Sidenote: Setbacks

December 15, 2008 at 11:07 am 5 comments

I had a setback of sorts today, and I wanted to write about it.   I can’t really count it as a true ‘failure’, because I didn’t violate my ADF plan, and didn’t fail to journal it.  In true point of fact, what I did today was not a big deal.

But it was a big deal to me.  So I want to write about it.

As I know I’ve indicated (possibly to the point of being nauseating about it), my biggest problem when it comes to food is the fact that I eat as a nervous habit.    I am the queen of nervous habits, too; my fingernails have not extended past my fingertips without acrylic assistance since I was 5.   I used to joke that it’s only by the sheer Grace of God that I’m not a chain smoker, but really…that’s nothing I should be joking about.  I’m not a chain smoker because I’m sort of a chain eater instead.

I really have no desire to stop chewing my nails.  If I must have a nervous habit, I will happily gnaw on my nails for the rest of my natural life.   Eating as a nervous habit, though.. that needs to stop.   That’s where most of my issues are.

Getting through Bunco that night in November was huge for me.  I wasn’t sure I could do it, I had to fight this big internal battle every minute I was there.  But I went home at the end of the night feeling like I had really accomplished something.  I had not let the voice in my head that rationalizes eating against my better judgment sway me.

This whole ADF thing has really come down to an exercise in winning that battle every day.  Even on my eating days, as it turns out.  I went from one extreme to the other initially, so determined not to eat ‘just because it’s there’ that I started refusing to eat unless I desperately wanted it.  That’s fine in its way, but I think it’s typical to overcompensate like that, and then settle into something more rational.  I think I’m getting to that ‘more rational’ stage now, but I’m still in the thick of it and it’s hard to say.

Thing is, though… at this point I’m four weeks in.  That’s not chump change, and though I’ve been trying to warn myself against getting cocky, I still let myself believe on some level that I had mastered the worst of my nervous eating compulsion.  I mean, just YESTERDAY I was crowing my head off because I didn’t eat ham on a roll.  I’m sure it seems silly, but that’s the sort of little battle I deal with everytime I’m around food I could justifiably eat.  That I managed to eat only what I wanted, and to want healthy stuff, is a big deal to me.  I want very much to believe it’s a sign that eating is becoming rational decision and not a mindless compulsion.

But you know what the Bible says: Pride cometh before a fall.  I went to the Sunday School Christmas Program having resolved somewhat not to eat any cookies there.   I’d not really eaten anything that was good for me up until that point, and I have, as I said, become a little cocky about my newfound willpower.  I made this private declaration to myself, and then went downstairs with my family.

Cookies normally are not a huge source of temptation for me.  There are cookies I like, but my real weakness tends to be salty foods, not sweet, so resisting cookies really shouldn’t be a problem.   But as I got down there and helped my kids select the goodies they wanted, I noticed a sugar cookie snowflake with icing on it.

It was such a weird moment.  A weird thought progression.  I don’t even usually like sugar cookies, but I’ve been debating making them with the kids  because it’s a nice mental image, they love doing it, and this is the season for such things.  My issue is always the frosting; I am good at making buttercream frosting, but you can’t stack the cookies once they’re frosted if you use buttercream.  There are royal icing recipes that set up after awhile, but I don’t normally like the taste of the merengue.   I know I have had sugar cookies with hard-set frosting that did taste good, though, and I have been in pursuit of the secret to this frosting for ages.

This cookie looked like it had that magical frosting on it.  Without even thinking about it, I picked it up to look at it.  Everything went downhill from there.

“Well I picked it up. I can’t put it back.  I guess I have to take it.  But I promised myself I wouldn’t eat a cookie!  Well, it’s just one cookie. It’s probably..what? Two points? I have at least 50 points to work with today, for heaven’s sake!  It’s the end of the week and I’ve barely used any Flex Points or anything!  Anyway, maybe if I taste it I can figure out what’s in it.   Or at least figure out if it’s what I think it is, right?  Besides, it’s an Eating Day.  I’m SUPPOSED to eat whatever I want today.  Right? Right.  Anyway, it’s not like I can put it back now.  Everyone has seen me take it.”

So I ate it.  And technically, it wasn’t a failure to do so.   For that matter, it shouldn’t even have been a BIG DEAL to do so.  I didn’t snap and devour the entire plate of cookies. I didn’t go back for seconds, even.  I just broke down and ate one cookie.

But afterward, of course, it was the principle of the thing.  I reflected upon the fact that I had just fought and LOST the very battle I’d tried to believe wouldn’t be an issue anymore.  I didn’t even really want the cookie, it wasn’t one I particularly liked.   And yet I talked myself into eating it!  AUGH!

This pretty much ruined my mood for the rest of the day.  I made an effort to eat a nutritious dinner to make up for my sin, but it wasn’t enough.  I was so upset with myself, so freaked out about what this could mean…  Was I a food addict?  Did I need a 12-step-program?

Recently we just learned that another member of Andy’s family is struggling with alcoholism.  He wrote us all an E-mail about three months ago explaining what has gone on.  He admitted that he had long felt it was something he could simply control on his own, but had come to accept that he would need help to master it.  This is the sort of thing people always say about drug addicts, alcoholics, whatever.  The whole ‘I can stop anytime I want to.’ thing is the usual symptom of denial, and the addicted person then hits some kind of wall and admits that he or she can’t do it alone.

I felt that way last night.  Clearly, I have an eating disorder.  I am a food addict. I can’t even not eat something when I don’t want to eat it!  I must need some kind of professional help!

So I looked it up.    Turns out that ‘food addiction’ as defined by most Eating Disorder specialists describes behaviors that are not an issue for me.  Most notably, food addicts tend to eat sparingly in front of other people, and then binge at home.  They tend to hoarde food and hide it away to be eaten privately.  They tend to obsess about food all day, mentally calculating the time until their next meal, debating what to eat, etc.  They eat until they are uncomfortably full.  They feel self-loathing that causes them to eat more.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I’ve done things like this at one time or another, none of these things are a habit for me.  The only time I obsess about food is when I’m dieting, which is a fairly natural time to have food on my mind all day.  I only feel self-loathing about what I’ve eaten when I’m actively dieting and I’ve screwed up majorly.  I do not hoarde food or eat secretly.  In fact, my problem is that I tend to eat more in front of people than in private, because I’ know..nervous.

So it would appear that I am not ready for a 12-step program just yet.  That’s good.  That also means it’s important to keep setbacks like this in perspective and not let them derail me. I am a nervous eater.  I have a bad habit that I need to break.  That means I need to keep working at it.

Admittedly, it was a tasty cookie.  I never did find out the recipe for the icing/frosting though.


Entry filed under: Failures. Tags: , , , , .

ADF/WW: Day 7 ADF/WW: Day 8


  • 1. melalvai  |  December 15, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I’m relieved the cookie was yummy, after the agony you went through over it. Were you able to determine the ingredients based on your taste analysis?

  • 2. Jennifer  |  December 15, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    No! Do you have any idea? I feel like I live in Cookie Icing Dead Zone or something. Everyone seems to know this recipe but me!

  • 3. Jennifer  |  December 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Gotta love today’s Possibly Related Posts. My personal favorite is: Serving Veggies in the nude, and other mistakes parents make.

  • 4. Michelle  |  December 16, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    First, YOU CANNOT BE SURPRISED BY THIS. This is one of the reasons that most conventional diet people say that fasting is bad. God made you with a desire to eat so that you don’t starve to death. When you don’t eat, you don’t have good decision-making skills because of chemistry, not failure. After skipping breakfast, I’m shocked that you didn’t dump the plate in your mouth with crumbs flying like Cookie Monster after eating the first one. THAT is your triumph here and that is a BIG triumph for the long haul. You did not fall into that old habit of thinking you had ruined your diet so you might as well go hog wild. I still struggle with that, to the tune of 8 pounds back on for the second time since getting to my lowest weight twice, although I have still never hit my true personal goal weight. (And no, it’s not an unhealthfully low number, either.)

    I digressed there for a minute, but the thing you need to take away from this is that you must make sure that you plan enough that you have something you can grab for breakfast. Planning is a huge part of this and I noticed you are figuring that out, too. 🙂 I hit several plateaus over my weight loss, but I didn’t worry about it because I said, there is something else I need to learn to get through this plateau. And I did. This is one of those lessons, don’t starve, I mean fast, for more than one day and expect to make good choices. The smart part of you has to plan ahead so that the dumb part of you can’t fail. (see

    I completely understand how frustrating it is to say you’re not going to eat xyz and then you do it anyway. Rules like that about sweets are partly how I gained control of myself. So I know what you mean when you say it’s a big deal to you, but I’m so glad you also realize that it’s not a big deal overall. That is how you will “keep it between the lines” in real life situations where you don’t have a lot of control over your food choices. You’ll do the best you can, but not go crazy.

    By the way, thanks for pointing out that I’m a food addict. Just as you were saying you don’t do those things, I was saying, check, check, check. I suppose that my problems could be a lot worse and this is something I’ll battle forever, but it’s a battle I am equipped to handle.

    Keep up the good work. You’re learning a lot and it’s interesting to hear this stuff and maybe it will motivate me to be healthier.

  • 5. Jennifer  |  December 16, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Surprised by a setback given the terrible morning? No, I guess you’re right. And you’re right about planning, too. This week I haven’t had much planned in terms of meals, and it’s really hard to figure out what to eat now.

    Sorry to make you feel like a food addict. 😉 If it makes you feel any better, my ‘Alternate Day Diet’ book by Dr. Johnson arrived today and the intro included the following:

    “If you’re having trouble controlling your own weight, you may be at least somewhat relieved to know that there is significant scientific research showing that fewer than 10% of Americans can eat freely, without restraint, and not gain weight. Sixty-five percent of us either don’t restrain or try unsuccessfully, and are, therefore, overweight or obese. That leaves approximately 25% of the population who, presumably, restrain successfully and avoid gaining weight.”

    In other words, the answer to my question about ‘when does it cease to be an effort’ would seem to be ‘never’. You’re either in that lucky 10%, or you will either struggle and win or struggle and lose, and it will be an ongoing thing all the rest of your life. Not a very hopeful prognosis, but at least it exonerates the struggle itself. If food addiction is characterized by the struggle, then it would seem that 90% of Americans are food addicted and just dealing with it with varying levels of success.

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