Posted in Lifestyle change, Nutrition, Weight Loss, Wellness Coaching

The MyFitnessPal Trilogy Episode 3: Free to Eat

I took last week off from blogging to enjoy several days of Valentines Day and birthday-related fun, and spent some much-needed time with loved ones. But I’m back from my little mini-vacation to present the thrilling conclusion to the MyFitnessPal Trilogy. (Poking a bit of fun at myself here; I strive to not take myself quite that seriously!)

To recap: in Episode 1, I described what life was like before MyFitnessPal. In Episode 2, I finally began using the app to track my food every day, and learned the hard truth about what I was really eating. This final installment in our little saga is about what life is like today…

As of the publication of this post, I have logged into MyFitnessPal for 679 days in a row. It’s a way of life that works for me; it has become my new normal. Far from being a burdensome chore, it has freed me from how I used to live. Tracking my food every day has brought many gifts to my life, but the greatest one of all is not what you might expect. It’s not higher protein intake, or reduced sugar, or even weight loss.

It’s mindfulness.

For most of my life, I have eaten compulsively. Food was my drug, my first choice for comfort, entertainment, and pleasure. So much of my behavior was mindless and automatic, driven by craving and habit rather than intention. That used to be my way of life; that was my normal.

The concept of eating mindfully was not new to me. I had read several books on the topic and spent many hours in therapy sessions talking about it with counselors. One of those counselors gave me a placard to hang on my refrigerator that had a quote from Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Intellectually, I knew what this quote meant, but I was never able to take that knowledge and translate it into action. My attempts were sporadic and ultimately unsuccessful. That placard seemed to taunt me, and remind me of how I kept falling short. I eventually threw it away.

But today, I feel like I have finally, at long last, found that space. Putting everything I eat into MyFitnessPal allows me to (most of the time) eat mindfully, to take the pause between stimulus and response and make an actual choice.

This does not mean that every bite I put in my mouth is a perfect choice. Far from it. I have days where I am less than happy with my food. But my worst day today does not even begin to compare with my worst day eating compulsively. I still eat sugar and have treats. The difference is today I make my best effort to do it intentionally, and I hold myself accountable for it. If I have a party to go to, I plan my diet for that day with the event in mind so I can enjoy the “special” food. If I eat something particularly indulgent at work (I usually work mornings), then I adjust what I choose to eat the rest of that day to balance it out.

I’m also intentional with what I choose to indulge. In particular, if I’m going to eat sugar, then it’s going to be something I truly enjoy and take the time to savor. If I’m going to enter those numbers into MyFitnessPal and take the hit, I want it to be worth it. I’m not willing to “waste” those numbers on foods like granola bars, barbeque sauce, soda, sandwich bread, flavored yogurt, etc. I want the most bang for my buck.  If I’m going to eat something decadent that takes up a good portion of my carbohydrate allotment, it’s going to be something delicious, like an artisan baked good or fine dark chocolate, not a hamburger bun or cheap candy. And that kind of decadent treat is just that: a treat, not a daily habit.

One of my favorite features of MyFitnessPal is its Recipes page. Here I can input the ingredients to any recipe, specify the number of servings, give it a name, and the app generates a complete nutritional profile per serving. It’s a little extra work the first time I make something, but totally worth the effort to just tap the name under “My Recipes” every time I make it in the future. It also allows me to tweak my recipes and see how I can adjust their contents to better suit my goals. It’s no accident that once I started using MyFitnessPal, my consumption of fast food basically went to zero, and I rarely eat out. Unlike processed and restaurant foods, when I make my own at home, I have complete control over the contents and know exactly what I’m putting in my body.

mfp-recipe-pic-2
Salmon patties were one of my favorite foods when I was a kid. This is my adult version of that childhood classic, with almond meal instead of my mother’s saltine crackers. I fry them in grass-fed butter with some parmesan and fresh lemon.

This new-found mindfulness did not happen overnight. It’s not like I miraculously started eating intentionally on Day 1 of my current 679 day streak. Like everything in this journey, it was a gradual process. I believe that certain things had to happen in order. I had to have several months of training already under my belt. I had to have already demonstrated to myself that I could do things previously thought impossible, before I could tackle something that had been such a huge challenge and source of pain. There’s a reason it didn’t work when I tried it in the beginning. I just wasn’t ready. Other changes had to happen first.

Food tracking also helps me keep perspective. My self-perception, although much improved, is still distorted. If I have a day where I’m not happy with my food, I can easily slip into irrational fear. I can convince myself that I’m undoing all of my hard work and that I’m going to end up back where I started. The app allows me to look at my aggregate numbers for the week, or even the month. Nine times out of ten, when I look at the long-range picture, it reassures me that I am right on track. And that tenth time, if something is amiss, I can take action to correct it. One day is hardly a disaster. It’s just one day. I’m my worst critic, and the app gives me the facts I need to check unreliable feelings.

It also allows me to track my long-term progress and see in black and white how far I’ve truly come. When I installed the app, it prompted me to input a goal weight. I put one in, never in a million years thinking I would ever get there. But today, I’m only about 8 pounds away from that goal. Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t judge my progress solely by the scale. It is just one measure, and not even the most important one (in my opinion). If I never reach that goal weight, but continue to grow my lean muscle mass, improve my daily functioning, avoid degenerative diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis, and feel good inside my body, then I’m totally cool with that.

mfp-graph-2
My Progress graph. (Note that this was my starting weight when I began using MyFitnessPal. I had already lost about 20 pounds since beginning training at Ludus Magnus, but had started to regain, as described in Episode 1. Hence the need for food tracking.

But this graph is a powerful reminder of how those small, daily acts of mindfulness have added up over 679 days to bring me where I am now. To a way of life that I never could have imagined was possible for a girl like me. My wish for myself is that I keep learning, and keep taking the necessary actions to strengthen my space between stimulus and response.

What’s your wish for yourself? Do you need help transforming it from fantasy to reality? There is hope, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Call me at 614-517-2520 or email gtlwithjennifer@gmail.com and let’s talk about it!

 

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