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.