Like with most things, “free” foods aren’t really free
Last week I wrote about my belief that if you are fat and you want to lose weight and keep it off, I recommend giving up your binge foods for good. For me, my personal binge foods are specifically sugar, grains, and starch. I do sometimes eat high sugar vegetables like onions or winter squash, but I eat them in smaller quantities than if I were eating cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts or broccoli. I do also eat fruit for breakfast every day, but I even watch what kind of fruit I eat. I don’t eat bananas, cherries, or grapes, to name a few. I don’t eat any foods that will trigger my cravings.
I wanted to bring this up again because I want to say that what I do is simple, but not easy. But that it is possible. The problem is that it sucks. Only in the beginning, but the beginning lasts a long time. My beginning lasted a year and a half.
But I want to say that it was worth it to get past the suck. It was worth it to suffer through the pain of it for 18 months. I have never been happier.
When people ask me how I lost my weight, which they do (I get it – 150 Lb. weight loss is noteworthy) , and I tell them I gave up sugar, most people are already not listening. If I get to tell them that I also gave up grains and starches, and I eat specific quantities, most people are now half way down the block heading to some appointment they suddenly remembered. Some even look at me in shock, or think I am joking when I say that I not only control the portions of my proteins and fats, but also the vegetables that I eat, including salads.
We live in a culture where we have been sold an idea that we should be able to eat with impunity. That we should never be hungry. That we deserve a reward in the form of a cookie or a donut for doing the most basic tasks (also known as “adulting.”)
So when we are on a diet, we want foods to be “free.” I have been on those diets before. Pickles are free. Salads are free. Celery is free. You can eat as much of those things as you want on many diets and food programs. I, personally, see two problems with this way of thinking. 1) If the vegetables are “free,” that means that what we are saying is that food that “counts” is, at least in part, empty calories. The cake counts, the bacon counts, the ice cream counts. But the broccoli doesn’t count? Vegetables are food! They count. Why are we, as a culture, acting like they don’t? Why are we calculating and shifting and moving and negotiating to put crap in our bodies every day, and as much as our diet allows? And 2) I needed to stop eating. Eating was making me miserable, and not just because I was fat. I needed to learn to be in any given moment and not be shoving something into my face.
Part of the reason I was fat was because I could not stop, and here I was being told how to eat all day, and lose weight. Now, it may not “matter” in terms of my weight if I was eating celery all day (which, by the way, I would never do, because I hate celery with a passion), except that I was eventually going to go off that diet, and I was going to continue to eat all day, except that time I was going to eat sugar, and carbs, because those were the foods I wanted, and I already had this idea that it somehow made sense to eat non-stop. This idea that we could eat all day, and eat all of the foods we “love,” and still lose weight and keep it off is fascinating to me, because why haven’t we already been doing that all along then? Because those of us who haven’t, probably really can’t.
In putting boundaries around my eating, I learned that being “hungry” is not the end of the world. (If you have enough to eat in the first place. Please note that I am not talking about real hunger. I am not talking about people who live in poverty and who do not have enough food to live.) Learning to get from breakfast to lunch without eating something in between was a gift in ways that I could not have imagined when I was eating compulsively. Realizing that most of my eating was either to get high, to avoid feeling a difficult feeling, or to stave off boredom, was a revelation that changed my life. And I would never have had that revelation without going without food for a few hours at a time. I couldn’t have learned the lessons I needed to learn without letting myself be uncomfortable. There’s a saying that goes, If you want to know why you eat, stop eating. Being “hungry” and “wanting” to eat, and not eating, meant that I had to sit with all of the things that were making me “hungry.” And when I was confronted by them, and yet didn’t blot them out with food, I could see what they were, and I had a chance to do something about them. And, in terms of pleasure, being hungry meant that when I got to eat my nourishing, abundant meal, I enjoyed it in ways that I never enjoyed eating before. Even when I had been eating chocolate cake, or donuts, or pizza.
I do not get hungry very often anymore. It happens occasionally, but for the most part, the meals I eat are enough to get me to the next one happily and comfortably. From time to time I am ravenous by breakfast time, since the time between dinner and breakfast is often around 11 hours, and usually includes a 2-mile jog. But for the most part, I don’t think about food, unless it is to plan tomorrow’s delicious meals. And I am sure that it’s because I am eating real, whole, nourishing foods, not empty calories. And because all of them count. And because I am dealing with my eating problems, my mental obsession with food, and my addiction, rather than my weight.