When I was just out of college I became a little bit obsessed with my weight. Maybe it was a way to have some control during a time of a lot of change, or maybe seeing the changes in my body from running made me want to see more. I can’t pinpoint the exact cause, but the consequence was I went on a diet.
A strict, trendy diet that a lot of my friends at the gym were following. One woman brought her “before” pictures to the locker room and showed us the proof. She’d lost over 150 pounds.
The diet was six very small, very specific meals a day for six days. And the seventh day was a “Cheat Day” where you could eat anything you wanted. All day long. In fact, the girl with the pictures said it was better to eat everything we wanted on that day, so we wouldn’t crave it the rest of the week.
I was running a lot back then, training for marathons. My basic eating plan was to eat when I was hungry and try to make healthy choices with food. I trusted my body to tell me what it needed, so I paid attention to my cravings.
But I wanted to be skinny. Angelina Jolie no thigh rubbing skinny.
So I bought the book and followed the diet. The six days of healthy eating wasn’t too hard. I actually love the taste of chicken and vegetables just as they are. But I missed sweet potatoes. And deciding what I wanted to eat, and when.
There was a time I got to decide: my cheat day. I started thinking about that day all the time. Making a list of all the things I was going to eat. It started out small: I’d pick one treat like ice cream or cookies. Something I’d been dreaming of the rest of the week.
But as the diet went on, something started to change in my mind. All I thought about was food. During the diet days I counted the minutes until the next meal in my schedule. And I was always thinking about that cheat day.
It was a cheat day after all, not a cheat meal, so I might as well take full advantage. If I was going to cheat, I was going to make it worth it. I started eating gluten free donuts for breakfast, which aren’t even very good. Then I’d move on to pizza and cookies and ice cream. Then, top it off with a candy bar.
I was cheating. I was supposed to be bad.
I lost weight and didn’t think much about what I was doing. Until my best friend witnessed me eat an entire box of chocolate chip cookies in one sitting. She told me it was kind of disgusting. She asked me if I even enjoyed eating an entire box of cookies at once. Then she asked me why it was any different than eating one cookie per day over the course of a week. Wouldn’t that have been healthier?
“But it’s my cheat day.” I said. I couldn’t explain it any other way.
She dropped the subject then, because she knows how I am. But, as usual, her question planted a seed in my mind and I began to see the truth in what I was doing.
I wasn’t eating an entire box of cookies because they tasted so good. Or even because I wanted to. I’m not sure if you’ve tried it, but you don’t even enjoy the last several cookies. You don’t even notice the taste.
I was eating that box of cookies because I could. It was my cheat day.
The more I thought about what I was doing, the more I realized the truth: Food had control over me.
By having a cheat day I was putting food into two categories: good and bad. And I was defining myself based on what I ate. When I followed the diet, I was good. One day a week I was bad, and I cheated.
I gave all of my power to food and stopped making choices.
The thing is, food isn’t good or bad. It is food. It’s true that not all food has the same level of quality or amount of nutrients, and our bodies react differently to different types of food. But we get to make the choice about what we put into our bodies and for what purpose.
We aren’t good when we eat healthy food and bad when we don’t. That sets up a very unhealthy pattern of judging ourselves by what we eat. Just like we wouldn’t tell a child that they are bad because they did something we didn’t like, we aren’t bad for eating that piece of cake.
And it gives food control over us, which can be a very scary thing. It starts a nasty of cycle of eating things we consider “bad” because we crave them, and then beating ourselves up for being bad. And when we feel badly about ourselves, we often tend to deal with those feeling by eating more “bad” food, and the cycle continues until we stop it or give up our control all together.
It isn’t cheating to eat something we want. It’s making a choice.
Yes, we can make balanced choices and think about what we are craving and why. And, we have to think about the consequences of what we eat. Some of us more than others. I’m not going to eat wheat or apples, because I want to live. Before I eat cheese, I have to weigh the pros and cons of the stomach ache versus the delicious, melty taste. But that is my choice, and neither answer is good or bad. It depends on what I want in that moment.
If I am going to workout, I want to eat something that will give me energy and help me push hard. If I want to eat something sweet, I’m going to eat some chocolate for the taste. And enjoy it, without any guilt.
Really, I think guilt dulls the taste of everything.
Thankfully, I stopped that diet and went back to my original plan. A plan I’ve been following for all the years since. I think about what I eat and why, and I listen to my body about what it wants. When I’m working out, I usually crave protein and vegetables. So that is what I give my body. And when I am offered chocolate covered bacon, I take it without hesitation. Because: yum.
And that woman who was on the diet? She stopped going to the gym for a long time. And when she came back, I could tell she had stopped the diet, too. In the locker room, she told me that she couldn’t keep up the diet. The cheat days started turning into cheat weeks and all her old eating habits came back. She was back to square one.
Have you ever tried dieting and cheating? How do you decide what to eat, and why? Do you ever feel guilty about what you eat, or feel pressure to follow a certain diet? Do you ever judge yourself by what you eat?
I’ve never been a big advocate of dieting. In fact, I’ve always been against it. I was a fan of moderation: if you want to eat something, eat it. Just don’t eat a ton. I believed that if you cut something that you like out of your diet, you will just end up wanting it even more. And that’s what leads to binging. Besides, with all of my food allergies, there is already enough off limits to me. Why take away any more?
But recently, I’ve had a change of heart. I realized that isn’t just about moderation, it’s about motivation, too. Why we eat something is just as important as what we eat.
I have a sweet tooth. I love chocolate, ice cream, and candy. If it’s on the dessert menu, I’ll probably like it. And I’ll always pick something sweet over something savory, even when it comes to drinks.
I’ve also worked really hard to have a healthy relationship with food. I don’t eat for emotional reasons, or even out of boredom. I eat when I am hungry and I try to satisfy my cravings by eating what I want, when I want it. It’s so much easier to just eat what you really want instead of eating a salad first just to make ourselves feel justified in having the sweets.
Moderation can work with sweets, even for a chocoholic like me. I can have ice cream in the freezer and it will last for weeks. I will eat it when I want it, and in reasonable portions, because it’s that good. I eat it because I enjoy the taste of it and I want to make it last as long as possible.
But recently, I found myself getting out of control with sugar. Yes, it was the holidays and I got plenty of chocolate in my stocking. But that didn’t stop me from buying more every time I left my parents’ house. Or from eating candy out of my brother’s stocking, since I knew he wouldn’t mind.
It got to the point where I woke up wanting something sweet, like waffles or pie. As soon as I finished my plate, I wanted something sweet to top it off, so I’d grab another chocolate.
I started to realize that it wasn’t about the taste anymore. Yes, the waffles were delicious. But by the second day, I didn’t even notice the taste of the butter when the salt mixed with the sweet syrup. Or the crunch of the waffle that was perfectly done.
I shoved huge bites into my mouth and chewed as fast as I could. Even when I was full, I wasn’t satisfied. I still wanted more sugar. I ate ice cream until my mouth was so numb I couldn’t taste it. A few times, I went back for seconds. I kept truffles in my purse “for emergencies” and ate them when no one was looking. I was a sugar junkie.
I told myself it was just about the holidays, and I’d go back to normal eating once I got home. On the plane I had M&Ms and Sour Patch Kids once again, my grand farewell to candy. At least that’s what I told myself.
But when I got home it didn’t stop. “Just one more,” I kept telling myself and running to the pharmacy across the street for another bag of candy.
Two days into being home, I was sitting on the couch finishing off another bag of Sour Patch Kids when my teeth started to hurt. The insides of my cheeks were rough from all the sour, and the roof of my mouth felt like a tiny rake had been dragged across it. I looked down at the bag of candy and decided: enough.
I threw the bag of Sour Patch Kids in the garbage and went on with my day.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about sugar. I thought about the frozen custard place across the street and how good that would be, I thought about running out to store, and I wondered what it would taste like if I mixed unsweetened cocoa powder with honey.
I needed a sugar fix.
I was tired, crabby, and actually shaking a little. I couldn’t keep thoughts of sugar out of my head.
And that’s when I went to the garbage, put my hand in, and dug around until I found those Sour Patch Kids. I pulled out the bag, sat down on the kitchen floor, and ate every last one.
Then I looked around and realized I’d just eaten out of the garbage. It was pretty gross. I had a problem. A physical addiction to sugar. So I decided to stop, cold turkey.
It was really hard for those first few days. Ok, the first week. It felt like I was going through withdrawals. I was jittery, didn’t sleep well, and obsessed with the thought of eating something sweet. But there was nothing sweet in the house, and I just didn’t let myself go to the store. After that week, I noticed a difference. It isn’t as hard to avoid sugar now. I still want it, but I don’t think about it all the time.
Before Christmas vacation, I ate pretty healthy and only ate sweets occasionally. I remembered sharing a dessert with my best friend and commenting on how rich it was. What had happened to change everything so fast? How did I go from normal to addicted in such a short time?
I traced it all back to that first plane ride. I didn’t get M&Ms and Sour Patch Kids because I was hungry and that’s what I really wanted. I bought them because they seemed “bad” and the trip was the perfect excuse to be bad. But once I started down that road, it was almost impossible to stop.
When I made some food “good” and some food “bad” it changed the reason I was eating. It wasn’t about taste or what I wanted, it was about breaking some non-existent rule. It wasn’t what I ate that started the problem, it was why I ate it in the first place. And it led to an even bigger problem, one that had me eating out of the garbage can.
So the next time I take a trip, it isn’t going to be a chance to be bad. Instead, I’m going to eat what I want, because I want it. Even if what I want is a salad.
In the meantime, I’m staying away from sugar until I can get back to my healthy relationship with sweet food. I don’t know if it’s a diet, and I don’t care, because it’s what I need to be healthy. I want to be in control of my food choices, and I want to do what is best for my body. Sugar is like a drug, and I am just saying No.
How do you feel about diets? Is there anything you don’t eat or eat in moderation? What kind of relationship do you have with food? What about with sugar? Am I the only one who can’t stop once I start?
P.S. I found this video about what sugar does to our brains. It’s pretty interesting, and good to know:
There was an entire table displaying hard back books with the words Paleo, Skinny, and Thin in the titles. When I walked over to the magazine racks, it was the same thing. It was a sad conclusion, but I realized it’s true. We are obsessed with dieting.
Every time I turn on the TV, get online, or open a magazine I see ads for diets, pills, and the new workout fad.
There is always the latest big thing. No carbs, low carbs, non-fat, or raw foods as touted by the celebrity of the moment.
And there is always some claim about how the diet will make us lose weight, gain energy, and love ourselves in a way that isn’t possible without dieting.
It’s begun to make me wonder when enough will be enough.
When can we just focus on eating healthy and stop buying into the latest trend?
Don’t we all know what is healthy? It’s not like fruits and veggies are a secret that only doctors and Hollywood know about. No one really thinks that fast food is good for us.
But then we feel guilty about a little too much dessert in December or one piece of birthday cake. So, we go buy that book with the tiny, muscular woman on the front. I know, I’ve done it so many times. I’ve cut out everything with fat and sugar, I’ve given up dairy, and I’ve tried no carbs.
Every time I diet, it works for a few weeks, and then I can’t do it anymore. I miss rice, chocolate, and cheese. And usually I end up eating an entire container of Ben and Jerry’s in one or two sittings.
Then I go back to just eating healthy. That’s what my body wants, anyway.
Balanced meals of protein, grains, and veggies. I eat yogurt, some cheese, and have a little bit of chocolate. I listen to my body and give it what it wants. Even ice cream.
The thing is, when I focus on what I can have, I eat healthy.
My body wants spinach, salmon, quinoa, nuts, fruit, and other healthy, whole foods. I don’t even crave chocolate and ice cream every day when it’s not off limits. Everything in moderation works.
Yet, this is a lesson I have to re-learn over and over.
Because I go into the bookstore and pass the magazine racks and see those commercials telling me I need to diet.
When all I really need to do is eat healthy.
Do you have any lessons with food you have to keep re-learning? Do you fall victim to those diet books and magazines? How is your relationship with food and with your body? I’d love to hear what works for you!
We all have a food we crave on a regular basis. And I don’t mean something “healthy” like salad. Something we want and love, but feel bad about eating. For me it’s ice cream. Something cold, creamy, and chocolaty. Preferably with ribbons and chunks of some kind. Like Phish Food, Chocolate-chocolate chip, and Moose tracks. Yum.
I’ve learned how to eat ice cream in small portions. I use the little white ramekin dishes as my ice cream bowls. And I choose an ice cream that’s rich enough that I don’t ever go back for seconds. So, why do I feel guilty for eating it?
It’s not because it’s bad for me. Hello, dark chocolate is an anti-oxidant. And I eat natural ice cream with a short list of ingredients. No mono-unnutrisized-globbins for me. If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t eat it. That’s my healthy eating rule.
But sometimes I fall prey to media pressure. Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers commercials telling us we’re all fat and we should be eating egg white omelets and plain baked chicken. I look around and feel like Everyone else is eating healthy but me. I start to feel bad, guilty, ashamed. And Everyone seems to LOVE eating healthy. They’re like “bring on the celery and kale chips, so delish!”
I really hate Everyone.
And then there’s me. I love chocolate, so I must be bad. Then the punishment begins. I throw away the ice cream I have and refuse to buy any more. I pass the freezer section completely at the grocery store. Don’t want to run the risk. The rest of the food in my cart is pretty much the same as what I always buy. Veggies, a meat, some grains. The truth is, I am naturally a pretty healthy eater. I love spinach and broccoli and seasoning with spices. I don’t like fast food or pop.
But Everyone doesn’t eat ice cream. So I go home without.
For the first few days I’m ok. I eat my dinner and have fruit or tea afterward. But, by the time the weekend rolls around all I can think about is ice cream. I eat it in my dreams. I try to calm the craving with anything sweet I can find. Hot coco, honey on toast, and a banana covered in almond butter and chocolate syrup. I know I’ve hit rock bottom when I’m dipping the baking chocolate in sugar and gnawing on the big slab.
And that’s when it hits me. I’m stuffing myself with replacements when eating the ice cream would actually be better for me. A small serving of ice cream is much healthier than half a jar of almond butter and a brick of unsweetened chocolate.
When I let myself have what I’m really craving, I’m satisfied when it’s gone. I’m not rummaging through the kitchen like a drug addict looking for my next fix.
The funny thing is when I have ice cream in the house and I know I can eat it, I don’t always want it. When it’s in the freezer it’s not a compulsion, it’s just dessert. The way it should be.
And really, who wants to be just like Everyone? Everyone is kind of lame.
What food do you crave? Do you have a sweet tooth? Does it make you feel guilty?
I have tried dieting many times in my life. The only
difference they made in the way I looked or felt were the cranky mood swings and hunger pangs. Until I discovered the Ben & Jerry’s diet.
I didn’t find it in a magazine or touted by a fitness guru from Women’s Health. I found it by following my instincts and listening to what my taste buds and stomach had to say.
It didn’t even start out as a diet, just an idea in the freezer isle at Winco, “I like ice cream, so I should have some.”
The movies always show the girl crying into a gallon sized tub of ice cream, while watching another chick flick. But the smaller containers are rich and creamy, and the Ben & Jerry’s diet isn’t about drowning any sorrows.
I started with Phish Food: Chocolate ice cream with a river each of marshmallow and caramel, and little chocolate fish swimming upstream. I made my way through Everything But The, Karmal Sutra, and Half Baked . Then I circled back around to Phish Food and my tongue declared it winner.
There was no measuring or calculations, I just ate some ice cream when I wanted some. I didn’t change any of the foods I was eating and I kept the same gym schedule, averaging four days a week. I’d come home after a workout and settle in on the couch with a bowl of Phish Food and watch The Biggest Loser. Something about watching other people exercise made the chocolate taste richer and the caramel sweeter.
My outer body transformed into the best shape it had ever been and my inner self was content. When I was eating what I wanted I didn’t obsess about food and I could have cared less what I weighed. My fingernails grew long and strong for the first time ever and my hair had a shine and bounce I had never known.
Maybe it was the added calcium in my diet, but I’d like to think it was a side effect of happiness. Happiness that comes only from ice cream.
What food brings you happiness? Any special diets that make you smile?