Mary Note: It’s funny to realize that most of us have insisted on trying the quick fix diet methods before settling on well-balanced meals to maintain a lifestyle so we look and feel good. In the back of our heads, we know that veggies are more nutritious than burgers, but the prospect of indulging without guilt is worth a shot.
Leah’s account here is a refreshing reminder that diets don’t work in keeping us skinny or happy.
“My Road of Diet Distress to Nutritionista Happiness”
Since not all of you have “known” me for very long, I thought I’d post this Nutritionista History by way of introduction. It’s mostly to show you that I haven’t always had the same definition of “healthy.” I used to be addicted to diet foods. For a LONG time. So I wanted to reflect a bit for those of you who might be wondering why you’re not seeing the changes you’d want to see (after suffering through 100-calorie pack after 100-calorie pack!). Read my journey and see if it resonates with you at all! Have you been through any of these “phases”?
The Atkins phase
I tried this the summer before college in an attempt to lose a few pounds before embarking on a new phase of life. It worked. For two weeks. Two miserable weeks where I didn’t even eat one piece of fruit or sugar-free gum — I was terrified of the sugar-alcohols. I finally cracked when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. Being on Atkins meant the only non-solid food I could eat was chicken broth. Drugged out on Vicodin and stuck with broth, I was one unhappy camper. Sure, I lost some weight in those two weeks, but as my friends can attest, I was not that pleasant to be around.
Don’t get me wrong. I think some of Dr. Atkins’ originals principles are good ones: avoid sugar and white flour as much as possible. And that saying “everything in moderation”? Well, it’s not always the best philosophy for weight loss (yes, I know it does work for some). But cutting out a food group without focusing on the quality of the remaining groups doesn’t sit well with me. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any amount of time knows I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan (though I can now say I’ve tried!). Thouigh I do eat meat/dairy, I make it a point to buy organic, grass-fed, hormone-free… you know the drill. One thing Atkins taught me? It’s possible to totally eliminate food cravings. I never wanted to see another egg or piece of cheese again after those two weeks on the diet! Now, of course, I eat them all the time.
The Special K Diet phase
This diet was even more short-lived than Atkins. I tried it the year after I graduated from college because I had definitely succumbed to the Freshman 15 (25?) and was desperate to take it off. I think I lasted two days. Who wants to eat unsatisfying protein bars and cereal all day? Ew. I despise everything about the Special K diet. I wouldn’t tell my worst enemy to eat it. The only reason it works is because you’re limited calories. But the calories you ARE eating are coming from overly processed, artificial-tasting craaaap. So gross. Like I’ve said before, if you limit calories, you can eat pretty much anything and lose weight.
The Weight Watchers phase
I did WW online off and on for several years. It worked, and it didn’t work. I figured it was just a more sophisticated way to count calories. But the thing is, it isn’t. Weight Watchers is a decidedly low-fat program. I have come to despise low-fat anything. Low-fat is often just another word for diet food, and I’ve realized that low fat = high hunger. And I just don’t believe that fat is the devil it’s been made out to be. Not at all. Even saturated. That’s where Atkins may have gotten it right.
I was constantly hungry on WW. When I was following it, I lost weight. But when I fell off the wagon and forgot to track points, I fell hard. I would recommend straight calorie counting over Weight Watchers, hands down.
My Food Diary/diet food phase
First of all, I should say that I still use MFD to track what I’m eating. But I DON’T pay any attention to its advice that 65% (or whatever) of my calories should come from carbs, 15% (or whatever) from fat, etc. It’s just a place for me to store data. There are certainly free places (FitDay, Daily Plate, etc.), but I got used to the MFD format and just stuck to it. Plus, at $8/month, it’s not exactly breaking the bank.
When I first started using MFD, it was a good thing. But then I got obsessed with seeing how few calories I could eat before, say, dinner. And this involved a LOT of diet food. 100-calorie packs. Crystal Light. Low-fat, processed veggie burgers. Diet soda after diet soda after diet soda. You get the picture. Even though MFD doesn’t have a low-fat bias, I did at the time. Plus, just like with Weight Watchers, when I fell off the wagon, I fell hard. I’m an all-or-nothing girl at times, so if those 5 slices of late-night pizza didn’t get tracked in MFD, neither did anything else.
Diet food did me no favors. I was hungry a lot. It wasn’t cheap. In retrospect, it didn’t even taste good.
Where I am now: Healthy and Happy
Whole, minimally processed, chemical-free foods, very little sugar/processed carbs
This picture of veggies is somewhat misleading. Eating minimally processed foods doesn’t just mean eating platefuls of veggies. It just means that the shorter the ingredient list, the better. And veggies naturally have no list. Neither does fruit, most fish/meat/seafood, beans, whole grains, some dairy, etc.
I’ve found I feel best and most easily lose or maintain my weight on a gluten-free, low-sugar diet otherwise full of whole foods. But I understand that’s not realistic for everyone (and I also suspect I have some level of gluten-intolerance).
I won’t deprive myself of something if I really want it, regardless of what it is. I remember when someone told me I live in a food “prison.” It’s funny because I actually think people who eat the SAD (Standard American Diet) are more imprisoned. We know the food industry knows what keeps us coming back: that addicting combo of sugar, salt, and processed fat. What we think we like is wrecking havoc on our health. We’re literally imprisoned by the way we’ve been conditioned to eat; what we’ve been conditioned to like.
But there’s good news: You can retrain your tastebuds to crave different foods. After not drinking diet soda for a full year, it tastes gross to me now. Gross! And I used to drink it almost every day. I hope that’s what kind of food revolution Jamie Oliver is talking about: Teaching the next generation to eat differently, and to appreciate the taste of things we didn’t or don’t. Just because the U.S. is known for CAFO-produced burgers, fries made in crappy vegetable oil, and buns made with high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean it always has to be this way.
Anyway, all this to say: I haven’t been eating this way for that long, but I already know it’s the best. Go ahead and experiment with different diets. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll always come back to the only one that works and the only one that can pass the test of time.