June 7, 2012
Stop the continual character assassination of diets, become more compassionate, and lose weight.
A ”Fond Farewell” Article
When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags.
This is the sixth of seven articles on the topic of weight loss that appear on Thursdays. See the Getting Lighter Weight Loss Program, on May 3, to get you started. Although this article is by someone else, the advice remains the same.
COUNT IT AS A VEGETABLE AND MOVE ON
The following is from the book, Count It as A Vegetable…and Move On by Dolly Cowen, M.A. and Lynne Goldklang, M.A. The concept presented in this chapter is for everyone even though the subject matter is centered around weight issues.
Reprinted with permission
“Count it as a vegetable and move on” started at one of my Weight Watcher’s meetings. Annie, one of my most dedicated members, was very upset because she had gained two pounds after six months of consistent weight loss. She was desperate.
“Dolly, I want to quit. I binged all weekend after all these months of being good. I even ate a whole cheesecake. How can I fix this? How can I count it? I feel like a failure”
I understood her frustration and longing to fix. That used to be me. I would go on a deprivation diet in an attempt to punish myself and undo the damage quickly. This kind of “fixing” led to self-contempt and giving up. I didn’t want this to happen to Annie and struggled to find the words that would reach her.
“Look Annie, you’re human. So you ate a whole cheesecake. There is no way to fix it and no way to count it unless you want to count it as all your fats for a year Why don’t you just pretend that the whole binge, cheesecake and all, was vegetables. Just count it as a vegetable and move on.”
She laughed and agreed to ease up on herself and get back on the program that worked so well for her. She went into the meeting room and told the rest of the group about her new mantra. By the time I came in to start the lecture, it was a hot topic of discussion.
It didn’t end with that meeting. People kept coming back week after week with examples of how they were using “Count it as a vegetable” to live with themselves in a better way.
I believe it touched so many people because we are longing for a way to stop our continual character assassination. We want to be more compassionate with ourselves but don’t know how.
“Count it as a vegetable” goes way beyond food issues. It is more than a technique to deal with minor incidents in life. There is always an
underlying deeper issue when we turn against ourselves.
Randi, a woman in one of my meetings described the “disaster” that occurred as she was ready to leave for work:
“I was racing through the house doing a million things when I threw on my clothes and noticed that my slacks were full of electricity. I ran into the kitchen and sprayed myself with Static Cling when suddenly I sensed that something was very wrong. I took a good look at the container in my hand and saw that in my haste I had grabbed a can of cooking spray and now had an oil slick all over me and the floor. I wanted to laugh at myself but all I could feel was fury at my stupidity. I knew my self-contempt was undeserved but couldn’t stop the inner tirade. What I needed to do was clean up and move on. What I actually did was change clothes and grab a brownie to soothe my feelings instead of a mop to clean the floor. I came home to that slimy mess at the end of a long workday.”
We talked about the incident in the meeting and it became clear that Randi’s reaction had nothing to do with the spray mix-up. The real issue was her unrealistic desire to be a person who would never make that mistake. Her image of herself as superwoman–in charge and in control –was badly damaged.
As we talked, Randi recognized that the eating and beating herself up did nothing to eliminate the mess or give her what really wanted–protection against making those kinds of careless mistakes in the future.
We resist softening our inner dialogue even though it feels so good to treat ourselves with respect. We are afraid we will do nothing and be
nothing if we drive ourselves with a steering wheel instead of a whip. It takes deep work to be self-forgiving and move on.
That inside voice goes back to childhood. Many of us were raised with punitive parents who may have loved us but believed that children learn best through blaming and shaming. They were not quick to forgive. They wanted us to learn from what happened so we wouldn’t do it again.
My parents were in the Holocaust and survived an environment where a mistake could mean death. They were hard on my brother and me because that was the only way they knew to keep us safe.
We continue the parenting we grew up with through our inner talk. There is something about the guilt and shame that feels necessary. We are living out that old tape that says: “I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” If we just forgive ourselves easily then we think we won’t learn anything. We believe that we have to parent ourselves in the way it was done to us.
We get confused about the use of self-power. If we attack ourselves over the oil slick or the eating binge or some other mistake, we can be powerful in our anger and get a momentary high from the adrenaline rush. When I turn against myself, I have the illusion I am doing something about the situation even though I’m just wallowing in the feelings of self-contempt. The punitive inner dialogue saps the energy needed to move forward.
A friend has a slogan hanging in her office that says: “I don’t worry much about tomorrow but I keep hoping yesterday will get better.” As long as long as we are busy attacking ourselves, we get to stay in the fantasy that we can redo the past.
Each of us may look like a grown-up to the rest of the world but inside we are the two year old who cries when the vacuum cleaner goes on and shout “NO” all day with only minor impact on those big people making all the decisions.
We long for control over everything from the cheesecake to the earthquake. We get disillusioned when we find we can’t even control ourselves–at least, not without ongoing work.
Control is a very big issue. I see over four hundred people a week in my meetings and the discussion often turns to handling setbacks and poor choices–those times when we feel “out of control.” We were talking about what really goes on at a deep level when we get ballistic over our mistakes.
The gut-wrenching reaction for most of my members is major disappointment that turns to self-outrage. We reflexively fight against any relief that would come from being gentler with ourselves because of the voice inside proclaiming: “You should have known better.”
Many of us grew up believing that when we make a mistake we were bad. Little infractions often felt like sins. “I’m ashamed of you” was used for the “B” on a report card or a missed catch on the playing field.
We were often in trouble just for being young and inexperienced. Our little hands would drop the full glass of milk. We would forget to wipe off the muddy shoes before walking in the house. We would leave toys on the floor and want to watch TV when it was time for homework. A gentler approach with ourselves forces us to abandon old tapes that contain the messages that have been with us forever. Shutting off those familiar tapes can feel like killing off our parents and teachers and all the other big people that were part of our childhood world.
The message many of us got was “I can’t trust you to behave right.” Now when we have an instinct about what is good or bad in our lives whether it be a food, job or person, it is easy to discount that inner message with: “What do you know? Why should I listen to you, anyway? You’re not trustworthy.” We make decisions about feeding friends or family members but we turn to “experts” to tell us what to eat. We often feel self-contempt because we turned away from our own inner knowing.
Some of my group members had parents who would stay mad for the whole day but would be over it by morning so that when everyone woke up life was back to normal. My members felt exonerated as if they had a clean slate. Many of us are good at taking a tiny mistake and letting it ruin the whole day so we can have the feeling of being pure and fresh when the sun rises on the new morn. We binge today and hope for a tomorrow when we will be the perfect dieter, I think the process of embracing “count it as a vegetable and move on” starts by grieving those places inside us where we still feel wounded. It is very hard to get to the “moving on” without feeling the pain of accepting that whatever has happened is a done deal and there’s nothing we can do about it. Until we let go of our yesterdays, we are still trying to make it different. If we can bring back the flawed moment, we will have another chance. Letting go is accepting that there are no more chances with that particular circumstance. We will have new opportunities but not with the one that has past. It’s really over.
A man in one of my groups was furious with himself because he lost ten thousand dollars on a computer transaction. The money loss was a big financial blow and he believed that he let his family down. It had been over a month and he was still ruminating over the crisis. His weight went up and his mood continued to spiral down. His wife did everything she could to be a source of comfort to him She even drove him to the beach and they walked along the ocean and watched the waves on a beautiful Southern California day. It didn’t help. He was still overwhelmed by guilt, beating himself up without mercy.
Finally, his wife was done with compassion and turned to him shouting: “Enough already. I don’t care how much money it is or what a jerk you think you are. I want you to count it as a vegetable and move on!”
He was shocked but got the message and finally let go of the negative energy and began dealing with his grief. He sobbed and let himself mourn not only the lost money but also the death of the illusion that he could never make that kind of mistake. It wasn’t easy but when he let go of the self-contempt and grieved, he was able to move on to begin the process of recouping financially. When he released the self-hatred he also stopped using food as an emotional pain killer.
He was fortunate to have a loving wife who encouraged him to be self-forgiving. We may be ready to “count it as a vegetable” but people we care about may not be as supportive as we would wish when it comes to our human foibles.
The other day I filled up my gas tank, paid at the pump and began to drive off when I heard this huge noise. I looked around and saw the man from the station wildly waving his arms and screaming at me to stop. It was then that I realized I had driven off with the gas pump attached to my car.
Of course, I was horrified as I saw the damage to the pump and my car. I knew the insurance would take care of the expenses but I was still shaken up. However, by the time I headed for home, I was fine with myself and hysterically laughing over the whole incident. It was truly an “I Love Lucy” moment in life.
I got home and talked to some of my friends. They couldn’t stop laughing at the image of me driving away connected to the gas pump. Then my husband came home. Alan is a good man who spent years as Chief of Paramedic Services for Los Angeles. In his work, a mistake could cost lives. He also is a guy who loves his car that it was part of the family.
In spite of everything I knew about my Alan, I still expected him to hear my story and laugh, saying to me: “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard. That’s my honey. You’re so adorable. I just love that about you–those funny little things you do.”
Now I no longer felt okay about myself. I felt shame and wished I could disappear. My stomach was in knots and I wanted to either eat or start an argument with Alan. Instead I sat down and just let myself feel the disappointment for a few minutes.
The “grieving” was not about what happened at the gas station but about my sorrow that I would never have unconditional love from my husband or anyone. I also had to grieve that I no longer was going to ease my emotional pain by eating. It took all my strength but I was able to get up and go on with the day without dragging the incident around just like I did the pump.
“Count it as a vegetable” is a vivid affirmation that we can go on whether we are dealing with small mistakes of the moment or big issues from the past. Just becoming aware of the concept can start the process of being kinder to ourselves. It is a concept that moves steadily from head to heart. It doesn’t prevent emotional pain nor does it exonerate us from the damage we have done to ourselves or others. The spilled milk, broken objects, hasty words and other actions have consequences that still need attention. We need a tool to stop the energy drain of tying to undo the past and be perfect in the present. We need a reminder that pencils have erasers, computers have a delete button and human beings will continue to be human.
“Count it as a vegetable and move on” is both a tool for future progress and a light-hearted reminder of our membership in the human, not superhuman species.
If you have any questions or comments, you can call Lynne at (323) 874-5097. If you wish to order the book, call Dolly at (818) 725-3235 or order from Amazon.com.
Vegetable photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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