to delay starting the change ("I'll start my diet at noon, no after lunch, no, today is really a hangover day; I'll start tomorrow") and inevitably failing.

By starting right away, I make it clear to myself that I want to make this change, and I have decided to make it. It's important to me, so important that getting started has to happen as soon as I decide it's important. By not delaying starting, I show myself how important this change is.

One benefit to starting right away is that I can make changes in my life at any time. In early December I decided to change one simple thing I was doing every day, and I started right then. If I had waited until the New Year, I'm not sure that I would have done it, and I certainly would not have reaped the benefits of having made this little change for the entire month of December. So I start the New Year feeling like I've really made something happen, rather than with an encroaching sense of dread about not being able to keep resolutions.

Starting right away also maintains momentum. I had a crisis, I came to a resolution, I made a decision, and immediately I take an action. No waiting around. Just go out and do it. It's so much easier that way, without any starting and stopping.

Five years ago, when I sat down to think about what I wanted to change about my life in the year to come, I realized that what I wanted to do I should have started to do already, and that if I really wanted to make positive change in my life, I had to stop waiting for significant dates and behaving so superstitiously about when I would start. I realized that in previous years I had read a lot of articles about New Year's resolutions and how few people keep them, and that that negative press was hurting me. So I decided to get off that ride.

Now, when I fail to keep a resolution, I don't feel like the world is saying, "I told you so." I can pick myself up and get back on the horse, or I can change what I was doing again, trying to find something that works. I shifted my way of thinking from strongly negative, maybe not all the way to strongly positive, but positive enough that if I fail at something, I have enough self-esteem left to get up and start over again.

The much-touted benefit of New Year's resolutions is supposed to be that everybody else is making them. There are some benefits to making resolutions with other people, of course, as long as they actually help you stick to them. Making a resolution with a friend who will help you stay on track is really helpful: I do that, but not for January first. And I choose well the friends I make resolutions with: they have to be people I can trust to support me in the resolution, not saboteurs or critics.

Resolutions and decisions are the core of changing your life. Don't let them be guided by superstitious cultural quirks. If you mean it, do it.