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Conquer Your Weight

Episode #7: The Time I Threw Away My Birthday Cake

Show Notes

March 23, 2022

This week is my birthday, and I'm going to share with you the story of the time I threw away my birthday cake! Not the whole thing, but 90% of it. We're going to talk about the thoughts and beliefs you have about food and start to question how your thoughts and beliefs serve you and your weight loss goals.


Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, episode number seven. Announcer: Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Hi everyone. If you're brand new to the podcast, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today. Today we have a fun episode. This week is my birthday and I'm gonna tell you about the time that I threw away my birthday cake. Yes, you've heard that right? I threw away my birthday cake, not the whole thing, but 90% of it. In this episode, we're going to dive in a bit and talk about our thoughts and beliefs around food and how those thoughts and beliefs impact our weight loss goals for ourselves. One of the things I have loved so much about life coaching is learning how to understand how our thoughts and feelings impact the actions we take and ultimately the results we get in our lives. On the surface, some of it seems so obvious, but as you get into the real life, the nitty gritty, it's interesting to see what long-held beliefs we have and hold onto even when they don't serve us. In my last few episodes, we've been talking about the role of hormones and food and weight gain. We talked about certain solutions like a low carbohydrate diet and intermittent fasting. The interesting thing is that for many of us, even if we understand certain solutions could be helpful, it's not a change we feel we can easily implement. Your brain starts protesting, but I love that food, but I deserve to treat myself. If I can't enjoy my favorite foods, I'd rather just be overweight. Listen, I hear you. You have beliefs about foods and you've been practicing certain habits for likely decades or even your whole life. It's not always as easy as just flipping a switch. This is where we get to take a deep dive into what you think and believe and investigate how those beliefs are serving you or not, and the great part is you are the boss of your life. You're an adult. You get to make whatever decisions you want, and if you are overweight and you're happy and you're healthy and you don't beat yourself up about your weight, that's totally fine with me. Seriously, great. My goal is not to live in a world where everyone is then my goal is to help my patients align their decisions with their goals for themselves to make decisions over and over again that support their ultimate goals for themselves, their body, and their health. I wanna take you back to my birthday. Last year in 2021, I had enrolled in an eight-week coaching program for female physicians in January, and it was coming to an end right around my birthday, and while I was such a novice in the coaching world, I was beginning to see how life coaching could have such a big role in so many different aspects of my life. My goal for enrolling in the life coaching program was to work through some professional goals as our family prepared for a likely cross-country move for my husband's job, it was only as I participated in life coaching did I see how it could impact every aspect of my life, even the aspects that I hadn't even perceived as problematic. In 2021, my birthday felt a little bleak. As someone born in March, I had been one of the first people to experience a pandemic birthday. My 2020 birthday was especially depressing. My husband is a critical care physician and he had been called into the Covid ICU unit just a few days before my birthday. At the time, we had a nearly two-year-old son and I was six months pregnant, so we made the difficult decision to isolate my husband from the rest of our family and for us, we were lucky to live in a home that had a basement that was fairly livable, so he was able to stay in our home, but he was in our guest room downstairs, and that meant I became fully responsible for all of the household task, including cooking and cleaning, caring for our son, still working as a physician in a pandemic. Needless to say, my 2020 birthday wasn't super great and I had been hopeful that 2021 would be life back to normal, and don't get me wrong, it was exponentially better than 2020. My husband and I are both physicians, so we were lucky to be vaccinated pretty early, but most of our friends and family weren't yet vaccinated and we lived in Chicago, which was still very locked down. My 2020 first birthday was not super exciting. One thing that was sweet though was our thoughtful nanny got me a card and balloons and a birthday cake, and on my birthday evening, my husband and I sat down and we each enjoyed a slice of chocolate Oreo cake that she had brought me. Then the next night we looked at the cake and we realized we didn't really want another slice. Sure, it was good, but eating a slice of cake every night did not align with our nutrition goals for ourselves. It didn't really serve us to eat a slice of cake every day, and so instead of eating the cake that night, we cut two slices and we buried them deep in our trash can because our nanny was in our house every day opening the refrigerator and feeding our children. It didn't feel right to just throw away the whole birthday cake at once because honestly, we didn't wanna get caught. So instead, each night for the rest of the week, we cut off two slices, one for him, one for me, and we threw them away, and I thanked her for the birthday cake, which was completely genuine. I was so grateful. She had bought me a cake for my birthday and I told her how good it was, which was also true and genuine, but being thankful for the cake and enjoying the cake didn't mean I had to eat six pieces of a cake. One of the things life coaching has taught me is to question my thoughts and beliefs. When we look at the example like my birthday cake, there's a few different thoughts and beliefs that pop up for me. For one, the birthday cake was given to me as a gift. Previously I had a belief that if someone gives you a gift, you should eat it or use it or keep it depending on what the gift was, but it's interesting when I stopped and thought about it, those thoughts didn't serve me at all. If someone buys me a gift, does that mean I have to keep it forever? Does that mean I have to remember to get it out and pretend to love it every time they come to visit, if they make me food or buy me food? Do I have to eat every last bite even if I don't love it, even if it doesn't fit in my nutrition goals? When you stop and think about these questions, it sounds a little silly. Why would you keep the ugly star scarf that your grandma gave you? Why would you bring out the handmade pottery bowl that clashes with your decor every time your mom comes to town? Why would you eat a whole cake when you've decided to minimize flour and sugar in your diet? My guess is that you've probably done a lot of similar things, but why? Because you have a belief about what it means to receive a gift. I remember when I first heard someone talking about a similar concept in the setting of home organization and minimalistic living. They said, the joy someone else gets from giving you a gift does not depend on whether you like the item or how much you use the item. Their joy is simply in the act of giving it to you. That's it. You don't have to keep it forever. You don't have to let it clutter your home. Similarly, you don't have to let your nutrition goals go out the window because someone made you a cake. You can just receive the gift and then do what you want with it, and please don't hear me wrong. You don't have to be a jerk when your grandma buys you an ugly scarf or your mom buys you an ugly pottery bowl. You don't have to say, oh, what an ugly thing. I'm donating this tomorrow. Why would you ever buy me something like this? You can simply say, wow, thank you so much for thinking of me. I really appreciate it. You don't have to lie. You don't have to gush about how pretty it is or how much you love it. Just be genuine and say things that are actually true because you probably do appreciate that someone thought of you and made you the effort to buy you a gift, and then instead of storing away a gift that you hate, you instead put it right into your donate pile. There's no period of time you have to hold onto it. It doesn't have to sit in your closet for years as a reminder that you're a terrible person who doesn't love and uses gift every day. You can simply accept the gift, say thank you, and then do it you want with it, and if someone makes you food or buys you food, you don't have to eat it either, or even if you do want to eat it, that doesn't mean you have to eat the whole thing. Oftentimes, the person isn't even there to see you eat it. If someone has dropped off a food item, they literally have no way of knowing if you ate it or not, and again, you don't have to be a jerk and say, oh my gosh, don't you know I'm on a diet? Are you trying to make me fat? You can simply say, thank you so much for making this cake for me. It looks delicious, and again, this is entirely true without meaning that you have to eat the cake, but what if the gift giver is right there? What if your sister is staring you down because she brought over your favorite cake and she wants to see you eat it? Well, you get to decide how you handle that. Maybe you've planned to have dessert tonight because it's your birthday, and so you choose to have a slice. Maybe you cut a slice and eat a few bites. Maybe instead you gush, oh my gosh, that cake looks so delicious, but wow, I'm so full from dinner right now. I'm going to wrap up a piece to bring home with me. Thank you so much for making it stop and think about these scenarios in your life. How have they played out? How would you like them to play out? If you find yourself in a similar situation moving forward, pay attention to what you do. Reflect back on that situation with curiosity. Do you have any shame or guilt about eating a food that didn't fit in your food plan? How could you have handled the situation differently? Use your mistakes as an opportunity to fail forward. How would you like to handle the same situation differently next time? Another common thought we have is the birthday cake was so good. Well, of course it was good. It was a slice of chocolate Oreo cake. My birthday cake was from a local grocery store, so it was pretty good, but definitely not the most amazing cake I had ever tasted, but even if it was the most amazing cake I'd ever tasted, it still doesn't mean that you have to eat the whole thing or even eat a slice at all, and you don't have to try to convince yourself that the cake is terrible and disgusting. That's unlikely to work because believing cake is terrible and disgusting feels completely untrue. So instead, this is where we get to use our logical brains. In episode five, we talked briefly about the primitive brain and the developed brain, which is our prefrontal cortex. Our primitive brain is entirely survival based. It sends urges for food, drink, sex, shelter, basically anything that was needed to propagate our survival as a species. The problem with our primitive brain is it's just that it's primitive. We have a reward system that sends out dopamine whenever we detect pleasure. Thousands of years ago, eating a sweet berry would trigger our reward system In 2021, our food has become so processed and refined that when we eat a slice of cake, our reward system goes crazy. Your primitive brain thinks you need chocolate cakes to survive, so your primitive brain starts sending you signals, "Ooh, look at that cake. That cake looks so good. You should eat that cake. You should eat a lot of cake." Just because we're getting those signals though, doesn't mean we have to act on those signals. We have a developed brain, our prefrontal cortex, which is our evolved brain that allows us to think about things and use logic to make the best decisions for yourself. You use your prefrontal cortex to make a food plan and to pay attention to hunger signals and interpret them. You can also use your prefrontal cortex to override your primitive brain. I know you really want chocolate cake right now, but you've chosen to limit flour and sugar in your diet. This isn't on your food plan today. Maybe another time. Another common belief both I and many of my patients have had is the belief you shouldn't waste food. This has been demonstrated to me my entire life and I still find myself defaulting back into those thought patterns. I honestly have memories my entire life that both created and reinforces belief. I remember family dinners when I was younger where my grandmother would literally pick up the last bite of something and follow people around the kitchen asking like who was gonna have the last bite. She was born in the 1920s and grew up in the Great Depression. It was instilled in her not to waste food under any circumstance. A few months ago, I was talking to my mom about the same thing. Their neighborhood had a block party coming up on a Sunday and my mom had signed up to bring her famous pumpkin bars. However, that Friday she got a little bit of a scratchy throat and she decided to get COVID tested to be on the safe side. That Saturday while awaiting her COVID test results, she made the pumpkin bars and that evening she found out the COVID test was positive, and now she had a 10 by 15 pan of pumpkin bars and no idea what to do with them because of course, she didn't go to the block party and she certainly didn't wanna give them away either, like, here have these COVID bars, or pumpkin bars. Yeah, really, they're COVID bars, right? Like here are these pumpkin bars that I made while I was sick with COVID. So knowing that she didn't have anyone else to give them to or anything else to do with them, her solution was to wrap them up in sets of two for her and my dad to enjoy in the future because you shouldn't waste food. But alternatively, she could have just thrown them away. They could have each eaten one or two and then thrown the rest, rest away. She spent like five, maybe $10 on the ingredients, and even though my mom would typically eat one or two pumpkin bars in an entire year, her plan was to wrap up this whole jelly roll pan of pumpkin bars for her and my dad to eat in the future. The belief that you shouldn't waste food was stronger than anything else, and to be honest, I actually don't know how the story ends. It's possible she decided not to freeze them all. It's also possible she did freeze them and ended up throwing some of them out later, but her gut reaction was not to waste food and come up with a plan in line with that deeply held belief working through the belief of you shouldn't waste food has taken a lot of work for me, and in fact, I'm still working on it. When you have believed something for such a long time, our brain defaults back into those thought patterns. A couple of episodes ago, I mentioned the GI bug that was going around our family. My husband seemed like he would be spared from the bug, but ultimately he came down with it a few days later than everyone else and the poor guy hit him pretty suddenly. He came home from work and said he wasn't feeling great. He laid down on the couch while the boys were playing and I got ready for dinner or I got dinner ready and I had prepared chicken Caesar salad for dinner. I came downstairs to let him know dinner was ready, and he told me he didn't think he was going to be able to eat, and instead of feeling empathetic or compassionate towards my sick husband, my initial reaction was annoyance because I had already dressed the salad and now it was going to go bad. I actually said to him, I wish you had told me that five minutes ago before I put this salad dressing on. Now we have to throw it away. Are you sure you can't eat dinner? It didn't take me more than a few minutes to see. I had fallen back into an old thought pattern, what I would call a thought error. We're literally talking about a $4 bag of Caesar salad onto which I had put grilled chicken. The grilled chicken was certainly salvageable. I literally like pulled it off and put it in a Tupperware for later, and I was eating half of the bag of salad. So we're talking about wasting $2 worth of salad because my husband is feeling unwell. What did I want him to do? Forced down the salad despite feeling nauseated just so we didn't waste food. When I think about it that way, it sounds totally ridiculous. Of course, I wouldn't want to put him in that position. This is the perfect example of looking at your thoughts and belief systems. Do they align with your goals for yourself? Do I want to be the wife who expects my husband to choke down a salad while he's sick just so we don't waste $2 worth of salad? No. So instead, I apologized to him and I threw away $2 worth of salad. When I look at this thought in the example of the birthday cake, believing that you shouldn't waste food doesn't serve me at all. The cake was already in my possession. Eating it as to not be wasteful does nothing for anyone else. The money had already been spent, whether I ate it or not, the ingredients had already been used. Whether I ate it or not. There are children starving in other parts of the world who would continue to be starving. Whether I ate it or not. Eating a cake I don't need doesn't serve me or anyone else at all. When we stop to examine our belief systems, you can see where they serve us and when they don't, you shouldn't waste. Food is a belief system that does serve me in some situations, but it doesn't serve me in other situations. There are times it's popped up similarly to the examples above, like wanting my husband to eat a salad despite being sick, or if I had eaten an entire birthday cake that I really didn't want. But there are actually times that the idea of you shouldn't waste food does actually serve me. When I look at my regular grocery shopping habits and our eating habits, I want those two things to align. I want to buy what we eat and not have to throw away food that has gone bad simply because I didn't plan how to use it in the context of my day-to-day life, the belief you shouldn't waste. Food has actually served me really well. I plan our meals for the week. I buy the food we need, we eat that food, and I rarely have to throw away food that's gone bad. So I want you to stop and spend some time thinking about your beliefs around food. You might think about them in a general way or you might think about them in relation to a specific situation. Do those beliefs serve you? When you employ those beliefs, do you get the results you want in your life? If not, start to question them. Alright, that's it for today. If you are interested in learning more about me, head on over to my That's www dot S-A-R-A-H-S-T-O-M-B-A-U-G-H-M-D as in medical doctor, dot com. If you live in Illinois or Virginia and you are interested in working one-on-one with me in my weight loss practice, go ahead and fill out the form on my website and we'll connect. If you don't live in one of those states or maybe you're not interested in one-on-one visits, stay tuned. I will have group coaching available nationwide starting next year. If you've enjoyed today's podcast, please subscribe and leave me a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Please share this with anyone who might benefit. Thank you so much for joining me today. I look forward to seeing you next week. Bye-bye.
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