One of the dangers with weight loss and work out plans is what’s called “drifting.” This is where you kind of lose your drive or motivation and, while it’s not quite going through the motions, it’s close. You’ve lost your focus and are just floating along with the current, doing things the way you’ve always done them.
Drifting or going with the flow is a little different than what I refer to as my “comfortable old rut.” You may have heard me refer to this rut when in some of my posts about trying to talk myself out of going to the gym or not making it to my workout class. Even though my brain is frantically trying to come up with a ‘valid’ excuse why I can’t go, because I’m stuck in my rut, I find myself turning into the gym parking lot without thinking about it. Why? Because my brain was on Autopilot and followed its comfortable rut and we end up going to the gym because it’s Monday or Wednesday.
With drifting, you aren’t paying attention to your workout or your eating: you are going through the motions without any conscious thought. You are eating the foods on your eating plan, and doing your workouts but you are phoning it in. Are you engaged when you are working out? Are you putting forth as much as effort as you can? When it comes to your diet, even though you are choosing the fresh veggies, are you watching portion size? Or dressings? When you eat, do you check to make sure you are actually hungry or do you eat the ‘approved foods’ simply because it’s meal time?
Drifting is a lot like drowsy driving. Most of us have been behind the wheel when we are less than fully alert and it seriously scares the living daylights out of me. You can feel your eyelids getting heavy and usually you begin to weave in your own lane. Usually the side of the road or the lane reflectors will wake you back up and then you slowly begin to drift off again. Your reflexes are also less than optimal, since it takes you a couple extra seconds to realize that ‘something happened’ that caused the car ahead of you to stop or swerve and then you react. Sometimes those two extra seconds are the difference between an accident and a close call. You are literally on Autopilot, going through the motions without really paying attention to what is going on around you. How can you pay attention? You’re half-asleep!
This is what happens when we drift or go with the flow. We keep doing things the same way we’ve always done them– or at least, we think we are! Whether we are or not, we need to be paying attention. When we think we are doing things the same way as usual, drifting can mean things like our portions slowly get a little bigger because we aren’t paying attention. The size of our burger patty goes from 3 oz to 4 oz then to nearly 5. Our salad might also get bigger and while most veggies are fairly low cal (especially greens), the amount of salad dressing grows proportionally from two tablespoons to almost four. The same with our ‘coffee drink’: no longer the Tall, it’s now a Grande. We aren’t really paying too much attention since it creeps up on you. That ‘occasional’ Grande Dark Roast is now a Grande Latte or a Grande Macchiato. The lunch salad with dressing on the side may not change, except that now you are using the whole container of dressing instead of half or less. That ‘serving’ of nuts you normally have as a midday snack goes from a closed fist of nuts to an open handful, which is almost 50% more for some of us.
This isn’t because we’re being greedy: it’s because we aren’t really paying attention to what we are eating and how much we are eating. We are going through the motions: “nuts are on my list, so nuts are safe!” An ounce of nuts is ‘safe,’ but that ‘handful’ is probably about two or more. Not safe! Just like the mayo you put in your ‘healthy tuna salad.’ Is it really two tablespoons or is it closer to twice that because you’re ‘eyeballing’ the amount as you go through the motions?
I don’t want to turn everyone into a Diet Weights & Measures Nazi, but I do want all of us to pay attention. There’s nothing wrong with ‘eyeballing’ a portion size of meat or salad dressing, provided that every so often you ‘spot-check’ your assessment. That can mean throwing that bit of flank steak on the scale to confirm that yep! that’s a 3 oz piece of meat! The same with dressing or oils or nuts: check that the amount you served is the amount you think it is! It’s okay to have more as long as you recognize it: I had two servings of cheese, not one! It can be that one serving (1 oz) isn’t enough for you. The point is to eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and if two ounces of meat and cheese don’t cut it, then they don’t cut it. It also means that eating five ounces of meat and four ounces of cheese is probably too much for most of us and will probably leave us feeling like a blob.
Paying attention also means that before we eat, we have to ask ourselves: “am I really hungry? Do I want to eat because it’s meal time or do I want to eat because I am actually hungry?” Sometimes it helps to check the time of day and remind yourself when you last ate. For myself, I got into the habit of getting a snack on my way home from work, so every work day about 3:30-4:00, my stomach would start growling. It was expecting its snack! The time of day, the location where I was (usually a gas station) or my actions would trigger the Snack Memory, and given that I’d usually eaten my lunch between noon and one o’clock, I wasn’t really hungry! If I ignored the growling and just drove home, usually after twenty minutes, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
Waiting a while is one of the best ways to determine if your ‘hunger’ is really ‘eating memory.’ If your body really needs food, after about half an hour or so, you are probably still hungry. For most of us, we can probably afford to skip a meal or two. Many fans of Intermittent Fasting (IF) like to point out that most times, when they’re on a fasting day, even if it’s been a day or so since they’ve eaten, their hunger will usually go away after about a half an hour or so. Hunger is just our body’s way of letting us know it’s expecting or it needs fuel. This is why I like to do a mental check of what I ate when and how much I ate. If I skipped breakfast and it’s now 11:00, then the hunger is usually genuine, especially depending on how much or little I had for dinner the night before. If I had a breakfast wrap/ burrito and it’s about 11:00, then I am usually not genuinely hungry. It really means I’ve metabolized the carbs in the wrap or tortilla so my blood sugar is dropping which triggers the hunger response. (I like to avoid carbs in the morning for this very reason!)
One of the reasons most of us, including me, gained as much weight as we did is because we eat when we’re not hungry and we react to hunger like it’s the dinner bell. We eat because it’s meal time; we see a snack we like; someone offers us food; we’re getting something to drink so we get something to eat; we eat at every available opportunity! It doesn’t make us gluttons: it means we’re reacting to our conditioning! Humans are pretty much hard-wired to eat when food is available because even just a few decades ago, food wasn’t all that accessible for some of us. Those of us with dogs know that most of them will eat the entire bowl of food or eat until they can’t eat anymore. (I had a Queensland mix who’d eat until she threw up!) It’s the same idea: we don’t know when food will be available again, so fill ‘er up!
This was the same up until food became more convenient (i.e. processed) and cheaper but now that it’s pretty much available at any local gas station or vending machine, we are still eating every time food crosses our path! Now, we need to do a literal ‘gut check’ before we eat: are we really hungry or are we just eating to eat? It’s a little thing and to be honest it’s kind of a pain to remind ourselves each time we go to eat or drink something, but it helps us stay focused and it keeps us from drifting away. In a sense, it keeps us tied to our goals. There is nothing wrong with ‘going with the flow,’ as long as you are doing the steering and not letting circumstances and apathy guide your way!