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 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.