Today is the last day of NEDAwarenss Week. As my final post in this years blog series, I decided to take a look at diets fads, why I used to fear certain food groups that are essential to my overall health, and how I overcame these irrational and unnecessary fears.
First up: Fat. Everywhere you look there are low-fat and fat-free products, which I used to be a constant consumer of. Yes, I still purchase some items that are low-fat, (milk, yogurt and sour cream), but for the most part I purchase products in their natural-fat form.
Somewhere along the way we got the idea that all fat is bad. Unfortunately, limiting our consumption of healthy fats, (think avocado, salmon and peanut butter), can interfere in the storage of energy, absorption and transportation of some vitamins and insulation of vital organs. Roughly 30% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat. There is no reason to be afraid of it. I’m not saying pile up your plate with french fries and a marbled steak every day, but don’t immediately lunge for only fat-free products at the grocery store either. And please, please, please if you are going to buy cheese, never, ever buy low-fat or fat-free! Gross!
Since introducing healthy fats back into my diet, and eating roughly 30% of my calories in fat form I’ve noticed I am much more satisfied with my food. Things just taste better when I don’t remove the fat. Crazy, I know.
Next at bat: Carbs. Carbohydrates get an equal bad rap from the diet world. Between Atkins and South Beach you would think carbs are the root of all evil and they are coming to steal your baby in the middle of the night. Plus when celebrities drop pounds fast they always cite cutting out carbs to slim quickly. But wait, do those pounds stay gone? Ummm, no. Sure cutting carbs can be a quick fix, but if history has taught us nothing, quick fixes never actually stick long term.
So unless you are diabetic, there really isn’t a need to cut your carb consumption. Roughly 50% of your diet should come from carbohydrates. Yes, complex, (think bananas, barley, yogurt, yams), are better than simple, (think high fructose corn-syrup, packaged cereals, cake). Carbs serve as the preferred source of fuel for your body. Simple carbs might give you a quick energy boost, (which is why someone with anorexia-nervosa often reaches for candy when they eat), but complex carbohydrates offer sustaining power. Pure and simple your brain needs carbohydrates to function properly.
I used to think I could never lose weight if I had a diet composed of 50% carbs. Pasta for dinner? Pssh, no way! Bananas? Don’t you know they are the most calorie and carb dense fruit? I shied away from carbs like they were, well, the Devil and they were coming to steal my baby* in the middle of the night. But then I realized something, I was kind of an irritable B when I didn’t eat carbs. My apologies to anyone who spent any amount of time with me in college. I probably wasn’t the most enjoyable person to be around.
Now I eat 50-60% of my calories via carbohydrates. And I think I am much more enjoyable to be around. Only you can tell me if that is true, but I know I feel better and I can focus on a task much longer. Amazing how fueling my brain really, ummm, works.
*in this case baby = Rilo the dog. Sorry, Rikka, I don’t think you eat enough carbs, you are kind of an irritable B most of the time.
Third round: Sugar. Oh sugar, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with you for years. Popular diets always tell us to trick our body with a serving of fruit after dinner so we trick our sweet tooth. I don’t know about you, but if I am craving candy, an apple might fill me up, but it isn’t going to satisfy me. Why? I’m slightly addicted to sugar. But I also (used to) have an irrational fear of it. I downed splenda and other unnatural sweeteners to satisfy my urges, but all that really did was make me crave sugar more.
Remember how I said I’d had a love affair with Mr. Diet Dr. Pepper (DDP)? Funny thing, I am no longer desiring him as I once was. I kicked him to the curb in favor of water. The weening wasn’t fun, not gonna lie, but I feel so much better now that I’m not drinking a can with my lunch every day. Now when I pop a top to pair with my noontime meal my stomach reacts very poorly. Indigestion sets in and a cluster headache will quickly take over my brain. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t worth it!
I’ve also noticed I crave candy, (in the afternoon), a lot less than I did when I was relying on the DDP to get me through my afternoon slump. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a sweet treat every.single.day., but these days it comes in the form of home baked goodness, rather than high fructose corn-syrup treats.* I’ve learned that I can satisfy my sugar tooth without feeling guilty, if I approach it with a healthy mindset. Everything in moderation after all. Plus sweet treats make me happy, so why not give into my brain’s limbic system.
*aside from the occasional serving of Crazy Cores Skittles or Sparkle Jerry Laffy Taffy.
And finally, we come to the fear of eating intuitively. For years I did not trust myself to do this. When I say eating intuitively I mean: eating when I’m hungry, stopping when I’m full, and eating what I want. I had a complex and unhealthy relationship with food for years, and didn’t know how I could possibly eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. I was always hungry, always. And full? Ha! I didn’t know what full meant because I would just keep eating until I was completely and utterly disgusted with myself. I could write a novel about my unhealthy relationship with food, but that isn’t what this post is about. It is about my acceptance of food and how I use it to fuel my body, while enjoying myself at the same time.
In October 2010 I finally had my “healthy tipping point,”* after 10 years of struggling to find the healthy balance I knew was hiding somewhere inside me. I started making small changes, starting with exercise. Initially I hit the gym after work, but I really hated doing that. By the time I got home it was 6:00 or later, which meant I didn’t get started with the prepping of dinner until at least 6:15. After any chores that needed to be done, cooking, eating and prepping for the next day, I had no time to relax at night. I decided to switch to morning workouts and haven’t looked back since.
After getting my gym routine down, I started slowly adding more things to my diet*, rather than taking away. I added chia seeds, quinoa, (more) greek yogurt, new fruits and vegetables.
Once I added these things I noticed how much better I felt about, well, everything. I had more energy, my hair had less split ends, my headaches weren’t as frequent…I just felt better. Better than I had in years. I also didn’t give up anything. If I wanted something I ate it. I still had my glass or two of wine, or beer, on Friday nights. I still hit The Flying Goat for pizza. I still purchased cupcakes and baked brownies. And I indulged in every food item you are supposed to avoid when on a diet.
*I do not consider myself on a “diet,” in the traditional sense. By diet I mean what I eat on a daily basis.
Since October I have lost 2 sizes and approximately 10 pounds. I set out to lose 21 pounds, because that is how much I gained since getting married. But by finally taking care of myself, and filling my body with all nutrients needed, (rather than pre-packaged chemicals), I feel like I’ve achieved my “weight-loss” goal, and so much more. For the most part, I lost the negative thoughts, guilt and anxiety surrounding food. (Yes, I log what I eat in myfitnesspal.com, but I do so more as a guidance to ensure I am eating enough nutrients, and it helps me pinpoint what may have caused my stomach ache/headache/lethargic feeling so I can attempt to not do that again.) Every so often a small twinge of guilt will sneak in there, but I quickly stomp on it and force myself to do something positive instead, (get some Vitamin D, listen to Katy Perry, read a fluffy chick-lit, catch up on healthy living blogs!). I’ve gained an understanding of how my body responds to food and exercise, and also how to be happy without stressing about what I am eating and when. The “rules” about food are gone, and it is so freeing.
There is much, much more to my food and body acceptance journey. It is a continuum, and I will never truly be finished learning how to treat my body with respect. I can’t even begin to describe what my day to day life was like prior to finding a healthy balance. But I can say that I am so much happier NOW than I was THEN.
And so I end this NEDAwareness Week on this note: if you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating please get help now. Talk to your doctor, therapist, family, or friend(s). You don’t have to suffer silently anymore. You may feel like nobody could possibly understand how you feel, or wouldn’t understand your relationship with yourself and how you relate to food. But there are so many people who do. And so many others who may not understand it, but who will want to help you.
Love yourself, today, tomorrow, forever.