Saturday, January 13, 2007

Shut the hell up on pain of bitch slap!

I find the premise that we can control, or at least influence our psychological and emotional responses (what I usually refer to as my "internal life") by managing the substances we put into our bodies to be intuitive, even self-evident. But that was not always the case for me, and I'm regularly reminded that others do not always see this connection as clearly as I now do.

My experience training for marathons and other athletic endeavors taught me the value in keeping a training log in which I recorded not only how much exercise I performed, but other things, like observations about energy levels, mood, the weather, diet--anything that could have an impact on performance was fair game to be journaled. The purpose was in being able to look back over a period of time and draw some connections and conclusions about what worked on the good days and what contributed to the bad days. This approach diminishes the role of randomness, focusing instead on rational, predictable responses to various inputs and stimuli--the predictable results of behaviors, as opposed to simply being a victim of bad luck. So rather than saying after a bad day, "Oh you know, it was just one of those days..." one could just as easily conclude "I ate a bunch of crap the day before, didn't get enough sleep, then ran 30% further than my last run instead of just 10%. No wonder I feel like shit today and my per/mile average sucked and I'm stiff and sore and am missing today's workout because of it."

I'm starting to view keeping track of my CR experience as not unlike keeping a training log. It seems important to be mindful (mindfulness--such a powerful concept) not only of how I'm eating, but how I'm feeling, how my external behaviors influence my internal life, and how my internal life in turn influences my external behaviors (the image of an ouroboros comes to mind). Over time, it seems likely I can learn much about the predictable and mechanical functioning of my mind and body by reviewing this information. And I predict that when my mind and body live in easy balance with one another, I will perceive that experience as what I'll call the CR Happy Meal, a well-balanced emotional feast consisting of a judicious serving of relaxed contentment, generously spiced with optimism (and just a pinch of pessimism for contrasting flavor), served with a side of mixed energies and enthusiasms, with healing and restorative sleep for dessert.

My certainty of these premises has only grown as I've embarked on this new CR lifestyle. Its objective tools, like nutritional software, allow me to compare and perhaps correlate my moods and emotions with the foods I've eaten that day or in the days previous, while the more subjective tools like the blogs of other newbies struggling their way through the initial baby steps, and the blogs and mailing lists with the musings of long-time practitioners invite me to compare my experience with those of other people. I'm aware that what works for me may not work for others, and vice versa, but I'll add that these truths that I have concluded to be intuitive and self-evident were things I learned from other people, then tested in my own life and found to be true, so I'll be happy if anyone reading these words I write can identify with my experience in some way.

With all of that as a rather indulgent prologue, I'll now move on to the real meat of this morning's Gratuitous Musings.

I've had a couple bad--really bad--CR days. I haven't recorded my food in CRON-O-Meter since January 10. Why? Because I sacrificed mindfullness and allowed my emotions to dominate and overmaster my behavior in ways that I couldn't bear to record for posterity. I used to call what I'm feeling this morning "shame." But the real shame I should be feeling is for how I often sit in judgment of myself in a disdainful and destructive way that I would never subject anyone else to.


"Chris, I really fucked up yesterday. I ate 10 pizzas, drank a keg of beer, and finished up with three dozen donuts which I washed down with a gallon of heavy cream!"

"How do you feel today?"

"Terrible. I'm sluggish and tired, depressed, my gut is in open revolt, I gained 25 pounds overnight, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and I'm about to have a heart attack because my arteries have narrowed to a trickle!"

"Wow, you are a total fuck up! You should probably just kill yourself and get it over with. Here, have a pound of butter for a snack."

Ouch! No, No, NO, not in a million years, not ever, never never never would I even THINK such a thing about--let alone say it to--someone who was suffering from the results of a few bad choices.

And I'm not going to put up with that nasty voice whispering in MY ear either. Oh, he tried it. He got all up in my face, that embittered, nasty little troll, and I had to warn him to shut the hell up on pain of bitch slap.

So imagine instead:

"Chris, I really fucked up yesterday. I ate 10 pizzas, drank a keg of beer, and finished up with three dozen donuts which I washed down with a gallon of heavy cream!"

"How do you feel today?"

"Terrible. I'm sluggish and tired, depressed, my gut is in open revolt, I gained 25 pounds overnight, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and I'm about to have a heart attack because my arteries have narrowed to a trickle!"

"What were you doing before this happened?"

"Well, I was eating generous portions of delicious and nutritious vegetables and fruit, succulently fatty fish, nuts, tea, even delicious 72% cacao chocolate!"

"Wow, that sounds terrific. How'd you feel?"

"Oh, man, I felt GREAT!"

"Well, if that was working for you, maybe you should try that again."

"But was all so awful...I..."

"Don't even think about yesterday--or tomorrow, for that matter. How about we just focus on what we actually have to work with, which is now, today. Could you try that, just one day? I'll do it with you, and we can compare notes tomorrow. What do you say?"

Well, whose counsel do you prefer?

I know what some of you are thinking: "So much DRAMA about food. Relax!" Oh, I wish I could! But, that food is tied to psychological drama shouldn't be surprising to anyone. Food is the first thing we do in life after breathing. Love and dependence and ecstasy and survival become inextricably hardwired the first time we latch on to mother's tit, and there's no divorcing them again. There is so much emotional baggage attached to food that we should applaud ourselves for making even the most trivial of good choices.

Embracing CR or any healthy way of eating is an act of self-love and self-respect, and inherent in that choice is an optimistic view that we can and should be better, that we can be healthier and happier and that those are desirable goals because we want to be alive and life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.

But love and hate are not opposites, and this isn't a zero-sum game. A day or two, or a week, a month, even years of bad choices don't have to be seen as acts of defeating self hatred. We don't need to keep sabotaging ourselves with feelings of inadequacy and disappointment and self-shaming, because those things in the end do not contribute much to our lives or the lives of others.

I like to remind myself of something I learned when I did some research on Wicca for a class once, something called the Wiccan Rede:

"An it harm none, do as thou wilt."

It's a powerful statement, and not only because it advises us to be mindful of how our choices impact others. The unspoken message inherent in the Wiccan Rede is that we not harm ourselves. Human beings are fairly clever--too clever perhaps--we find a million ways to harm ourselves first, and then find we are unable to help but harm others.

Obsessing about one's health and well being, about CR--about any of these things--can at times seem self-indulgent and self-absorbed. But we also need to recognize that if we want to be of any use to the world at all, if we want to love and respect others, and be loved and respected by others, we first must take care of and love and respect ourselves. And that means enjoying our successes and our good choices and our good days, and learning from our bad ones without descending into self-sabotaging shame and regret.

As Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron said, "We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves."

As I sit here in front of CRON-O-Meter, peering at those two empty days where fear and loathing stood in my way and prevented honesty and acceptance, I can hear his receding voice now, that embittered little troll who visits me on days like yesterday, or the day before. He sounds so desperate and hateful, so unhappy. I'm tempted to give him an extra bitch slap for the road. But maybe like me, all he needs is a hug and blueberry/yogurt/flax oil/egg white smoothie.


Robin said...

Hi Chris,

Can I say how much I love your blog? I especially love your "gratuitous musings." Today's entry was especially honest, insightful and funny. I laughed out loud when I got to the part where you offered yourself a pound of butter as a snack. It made me remember some of my own inner dialogs from the not-so-distant past, only my nasty voice had a particular fondness for M&M's.

Don't worry about 2 bad days. Just focus on the choice in front of you right now. And if that "little troll" tries to get you down again, you just let us CR folks know about it. We'll take care of him for you.

Anonymous said...

Cool, thanks. :-)

Chicago Cyclist said...

I'm not sure who "anonymous" is that said "Cool, thanks." but moving forward, I will generally delete posts from "anonymous," and maybe I should change the settings to prohibit it. I'd like to know who's commenting on my blog.


Emi at Project Swatch said...

Your whole post really resonated with me - especially the two dialogues. As I actually just posted a day or so ago, my new year's resolution is to be kind to myself, to try and train my inner voice to speak to me as I speak to others - and especially in regards to food.

Western culture is increasingly treating eating like something sinful, and people who overindulge as sinners, and this just leads to more secretive eating and accompanying feelings of guilt, which makes it so hard to let go of less than ideal choices and move on.

I wrote something like this as a comment on another blog, but it really helped me get over my guilt about overeating to think of what I would do if I went to bed way too late before an important day, and consequently was tired all day. I would realize that staying up was a bad decision, but it would never even cross my mind to tell myself I was a bad PERSON for not allowing myself enough sleep. Yet I constantly berate myself for being a bad person - weak, greedy, or whatnot - when I make a less than optimal food choice.

Best of luck getting back on track - I know you will. Make yourself something nutritious and delicious with love, and savor it.

Ali said...

I hope that your 72% cacao chocolate came in the form of a Ghirardelli bar. Can you say amazing? Do not feel down at all when you goof. When I first started a few months ago there were days I would skip my COM entries because I didn't even want to record such eating disasters, but now I just bite the bullet and record everything the best I can. The only way to change habits is to be honest and next time you are facing a pizza or whatever, just remember that you are going to have to record the damage. That alone stops me in my tracks a lot of the time. ali

Calyb said...

OH MY GOD! I needed to read everything you wrote!! Did someone tell you about my weekend? Are you spying on me? Or are we just pretty similar newbies?

Thanks so much! I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!

Chicago Cyclist said...

Thanks for the positive feedback. It means a lot to me to know that others can derive some benefit from my gratuitous musings.

Ali--it was Godiva chocolate, and my only disappointment was that it was only 72% cacao. I actually had some chocolate once that was like more than 90%, very very little sugar, and I loved it. I have a fondness for bitter flavors.

Emily--you are right on about food=sin. I think the solution to this pesky inner voice problem is simply to look for results: does listening to that self-critical garbage produce results? Does it motivate us to change? No? Then let's try something else that might work better. Let's stick with techniques that produce the results we are looking for, and let go of techniques that have proven to be ineffective.

Thanks all yous!

Chicago Cyclist said...

Oh, and Carolyn--not spying (lol)!

But I'm so comforted to know that several of us newbies are experiencing exactly the same growing pains. It suggests that all of this is actually going to work the way we want it to. We're not statistical outliers!


ahh_diddums said...

i know this is a very late comment but i just came across ur blog yesterday after wandering in from april's site. just wanted to say this was an awesome post and has motivated me to stop punishing myself for the mistakes ive made food-wise and start making changes. u helped me realize that everyone makes mistakes but the important thing is learning from them and using them as fuel to further ur success in the long run. thanks again!

p.s. -erm. i would post this as anonymous since we do not know one another but i didnt want to get deleted. so instead ill leave u with a rather old blogger account from a random college kid.