Breaking Bad (Habits)

It is one of the greatest cruelties of life that most humans can’t eat what they want and also be healthy and look good.

I have lost literally hundreds of pounds over my lifetime, and I’ve put back even more, since I am chronically in need of losing whatever weight I’ve inevitably regained. As a fully grown adult (although admittedly in my early twenties), the least I’ve ever weight is 105 pounds, and when I did, everyone told me I looked sickly. At my heaviest, I’ve ballooned to over 200 pounds. The first time was when I was pregnant, because I considered pregnancy carte blanche to eat as I pleased. I pretty much lived on Häagen-Dasz® chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream the whole nine months.

I also am quite aware that, if I could manage to exercise on a regular basis, I’d be able to somewhat offset my excessive eating. Look at Michael Phelps: Whippet thin, he eats something like 12,000 calories a day when he’s training. I actually appreciate a good sweat. Once I start exercising, I thoroughly enjoy it and I always feel better afterward. I just have a hard time starting and then sustaining. Even during those periods when I have a gym membership or get on a walking kick, it always ends up becoming a chore and the least appealing activity I could imagine at the time and then it falls by the wayside.

Why does “getting in a rut” only refer to bad things? Why can’t you (well, more accurately, I) get into a GOOD rut – say, of doing yoga every morning? And yet, drinking gallons of Diet Dr. Pepper, eating bad-for-me foods and sitting on my ever-expanding ass to watch hockey or my shows every night – those habits flow, without thought or conscious effort. I just DO those things. In fact, it takes a conscious effort NOT to do them.

About a year ago I got into the habit of writing down everything I eat; then I attribute points corresponding to calories and try to keep under 30 points a day. It’s very loosely based on the Weight Watchers® PointsPlus® system. I had a good experience with Weight Watchers in the late 1990s, when I was living in my childhood home with my mother and 4-year-old daughter and restoring myself after my marriage imploded. I lost 60-plus pounds and was kind of the star of my 11 a.m. Thursday group. But of course I gained it all back. More recently I lost about 45 pounds using the Nutrisystem® food plan and then managed to add it all that back (and then some), not to mention having to throw out cabinets full of uneaten prepackaged meals that I didn’t like. Over the past year or so I even lost over 30 pounds using my personal points-calculation method, but the pounds have slowly been sneaking back on since I binged over the holidays (and beyond).

Probably my biggest eating problem is that I don’t like things that are good for me. A salad? Okay, I’ll have some iceberg lettuce or maybe romaine; I’ll tolerate tomatoes, maybe some cucumbers and shaved carrots; meat and cheese and hard-boiled eggs are always good to add; but a salad without dressing – preferably creamy Italian or Sweet Vidalia Onion – is dry and boring and insufferable. Without exaggeration, if I didn’t think it would eventually kill me (and bloat me up to 300 pounds in short order), I would survive on ice cream and baked goods with an occasional chocolate-covered pretzel or honey-roasted nut.

I have to believe some of this is genetic. My mother was a serious diabetic and yet, to the end of her days, could not give up the sweets or the bread. She used to stock up on Nips sucking candies (“Rich & Creamy Hard Candy with a Soft, Chewy Center” – it sounds even better in Spanish: “Dulce Duro, Rico y Cremoso” – says the package, and this is true and correct in every way) when they were on sale. She liked all the Nips flavors although, unlike her, I only eat the peanut butter parfait variety and will even send the CVS employees to the stock room to find them if they’re not on the shelf. I go through a few boxes a week. It’s a terrible habit – but I can’t seem to give them up.

I’m a bit of an obsessive eater. I can’t eat just one or two cookies; I will keep going back and back and back to the fridge or cabinet where I’ve ostensibly hidden them away so I will subconsciously forget they’re there – but of course I never do. No amount of trying to trick myself will work when I’m in one of those modes where I simply cannot get enough of whatever sweet I’ve made the mistake of buying and having in my house.

I have discovered some healthy things I like. For instance, chicken souvlaki with Israeli salad (and yogurt sauce, of course) from Abe’s Pitaria in Long Beach on a Friday night after a long day in the city – sounds healthy, right? It’s also a lot of food and totally fills me up, which is great. But lately I’ve been supplementing the chicken and salad with pita and hummus, which literally doubles the meal’s point allotment and sabotages whatever benefit I may have derived from a low-calorie dinner. My Friday night souvlaki habit is a good one, but I can’t seem to sustain it. Now my good habit has turned bad, because I have the pita and hummus, too.

A habit is commonly defined as an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. But why is it that good habits are so hard to establish and bad habits so hard to break? Habits are a double-edged sword. We want our drugs to be “non-habit-forming” but we also want to emulate Stephen R. Covey’s “Habits of Highly Effective People”. Eating healthy is deprivation; exercise is a chore. Why does it have to be that way? Why can’t it be just as satisfying to have a power walk and a chicken souvlaki platter as to eat a vanilla soft-serve cone with sprinkles curled up on the couch in front of a Ranger game? This is certainly a topic for further exploration, as it impacts my life – and most lives – in such a big way.

Speaking of the Rangers, I’d like to end this post with a final thought about their recent mini-slump. Ryan Lambert, writing in his “What We Learned” column on Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy blog this week, is so wrong about the Rangers, saying how great Lundqvist is (which he did get right) but the rest of the team? Not so much. I also read an article in the NY Post by Larry Brooks portending doom and gloom because the Rangers have lost three of four and Chris Kreider goes missing for long stretches (although the latter point is something I think Brooks got right; if I could figure out how to do it, I’ve been wanting to tweet a new hashtag: #WHERESKREIDS?, which would then be followed by a #THERESKREIDS! when he suddenly resurfaces to score a monster goal or throw a grown man to the ground like a ragdoll). Geez, guys! This is a team that’s done everything right this season and yet has still managed to fly under the radar. They were Eastern Conference Champs and Stanley Cup finalists in 2013-14 for a reason, and this season they’ve gotten even better. A lot of the credit has to go to the coach, of course, but they have a good balance of youth and veteran maturity and one of deepest defenses in the NHL (especially once Kevin Klein returns). Their speed is intimidating. They were the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot and they still control their own destiny when it comes to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice throughout the playoffs. Not to mention that they’ve lost to teams that were desperate for wins, and they played well enough in stretches but fell victim to a few significant hiccups. If they can maintain their good habits and avoid slipping into some bad ones (e.g., giveaways in their own zone and flat cross-ice passes at either blue line), I am confident they’ll go far in the playoffs and make converts of their doubters. Go Rangers!

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