Loopholes are not actually a breakfast cereal. Loopholes are the rationalizations we make when we decide we want to do something that is contrary to one of our values or commitments. We give ourselves an out. We justify. We talk ourselves into it. We play rules lawyer. A classic example of this is the “14-Second Rule,” which allows us to eat food that has just hit the floor, even though it has just become a subject worthy of a microbiologist’s next article for Microscopic Gross Things Quarterly.
The main difference between humans and animals is our ability to create loopholes. We do it constantly, everywhere, for every possible occasion. Animals just do what they want. My parrot, for example, does not appear capable of guilty feelings. If I leave a bag of whole nuts on the table, she will walk right up to it, stick her head in the bag, take a nut, throw it to the dog, take another one, crack it, and eat it. She blinks her tiny little silver eyelashes and looks quite satisfied with herself. When she’s done stealing nuts, she waddles off, leaving all the shells for me to clean up. There is not so much as an infinitesimal pause where she looks around to see if anyone is watching. She doesn’t even seem concerned that it might be a trap, that she might wind up inside the bag, which I guess makes sense since captivity is working out pretty well for her. Free food, warm showers, her own Spotify playlist… She does have excellent manners, though; she would never dream of grabbing off someone’s plate. If someone is eating in front of her, she will either stare in a peremptory manner, or turn her back throughout the meal, occasionally glancing forlornly over her coverts. If she is offered a tidbit that doesn’t interest her, she acknowledges it by tapping it with her beak, as if to say, “No, thank you.” I have no idea what she would do if she found food on the floor, because, well, we have a dog. And he doesn’t subscribe to Microscopic Gross Things Quarterly.
It’s been about two years since I finally decided I had had enough of my weight fluctuating back and forth over a 20-pound range. (It started at “18 pounds over” and ended at “clinically obese.”) I knew that extra weight is, for me, both a symptom and a cause of feeling constantly physically cruddy. The heavier I am, the worse I feel, the more often I get migraines, and the longer they last. It feels like I pick up every cold and flu. I don’t feel sexy or voluptuous and I don’t particularly revel in hedonism. I just tend to live in my head most of the time, and I have a tendency to treat my body somewhat like the desk that the computer sits on. I went out the door one morning with a pair of panties stuck to my sweater by static cling, and I didn’t notice until lunch, when they fell in my lap. Absent-minded, okay? Evidently I believe I have more important things to think about than this earthly vessel known as MY LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM. Anyway, the state of my physical form was interfering with my metaphysical business, distracting me from my intellectual playland. It was time to figure out what the heck was going on in there.
I started running again, and I was dropping maybe a half pound a week. After a few months of that, a friend suggested that I should keep a food log, which I received with about the same grace I would have exhibited if someone suggested I join their church or their swingers’ club. Not for me *SLAM*. I had to do it, though, because I had just started my practice of Do the Obvious and the food log counted as obvious. During the next three months, which I treated as a science experiment, I discovered that I had a long list of loopholes.
· Eating differently at restaurants than I would at home
· Eating differently on vacation than I would at home
· Eating differently in the car than I would at home
· Eating things I normally wouldn’t after a long workout
· Eating things I normally wouldn’t when hosting a dinner party
· Eating extra dessert, as long as I ate it as “part of a healthy breakfast”
· Eating extra “treats” because I had a lot of vegetables that day or the day before
· Eating extra “treats” because I was tired and “needed to get through the day”
· Eating more if I had just hit a weight goal, because I could “afford it”
· Generally not knowing how much I ate in a day or a week
So basically, I routinely overate. My breakfast was probably about right, but my lunches were about 50% larger than they should be, I ate multiple things that qualified as desserts each day, dinner was maybe 25% bigger than it should be, and if we went to a restaurant, I was eating double or triple. I ate more sweet things than vegetables, by volume. When I visited my family or went on vacation, I gained a pound a day, as a rule, and if I ever lost it again, it took about a year. Changing any one of these patterns would have been a good thing, but it certainly wouldn’t have been enough. My main problem was Food FoMO. I ate reasonably healthy meals at home. Elsewhere, I never passed up a single opportunity to eat something I wanted to eat, and if I ate it at all, I often ate until the poor 32-ounce organ known as my stomach could take no more.
I constantly gained weight, rather than simply stabilizing at a particular size, because I always ate too much. My weight only ever went down on accident, usually if I was broke. I had only one rule, which was: “If it’s vegan, I’ll eat it.” Of course, I also overate before I switched over, but nobody ever said anything because I was “still growing.” The only times anyone ever said anything about my weight or what I was eating had to do with whether I was eating “enough,” rather than too much. I learned that people will say “be careful” when you lose weight, not when you gain. In our culture, being 1% underweight is more frightening to bystanders than being 200% overweight. (Not that I’ve ever been underweight; I’d have to lose another 18 pounds to risk that). I’ve also found that many people view ten pounds over as ten pounds under. Part of the reason I was able to remain oblivious to my weight was that I was often the smallest person in the group. I didn’t know anyone who was athletic or who would pressure me to pay more attention to my health.
When I trained for my marathon, I gained 8 pounds. Loopholes! Loopholes everywhere! I felt ravenous all the time. On distance day, I would eat three waffles. I would snack continuously on trail mix and vanilla fig bars while getting my miles in. I would come home, eat lunch, shower, and eat my second lunch. Then I would text my husband and beg him to bring me a Frappy after work because I was only at net 400 calories for the day. I get a kick out of tracking my fitness metrics, so I believed my food log when it told me how many calories I had supposedly burned on my run. It turns out that is variable from one person to another, depending on intensity, body composition, astrological sign, etc. I should also have realized that I was swapping more vegetables for more starches. I could have been eating more or less unlimited quantities of soup or stir fry instead of quite so many cookies.
I travel a lot these days. It’s gotten to where it’s irrelevant whether I am at home or not. I can only eat what makes sense to eat. My marathon training seems to have caused some permanent changes to my appetite for sweets (they taste yucky now) and altered how my blood sugar is leveled throughout the day. I’m not attracted to most of the things that used to tempt me. I start to notice when I’m at a 5 or 6 on the Hunger and Fullness Scale, instead of an 8 or 9. I can take one look at my plate in a restaurant and know whether I will need to save half for tomorrow. I don’t like the feeling of being stuffed anymore. I don’t enjoy recreational eating the way I used to. I’ve learned that I can eat any specific thing I want, as long as it fits in well with the other things I ate that week and as long as it’s only a quantifiable amount. I don’t feel the need to hang onto multiple clothing sizes. Every day, I eat a predictable breakfast and a predictable lunch and a predictable snack. Maybe a slightly less predictable dinner just to whoop it up. The result is that I am predictably lean and fit. I have a predictably high energy level. I can now save my loopholes for some other occasion, such as splurging on fancy camping gear I probably will never, strictly speaking, actually need. Now I understand that “treating myself” with food is not really a treat at all, and I lean more toward real treats that I enjoy more.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.