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Creativity & overeating: Want to lose weight?

writing dietThis weekend I read The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size by creativity guru Julia Cameron. I’m glad I did.

Like most women who have recently delivered a baby, I’m anxious to get rid of my extra pregnancy weight. (I know Brittany shares this feeling.) It’s been 8 weeks now, and I got the all-clear from my OB at week 6. Many women seem to slim down quickly while nursing and chasing other kids around, but breastfeeding makes me voraciously hungry and I can actually gain weight despite efforts to lose. With so many positive things going on in my life right now, I’m now eager to get set on the right path with diet and exercise. I want the energy boost that comes with being in shape — and, let’s face it, I want to fit into my jeans.

I should admit, for the record, that I have always had a tortured and self-destructive complicated relationship with food. Over the years I’ve figured out what works best for me, but I often slip off track. I was glad to see that the “Clean Eating” Cameron advocates is common sense and very much my personal preference: avoid refined sugar and refined carbs, avoid processed food, focus on lean protein, drink lots of water, eat five times a day (three meals and two snacks) to keep metabolism stoked. Cameron is a little Splenda-happy for my taste, and I have no intention of eating diet Jello, but I can ignore those details. I’m also a vegetarian, so lean protein isn’t as easy as grabbing some sliced turkey, but it’s doable.

In addition to Eating Clean, Cameron lays out seven tools to enable weight loss. The primary tool — no surprise here — is Morning Pages. (For the uninitiated, Morning Pages are three longhand journal pages written every morning, as introduced in The Artist’s Way.) The genesis for “writing oneself thinner” came from Cameron’s observation of her students; adopting Morning Pages for a 12-week program resulted in visible weight loss for many. So many, in fact, that Cameron realized she was on to something.

Cameron’s premise is that overeating can block creativity, and conversely, that creativity can block overeating. I bet that many of us would agree. I’m certainly no stranger to overeating due to various unidentified reasons, or from simply stress. As potter Iris Milward observed when I interviewed her for my book, “Stress eating is when there is fear instead of creativity.”

By journaling daily, Cameron theorizes that we work through many of the issues that cause us to overeat, and significantly increase our creative bandwidth. When we spill our issues onto the page, we are less likely to try and stuff them down with food. (During periods in the past when I was religious about Morning Pages, I often noted that the process was at least as helpful as psychotherapy, and a lot cheaper. Come to think of it, I was pretty skinny then, too.)

Cameron’s second tool is a food journal. Everything you eat is recorded, along with notes about how you felt and if you were eating from hunger. I tried this yesterday, and found the process to be startlingly illuminating. I wasn’t conscious of the fact that I’d pretty much been eating all day — including lots of the junky carbs I know I should avoid. Rather than keeping a notebook, I printed out a bunch of these convenient log sheets. The result of recording what I ate, AND how I felt about it, meant that I ended up eating far less — and far better — than I usually would. Yep, gonna keep that one going.

Walking, at least 20 minutes a day, is the third tool — one that fosters creativity and well-being in addition to fitness. Exercise is obviously a crucial element in any weight-loss plan.

I won’t itemize all of Cameron’s tools, as she probably wouldn’t appreciate that, but I will say that several of them are extremely difficult to accomplish as the mother of young children. Cameron had one child, now grown, and doesn’t generally address the experience of women in the domestic trenches. Sure, I would love to be doing Morning Pages right now, but simply setting my alarm an hour earlier every day — as Cameron suggests — is untenable with a newborn. Even walking 20 minutes every day is tough; my baby wants to nurse constantly and has no established nap pattern yet. I don’t want to be a mile from the house when he starts screaming. Cameron’s suggestion of a weekly culinary date (the restaurant version of the artist’s date) is also not going to happen. Me, going off to a restaurant by myself once a week? Uhm, no. (Honestly, If my husband told me he wanted to go out to eat alone every week, leaving me and the five kids at home, I’d rip his head off be a little unhappy.)

Some of Cameron’s prose seems repetitive, rather than reinforcing, but obviously she can get away with it. There are also a lot of 12-step references, some of which seemed overdone. On the whole, this is a useful book that increases mindfulness about eating just as The Artist’s Way increases mindfulness about creativity.

I will certainly adopt the elements of Cameron’s plan that are feasible: the food journal, walking when I can (also doing some yoga & Pilates DVDs and hand weights at home), and journaling when I can. I will follow the three meals/two snacks model, although as a nursing mother I’m throwing in a bonus snack when I need it. (It’s no fun to get the shakes, as Cathy noted, and nursing mothers need to be careful about restricting calories.) I don’t know if all that is enough to make a difference, but it’s a good start. I already feel better. And is it simply a coincidence, that after my first day of Eating Clean, my baby slept through the night? Six hours straight, when the most he’d ever done before was four. If I needed even more motivation, well, there you have it. And if I end up being more creative to boot, then brilliant.

Stake in the ground: I’ve got nearly 20 pounds to lose, but I’m breaking that down. Goal #1: lose 10 pounds and redevelop some of that long-lost muscle tone.  Since muscle weighs more than fat, I’ll pay attention to how my clothes fit in addition to looking at the scale. I’m giving myself a generous 10 weeks to reach my goal: September 7. Anyone want to join me?

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. oh boy, i practically bash the ability of squeezing in morning pages w/newborn recently, and now i find that may be the secret to losing baby weight! LOL!

    i think my main challenge, after bedrest preg is getting back on my feet and active again at a “normal” level. i’ve been trying, but i tend to overdo then backtrack. i found i was able to take baby c for stroller walks, and if she got hungry, i could nurse her at a park bench in my neighborhood.

    it may be that your 20min walk goal is doable if you drive to a park for your 3yr old and while he plays you can be walking the perimeter, or following his circuit around park for safety with little one in baby bjorn (my ergonomic preference) or sling. i remember a wonderful park in your town that my old PT daycare provider used to take my boys with her girl a few years back.

    June 30, 2008
  2. Morning pages?? I don’t even have time to READ… 😦

    I have had the most success with a focus on lean protein and whatever exercise I can manage. Right now that’s a nightly workout routine (bodyweight/resistance/core, alternating between upper and lower body), though I’m hoping to get back swimming this summer. This spring I was taking my younger boy for stroller walks after we dropped his brother off at preschool, and I dropped weight fast!

    I’ve found too that exercise helps suppress my appetite… I think because I’m a stress eater and exercise helps burn off the stress…

    I find, incidentally, that a lot of motherly advice doesn’t ever focus on mothers of very young children. 😕

    June 30, 2008
  3. My little boy is 10 months old now, and I’m still struggling with the last few kilos. It took me months to get back into exercise (he was a constant feeder too, painfully constant) and would never sleep in his pram (or cot, or anywhere other than arms).

    When I finally managed to get him to sleep in the pram, I would walk a good 50 minutes a day – no diet. I combined this with breastfeeding and the weight dropped off pretty quickly (I had a lot to lose). Unfortunately, with the onset of winter, I can’t see much happening. But I love the idea of keeping a journal. I’ve only ever recorded what I eat, together with the fat and calorie content of each meal. Looking at why I’ve just eaten half a pack of marshmallows may actually be more helpful then beating myself up about the numbers.

    June 30, 2008
  4. Like you said, Miranda, I am itching to lose this baby weight. I haven’t even gotten the all clear from my doctor and I’ve already started a diet- Weight Watchers’ Core Plan. I can eat as much as I need to feel full from a variety of healthy foods, but crap/sugar/refined carbs are verboten. I lost 0.8 lbs this week, but I’m not sure if it’s the diet or the fact that my in-laws went home (and with them went frequent meals in restaurants).

    I also like the idea of journaling, but can’t imagine how I would find the time to write three whole pages. John is having zero success breastfeeding despite my basically camping out at the lactation consultant’s and having his frenulum clipped by an ENT. This past week the lactation consultant said there was nothing more they could do to help me and suggested occupational therapy… This has been a crushing blow to someone who successfully nursed son #1 for 15 months, and I am too stubborn and militant about the benefits of breastmilk to give up on it. I’ve been exclusively pumping for the last month and that is cutting in to my spare time (like I had much to begin with).

    Maybe if I could summarize… take a page from your book Miranda, and write my grievances in the form of haiku. 🙂

    June 30, 2008
  5. First off — Brittany, my business partner is a breastfeeding expert and has written two bestselling books on breastfeeding. Perhaps you could e-mail/talk with her for another opinion? I can’t believe there isn’t something else you could try. Wow. Good for you, fighting your way through this! I really can’t imagine how you’re managing it all — that’s DOUBLE feeding time! (Your diet sounds good. Keep us posted!)

    Penny — you made me laugh. Yes, addressing the “why” is probably more constructive than just starting over again every morning (my personal favorite). Do you have any indoor options for winter? A good exercise DVD?

    Penny and Christa — you give me hope that once I start exercising, things may kick in a little. At least, that will be my hope based on your experiences.

    Cathy — I like your bench idea; walking where there are places to stop. I can’t think of the park you’re referring too — shoot me a note. I do need to try the Baby Bjorn again. That may work better now than it did a few weeks ago.

    I think everyone is in consensus about not having time for morning pages. Cameron is so adamant about the three full pages. I wonder if one paragraph a day is anything worth shooting for? That wouldn’t be enough to work out any deep issues, but perhaps enough to vent in headline style. I might try it and see.

    June 30, 2008
  6. Cathy #

    hey, brittany, i was trying to comment on your blog about frenulum issue, but i’m stupidly sleep deprived and can’t recall my google login…anyway, i was hoping to catch you before ‘surgery’, but i hope it well for your little guy. all 3 of my kids have short frenulums. it was a pain to get started nursing them, but they all eventually got the hang of it and my nipples got over the pain. my sons both stick ‘out’ their tongues to their teeth in a heart shape, but otherwise it hasn’t affected speech or anything else, like tooth position. i personally think docs are to quick to clip. and if it doesn’t seem to help nursing, i’m sorry you both had to go through that. they wanted to clip my now 3mo daughter’s, too. but i gave a wait time and she seems fine now.

    another comment for you: i’m a huge breastfeeding advocate, but with my 1st, i had to eventually supplement with formula. i won’t rehash my issues with my former employer over that, but the guilt was tremendous at the time. please don’t beat yourself up over not being able to breastfeed john. it seems like you are doing everything in your power to make it possible. if it works, fabulous, if not, it isn’t the end of the world, even it it feels like it. i promise.

    June 30, 2008
  7. Miranda and Cathy,

    I’m willing to talk to anyone/do anything to clear John’s issues up.

    Cathy, I agree with you about the short frenulum issue. My older son, Sam, was a champion nurser and also had a short frenulum–which was left intact and never caused a problem. I was reluctant to clip John’s but he was clearly having MAJOR issues, and the lactation consultant and the ENT felt like that was the reason he was having feeding trouble–and it did solve half the problem. He can at least get his tongue under my nipple now. The problem now is that he’s gumming my breast rather than using his tongue to pull the nipple back into his mouth. His suck is very shallow on the very rare occassions when he’s willing to nurse at all.

    It feels like his tongue is convex in the center… the movement upward prevents him from cupping/sucking and literally pushes my nipple right out of his mouth. We have the same problem bottlefeeding him. We’re forever jabbing his tongue with the bottle, or milk just drips out of the sides of his mouth, or he sputters and chokes because he’s just not sucking backward.

    I would love to think that there are exercises we could do to teach him to suck properly but the lactation consultants gave me exercises at the hospital to combat his “tight mouth” and they did no good whatsoever. In my gut I think his oral anatomy may just be incompatible with breastfeeding. I’m worried now that what’s going on with his mouth could be indicative of other problems like a sensory integration disorder or something like that.

    But I’d welcome any advice. I’m committed to pumping for six months at least, so I’m in this for the long haul regardless.

    June 30, 2008
  8. I just want to clarify… his tongue feels convex when it’s in “resting” position, but he also has a tendency to point the tip toward the roof of his mouth during feedings.

    June 30, 2008
  9. I would go with an OT – check with your local La Leche League chapter, they might be able to recommend someone who specializes in these kinds of issues. And don’t give up! “You can’t” just means that particular person lacks the knowledge or imagination to find a way to help you. Keep trying, but otherwise, I agree with Cathy – don’t beat yourself up if you have to supplement. I too am something of a “lactivist” but if I felt it truly was necessary, I would do it. Hugs to you!

    June 30, 2008
  10. Cathy #

    good luck, brittany, don’t give up! sounds similar to my daughter, too, with the “convex” tongue. my m-i-l tried to give her a bottle this weekend when i was bent over in back yard with slipped disc, and she wouldn’t take it at all, kept pushing it out.

    btw, anyone know how long it’s ok to keep defrosted breast milk in fridge?

    July 1, 2008
  11. I’m intrigued by this book because I’m struggling with my eating habits – again – and so far I have loved all of Julia Cameron’s books.

    I don’t think that it’s necessary to get up an hour earlier in order to write morning pages. I write them almost every day, and did so after my son was born too. I often wrote them a little later in the day, and some days I did it standing while rocking him in the sling, but it is possible.

    As for walking, that’s one of the easiest things to do with a newborn because you can take your baby with you. Again, in the sling, or with the stroller. If you start your walk just after the baby is fed it will mostly fall asleep after a few minutes. If not, you may have to take your walk with a screaming baby which is a bit nerve racking but you don’t aim for three hour marathon training, just ten minutes somewhere and ten minutes back.

    July 2, 2008
  12. Good advice, Susanne–thank you. Cameron is so dogmatic that I’m often too intimidated to adapt her ideas to my own reality, but I’m aiming to be more flexible.

    I need to try the sling again–will be testing it out again today, hoping that my little guy likes it better than he did a few weeks ago. I am so anxious for a bit of exercise!

    July 2, 2008
  13. i don’t know how you find the energy to exercise with kids. Mine are all grown and I wrestle with my dark side every day when it comes to exercise…”Get up and walk”, “Nooo! I want to watch The Today Show”, “Get out of bed!”, “No I need more sleep” and on and on. It’s sad that it’s such a pain in the ass for me to make time to move my body! But I’m working on it–10 minutes at a time, working up to an hour a day slowly slowly.

    July 8, 2008
  14. Good for you, Nikki! In forcing yourself to exercise, it might help to use the 21-days-to-a-new-habit rule. After three weeks, your new routine feels more natural. You will probably also find that the more you exercise, the more energy you have — and you’ll start to become more dependent on the endorphins. Speaking for myself, I pretty much hate running, but I love it when it’s over. I also love that when I’m running regularly, I can pretty much eat whatever I want 🙂

    I’m so far away from doing ANY exercise regularly, however, let alone running! I did have a successful power walk with the baby in the front pack, however. There’s hope.

    July 9, 2008

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