Part 2 of 3 - DIETING vs FOOD AWARENESS
Dieting is denial. Denying yourself the things you enjoy for the prospect of becoming a healthier, happier person...some day. For many, I think that’s the biggest deterrent to sticking with a diet, or even starting one in the first place. The sacrifice is immediate, the pay-off is not.
The longer you stay on a path of denial, especially if the results you’re chasing remain elusive, the more you start to question why you’re bothering in the first place.
So I won’t ever diet. Instead, I simply make myself aware of everything I eat.
What’s the difference?
The difference is, when I eat, I’m not filling my plate with diet foods I hate. I’m not enduring six days of misery for the sake of one day of indulgence. I don’t tally up every nutritional spec or map out my path through the grocery store so as to avoid the aisles that are sure to make me shed a tear.
I’ve always been athletic, so it’s easy for me to put in the extra physical effort. But when it comes to nutrition, I’ve never been as disciplined. I hate tofu and I hate cottage cheese. And whether they’re better for me or not, I’d rather cut some foods out of my life entirely than eat their sugar-free counterpart. I’m looking at you, Jell-O pudding...
After a lot of trial and error, I tried a new approach - mainly avoiding changes that would make me miserable and sacrifices I would most likely break. For instance, I’m a huge coffee lover. It’s not the worst addiction to have, but it’s also not the healthiest, (particularly when the coffee is loaded up with cream and sugar.) I know I could live without it, particularly after a couple weeks of detox, but I love it.
So rather than giving up my coffee,
I made one small change - I only drink black coffee
when I’m at work. No cream, no sugar...
nothing but fuel. I drink it mostly out of necessity
during business hours, anyway.
There are no enjoyable Folgers Crystals moments
going on in my office - none of that…
“the best part of waking up…” or
“oooh, that café in Vienna…”
Right, none of that stuff. But I got to keep my
flavored coffee at home, so it was basically only
a 50 percent abstinent approach.
Was this the secret to success? The way to shed all those excess pounds? Of course not. But it was one tiny change that didn’t cause me grief, so it was easy to maintain and encouraged me to make more of them.
I skip the company birthday cakes and the constant supply of fundraising candy. At home we switched from beef burgers to turkey burgers to chicken burgers. All three are good, but I vehemently drew a line in the sand before we reached veggie burgers. I switched to natural peanut butter, having had no clue how sugar-laden the regular stuff is, and discovered that it tasted a whole lot better. Then there was wheat bread over white, greek yogurt in place of...whatever the other stuff is, and so on.
As the foods I ate slowly improved, my habits did, as well. I don’t eat late into the night as often. I eat my meals more slowly now, so I’m not still eating long after I’ve gotten full. This also helped me whittle my portions down to more appropriate levels.
So instead of denying myself the things I like, going “cold turkey” or fixating on the sacrifice, I focus instead on how and when to eat the things that aren’t as good for me and continue to make small changes that are easy to make permanent.
If you’re the type of person who has already traveled down a number of dietary roads, most of what follows is old news. But for me, I do better when the structure of a nutritional plan is less restrictive and more natural, so I’ve boiled down the game plan to a few workable strategies:
It has been a long process for me,
but now I find myself starting to
reach for an apple
instead of a bag of chips.
I rarely ever drink soda now and fast food has almost left my life entirely.
Except for you, Dunkin Donuts.
we’ll be together forever...
The secret to better nutrition is….there is no secret. There is no one food to avoid that affects every one of us the same way. There is no miracle veggie that targets your love-handles while improving your stamina and curing your ADHD. I assure you...I’ve looked.
There are countless resources online for food nutrition facts, and an endless directory of dieticians and health nuts who will break down for you, atom by atom, the chemical makeup of any food that is sure to be the villain holding your healthier self hostage.
I won’t disagree with their findings, and I won’t argue the pros and cons of one diet plan against another.
I don’t have time for that nonsense.
For someone like me, who is willing to put in the physical work but is extremely impatient with the nutritional aspects of better health and fitness, things need to stay simple. General. Flexible.
When I approach my nutrition with these guidelines, I am able to stay true to myself. I’m focusing on becoming healthier, not becoming a different person.
There are certainly faster weight loss methods, but they’re drastic and unpleasant. As such, the success is rarely permanent. My method is slower, but the changes stick, allowing me to direct my attention to smaller, more specific goals as I progress steadily toward the version of me I want and deserve. I don’t yo-yo back and forth with my weight or struggle to maintain willpower because the steps I take are not taken along a path of negativity. I get to keep the foods I love, but I’m now much more aware of how they each affect my health. I consider the best times and situations for everything I eat and I go through each day with a strategy, not a rule book.
Strategic eating has me in better shape at 35 than I was at 25 and food awareness has me enjoying a greater variety of food than ever have before, and this while losing weight and inching closer and closer to my goals. At this rate, I think 45 year-old me is going to put 35 year-old me to shame.
Part 1 of 3 - WORKING OUT vs TRAINING
Being “in shape” is all relative. Everyone has their own idea of what being in shape means. In fact, I remember some years ago while teaching a class of adolescent students, one of the other instructors told them they needed to push harder during a drill in order to get in shape. Immediately, one brilliant student called out, “but...round IS a shape.”
He was right. Round is a shape.
And the bottom line? Round is okay. Skinny as a rail is okay too.
It’s okay to have strong arms and weak legs, or to be able to run a marathon but still be unable to get rid of that beer belly or muffin top.
There’s nothing wrong with being the person with the slowest time, or who lifts the lightest weights, or who needs to take a break before anyone else.
The problem with any form of fitness, is that people often don’t differentiate between their health and their self-image.
When the focus is all on self-image - what the scale says, what the mirror shows, how strangers look at you...it’s nearly impossible to ever be happy with yourself.
I’m very happy with myself, at least in terms of my health and fitness. And the reason is simple - I never work out and I never diet.
If you set a goal weight and work out tirelessly day in and day out to reach that goal, everything is about loss and about hitting some numerical target. It’s easy to give up on a goal like that, particularly when it’s a long-term one.
And if you do reach your goal weight? What is your reward?
You get to spend the rest of your foreseeable future doing everything you did to get there, over and over again. But now, there’s no further achievement. There’s no new number on the scale to show for your trouble. There are no more before-and-after photos to compare, and the compliments stop coming in because you’ve already done the impressive thing you set out to do. Now, your hard work becomes the status quo. And before long, it’s easy to bail out.
And really, can you blame someone for that? What’s work without reward? What’s sacrifice without gain?
The concept of being “in shape” falls across a broad spectrum, with so many different interpretations of what it means and how one should look. There are also so many approaches to achieving a similar end, that it becomes a dangerous thing to compare yourself to others when trying to reach a fitness goal.
If I were to line up in front of a mirror with a dozen
other people, it would be very easy for any one of
us to feel as though we were less than we are,
or be intimidated by the person standing next
to us. Myself included. Depending on who in the
line I talk to, I might be viewed as a super-fit
athlete, capable of doing incredible things and a
great role model for fitness. But to others...
I’m round. I’m a round shape.
It’s all relative, how we feel about how we look; to
what standards we hold ourselves and toward
which goals we strive.
So, no, I won’t work out. I refuse to work out. Work isn’t fun. Even if you enjoy the process of counting reps and sets and calories and carbs, eventually the parabolic drop-off occurs, when the pressure to maintain begins to outweigh the satisfaction of accomplishment. The joy and pride you experienced have been replaced by habit and necessity.
In addition, the way I train is results-driven. I focus on what I can DO, not some abstract measurement of success. It’s always been far more fun for me to work on some new technique or conquer some tangible obstacle than to add another plate to the bench or shave a few seconds off my run.
That was always an easy sales pitch for the martial arts school owner - long term planning that included systematic benchmarks to follow in order to gauge your progress. For me, I started my training back when a black belt was a borderline superhero, not a watered-down commonality. I never set my sights on the belt. I focused only on the techniques I could master - how to evade the proper distance so as to still effect a manipulatable reaction in my opponent. How to disarm an assailant in every conceivable situation, whether I was armed or empty-handed. How to read and analyze multiple opponents simultaneously, all the while getting to know myself better in the process.
After many years of training this way, the belt was an inevitability, not a possibility. But more than that, I learned that the belt was virtually meaningless. It was merely a symbol, representing the cumulative knowledge and skills I’d gathered from countless bumps and bruises, the myriad lessons both received and given.
For me, it was never about the belt, or the trophy, or the scale, or the clock, or the mirror. It was about what I could do and the pride I took in the learning.
With that in mind, when it’s 5 o’clock and I swap the dress shoes for sneakers, remove the tie and throw on the headphones...it has nothing to do with working out. I train. I train to conquer the next goal, to achieve something I’ve never done, to end the day with a pride that has nothing to do with statistical analysis. A good day means I pushed myself to greater heights, knowing that even a plateau means that the next training session will bring me to an even higher echelon and that in itself, is a victory.
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Stay tuned for part 2 of this feature!