Here’s why I’m not on a diet, yet I’m losing weight and reaching my health and fitness goals. When we go “on a diet” it implies we are doing something temporarily and that once we reach the destination (that magic number on the scale, typically) we can “get off” the diet and resume our normal activities. But…if our normal activities led us to the need for the original diet, won’t we just have to eventually go back “on a diet”? See the vicious circle? Yeah, we have all lived it. I lived it when I did the calorie counting, fat counting horror and never really lost the weight or regained my health. That, dear friends, is called the diet spin-cycle and it never ends until we stop going on diets.
So, if you’ve read my previous posts (yes, I know they are few and far between – a girl’s gotta make a living and have time to cook, right?), you know I’ve relearned how to eat for health. I follow the Paleo lifestyle (see how I don’t even call it the Paleo diet?) and while I am close to reaching my health and weight loss goals, I’m not “on a diet” because it’s not something I’m going to jump on and off as needed to drop a few pounds or deal with a nagging health concern. I’ve relearned how to eat to make my body and mind happy, so why would I want to stop to eat the foods that caused me so much pain, guilt and frustration all those years? Yeah, they taste yummy (well, not so much anymore) but I no longer NEED to taste that yumminess after not having it for so long. I’m beyond happy eating what IS good for me and I simply don’t eat what is not. Real food tastes even yummier to me, so I don’t ever feel the deprivation I felt when trying to eat tasteless low cal or low fat foods – there was no butter or bacon allowed on those “diets” but I get to eat those as much as I want to now. See, no diet = yum.
I see a lot of friends struggling inside the diet spin cycle and I think it’s largely because of their mindset about the temporality of the “diet.” If you believe all foods are just either high or low calorie/fat, why not just have that bowl of alfredo pasta when you’re on vacation? You deserve the treat, right? You can always just eat less tomorrow – or next week, or after the first of the year, right? Well, it’s not just about eating less or more. Oddly, we rarely acknowledge the fairly immediate non-scale impacts of that bowl o’ pasta, yet we usually end up feeling super full, bloated, maybe a little gassy or constipated, and dopey, tired and lethargic. It’s the food hangover, also known as “Grain Brain,” a term coined by Dr. Perlmutter. Some “foods” cause these problems, along with more serious health issues related to leaky gut which contributes to many, many health problems including autoimmune disease, diabetes, candida, etc.
But, let’s get back to the immediate, short term effects of the bowl o’pasta (or pizza or hoagie or dinner roll or pancake): the stomach and digestive upset and brain fog we often feel after eating grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and highly processed foods. When I first went Paleo, I had never made a conscious connection to how the food I ate made me feel in an hour, the next day and the next week – and how they hurt my overall productivity because I just didn’t feel “sharp.” Slowly, with the elimination of those fog-inducing foods, I found energy and clarity that I haven’t ever really had. Now, when I’m faced with the bread, or cookies or pasta options I just imagine myself feeling clunky, bloated and dull, so I have no desire to eat it when I can choose to eat something else that I love just as much – or even more – and feel sharp and energetic.
A few weeks ago I really noticed how true this is while I was working on-site with a client. I have to travel to the client’s training facility several times a year to support my company’s work. It’s a beautiful facility where we stay, eat and work for several days at a time. They have first class chefs on site and all of the food is just there for the eating – we don’t pay for anything – and there are snack stations set up about every 100 feet, lest you get famished walking from one room to the next. They offer many healthy, even gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan options to accommodate diverse dietary needs, but there’s just so much. So much. It’s like being on a cruise ship because of the endless opportunity to overeat and to blow the “diet.” Previously, despite my best intentions, I always overate and imbibed in the luscious afternoon snacks and desserts and chose pastas, sandwiches or doughy dishes at meals. I would also end up feeling so freaking tired by mid-afternoon and my brain wouldn’t function right, which led to me making mistakes at inopportune times. My digestion was always screwy and I’d have to spend extra time in the bathroom, if you know what I mean. I never really connected the dots, though. I thought it was just the stress and lack of sleep that also tends to come with these trips.
During my recent trips, I proved it’s all about the food quality, not just quantity. Last time I was there to support what is traditionally a very stressful project, and I had very early starts and some late nights, yet I felt sharp and “with it” all the way through. I didn’t have to over-caffeinate to get through the afternoons. I still ate delicious food, but I didn’t give into the bad foods because the return on my investment wouldn’t have been worth it. Ok, full disclosure: I did have one healthy [serving] spoonful of bread pudding and a few small handfuls of Jelly Bellys (from the many dispensers around the property!), but I know from experience that I can only have very small quantities, very occasionally before I feel the ill effects of larger helpings. I knew if I waded too far into the lake, I’d be drowning by the end of the project and why would I do that to myself? It felt good (and very satisfying) to be not only in control of my work, but in control of my body. When you feel good, physically, you also look good and exude confidence.
Is it easy to avoid all the goodies? Well, I’ll say it was fairly easy now because I’ve been Paleo for over a year, so I’ve learned a lot of tricks. It was more difficult for me when I was there last year at this same time. Also, because the sugar and other bad chemicals have left my system, I don’t crave them so much now. I know how to keep my blood sugar balanced by eating enough good fats and real carbs with protein at each meal, so I don’t succumb to the treats out of hunger. The hardest part is probably peer pressure because I’m often in a group of colleagues who do not understand my eating habits and don’t know the drastic changes I’ve made so they tend to encourage me to share in their over-consumption of refined carbs and sugar. That’s when I say I just don’t eat grains, sugar, dairy, etc. and I eat a bowl of fresh berries. That ends it usually – or they ask why and I get on my Paleo soapbox and you know how that goes…
In the end, what makes it work is my own mindset – not some random number on the scale. This is simply how I live. I do this; I don’t do that. I eat real food; I don’t eat grains or dairy. It’s not temporary; I’m committed for the duration. There are no breaks for stressful times, holidays, parties, or dinners out with friends, etc. I never feel deprived. I stay on the wagon because it would be too hard to get back on and I would hate to undo the good I’ve done. I simply eat food that is tasty and is also good for my body. Very occasionally I also eat a little bite of contraband – but that’s after learning how to have just one bite and not the whole pie/cake/box of cookies. It took time to get here, but I know that when my mind shifted to a deep understanding of the connection between what I eat and how I feel and function, I was able to step out of that damn diet spin cycle for good.
A great list of Paleo resources can be found at the end of this post.