Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Looking Forward

I don't want to spend all that much time looking forward to the next phase of getting my eating under control. There are too many variables in play, and it still seems surreal to me that I'm chugging along dropping a pound a week while feeling totally undeprived, feeling in fact self-indulgent. Any day now my body may realize that it's dropping weight, and some alert guard down in the hypothalamus, or wherever, will see the needle drifting down to the red and throw the "Starvation!" breaker. Then I will be thinking about food all the time, and refraining from eating will absorb all my mental energy. And then, inevitably, even in the little paradise I've made for myself in my little cottage in Portland, I'll need mental energy for something else instead, 300 million years of evolution will kick in, and I will have eaten both sides of the menu and three aisles of the grocery store before I entirely know what is happening. I know how this works. I'm an old hand.

I have emergency plans in place. But I'm hoping that if I do this very cleverly, that breaker will never get thrown. I have a hypothesis that the explosions of self-indulgent pleasure, morning and evening, may keep that guard drowsing. That keeping the weight loss to about a pound a week will make it gradual enough that the needle never really drops to the red. But for now, I just keep my eye on the ball, make my lunch soups well in advance, plan my life carefully so that I stick to the clear water. 10 pounds down, 32 to go. Even supposing all goes well, all the way through the Christmas holidays, it's March before even this phase, the drive to 180, is done. 

That will be a dangerous time. I'll still be twenty pounds above where the standard tables say I ought to be. It will be tempting at that point to try to drive to the finish line of 160, just to prove I can. But I think what I should do at 180 -- always supposing I get there -- is deliberately level off, by adding more veggies and plain potatoes -- i.e. bulk, and high-satiety-per-calorie foods -- and just see what being there is like, for at least a few months. I may find a sweet spot somewhere in the neighborhood of 180. If so, I'd be happy to just stay there, and maybe play with swapping in some different foods for my high-reward ones.

Because part of the stealth plan, here, is to make my high-reward foods so familiar that they're a little tiresome, so that I don't mind swapping them out sometimes for stuff that's less calorie-dense. I'm hoping to gradually switch them out till my diet is a bit less of a nutritionist's nightmare. I'm fully aware that the full British breakfast and a hamburger-and-milkshake dinner is not a diet that makes a centenarian. But being sixty pounds overweight doesn't make a centenarian either. You work with what you've got: I've got an appetite habituated since childhood to high-reward foods. It's not going to vanish overnight. But it may be malleable. Things do change.

Friday, July 07, 2017

To Tirzah

When I first read William Blake, as a teenager, the connection was immediate and visceral. This was my man: the only god in the literary pantheon (I took the dignity of the canon much more seriously back then than I do now) who understood the world as I did, and who saw himself as the forerunner of a new people, just as I did. My heart was full of revolutionary nonsense and mystical passion: I loved a lot of writers I subsequently came to think silly.

I never came to think Blake silly. He is not silly. His absolute rejection of cruelty and paltering resonates with me as strongly as ever, as does his commitment to the clear and boldly drawn line. Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders.

But there was one poem that came always as a slap in the face. It was "To Tirzah," and it was strangely out of keeping with the other Songs, a throwback to the sort of Christianity he otherwise rejected, the Christianity of Old Nobodaddy who hated the body, hated women, hated reproduction:

Thou, mother of my mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my nostrils, eyes, and ears, 
Didst close my tongue in senseless clay,
And me to mortal life betray.
The death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

There must be some hidden message, some history I didn't know, I thought. I read it carefully -- I read everything carefully in those days, when the world was young, alas! -- and then steered around it. I have probably every other poem from the Songs by heart: but I had to go and look up the text of Tirzah, just now.

It has a reputation, says Wikipedia, as a difficult poem. It's not a difficult poem at all: it's just a poem that most of us would rather not hear. It's a categorical, contemptuous dismissal of his mother.

I can't help but think, at this distance, that it was precisely this poem -- though I consciously rejected it -- that sealed my intimacy with William. I too found myself helplessly bound to a person whose love threatened to choke and silence me, who seemed determined to bind me to the low horizons of worldly desire. Her heart's desire was to see me pluming myself in an expensive suit: was this what I had been born for? No. No, there had to be something beyond that.

I hate the poem. All the more in this time, when America is wracked by a childish tantrum of over-mothered, over-schooled boys who never got their time playing in the mud. It's dangerous, wrong, ungrateful, stupid. It cannot nor it will not come to good.

Nevertheless. There it is: manifestly wrong, self-contradictory, irreconcilable; and an indelible inheritance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Making Room

The gift of men, Tolkien's immortal elves call it: death. 

The one thing that can make people finally clean out the utility drawer, give away an impossible accumulation of sewing materials, and get rid of the 1967 - 1973 Scientific American magazines. 

The thing that finally breaks all wedding vows. The thing that clears the way for creatures that are young, clean-limbed, and fresh to imagine (in their turn) that they will always be so. The thing that makes room.

My mother died last winter. Ours was a relationship of deep mutual disappointment and bright superficial cheer: we managed to wound each other and fail each other remarkably often, for people who saw each other so little. The one thing we each wanted of the other was the one thing we could not give: a respectful understanding. 

No parent-child relationship is ever actually over, I suppose, but the death of one party marks it, like a visa stamp on a passport.

I am free to travel, now. I'm sorry. I'll carry my failure forever: but it will be localized now: a dead zone in an otherwise living sea.

And maybe I will even clear out a few boxes and throw a few things away, ahead of time. She would approve of that.

Monday, July 03, 2017

What You Can Hear

It's no good listening for a pindrop now,
with the freeway surge and the rattle of leaves,
and the neighbor shouting (whatever he shouts).

No. listen early. They collect 
where the dew fall is heavy; they lift their queer snouts
to glitter in the sun. They drink quietly,

piercing the water's skin with a seamstress dream
of superfine proboscides: you can't hear that
either, nor the stitch of their silvery beating hearts.

But they fall, at awkoddward times. Say they lose
their grip and they fall -- whirl and twirl --
bounce on the turbulent air --
and a love of speed sets off a fear of space.

They ring when they meet the uprushing ground,
or collide with each other in flight: and that
you can sometimes hear.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Navigable Channel



Stephan Guyenet is an obesity researcher. I'd been following his blog for a couple years: but it wasn't till I read his new book that I realized -- seeing it all there in one place -- how much I've learned from him. I have no idea whether he would think my current enterprise a sensible one! But his information has been critical to how I think about this stuff.

I had thought -- after the collapse of my low-carb hopes -- that I was done with diets. I'm  a little surprised to find myself doing one again, and I can't actually reconstruct exactly how I came to be doing it. The document where I track everything begins after the resolution was taken, and gives no clues about its origin. But anyway, here I am, eight weeks in, determined to lose a pound a week until I'm down either to 180 lbs or to a 40 inch waist. At which point I'll sit down and have a good think about what comes next.


I am not, actually, much of a fan of diets. My former plan of action was to just keep adding in wholesome foods until they crowded out the high-reward stuff, and let my weight do whatever it was going to do. But I was getting fat enough that it was making me really unhappy. And I was also getting dubious about whether I would ever really arrive at a habit of cooking every day and eating the stuff I thought I should eat, on any timetable that was useful to me. I might finally achieve my food goals, and begin losing weight, at age 95 or so: but that was a bit longer than I was willing to wait.

So I backed up and started over. Suppose I just started where I was -- took a baseline right here and now, with the absurdly huge high-reward* breakfast and the high-reward fast-food dinner, and my lunch and/or snack budget at a bowl of soup, a veggie, and a couple pieces of fruit? I could track what happened to my weight over the course of a week, and then just start hacking pieces of the high-reward meals out, until I'd reached a pound-a-week deficit. When the weight loss leveled out (as I knew perfectly well, from experience, it would) I'd hack out another piece. I would lose the weight and I would gradually be lowering the proportion of high-reward foods in my diet.

There was lots to hack: the hash browns and toast, to begin with -- foods I didn't think I should be eating at all -- and then the sour cream and the cream in my coffee, and the half milkshake from the Burgerville dinner, foods that really should be treats rather than staples... there was lots to cut. And by eating exactly the same high-reward meals every day, I would actually know, for certain sure, that (for instance) the hash browns I was forgoing were the equivalent of a pound a week. There was a pleasing concreteness to the enterprise. I need never count a calorie.

All the other diets I had undertaken -- with the single exception of the most successful one, the Atkins-y low carb one -- had begun by carefully removing all the the high-reward foods from my diet. They generally went a week or two and then crashed spectacularly, with binges and self-reproach: the combination of serious hunger -- and when you lose a lot of weight the body has hormonal responses that are very serious indeed: your endocrine system does not take starvation lightly -- the combination of serious hunger and the enticements of readily available high-reward foods was one that I was not, in a life with any ordinary ups and downs in it, going to resist. I understand that people like to believe they can control themselves, and I like to believe that too. It's a useful illusion in many endeavors. But in this one, it won't do. If I am seriously hungry, and high-reward foods are within reach -- as they are, 24 hours a day, in any supermarket in the land -- it's only a matter of time before I eat them. Pretending this is not true will not help me.

So what I'm trying to do, here, is maintain a weight loss quick enough to keep my interest and my motivation high, without kicking off starvation responses and without eliminating the high-reward ecstasies my environment has taught me to equate with "having enough to eat." So far -- and eight pounds is not very far, in a forty-two pound enterprise -- I've been surprised to find that there is in fact a navigable channel in front of me. Whether it's open all the way to the 180-lbs-or-40-inches-re-evaluation remains to be seen.

*food reward is a technical term. See Guyenet.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Good Morning: Good Luck

A quiet morning: the ship barely rocking, the water a glassy gray.

I've given up the chase. Let them go wherever they're going, in the wide world. I'm done.

I eat my breakfast, and feel the relief and the restorations going on, in a thousand microscopic construction sites throughout my body. Repairing, refitting, renewing.

The empire will have to look after itself, for a while. I could wish people were happier, and less frantic, and more thoughtful, but there's not a lot I can do about it.

Lean on the rail, and watch the hills sharpen and define themselves as the light grows, and the birdsong increases. People wake in their little houses, run a hand through their hair, and think of coffee.

Good morning. Good luck.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Six Weeks In: Variety

So the diet rolls along, a bit more difficult now, as I knew it would be: the weariness of restriction is cumulative. But still entirely doable. Dropping a pound a week. 

Variety. "Eat a variety of foods," say the USDA guidelines earnestly, and everyone says the same; and yet there's no science to back that up. And research shows plainly that variety leads to overeating, for rats as well as for human beings.

What the advice is trying to prevent, of course, is deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Now that I am eating so much the same thing every day, for the first time I have to take account of that: though a diet as full of eggs and meat and fresh fruit and vegetables as this is very unlikely to be missing anything. Still I'm going to do some reading.

I tend to eat the same thing every day anyway. A waitress at Tom's used to make fun of me for it, in a rather aggressive way, as though the fact that I ate the same thing every morning affronted her. I never quite understood why that might be, but I just went on with it. Why would I eat anything but what I liked most?

So rather than correct these defects in myself -- habitually eating breakfast out and always eating the same thing -- I thought I'd harness them. So far, so good.

The really nice thing about this regimen is that I actually know. There's no guesswork to it. I don't depend on calorie measurements or food processors' labeling. I simply eat the same stuff every day, and if it doesn't amount to a deficit of a pound a week, I chop another piece out. I chopped out half the hash browns a couple weeks ago, and half the toast last week. The rest of the hash browns are about to go, I think.

In previous diets the uncertainty, the guesswork, interacted very badly with the hunger hormones. I don't much trust myself to measure and estimate properly when a large part of my brain is intent on subverting me. I'm less apt to fool myself than many people -- than most people, I flatter myself -- but I don't trust myself to be able to outwatch my lizard-brain when it thinks I should be eating. And once uncertainty was introduced -- did I really measure that properly? Did I really note that down? Was that frozen dinner label really accurate? -- it gnawed away at my resolve. Was there really a point in depriving myself if I had already screwed up? 

No. Other people do the measuring. I just do the eating. 

If you follow the study of obesity, you'll know that most of it has relied on self-reported consumption, and that we've discovered recently that people are spectacularly bad at self-reporting consumption -- to the point that some researchers have suggested simply throwing out all the research that depends on it. That's how bad we are. I have no reason to think I'm uniquely gifted at self-reporting, or immune to self-deception. So I'm outsourcing as much of it as I can.