Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Starve It or Stuff It

I’m a sucker for health and weight loss tips from industry experts. Most of the advice has been pretty standard for the last few years, of course weaving in and out based on the latest trends. But here’s a good one: After dinner, place a sign on your kitchen that says “Closed after 6pm. Water is open all night long.”

Holy wanting what I can’t have, Batman. It’s kind of like someone telling you not to blink.

Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every diet there is an equal and opposite binge. Going on a diet, instructing your body to consume less than it requires to function adequately, is like letting your mind write cheques that your body can’t cash. And there is a nasty surcharge to be paid - your body will eventually break free and drive you to over-consume. Remember when you went carb-free for two days and on the morning of the third day you got a speeding ticket on your way to the Cheesecake Factory?  Or was that just me?

As I've said before, I've been around the block when it comes to diets. The Eat Clean Diet, developed by fitness model and author Tosca Reno, and one of the most dynamic women I’ve ever met (I trained with her in Toronto in 2006), is the closest thing that I’ve found to a sound diet plan. There is no calorie counting and there are some really good healthy tips and recipes. However, the message that hits you on the head at every turn in her beautifully laid out books is that in order to keep your ‘furnace’ burning, you must stuff an entire chicken breast, a cup of brown rice and a pound of broccoli down your gullet every three hours, whether you’re hungry or not. She advocates bringing your meals with you everywhere in a mini cooler, even while traveling. Been there - while I was training for my show, I traveled frequently for work. I used to make low-calorie soup and drag it with me across the country, lugging it from home to taxi to airplane to taxi to hotel to office. People thought I was either incredibly efficient or incredibly crazy. As I reflect on this, I'm leaning heavily toward the latter. All of this focus on eating only the perfect foods made me a slave to the kitchen, the grocery store, the plastic container aisle at Walmart and the neurotic corners of my mind.  And of course I was inevitably 'on' or 'off' the plan.

I used to be so focused on "eating clean" that I would berate myself for even the tiniest slip. A story about toast and peanut butter: the only two times that I've given myself permission to freely eat toast with peanut butter in the last eight years was in the hospital, the morning after I gave birth to each of my children. These were the circumstances in which I figured I deserved it. In my brain, in order to "stay on track", I should only be having plain oatmeal and boiled egg whites for breakfast (or juice in the case of the juice fast, or nothing in the case of the fast). If I was eating toast and peanut butter (arguably not the worst thing you can eat!) outside of just having given birth, I was 'off' my diet. I was always either on or off the rails, all or nothing. Nothing but the cleanest of foods, or everything that the pantry, refrigerator and drive-thru had to offer.

I wish someone had told me earlier that there was a kinder, gentler, more effective way. Hey, I would have settled for just more effective! To know that I could have begun trusting myself and feeding myself appropriately at my very next meal, without spending so much time feeling guilty (or spilling soup all over the floor of my taxi). If only I had known that by listening to and acting upon my hunger and fullness signals, therefore eating only what my body requires, I could quell the noise, retire my cooler and lose weight naturally over time.

Since I've begun treating myself this way, there has never been a day when I was 'off'. There have admittedly been days when I have eaten cake for breakfast, melted cheese in the microwave (delighting as the gooey mess slid down my throat) and tucked into a plate of two hot dogs PLUS a hamburger (with buns) at a barbeque, because that's what my body was craving as far as heartiness, texture, temperature and flavor. Not that I'm tracking that closely, but I've also melted off close to ten pounds, way faster than I ever did by chasing a chicken breast with a chia shake because I had just climbed a flight of stairs (hang on to that fat-burning muscle!) and the three-hour metabolic time bomb was ticking.

Where did the trust go?

When you are on a 'plan', you surrender the bodily wisdom and trust you would otherwise be exercising when it comes to eating. Do we really believe that without guidelines and restrictions that we will eat ourselves into oblivion? What about sleeping? Given the freedom, would you really keep sleeping past the point of doneness, into the next week, perhaps? (Well, I might). Would you ever willingly put yourself on a sleep diet, or a water-deprivation regimen? You know that when you deprive your body of these needs, it will rebel.

Some of these diet books are so convincing (your body has been evolutionarily programmed to go through periods of fasting, cavemen only ate meat and vegetation and they were lean mean machines, etc). You hear the excitement in someone's voice as they give you the 'skinny' on their latest dieting adventure and how it's really all about the science behind such and such and your intake of blah blah blah...

It all comes down to plugging your body with less food. And how to go about this? You can eliminate carbs so that your cravings for sugar eventually subside, you can eat tons of animal fat and a few vegetables, dress like a cave man and hope for the best, or you can start eating only when you are hungry, being present while you are doing it and stopping when you are satisfied.

Geneen Roth speaks of the difference between commitment and discipline. Discipline is usually harsh, short-lived and occurs in fits and spurts. With true commitment comes self-respect, inner strength and a call to action that can create lasting change.

I believe that this commitment calls for us to stop doing what doesn't feel good and to start doing what does. Your body does not appreciate or deserve to be starved OR stuffed.

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