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Archive for June, 2013

Sugar. It seems like a good idea at the time. But once it’s in there – and by there, I mean my body – man, is it regrettable.

And to be truthful, sugar no longer seems like a good idea to me when I eat it. More accurately, I know it’s a bad idea, but the desire to indulge in something fun and irresponsible coupled with an almost irresistible need for it compels me. Kind of like a drug. Because that’s basically what it is.

Usually, my gateway is, “I’ll have just one bite.” Often, I am successful at this strategy, but not always. For example, on Sunday I was a dear friend’s birthday party, where two delicious cakes were presented. The goal was to photograph but not eat them. However, I decided to have just one bite. That bite involved marzipan, and oh, how I love marzipan. Anything almond flavored really. It took no time for the situation to devolve into me having enough bites of marzipan icing to constitute an entire piece of cake. A small one, yes, but still a piece of cake.

It tasted soooo good going in! And I just wanted to keep eating and eating and eating it. But then it didn’t feel so good. My body, now better attuned to the food it’s eating, caught up with me pretty quickly and, within 10 minutes, was speaking to its discomfort. The sugar made me feel twitchy over-stimulated, like I’d had to much coffee, while also making me vaguely nauseated. My mouth got cotton-y. I wanted to keep eating that marzipan icing, but I knew my body was telling me to stop. So I did.

There was a time, many years, in fact, when my body would have been so numb from constant sugar exposure, that it would not have sent me these signals, and I would not have stopped. Not until I had made myself ill or social convention made me too self-conscious. Now, my body immediately lets me know what I have done. And I live with the consequences of it. I feel sluggish, tired, and irritable, and I have to spend the next couple of days combating the craving to fend off these feelings with another hit of sugar. My weight goes up without fail.

Beyond my tongue and the pleasure receptors in my brain, my body does not like sugar. It really is a drug and one I am drawn to. But the more I am present with what happens when I eat it and how that makes me feel, the better I am able to stay away.

 

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I’ve started taking pictures of all the desserts I’m exposed to that I don’t eat, mostly just to give myself something to do around those desserts besides feel fussy. Photographing the food allows me to appreciate its appeal – visual, and emotional as well – while still helping me maintain distance. I have a lot of pictures of desserts already. In just one week, I was offered a lot of cookies, cupcakes, pies and ice cream.

In the moment, I wanted to eat all of it. Pretty much what stopped me was knowing how unhappy I’d be about it afterwards. Because it always tastes good in the moment and then I always feel gross once the moment is gone. Sometimes, if I really eat a lot of sweets, I feel sick to my stomach. Always though, I feel where I have let the desire for a short-term pleasure get in the way of my long-term happiness and well being.

I’m not actually against having dessert as a special treat. I ate my wedding cake, and on our first anniversary, I’ll eat it again. I’m also not against having a couple of bites to appreciate a truly delicious treat. The first two bites are always the best ones anyway. After that we all get diminishing returns on our taste buds. My lifelong response to those diminishing returns is to just eat as much as I possibly can until my taste buds actually go numb. But obviously, this habit has served me very poorly. If I can keep my consumption to “just a taste” – a literal two bites – I am much better off, and I actually enjoy the thing more.

But if I were to have a taste of every dessert that crosses my path, I would still be eating a LOT of dessert. And the truth is for me that it is hard to just have two bites; it takes a lot of will power and only sometimes is that will power in place for me. I do better when I avoid the sweet entirely – or when I sub it for a healthier sweet, like one square of 85% dark chocolate.

So now I’m photographing it instead of eating it. I like taking pictures anyway, but it also gives me a very useful perspective. When I can see almost a dozen pictures of sweets accumulate in the course of a week, I get a clear visual reminder of why it’s important to avoid them: because they are everywhere. They are constant and they are legion. And if I let the treats be in control, they will destroy me. This may sound dramatic, but it’s actually true. The infinite cookies of this world are out to do me – and everyone else – much more harm than good.

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There are a lot of different approaches to healthy eating, probably as many as there are days in the year. This is mine…

I am guided by Michael Pollan’s principle of eating real food, as outlined in his book In Defense of Food. The goal is to eat real food, not processed, with a focus on plants. This goal has been refined into specifics by my trainer, tweaked over the past two years, often to a point that I find extremely annoying (like when we cut out carbs at night).

Here’s what I eat:

Lean protein: Chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, egg whites. In an ideal world, all the meat would be sustainably sourced, but that’s still an ideal I’m working on as I often get my meals from restaurants, Trader Joe’s salads, and the commissary at work.

Vegetables: All of them. I most enjoy kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, all the many squashes, broccoli, artichokes, and peppers.

Fruit: All of it. The goal is to eat fruit with a lower glycemic index like berries, but i enjoy all of it. I eat an apple pretty much every day, and I am happiest in stone fruit season (which is now) when my most favorite fruits, cherries and peaches, are in abundance.

Legumes: Beans are good. Particularly chickpeas. I eat a lot of chickpeas, most often in hummus form.

Limited dairy: My dairy is limited to nonfat, plain Greek yogurt. I eat it almost every day, and I love it.

Whole grains: My biggest struggle is to cut out processed flour in breads. I love me a good, fresh from the oven loaf of French bread, but my body does not love it at all. In fact, it can barely process it. My current intention is to not eat wheat flour at all. Instead, I ate brown rice or coconut flour. I also eat brown rice by itself and a limited quantity of corn tortillas, because I live in Southern California.

Nuts: I limit my nut consumption because I would eat all the almonds, all the time if I could. They’re good for me, but also dense in calories, so I eat a few, mostly in times of hunger.

Drinks: Water, black coffee, black or herbal tea. That’s it! Occasionally, I’ll have almond or soy milk. Occasionally, I’ll have a glass of wine. But most liquids are empty calories that I know do nothing for me.

Dark Chocolate: I’m only human, and dark chocolate keeps me sane. I eat 85% dark or higher. It’s got kind of an earthy taste, but I like it. I’m working now to limit the quantity of dark chocolate I eat because, given the opportunity, I would eat it all.

That’s what I do. It’s simple, but effective. What matters most to me about it is that it’s real food that actually nourishes my body. Sometimes it’s hard – often in fact – but it’s always rewarding. Sometimes it’s boring, but that’s a limitation I create. The more creative I am, the more interesting my food becomes. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of new and interesting way to make it delicious.

 

 

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Taking sugar off the menu was a good move, but it did not really do the trick for me. I’ve been around this block a few times now and have changed my palate enough to know that there are many treats without actual sugar in them. They’re mostly sweetened with dates. It’s an improvement over a giant slab of cheesecake to eat some date or coconut sweetened treat, but it’s also not kale. And it is easier to cut out a food group than it is to change a behavior pattern.

Saying no to sugar did effectively end my cake-pop eating indiscretions, but it did not stop me from thinking about when I could get my next treat fix. It just made me more creative. If I wasn’t going to be able to eat whatever sugary treat was in front of me, I’d just have to do some leg work to get a good substitution. So yes, I would buy that huge container of dates at the store, and thank you, I would like some sugar-free, gluten-free uber healthy versions of dessert. It was about the letter of the law after all. The spirit of it put far too many restrictions on my compulsive overeating.

So how do I stop compulsive overeating? Since I don’t actually want to return to this habit of being guided solely by food as a fix, of putting all my energy and effort towards it and paying for it with my health.

The first step is slowing down long enough to actually look at what I’m doing and acknowledge it to myself. Then speak it to myself and speak to why I don’t want to live this way, what is at stake for me. They’re big stakes: my emotional and physical health. Not much matters more.

I really have to ground myself in this understanding. That I matter more than food. That my well-being, emotional and physical, is paramount and worth whatever effort it takes for me to honor it. That this effort is truly one I want to make. Because I care about myself and want what’s best for me. It’s only when I frame treats in the context of “this cake or your life” that I can see what really matters, and why I really don’t want the cake as much as I thought I did.

The next step then is to speak it to others and ask for support. I did this last week. First I talked to Stephen, and then I talked to my dear friends in my accountability group. Normally, for accountability, we set up a series of goals and a consequence for not meeting them (mine is usually having to clean someone else’s apartment because I hate cleaning and should really clean my own if I’m going to do it). This past week, I set intentions instead. No consequences because punishment is not an effective motivator for me when it comes to food. All it does is remind me of the years of denial and judgment when I tried and failed to lose weight because my main motivator was to punish myself for being so flawed as to be overweight.

My intentions were to eat healthily as I know is best for me, according to my established healthy eating habits, and to check in daily with my friends. It has been a week now, and I have mostly succeeded. By being thoughtful and deliberate, I have eaten meals that were nourishing and full of whole foods. I have picked good snacks like fruit and have eaten them specifically to combat hunger and not because I’m bored or feel like eating. I have made chosen what I know to be good for me. I have not been perfect in it, but I also have not engaged in binge eating or compulsive eating at all.

It is slow work, thoughtful work for me to eat well and have a healthy relationship with food, and it is very important work. So I’m taking it one day at time.

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