I have to admit, I thought getting back to low-carbing after a honeymoon off-plan would be a breeze. After all, I reasoned, I LIKE eating low carb more than eating carbs. Meat, steak especially, has always been the "best bit" of the meal for me, so discarding the surrounding crap never felt like much of a sacrifice. And after discovering low-carb alternatives for my favorite sweets, like the sugar-free chocolate cakes or deliciously creamy low carb cheesecake, I thought I had it made.
So what's going on? I am baffled by how difficult I'm finding it to get back on and, most importantly, stay back on plan. Judith Beck, in The Beck Diet Solution, has some insight to deviations from diet when she writes about the brain as a muscle. Every time you cheat, or, in her terminology, "give in" to a craving to eat (whether it be eating more, or eating unhealthy food) you're strengthening the "giving-in muscle" of your brain. You're more likely to give in the next time, and the time after that. The flip side of this, of course, is that by resisting the temptation to eat unhealthy foods or unhealthy amounts, you strengthen your resisting muscle. Next time, you're going to have a much easier time resisting. It's a way of thinking about the brain as getting into a groove.
Here's how I picture it: imagine scoring a line in a block of wood with a blade - not too much difference, right? The next time you run the blade down the line you've made, it's pretty easy to skid off course. However, the more lines you score right on top of that one, the deeper the groove you make in the wood, and the harder it is to run off course. Eventually, you've carved a deep enough path in the wood that it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get out of your groove.
It's helpful for me to think of dieting this way, as a choice between carving out a healthy path, or entrenched myself in a valley of unhealthy choices. Here is my disclaimer: I am pretty much an all-or-nothing type of girl, flinging myself into projects wholeheartedly or abandoning them as useless. I know there are dieters out there who follow programs like the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet (CAD), which allows a carbier dinner, and even sugary desserts, and people who practice re-feeding (a day of higher carb eating) on the weekends. I can't hack it. Tasting sugar makes me want more, and, hedonist that I am, I forgo my long-term goals of health and happiness for the short-term sheer pleasure of food enjoyment.
One thing I've found interesting is that when I've been eating carbs, I've avoided the low-carb community, the forums, the blogs, the journals, the newsletters, everything. How's this for twisted logic: I think I know, deep down, if I'm reading the wisdom of low-carbers, I won't cheat. If I want to cheat, I don't read it. It's as though I'm covering my ears and shaking my head, drowning out any voices that may pull me from my syrupy pool.
Such is the power of addiction. Having observed it countless times in others, it's still harder to turn that critical gaze upon oneself. I woke up this morning feeling like crap, again, and not wanting to step on the scales, again. I think, and still purely in line with my hedonist leanings, that critical mass has been reached in more ways than one. The pleasure of enjoying foods I've restricted for two years has turned into something not so pleasurable at all, with the costs far outweighing any crunchy benefits.
I know part of the extension of this carby phase is deeply connected to that very restriction. I know once I get back on plan these foods will no longer be available to me. It seems pretty logical on the part of the body to say "Hey, we're not going to eat this stuff again in ages - what's the harm in one more day?"
Clearly, the harm in one more day is that it's not just one more day. It's filling your body with sugar that leaves it craving more sugar, scoring a deeper and deeper tendency to give in to tempting off-plan foods, and ultimately setting yourself up for another day and another day.
Today, I get into a new groove.