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09 January, 2009

Changing behavioral patterns is difficult

I am not sure why it is, but I feel like I have developed behavioral patterns that are difficult to modify. Some of these have been in place for several years. Some have developed recently. I am not sure why I'm having such a hard time changing.

The big ones are probably similar to things that many of you face: eating, sleeping, exercising.

I have never been able to eat particularly well. While I am not a fast-food eater, I do go through periods of eating slightly junkier (more pizza, burgers, nachos) versus slightly less junky (salad, lower-fat entrees, healthy cereal). Right now, I am not too deep into either camp, and fortunately overeating is not a big problem for me. But I can't seem to exercise any real consistent discipline in this area. I go to our cafeteria, and the options are many: sandwich bar, stir fry, pasta, indian, thai, mexican, pizza, salads, grill. Those are the typical choices. And for reasons not entirely clear to me, I am always drawn to the pizza, and need to fight the urge to get it. This is not good pizza. I don't particularly enjoy it, and it usually makes me feel rather crappy after eating it. But I am still craving it. And if I do not get pizza, I feel like I am missing something. It's in my brain. Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Craving cheese, and grease. Same with a restaurant. I would rather order macaroni and cheese, or a burger, than get a healthy salad, or some type of fish or chicken that is lean without creamy sauces.

I've made the decision repeatedly that I will no longer get pizza in the cafeteria. And I do not keep this commitment to myself. It goes well for awhile, and then I have a day where I am either overtired, from staying up too late (topic #2), or occasionally it might be that I am either depressed, or rarely hungover. But on those days, I "allow" myself the pizza. And then the discipline is broken, and the trend repeats.

There's that saying about "eating to live, instead of living to eat", and I don't know why it's so hard for me. Probably has something to do with leptin. But I just know that when I go to a restaurant, I will absolutely feel like I am missing out on something if I do not get certain types of food. Why is it? I want to be healthy. I need food for nutrition. But it ends up becoming some type of emotional connection and validation for me.

Sleeping is another issue. This tends to go in waves. When I am in a relationship, I tend to adopt the habits of my partner. If they go to bed at 11, I go to bed at 11. If they go to bed at 12, I go to bed at 12. If they go to bed at 10, I tend to break up with them :) When I am not in a relationship, the circadian clock disintegrates. I shift later, and later, until I am going to bed at 4am or 5am. I have restricted myself to not ever stay up until daylight, because the level of depression that would initiate is more than I want to experience. But I just won't go to sleep. It is not "insomnia" because I can be dead tired. But I won't go to sleep. And this triggers the whole cascade of tired, bad eating, can't exercise, depressed, cannot get work done. And I willingly choose this. Why?

Exercise is the final, big issue. From my late teens through approximately age 32 or 33, I was very devoted to exercise. I would even call it "obsessed". I recall days in my early 20's where I would go running in 10 degree weather, in the snow, 6 miles, even though I had a 101 degree fever. Yes. And I would take my temperature afterwards, and it was only 99, and I would say "Running made me better!" when in fact, my temperature would be 102 degrees within a few hours. The point is, I was completely nuts about working out. But something happened in the middle of graduate school, where I became progressively more bored with exercise. And I went for months without doing it. And I am usually in complete denial about just how rarely I am doing it. I think I'm still exercising, but I am not. And all I want to do is go home and be social, or hang out, or eat (badly).

All these things are tied together, but I am not sure what the starting point is. And I don't know why I so willfully take poor care of myself. I am even feeling like I am starting to look older because of the lack of care. And I don't like that. I want to stop this, and reverse it. But it's overwhelming.

My therapist told me "Start with the exercise". The logic is that this is the thing over which I can exert the most direct control, with the greatest number of benefits. Perhaps doing this will trigger all of the other changes. But it is a large activation energy, and will require a period of uber-discipline to execute on it. I started a week ago, but my trip to Boston caused an unnecessary abort of the process.

I'm hoping that by telling you about it here, I will feel compelled to stick to it, and not keep weaseling out of the routine.

And with that, I am going to head to the gym, and work off that pizza that I ate for lunch.

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