Mozzarella cheese sticks. Crispy, crunchy shells filled with gooey, stringy goodness. Two to three times a week, I’d swing by my local Sonic on the way home from school because their mozzarella sticks were tried and true. Every time was the same. One order of mozzarella sticks (sometimes two) and a large Coke, please. I’d sit in the parking lot, hurriedly dipping the salty sticks into the little tub of lukewarm marinara sauce. Before I knew it, they were gone. All that was left was greasy fingertips and a tightness in my chest and stomach. It could’ve also been the super size Snickers I ate an hour before. The sun would start to set around that time and back-light the tall, Saguaros surrounding the parking lot. That was my signal to clean up. With a start, I’d grab any evidence of my escapade along with any other wrappers and throw them in the nearest garbage bin. I didn’t want my nightly rendezvous to make it out in the open. My stomach was now in knots and the frenzied passion of eating a mozzarella stick was replaced with hot bile rising in my throat. I had felt this pain before. Tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow held promise. I quickly turned my car back on and headed in the direction of home.
You see, I was never actually hungry for food those nights in my car. I was lonely. Sad. Depressed. Angry. Confused. Most of all, I was hungry for a confidante and felt that food was the best kind of friend. I had moved to Arizona a few months prior for my senior year of high school and was still trying to sort through my feelings. I didn’t want to make friends and frankly, no one wanted a friend either. In the course of just 6 months, I put on 30 pounds. Every month after that, I tacked on an additional 5 pounds until I was at my highest weight of 265 in December of 2007. My weight was always a problem, though, ever since childhood. Often during my initial consult I have with clients, I’m transported back to the time I sat in my pediatrician’s office and was told that losing weight was “simple” and that all I needed to do was “eat one slice of bread instead of two” on my sandwiches and things would be “fine.” After years of experimentation and training myself these past 9 years, I know it’s not that easy. If all it took was eating topless turkey sandwiches, we’d all be at the perfect weight.
One of the keys I’ve found after losing 75 pounds, keeping it off and going through my training as a Registered Dietitian is that understanding your triggers and the feelings surrounding food is one of the biggest keys to sustainable weight loss. It’s a total mental game. There was a reason that my heart raced and my pulse quickened the moment I drove by that Sonic. Mozzarella sticks obviously made my heart sing, but I had trained myself to feel that way. It took a matter of un-training myself to move further along with my goals for better health. So what did I do? I took a few different routes home to avoid a drive-by. I planned out my day of eats. I packed a substantial and balanced snack to munch on instead. I listened to audiobooks that made me forget a Sonic even existed. Most of all, I figured out I needed to get out of my own head. I sang out loud, yelled some of my favorite four-letter words, called a friend, and told myself that I was worth more than a lifetime supply of those damn mozzarella sticks. It took about a year to successfully un-train myself and drive past without making a U-turn. I actually ate those same sticks a couple years back on a road trip with my husband because it was the only restaurant for miles, and I figured, what the hell. The days of chest pains and mozzarella hot flashes were gone too. Much to my surprise, the sticks were cold. The cheese tasted like plastic, and the marinara sauce was still lukewarm. In the trash, they went and onward we drove in the direction of our next adventure.
Have you ever had to “un-train” yourself from a not-so-good for you habit? What was it? How’d you do it?