On fad diets, disordered eating

If it wasn’t already apparent, I have problems with disordered eating. I’m not saying that I have an eating disorder, or at least that’s what my therapist says, and I think that in some ways there is a difference. I have never been anorectic, unless you count the few months in high school where I ate a small bag of plain popcorn, Diet Coke, and a reduced-fat Oreo for lunch, and challenged myself to eat fewer calories than the day before. That clearly didn’t last long. I’ve never binged and purged, though YOU KNOW I’ve thought to myself that it’d make my life a hell of a lot easier if I could. And at the other end, I don’t think I’ve ever really had problems with binge eating. Now, I think just about everyone has a pig-out once in a while, but not full-on EAT ALL THE THINGS on a regular basis.

No, what I struggle with is more…portion sizes (and again, this is not EAT THE WHOLE CAKE, but maybe having a piece or two that maybe are just a little bigger than they should)…peer pressure (c’mon, just have ONE drink!)…the tendency to crave all the wrong things at all the wrong times (super tired? how about something crispy and fried or creamy and frozen?)…and mindfulness (I’ll just have a few crackers…whoops there goes the whole box, and I’m still hungry).

From what I understand, these are common disordered eating habits, and in combination has sort of brought me where I am now.

But I have to admit, too, that I have been extremely vulnerable to faddish diets. And as someone who is fairly intelligent, this makes me ashamed.

  • Growing up, when I first started counting calories, it was all about low-fat and keeping to a percentage of calories-from-fat. If there was a day where I had extra calories and needed to reduce the fat percentage, we’d drink a can of full-calorie soda. (Facepalm.)
  • In college, I got on the Atkins train and lost about 20#. I became obsessed with the 25-carb-per-day onboarding period, and just never moved past it. This turned into me eating basically bacon, diet soda, cheese, and tubs of Cool Whip (oh, and those Atkins shakes), because, uh, carbs.
  • After that, I said FUCK ALL DIETS and gained about 90#. Not because I was eating TONS, but because I didn’t keep track of what I was eating, wasn’t making the best choices all the time, and ate just a bit more than I should. (It adds up.)
  • Then in grad school, Weight Watchers happened. And I have to say that this is NOT a fad diet; HOWEVER, I do still disagree with a lot of the foods that they peddle. Nonfat dairy products, super-processed frozen meals, and ALL THE GRAINS being a few of them.
  • Then, to get a few more pounds off, I meticulously counted points with the Wendie Plan, and then began carb cycling.
  • Then it was all Paleo all the time. Which is totally cool and fine, especially since, you know, ALLERGIES, but I came away from that with a still-nasty case of orthorexia and judgmentalia, in which you obsess over the cleanliness, pasturedness, and organicness of your food, and then harshly judge yourself and others when this is not abided by.
  • And now? Let me get to that.

So, as I may have mentioned before, as part of BFF’s TDP, I am now back to counting calories. And he has been very conscious in his pushing of CALORIES ONLY, until I get back into a healthy routine of exercise and eating. Because, as my food tracker will show, I eat super clean about 80% of the time. The other 20% is Pizza Friday, maybe an ice cream, and possibly popcorn or gluten-free pasta during the week. And all this, aside from Pizza Friday, is balanced with lean proteins and vegetables (so gluten-free pasta nights isn’t just pasta–it’s pasta that’s been weighed out, and then eaten with copious amounts of broccoli and a few ounces of chicken breast). Because, in reality, if I don’t have these little luxuries, how am I supposed to, really, continue on?

So here I am, just chugging along. Running three times a week, light weights three times a week, and tracking like a mofo, even on Pizza Fridays. And I’m feeling pretty good about myself and my effort, even though the scale isn’t showing leaps and bounds of awesomeness.

And then I start getting bombarded. Not personally, but it seems like all of a sudden everywhere I look online, everyone is talking about Flexible Dieting and the wonders of #IIFYM (if it fits your macros). The idea being, if you eat tuna and brown rice, and it has 45 carbs, 40 protein, and 10 fat, your body doesn’t know the same as a cheeseburger, which might also have 45 carbs, 40 protein, and 10 fat. So if you have a set amount of macronutrient goals for optimum performance, why wouldn’t you eat that cheeseburger? It fits your macros!

I’m not saying that this is the WRONG way to think about food, though I will say that fundamentally I think there is a problem in thinking that you should eat cheeseburgers over brown rice and fish. HOWEVER, I AM saying that I feel I am being assaulted on a daily basis. The same people posting ridiculous before-and-after photos of a thin version of themselves versus a thin and jacked version of themselves a month later, after counting their macros. And keep in mind, these are THE VERY SAME PEOPLE who, just a year or two ago, were preaching Paleo/Zone and/or intermittent fasting as the one-size-fits-all miracle solution.

And I’m thinking to myself, Am I doing something wrong? This person who has NO weight to lose lost 4# in a week, and I’m obese and have lost 1.5# in a MONTH.

And then I start thinking, Do I need to start counting my macros meticulously?

This is about the point where BFF has smacked me upside the head and reminded me that yes, this IIFYM IS JUST ANOTHER FAD DIET. And do not get sucked in!

But to be honest, it absolutely kills me every time I see something about IIFYM and results. It kills me. It makes me anxious. It’s a SUPER trigger. It even hurts my feelings and makes me feel crappy about myself. I can’t explain it, but if you’ve ever felt like this, you’d know.

The other piece, too, is that the people who preach IIFYM/IF/PZ are notoriously people who have absolutely no idea what it means to be obese. They have never been in a situation where they have 100+# to lose. And they probably never will, god willing. They are people who have always been slim and active, and really just want a six-pack. They will never get it. Ever. Sorry if you are one of those people, because sometimes I think you just can’t help it.

So no, I will not be counting my macros right now. I won’t be intermittently fasting, and I won’t be on a meticulous Paleo/Zone diet. Because right now, I need something that is both livable and will not make me feel guilty or like shit about myself whenever I eat something non-organic.

Thank you for sharing your success, but please leave me alone.

</rant>

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What I learned doing a Whole30

To Paleo or not to Paleo?
To Paleo or not to Paleo?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I was in the middle of doing a Whole30. Basically, that means 30 days of super-strict Paleo.

Well, it’s over now, and I’m here to report back my specific experience on Whole30.

First, let’s talk for a second about WHY I decided to do a Whole30.

Around November, I started feeling really unmotivated to really be careful with my WW plan. I was exercising nonstop and being really strict about my carb cycling, and when you add high-stress situations to that mix (i.e., school and lots of work), it became extremely tedious really fast. I wasn’t getting where I wanted to at the scale, so somewhere that translated to going to Bountiful Bread and getting cake. Like, a lot of cake.

I was exhausted.

I was exhausted of it all.

So I just said screw it. And I did.

Things only got worse over the holidays. I thought that if I committed to a gluten-free diet when home, that would be good enough. I did okay for a bit, but a gluten-free diet in Portland also translated to going and getting a really awesome latte…accompanied by gluten-free brownies or muffins. I mean…really, DK?

Winter turned into trying to maintain after a pretty icky holiday gain.

And then my PDX box decided they were going to have a 30-Day Challenge. I was talked into giving it a shot. But every single day I attempted Paleo, I utterly failed. I refused to give up milk. And I felt sooo guilty every time my friend Shannon asked me about it. It was too much.

And then I returned to Albany. I felt totally lost. I didn’t know what to do. So I decided to re-try the 30-Day Challenge and just start a Whole30 of my own. (I had to go grocery shopping anyway, so why not just get some Paleo foods?)

At first it was fine. I was so good! I asked restaurants if their sauces had sugar in them. I was getting nasty Starbucks Americanos, unadulterated by sugars or creams. I ate eggs for breakfast instead of oatmeal. I lived on avocados, sweet potatoes, and bacon (yessss). I devoutly sent food logs to Dean, and I increased the intensity of my workouts.

After about two weeks, I was seeing clear gains at the gym. Lots of PRs, and I was feeling pretty good. But I wasn’t losing weight…AT ALL. Dean critiqued my logs, suggesting that I work more veggies in, and cut out the sweet potatoes and squash. I did that. And yet, still nothing.

And then came the small cheats. After a while, I just couldn’t do it. Even though I was making strides at the gym and feeling okay. There was just something primal and almost unconscious in the back of my brain, urging me to just stop.

And one day, I was at work, and it was one of those days where you’re just starving ALL. DAY. LONG. And I had already cleared out the food I brought, and what did I do? I mindlessly walked next door, grabbed a frickin’ red velvet whoopie pie AND a double chocolate cookie, and yes, I ate them both, and yes they were delicious. But can I emphasize that I’m not a binge eater? Even when I really want sweets, this sort of behavior is not normal for me.

So of course afterward I (1) felt like shit, and (2) recognized that there was a problem.

I continued on strict Paleo for the next few days, but then ultimately decided to officially quit the Whole30 around day 21.

Before you rag on me for being a quitter or not having the mental fortitude to just “say no,” here are a few thoughts about Paleo:

  1. Paleo is a good way to eat. It emphasizes whole foods, natural foods, healthy foods. Yay!
  2. Paleo, on the other hand, is restrictive. It’s very much all-or-nothing (we’re talking about Paleo, as opposed to Primal, okay?). There is NO space for stevia or whole milk or grassfed butter or whatever.

That being said, here is what I learned about MYSELF in doing a Whole30:

  1. A 100% Paleo diet is not right for me. Before you faint from that, hear me out. As soon as I stopped obsessing over the strictness in my diet, I started feeling better, happier, and actually started losing weight again. While eating Paleo may have helped me improve in the gym, it also took a lot of mental energy. Energy that I didn’t really have to expend on this diet. A restrictive diet is not the right diet for me in the long run.
  2. mostly Primal diet is what I gravitate toward naturally. Since officially quitting the Whole30, you may be interested to learn that my days are filled predominantly with Primal-approved foods. I’ve come to prefer the taste of my homemade almondmilk lattes (unsweetened!); I’ve come to prefer peppers and guacamole as a snack over carrots and hummus (in fact, eating them now!); I would rather eat mashed cauliflower than mashed potatoes. A few days, I’ve looked back in shock, realizing that the ONLY non-Paleo thing I’ve eaten was a nonfat latte.
  3. It’s about being happy with your decisions—making them something you can live with. Like with anything in life, your diet needs to be something you can actually live with. For me, strict Paleo all the time was mostly impractical, and did not settle well with certain cravings. Some people are able to power through cravings, but sometimes it’s just not possible. And I really hate the notion of a “cheat.” It’s food. Stop associating SHAME with food, and you won’t be overridden with guilt as soon as you eat something considered unhealthy. I think the trick, like with many other things, is simply moderation. If you have a sincere craving, have something small and of quality, instead of risking a major binge by ignoring it. Honor the craving. But work it into your day responsibly.
  4. Grains are still bad…for me. It’s true. Wheat still makes me sick. Dairy, however, does not.

So where does that leave me? I guess I’m back where I started, but down a few pounds. Last week, I sat in a diner with my friend Jennifer, who is back on the tracking train. I think it was watching her laboriously track a grilled cheese sandwich and an order of french fries, with her meager 26 points per day, that made me realize what I need to do. I’m not saying that I was pretending or making things up, but it sort of shook some sense into me. Stop cycling. Stop doing Wendie. Stop the madness. Go back to the basics. Be honest with yourself. Make good choices. Indulge once in a while. But for god’s sake…frickin’ track, lady!

And I am. And I am much happier for that.

Be healthy!

Epic meal time

Epic IRISH meal time.
Epic IRISH meal time.

No, this post is NOT about the YouTube sensation. (Although I did recently introduce my sister to the series…and she was wildly entertained.)

That being said, if I’ve learned anything about myself over the last few months, it’s that I do fairly well when left to my own devices. As in, I think I’ve mastered the art of maintaining my weight—both tracking and not (think: Ireland)—although I’m about 40 pounds too soon from needing to maintain my weight.

And if I’ve learned anything about myself over the last few weeks, it’s that diet, while I don’t want to admit it, is 80% of my success, and the exercise component is 20%. So really, my continued success is a balance of the two, but what I put in my mouth really is seriously important.

I’m good about making good choices when I go out to eat. I’m spending the next six weeks with my family in Portland, and I’m not so worried about the temptations that come with happy hour (although they do make some mean craft cocktails over here!), but I’m still worried. Mostly because I stay with my family.

My family is very, very supportive of my life transformation. Hell, my mom has been trying to get me to change my ways my entire life. This is practically her dream come true!

But this does not change the fact that the things my family considers healthy are not necessarily the things that I consider healthy.

Case in point: My family has an entire drawer in the kitchen devoted to chips. It’s the easiest go-to if you’re looking for a snack. Today, it contained black bean Tostidos, kettle chips, pretzels, roasted seaweed (which they won’t eat anyway), sesame crackers, caramels, dried mangoes, and chocolates. The kitchen pantry contains a box of Honey Smacks, granola, and an array of hot cereals. The pantry downstairs has more chips and crackers, and to my horror, HUGE boxes of both Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cereals—my two favorites, obviously. Oh, and cookies and ice cream in the freezer.

You see, my apartment is a very controlled atmosphere. I don’t keep things in there that I “can’t” eat—and by “can’t,” I mean, “foods I really like, but know are not good to me or for me.” I always have LOTS of fresh vegetables and berries, lots of lean fish and chicken, almond milk, coconut butter, gluten-free hot cereals, and popcorn. I have a drawer of high-quality chocolate, and I treat ice cream the same way.

It’s SUPER difficult to be in an environment that makes picking on foods that will just cause me to be perpetually hungry and inflamed easy.

The other problem is, I’m at that place where I feel hungry often. I feel like this happens more at home, too. Yesterday, no matter what I did, I could not feel sated.

This has happened when I’m in Albany, but that generally occurs when (a) I’m exercising a lot, and (b) not eating the way I should.

Wednesday, it certainly was not from (a).

Here’s what happened:

I woke up EARLY (around 5:15 a.m.) and took our dog for a four-mile walk around the neighborhood.

When I got home, I was STARVING, and made a breakfast of seven egg whites (count ’em) and a bunch of cantaloupe. I polished off the cantaloupe and learned that I had also polished off all the fruit we had in the house.

About two hours later, I’m not just munchy, but I’m once again STARVING.

Unable to find any more fruit to snack on, I make some brown-rice farina hot cereal with frozen blueberries.

About 45 minutes later, I’m STARVING again. I make and eat some popcorn.

Then, I essentially try to bide my time until dinner.

At dinner, I use all the vegetables I can find in the house to fill myself up. I barbecued homemade turkey burgers stuffed with zucchini for volume. Guacamole, bacon, grilled onions, and lots of spinach.

A half hour later? I’m g-d STARVING. AGAIN!

I end my night with a latte and some freaking Honey Smacks, and I’m STILL hungry.

Epic meal time? You betcha!

I do NOT like days like this. I usually try to be a good judge of deciding when I’m hungry and when I’m bored. Today, I was both, but I was definitely hungry for much of it—which is very important to figure out.

In the days to come, it’s going to be important for me to not lose sight of my ultimate goals. Starving myself will also not be a solution. It’s going to be important for me to try to keep fresh fruit and vegetables in the house, and for me to fill up on those—not chips and cereals.

When do I feel best? When I’m eating healthy and have cut out most grains.

It’s not going to be impossible for me to stick to my eating plan while I’m in an uncomfortable food-vironment, but it will certainly pose a challenge. I hope that this will be just another peak that I can victoriously conquer….