300 pounds. That was my limit. When I started graduate school to become a Chinese medicine practitioner in 2010 I had been gradually gaining weight for years. I gained it by spending more than a decade of my life binge eating while watching television late into the night. Food, especially ice cream, was the one thing that I could rely on to always make me feel like everything was going to be okay. Maybe it was the fond memories of eating ice cream with my grandparents during Maine summers that comforted me, or maybe it was that it just tasted damn good and I have less self-control than other people. Either way, my relationship with food was out of control. As my weight steadily climbed over the years, I felt completely hopeless that I would be able to find a healthy way forward.
But I did. Over the last three years, I lost 90 pounds. I didn’t go on any fad diets. I didn’t take weight-loss pills. I did it gradually. I learned, sometimes quite painfully, to do a better job of listening and responding to what my body needed and wanted.
Like many addicts, it took me a number of years to realize that taking steps forward would require professional help. I had suffered for years from overeating and binge eating, feeling completely out of control as I ate pint after pint of ice cream. My shame was so great that I hid this behavior from my friends and family. Once it became clear to me that I needed help, I reached out to a local group of mindfulness-based counselors located in Seattle, WA, where I lived at the time. It took almost a year, but gradually, after weekly sessions with my therapist (he practices Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy or AEDP) and acupuncture treatments in the student clinic, I began to find that I had an increased ability to make conscious choices around food. I began to have moments in the grocery store in which I was not mindlessly driven by an invisible force to buy a pint of ice cream and four big cookies, but instead found some space to decide whether I wanted to repeat this old pattern or not. The combination of these two powerful therapies was invaluable in allowing me to feel more control around my eating habits.
I was still a grad student at SIOM (Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine) while developing this new relationship. So it’s not surprising that I started to experiment with applying the dietary principles of Chinese medicine in my own life.
The lifestyle changes I made – the guidelines I decided to follow – that enabled me to lose the weight were really quite simple:
- I stopped eating after 7:30pm (the goal was to make sure there were three hours between my last food & drink and bedtime).
- I ate at regular intervals throughout the day (breakfast between 7 and 9am, lunch between 12 and 1pm & dinner between 6 and 7:30pm).
- And I started walking for about 40 minutes 4-5 days/week.
That’s it. No eliminating specific foods. No drinks or supplements or other costly cures. Those are the only three rules I ever really imposed on myself, and though I broke them many times along the way (and still do occasionally), once I had made them routine, it was only a matter of time until I ended up at my goal weight of 210 pounds last fall.
I should note that once I started to be more in tune with my body and my hunger signals, I naturally stopped wanting to go on ice cream binges. I began to crave healthier foods for most of my meals – vegetables and fruits, whole grains, quality proteins and fats, brown rice, crisp broccoli, and nourishing soups. But I still believe a balanced diet is one that includes desserts and rich food in moderation.
For most of us who are or have been overweight or obese, the path toward a healthier weight is a path that’s been outlined for us many times. We have been told repeatedly to eat less and exercise more. And for some people it’s that simple. That’s all they need to do. But in many cases, that’s akin to telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking or a smoker just to quit. Many of us are addicted to food and the comfort eating provides. And no addict can just stop their self-abusive behavior until they have the opportunity to come into a new way of relating with themselves. For me, the combination of regular acupuncture treatments and seeking help from a mindfulnessbased counselor was a huge part of making that possible. And I continue to find both of those practices to be great resources as I move farther along my path.