Circling back, as I do these days, to why my weight loss efforts are working -- I have been "on program" since last May, losing a pound a week: I started out at 222 lbs and I'm presently at 170 -- why did it work this time?
There's lots of answers. Every time I've failed I've learned something. I painstakingly built up a knowledge and habit of simple cooking and maintaining a kitchen, which I badly needed even for the "Tom's and Burgerville" stage of my present weight loss: a big part of this was the huge crock pot of soup or stew, made every five or six days, that has been my (and Martha's) daily lunch. Other habits, and learning about what makes me tick -- what makes me hold a line or crumble -- were essential. But the one that stands out to me most at the moment, and the one that was very different this time, was conceptual: it was deciding that my appetite was totally, irreparably broken.
Lurking behind every attempt before this was the idea that at some point, if I ate the right things, or ate in the right way, if I developed the right habits and attitudes, I would eventually want to eat the right amount of the right things. This idea was peddled to me by all sorts of people of all sorts of dietetic persuasions. Back in prehistoric Scarsdale days, I was told that I would learn to find fat greasy and disgusting, and my grapefruit-purified appetite would naturally find salad and cottage cheese as attractive as a burger and fries. Atkins told me that if I stopped eating carbs my appetite would be healed, and I wouldn't want to overeat. Different people identified different food demons, but the common theme was: exorcise the demon, eat the right things in the right way, and your appetite will be a trustworthy guide once more. You'll naturally eat the right amount.
And I totally bought it. I bitterly resisted logging my eating and measuring my food, because I hated the constraint, and because it really wasn't going to be necessary, right? Once fixed, my appetite would be reliable again. The artificial constraints -- a needless scaffolding -- would fall away, and what I wanted to eat and what I should eat would be exactly the same thing. Such an appealing dream! And however much everyone disagreed about other things, they all seemed to agree on this. Getting back to a naturally dependable appetite was possible!
Well, after the collapse of my Atkins-ing, I was finally open to not believing this. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I ever found it particularly believable. I suppose partly because I so much wanted it to be true; but also because the Natural held such cultural sway. What you wanted couldn't just be wrong, because that's not how the world worked. Desires were healthy. They could get twisted a bit by a weird upbringing, hijacked by taboos, corrupted by conceptual distortions, but they always had a healthy foundation, which, given enough reasoning and effort, you could return to. I had real difficulty abandoning this conviction, and entertaining the idea -- which really, all evidence supported -- that my appetite for food would never be a reliable guide to what I should eat, or how much I should eat.
When I finally came around to this, I found it oddly liberating. I didn't have to make myself like anything, or to pretend I disliked anything. I didn't have to change my instincts or my appetites. I didn't even have to change what I ate at all (even if eventually I did.) All I had to do was eat less.
It was still a formidable problem, and one that has required all my will power and ingenuity to address. My particular solution wouldn't necessarily work for anyone else. But it was finally the right problem.