Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The rules we live by

Shortly after my 33rd birthday, I began a note on my iPhone.

"Kim's Rules for Living," it was called.

Though I had proclaimed that I had no goals for this year or bucket list to complete, I had wanted some guidelines. I wanted parameters - in writing - within which I wanted to live my life. The list was seemingly benign - drink 80 ounces of water a day, remember to wash my face at night. The list, and following it, would shape me (physically) to end 33 better than I had started.

In my short stint in therapy, the issue of rule making was raised. According to her, the therapist, my tendency to create rules is - or could be - rooted in extremes and sets me up for trouble when due diligence is no longer paid. She didn't necessarily say that rule making was bad but she didn't seem to favorable, either, especially as she identified that I have a tendency to be all or nothing.

"What happens when you don't follow the rules?"

I thought hard about the question. Long and hard I thought about the question. I wasn't really sure how to answer it. Part of me was inclined to say that nothing happens when I live outside the parameters I've set up for myself. The other part of me knew that nothing isn't really nothing.

I get upset.

I spiral.

I get more upset.

I overcompensate, trying to climb up from the spiral - whether it's creating even stricter rules or exercising more. And though I wouldn't classify myself as disordered, the cycle is.

I've been revisiting that conversation a lot lately as I try to live within a new set of rules that I made for myself. Nearly four weeks ago, frustrated by my lack of self control eating wise, I cut out sugar. I've done it before as part of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Holiday Challenge and again (and again) as a way to reset bad habits. I stop eating candy, cookies, ice cream. I start eating more fruit, more vegetables. I explore new ways to snack and satisfy my post-dinner sweet tooth.

Usually, getting rid of sugar is enough of a challenge for me, but I was also listening to "Wheat Belly." The more I heard, the more I was curious. What would it be like to give up wheat? Would I be able to do it? What would happen if I did? Three-quarters of the way through the information, I decided to give it a go. I would stop eating wheat. If anything, I thought, it would reset my obsession and overconsumption with/of homemade sourdough bread.

Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to give up wheat. I had to rethink a few dinners and get creative when I went to my in-law's for pasta but otherwise, it seemed doable. It has been doable. I have been struggling, though - with the why and the how. Why am I really doing this? How long do I want to do this?

I do know that creating rules helps me to feel safe. The rules keep me on a path that doesn't lead me back to weighing what I once did. The rules help me feel in control and, when I was heavier, I never felt in control. The safer and more control I feel, the more likely I am to feel confident - or at least treat myself kindly. The counterbalance, of course, is that I can use the rules as a crutch to be restrictive and give me ways out in social situations that make me feel unsettled.

I wonder how long I can do this and, not only that, but how long do I want to. Do I forever want to be gluten free? Or is it just until I feel or look a certain way? Is life really life if you are always saying, "No, I can't."

Of course, there's no real answer to those questions. Not yet, anyway. As the therapist would surely say, I need to be honest about what happens if I discover I can't live by the rules.


  1. Love this! I think of my rules, more as "standards" and agree, that they can be helpful and hurtful at the same time. I like to think I allow myself some slack though when I don't live up to my standards. My question, is how do you feel without the gluten? If you feel good, maybe it could turn into a forever thing - didn't the therapist say something about wheat and depression or am I making that up? xoxo

    1. You aren't making it up! It's been said that lower carb, sugar diets are better for depression. I can't tell if it's made me happier day-to-day but it could take longer than 3 weeks to tell. Who knows?

  2. I do the same thing. I create rules and plans and then get so hard on myself when I don't live up to them. I used to do the same thing with training. I am trying (hard!) to be easier on myself. I just recently (like this week) started a new blog because after two years I finally realized it was time to let go of the old one. I knew that two years ago, ahah!!!

  3. Not sure why it posted my old blog, but here is the link to my new one.

    I used to be over at Finishing is Winning

  4. I'm having a hard time with this too. Don't have any answers though.

    1. We should commiserate over gluten-free ciders and, uh, nuts. But not a salad. Oh. Wait. Cider and steak. YES!

  5. I always think my rules can bend once I get to a specific goal, whether it is a certain weight or pant size. I wonder if I will actually be able to bend my rules without feeling guilty if I ever do get to that goal? Something tells me it's easier said than done.

    I went GF in April to see if it would help some digestive issues. It has helped, a lot, but I still want to read Wheat Belly. My boyfriend is reading it now and is thinking of giving up wheat even though he has no intolerance to it. It sounds like a really interesting book!

    1. Interesting point you brought up about bending the rules and guilt. I very much struggled with that after I reached goal weight and then got pregnant. It took a long time to live outside of the lines.

      "Wheat Belly" is definitely worth a read. I'm going to read "Grain Brain" next.

  6. I am reading Brain Grain right now. I have a tenancy to set goals for myself...I like the rules...that's what it's really about.
    But this book has me thinking. It has to be about longevity and giving my body the food it requires. Other things taste good, but it's short lived...and really, other things taste better and don't come with the next day food-baby bloat, self-loathing, or the feeling that I am not living up to my own standards.
    Instead, I want to make it about keeping my insides as healthy as I that my blood tests show amazing health contrary to what the typical American diet standards say they should. I want to prove them wrong...and I want to be my very best.
    I have seen so many links to better joints...and with my knees in the state they are in, having no hope of ever being a runner again, I want to do anything possible to improve...
    I feel ya. I think we all struggle with this...and the more we learn, the more our "scope" is challenged and we have to reason with ourselves as to why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe.
    It's scary and not easy, but then sometimes the best things aren't.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kim...I love reading them.

    1. I love how you worded this. It articulates that there are authentic reasons - for ME - to give up wheat and some of it is the scary stuff about the evolution of wheat ... and the bloat ... and the stomach. The effect on joints is interesting, as well. I don't know that I've been without it long enough to know whether it's helped but I do want to do thing that improve my longevity as a runner and person.

  7. This is a great post!! I am horrible with rules. I make too many and was always told I was to uptight as a result. There's almost a fine line between rules and schedules, it's almost as if they are the same thing. I have a schedule everynight and I typically stray from following it, and when something ruins my schedule I don't take it very lightly....type A personality I guess.