Monday, February 15, 2010

Am I Backsliding?

I've noticed an alarming trend the past few weeks. The amount of calories, or points for Weight Watchers followers, I'm eating daily is increasing while the amount of exercise I am doing daily is decreasing. This is not a formula for continued success with weight loss.

I'm not sure why this is happening. I'm in the fourteenth month of my diet, my lifestyle change, my latest journey to become a healthy writer, and I would have told you a few weeks ago that it's much easier now than it was during the first 6 to 9 months. I started 2010 completely motivated to get back on track after the challenges posed by the holidays and have done a meticulous job of keeping a food and activity/exercise diary since the beginning of the year. This is why I can say with full confidence that I have been eating more and moving less the past several weeks.

I don't think this is a case of emotional or stress eating. I have had disappointments and challenges the past few weeks, and I have had about an equal helping of successes and other moments of happiness. I don't think there is some unaddressed, underlying emotional issue making me eat more - though perhaps some of those disappointments did make me eat more on any given day. But, they have not started this several week trend of backsliding.

So, why am I doing it? The weather is definitely working to keep me from the gym. I haven't wanted to drive to the gym on the days it snowed. Since many of the roads are still a mess, I'm still wary about taking my car out. I also think that the fact that it's dark and cold when I get home from work has discouraged me from going to the gym on some nights. It's just easier to motivate to go to the gym when it's sunny, and I don't have to put on so many layers of clothes. The weather also kept me from going to work 3 out of 5 days this past week, so I did not even have my general commute walk to increase my daily activity.

But, I know that these are just excuses, and I need to find ways to work around the excuses if I want to succeed on my goal of reaching a healthy weight and BMI and stay there. Thankfully, I was starting to feel the lack of exercise in my body, and I did not like it. I wasn't sleeping as well, and I just didn't feel as good or as energetic as I do when I'm exercising more. I finally dragged out my step at home Tuesday night while watching the Biggest Loser. One of the Olympic athletes had challenged the audience to do lunges during the commercial break. I did it, and it was harder than it should have been.

That appalled me and made me get out that step and do about 50 minutes of step that night. I have continued to do step routines while watching television this week. I felt a positive difference in my body Tuesday night and that's continued. I've now committed to working out at least 3 times a week, above and beyond my normal commute, at home on my step or at the gym for the rest of the winter. I think this will stop my decrease in exercise and get my activity points closer to the range where I want it. I think incorporating exercise into my life every day will just naturally get easier in the spring and summer.

While I have made some strides to address why I'm not exercising as much as I want to, it's not as easy to understand why I'm eating more. I pulled out my trackers, or food diaries, since January 20th to try to see if I can figure out some answers for that question. As always, I tend to eat more calories on any day that I eat out. That said, I'm not willing to give that up. Eating out is a big part of my social life. I can work harder at making better choices when I eat out, but if this is a lifestyle change, it has to be "livable" and not lessen my quality of life. I need to "be social" at least once if not more per week to keep up my general level of happiness and well being. I'm even willing to accept that I may lose less weight on weeks that I eat out a few times with friends rather than eliminate all eating out to try to lose the weight quicker. I try to plan around eating out and treat those occasions as my treat(s) for the week.

But, this trend of eating more daily also occurred on days I was not eating out for social occasions. And, I can't say that I was just hungrier these past few weeks. After looking at my food diary for the past few weeks, I have noticed a new trend. About a month ago when I went grocery shopping, for some unknown reason I decided to check out the weight watcher and other lower-cal desserts in the freezer section and bought five different kinds of WW ice cream treats. I still don't know why I did this because it's unprecedented. Since then, only a day or so has gone by without me eating some kind of treat.

This is not good. I like desserts as much as the next person, but I've never felt like I needed to have one daily. I've noticed that I'm starting to think everyday about what will my treat be that day. For example, Saturday I went to Teaism to meet some girl friends for a late lunch/tea. I had the same order as I had when I went in January: mind and body herbal tea, curried chicken salad and two small carrot cake scones (a single serving there). This is totally acceptable to me, I ate a smaller dinner to compensate for my larger lunch, and this could have been my treat for the week.

The only problem was that I now have this new trend of having a treat a day. Friday, I had an oatmeal chocolate cookie. From Friday, February 5 to Thursday, February 11, I had at least one Weight Watchers ice cream treat a day. It feels like that eating that second or third Weight Watchers ice cream sandwich in late January has triggered this expectation or desire for some kind of "treat", preferably a sweet one, every day. I'm not sure if this is eating for reward or if it's just that this has triggered an increased desire for sugary treats.

I suppose this would be fine if I were decreasing the amount of other, healthier food choices I eat daily to address the fact that I'm starting to eat 100-200 extra calories a day of nearly empty, sweet calories, but I'm not. These treats are definitely increasing how much I'm eating a day. Now, I haven't been able to go to Weight Watchers (due to the weather) since Tuesday, February 2, so I haven't weighed myself since then. I do know that these past two weeks are when I should have my biggest loss in the typical monthly weigh loss pattern I have. Tomorrow night's weigh in will confirm if this backsliding of mine has hurt my total weight loss in February.

Even if I do have a big weight loss tomorrow night, I know I need to stop this pattern of moving less and eating more. I have addressed the exercise part this past week, and I'm starting to address the eating side this week. I have reconfirmed that I DO NOT need to have some kind of sugary treat every day, and I should not expect one.

I've also reexamined my definition of a treat. In the past few weeks, a treat has been a sugary dessert, but that doesn't have to be the case. In the past 14 months, I have gone through stretches when I've been able to look at very healthy choices as treats. As part of my goal to make this journey a lifestyle change and not a temporary diet, I've worked very hard to make all my meals healthy AND satisfying to me. I've thought a lot about what healthy foods do I really like to eat and how can I incorporate them more into my diet. I've increased my appreciation for fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy food choices while I've almost eliminated unhealthy processed foods from my diet. I need to renew this focus on eating healthy yet satisfying (to me) foods.

On the way home from Teaism Saturday, I stopped at Whole Foods to buy healthy treats: organic pink lady apples, bananas, blueberries, a sweet onion, fresh garlic, milk and freshly baked, dark, Russian peasant bread. I've incorporated these healthy "treats" into my diet and stopped eating the Weight Watchers ice cream treats this holiday weekend. For dinner Saturday, I toasted the dark, high-fiber, whole wheat bread and enjoyed how the peanut butter melted on it. Sunday morning, I mixed three of my favorite high fiber, crunchy cereals and added blueberries (a healthy treat!), sliced almonds and milk to it for a very healthy, filling and satisfying (to me) breakfast. I plan to make old-fashioned oatmeal (with whole oats - not that instant or quick stuff) on Monday morning and cook it with milk, walnuts, a pink lady apple, cinnamon and just a tiny bit of brown sugar for a satisfying breakfast that incorporates some of my favorite healthy treats.

Hopefully, this refocus on healthy choices as treats instead of sugary desserts that are full of empty calories as treats will help me decrease how many calories I eat on a daily basis in the next several weeks. I really am bound and determined to reach a healthy weight for the first time since I was 20-years-old, and no temporary stretches of backsliding are going to grow to such a size that it knocks me off my journey to becoming a healthy writer.

Have you noticed that you have been letting some of your healthy habits slide lately? Can you figure out why you are doing it, and how you can address the excuses that are making you change your behavior? Do you have any tips for how to address backsliding?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on February 15, 2010 at 4:15 PM said...

Michelle, I've been experiencing a bit of this lately too, and I really do think it's tied to the weather and the overall gloominess of this winter. I haven't felt depressed, but I've been lethargic. All I want to do is stay covered up in front of a heater even though I know I'll feel better and warm up if I just get up and exercise. I also tend to crave comfort foods (including sweets) when it's cold.

I think sweets (as well as Cokes) are one of those things where if I eat a little, I start to scarf them down. I really don't have a lot of willpower if I allow myself just a little bit of sweets. At least for now, it's an all or nothing kind of situation. Like Cokes, if I can stay away for a few days, it becomes easier and I don't crave them as much.

I think it's awesome that you've examined this and have started making changes to combat the situation. I need to do the same.

Michelle Butler on February 15, 2010 at 4:27 PM said...

I never thought I was negatively affected by the weather - I missed the 4 seasons when I lived in TX! - but I've heard lots of folks talk about how they tend to carry a little more weight in the winter than in the summer. Perhaps that is influencing us.

Thanks, Trish, for sharing your experience with sweets. I didn't realize how quickly I could "backslide" in terms of eating them - though perhaps I should have given how the holidays can affect me a bit.

I have noticed that my desire for those (stupid) WW ice cream treats has already decreased. That's very helpful - almost as helpful as making myself write this piece. That helped me SO much. I'm thinking about giving up dessert for Lent and/or going meatless two days a week. It should help in 2 areas. :)

Best wishes for your own self-examination. It helps.

Elise Hayes on February 16, 2010 at 4:45 PM said...

I feel like I've been eating everything in sight the past few weeks. Argh! Part of it was definitely all the snow days--everyone at home, which meant doing more baking and snacking--but it feels like more than just that. Maybe it's the winter blues. I don't know, but I've definitely gained a few pounds and it's a trend I want to stop. more snacking between meals (which is my big downfall)!

Michelle Butler on February 16, 2010 at 7:12 PM said...

Best wishes, Elise! Most of my weight watchers meeting attendees were complaining about how hard it was trapped inside all last week. I am starting to wonder if there is something to it being winter too.

I gained .4 of a pound and was bummed. At least I know why and have started to address it. I came home and threw out the remaining WW desserts. I'm going to go for it and give up desserts and candy for Lent.

Elise Hayes on February 17, 2010 at 8:22 AM said...

Good for you for throwing them out! That's one of the most effective ways to avoid eating treats--just don't keep them in the house!

Michelle Butler on February 17, 2010 at 9:04 AM said...

I'm usually pretty good about that, Elise. It really was unprecedented for me to buy so many of them at once - and I don't know why I did it! It did feel good to throw them out. My first few hours of no candy/desserts are going well. :)

Best of luck avoiding snacking. I find that tough to do when it's an "easy commute" to my kitchen. :)

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