Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Maintenance is a head game

I had that as my Facebook status on Sunday. Because it's true.

As usual, I've done great on the diet portion of my journey. I actually love to diet. You get all this positive feedback and it's not that hard if you are a "systems" person like me. Most diet programs have a system and I just plug myself into it. If it's Weight Watchers, I count points. If it's Jenny Craig, I eat one from column A and one from column B and do exchanges on the non-Jenny food days.

For weight loss surgery, my program had guidelines. Granted they were more open-ended than most diet programs. But I was able to fashion them into a system and come up with some routines that worked well for me.

Then came maintenance. And my systems all fell apart.

Some of this was due to schedule changes so it might have happened anyway. But part of it is that, somehow, maintenance is different.

For one thing, the goal is to eat as many calories as you expend, not as little as you can get away with. So you can't eat by rote. You have to actually listen to your body and trust that it's not lying to you. If you are hungrier one day, that usually means you need more fuel. It's a message not a trick. But it still feels like a trick. My body has been lying to me for so long that I can't just suddenly start trusting it.

Then, there is the whole weight thing. When you are going down, an occasional tick up is usually not a big deal since you are almost always down for the week. But on maintenance you go up and down constantly and it's nerve-wracking. I know from past experience that I will fluctuate about three pounds when I get to a steady state, but every time I go up one, I freak out -- even though over all I'm still losing a bit here and there.

I was even in a bad mood on Monday because I was at 116 when I had been at 115 earlier in the week. So even though I was still down a pound over all for the week, I was unhappy. I tell other people not to get suck into tying your feelings to scale, but then I fell right into that trap. I may have to hide my scale again like I did early out when it was driving me insane.

The other problem I am having is making myself eat things that are perfectly reasonable but have been on my list of "avoid" foods while trying to lose. I haven't had a bagel since surgery. We have whole wheat mini-bagels and I could have one and completely stay in within my nutritional guidelines, yet I just can't make myself. Even though I don't believe in "good" and "bad" food, I can't get over the idea that bagels, even whole grain ones, should be avoided at all costs.

Now, it's not all bad. I have been experimenting with different snacks and eating schedules and amounts. When I was losing, I would have a protein shake every morning with 3 scoops of powder instead of two. I've tried not having a shake on some days and having it with 2 scoops on others. So far, 2 scoops has worked the best. I can still meet my protein goals that way, but I don't overshoot my calorie allotment. It gives me more wiggle room to eat real food so I start playing with that.

I've been eating more fruit and more healthy fats too. I'm allowing myself more occasional indulgences, but I'm not going overboard either.

I have to admit that a few weeks ago, I was going overboard. The exercise was saving me, but I still felt out of control with my eating even though my numbers looked good. Then I figured out that having more acid was mimicking hunger and I started to drink more more fluids with flavoring (which seems to help that) and taking a Zantac when I got heartburn instead of ignoring it. That all helped a lot and I think my acid situation will stabilize within the month as Dr. C predicted. (I was doubtful about that at one point and envisioned an future of daily Prilosec.)

I'm doing better with the fueling vs. eating plan too. I have been having fun trying different sorts of fuels. I even made my own protein balls and bars. The recipes I have are not very good, but it's given me some ideas. I'm trying different sports drinks and working on my "special mix" too. I've also found some "real food" sports foods like bananas so I'm not eating so much engineered stuff.

So I often eat a banana before a workout, do gels and/or sports drinks during and then top it off with a protein bar of some sort at the end. This combo tends to come out to the right amount of calories and to have the right mix of convenience vs. natural food. I did try some trail mix in place of the gels but it didn't work out too well for a number of reasons. I may try it again for long bike rides though. I also brought some cheese sticks on my last long ride and that worked well too when the gels were just not enough.

My protein muffin recipe continues to evolve and was a big hit at a potluck my tri club held. They actually are an excellent post-workout snack since they have the exact right carb to protein ratio for recovery. My new recipe has a minimum of artificial ingredients and are much more convenient and tastier than a protein bar. They don't melt in the sun for one thing!

I'm also thinking of buying some bulk maltodextrin and some unflavored 100% whey protein isolate and making my own sports drinks. Then I can control the sodium in them and also the taste without having to mix and match from existing drink mixes.

So I will continue to experiment and work on listening to my hunger and full signs. I hope to develop a good balance between healthy habits and mindful eating. Because, let's face it, a lot of eating is routine even if it's important to also be mindful. Hopefully, I'll also get my head together. I feel a lot better today, though I suspect that's because the scale was back down to 115. But writing this out helped too. It's good to remind myself that I am actually making progress and that there are fun aspects to this part of the journey.
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