• Accountability should work for YOU. You don't work for IT.

    Accountability can be useful. Scolding and punishment? Not so much.

    First, I made a cheat sheet for new subscribers - and for you. It's all about how to stop bingeing and overeating and mindless eating without spending one more minute than absolutely necessary. It will make your life better right away.

    If you know anyone you think would like it, please share this subscribe page with them.

    Now then. People often say they want accountability. But I'm not so sure.

    Here’s what I see a lot of: “accountability” that looks like public shaming. For example,  announcing your new diet and how much weight you plan - no, commit - to lose on social media. Once in a while we see someone do it on their own daytime show. There could be millions of witnesses. 

    Public declarations do work for some people - mostly the ones who are a little shameproof. Living with the dread of public shaming (and the rejection and the tomatoes and the onlookers making bets), well, that might be worse than actually being held accountable.

    We have long known that punishment doesn’t work. We also know that stress hormones aren’t good for weight, and threats and abuse only create fake change. (Fake change = the kind that doesn’t last. The kind we reverse at the earliest opportunity.)

    So when clients say they have to have accountability - and I hear this a lot - I don’t ever want to put deadlines or watchdogging or disapproval on them. (I barely even give “homework.”)

    I prefer to set up a safe, sane, kind and approving space for us to talk. A space where we can look together at what’s really going on, without shaming or scolding or any judgement beyond figuring out what’s not working.

    And what would actually make things better. 

  • Get support. Like, way more than you think you need.

    Last week David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote about guilty Thanksgivings. He spoke to Aaron Carroll of Indiana University, who said this:

    “Your health doesn’t depend on what you eat this one day. It’s what you eat the other 364 days that counts.”

    We've been saying that for weeks here. So, Americans, you now have 359 days until Thanksgiving. Canadians: 314. Wherever you are in the world, let's put yesterday behind us, and carry on.

    Now then. I was talking with a prospective client a couple days ago, and she mentioned her suspicion that she could need ongoing support. 

    As in, after we worked together. As in, what if I spend all this money, and sure, things get way better, and I quit bingeing, and I start losing weight, and I’m feeling pretty good, and … I still need some kind of help? What if I’m not completely done in six weeks?

    And I think my answer would be the same for anyone who asked me that question: Of course you’re going to need more support after we’re done. (This client will be done eating compulsively, though. I feel comfortable making that guarantee for everyone I work with.) 

    It's like this: You quit bingeing but you still hate your job. Or you quit eating so much sugar and you want support with nutrition. Or you have questions about hormones. Or cooking. You might need a trainer or a therapist or a totally different coach. Or a new BFF.

    But you will for sure need support of some kind, for the rest of your life.

    Because humans need the support of other humans, in the flesh, in word, in the form of role models - all of it. As Geneen Roth once said to me - and all the other women supporting each other at this particular retreat: Get wayyyyyy more support than you think you need.

    And as I always say to my clients, get it set up well in advance.

    Needing support is not a personal failing that turns us into prey animals for expensive coaches and therapists and trainers. Neither is needing support a human design flaw. It’s how we’re built, so we should build it into our expectations, our budget and our schedule.

    And enjoy the very best support we can get our hands on.

  • How special is it really?

    The thing we tell ourselves about holiday food is that it’s special! We don’t get this stuff on a random sunny Tuesday. We wait all year for it, right?

    Well, maybe.

    Last week I visited a market on the bottom floor of the Twitter building, the kind built to serve the rich-in-money, poor-in-leisure tech employee. In other words, it’s a bougie-@** market stuffed with best-in-class items and I could have bought every single thing in there. Because it was all so very beautiful. 

    (See drinking chocolate from Hungary above. Designed to sit on your shelf forever, just looking adorable.)

    I did almost buy some chocolate caramel-covered shortbread, because like everything else in this carefully put-together store, it was designed to seduce me with its unnatural beauty. Each piece of this shortbread was a perfectly square chunk, with a thick, absolutely uniform layer of caramel on top, and on top of that, a lovely dark, thick and again amazingly even layer of chocolate ganache.

    Reader, this shortbread was extremely compelling to me. Not so long ago, I would have bought it and cheerfully paid the $10 they were asking. Because it was so, so beautiful. And rich looking. And perfectly formed. And golden with the promise of delight and deliciousness. Very, very special.

    Here’s the thing though. Although that confection was made of everything I hold most dear in a foodstuff, and the finished product looked like purest perfection, it wasn’t technically special. Maybe for the first time ever, I broke it down and saw that, yes, it was all my favorite things. Butter, flour, salt, sugar and chocolate. (Perfect really!)

    But there are many, many things in this world made of salt, butter, flour, sugar and chocolate. That’s like half my recipe collection right there. And I don’t have to eat every example of this flavor combo the world has come up with. 

    So when we say something is special, it might be useful to analyze exactly what part is special. And what made those bars special was their perfect platonic form. Which is to say they were really good to look at.

    No doubt they tasted phenomenal as well. But we are all going to have many, many opportunities in this lifetime to eat butter, flour, sugar, salt and chocolate together. I think we could say countless opportunities. 

    The point is not that you should only eat rich food if it’s something you’ll never see again. The point is that if you’re telling yourself that Aunt Esther’s cookies are really special and you have to have some of those and Aunt Jackie’s pie is really special and you have to have some of that and your Gran’s fruitcake* is really special and how could you not have that, well, you wind up having a lot of things that are nice, and delicious, and perhaps quite compelling - but not, in the end, all that special

    * Not a fruitcake joke. I never joke about fruitcake. Anyone who thinks that fruitcake = comedy has not been to my house at Christmastime and should come over this year to have their mind blown. 

  • Pushy relatives pushing food: Oh, they mean well

    It’s common for people to dread the holidays, because of all the boundary violations that come with the season. I don't mean relatives who say things like "I'm going to let you go to the grocery store for me," as if you've been begging. I mean the unwanted food being pressed on us by well-meaning relatives. 

    Except, some of us suspect, they don’t really mean well. They’re really trying to sabotage us … maybe because …

    • they couldn’t handle it if we were to succeed at losing some weight
    • they’re afraid we’re changing too much, and they don’t want us to get too far away from the family
    • they need company in their own overeating or weight class

    Or may they’re not trying to sabotage us. Maybe they’re just trying to make sure we still love them, and they don’t recognize love when it comes at them in the form of hugs and kisses and gift-wrapped Uggs. They only see love if it looks like eating their food until you can't stand any more, right?

    Tcha! NO. While it’s true there are many badly behaved relatives in this world, and the holidays can provoke even the best-behaved, other people’s experiments with our boundaries are never the main problem.

    The problem - and this is actually good news - is us. Specifically, our failure to say No and mean it. Not to others, but to ourselves. If Aunt Hazel’s self-respect is riding on how many of her red-and-green sprinkled cookies you eat, she’s gonna make you multiple offers. And if you’re wobbly about what and how much you’ll be eating this holiday, she will unerringly sense this, and sweeten her deal until you take it.

    I have witnessed this over and over: a firm boundary does not get tested more than once. And by firm I don’t mean enforced with anger or belligerence. I just mean unambiguous. No one’s confused what No means, including you. If you say No, and mean it, Hazel will find another way to feel good, guaranteed.

    But last week we talked about how one or two holiday meals are not a disaster, unless we don’t go back to normal the next day. It’s when we say, Oh NOW I’ve blown it, screw it, it doesn’t matter, I guess Grandma was right when she said I’ll always be fat, and we continue our bingey way until April, except for a short break around January 1. That's the disaster: Not the holiday, but the post-holiday boundary breakdown.

    So watch out for that "screw it" thinking, because it’s very pervasive and very sneaky, and its undoing requires a bit of grit on your part.

    And keep this in mind: A boundary is not a diet. You might actually decide to eat a cookie to please the lady. Cookie eating is an act you are free to decriminalize any time you want to. We’re just talking about a few days out of the year.

    Unless we’re not. Unless we’re talking about most days out of the year. If the real problem is that we don’t have boundaries and guidelines that we practice 90% of the time, then it’s no good flipping out on Hazel.

    She’s not the problem.

  • Keeping the feast

    I’m writing today from Boston’s Logan airport, where I have had the gift of more than 26 extra unexpected hours before my flight.* So imagine me composing this week’s note with breaks for doing my workout in the corner by the windows. Airport hobo’s exercise game is strong.

    (*In the end, 38 from Boston to SFO.)

    So anyway, last week I said we’d talk about the holidays, and how to get through them without regrets. Standard advice involves, as you know, savvy tips like “eat a small healthy meal prior to the party.” (It worked so well for Scarlett O’Hara!) Or “get some protein.” (Yes, people write tips like this. You should eat protein, of course. But as a year-round thing - not special just for the holidays.) 

    My least favorite caution is “Remember the reason for the season.” That is to say, theology, not presents, parties or feasting.

    I think that’s wrong. The season is actually the reason for the season - at least in the northern hemisphere, where long before Jesus, latkes and Martha Stewart, people honored the return of the sun because it meant their chances of survival had just dramatically improved. 

    This is the same reason I am rubbed the wrong way by the psychology-of-eating, get-to-the-bottom, take-care-of-the-real-need idea. And the very popular maxims that “food isn’t your friend” and “food ain’t love.” 

    BUT! IT IS. What is giving your most precious resource to someone else to enable them to survive, if not love and care in their purest form? Food totally is love. We’re wired up with that idea. And we can’t just shake it off with a little meditative raisin-tasting, because the humans for whom survival = food = love = sharing = even better odds of survival survived to become us.

    The celebration of survival is no longer a conscious aspect of the season, obviously.For many, health is more threatened by surplus “food” than by starvation. Feasting is cheap. If you eat out a lot, feast-level eating is the norm.

    But before feasting was cheap, when people had to save and plan and prep for the holidays, when your king bankrupted you and your whole dukedom if he wanted to come down for the weekend, feasts were held - food was eaten, drinks drunk, games played, dances danced, hijinks, I think we can assume, ensued - and THEN IT WAS OVER.

    And nobody ever had to worry about holiday weight gain. 

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