Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I have no idea what to eat.

I know I'm probably not alone in this feeling, but it always looks to me as if people around me have an idea or a plan or some handle on what they're doing where food is concerned, and I am just lost.  My weight is out of control and I need to do something, but I honestly don't know what.

I want to be someone who likes tons of vegetables, is not tempted by sugar, and can eat everything in moderation.  I am not that someone.  I'm frustrated by the fact that in many ways I know what I should do, but that I don't seem capable of actually doing it.  Am I broken?

I suspect that in our modern world many of us are sabotaged by our biology and our instincts in the face of comfortable lifestyle options and easy availability of unhealthy things to eat.  I'd like to think because I'm smart enough to recognize the problems I should be able to muster the will to deal with them, but I feel overwhelmed.  There is too much.  Too much temptation and too much information.

The last time I made the attempt to lose weight with any success I did a kind of modified points counting plan borrowed from Weight Watchers in combination with about 90 minutes a day of exercise.  It worked, but it was like a full-time job.  I don't want to do that again.  I don't want to get to the end of my life and have my weight be my only accomplishment because it took up all my time.  That's ridiculous.  Unless you are a serious cook you should not be obsessed with food.

I had some success not long ago with a paleo sort of plan.  The philosophy behind it is rubbish, but I did feel better cutting out grains and dairy and sugar, and it made turning down certain foods simpler.  But any plan that looks at oatmeal as evil seems wrong to me.  And I was eating more meat and eggs than I was comfortable with.

I've read a lot lately about animal products (particularly dairy) being linked to cancer.  I am at insanely high risk for breast cancer and wonder then if I should go vegan.  But when I look at any diet that relies on something as unnatural as margarine to cook with, and includes Oreos as an acceptable food choice, I see problems.  Vegan doesn't mean healthy, it just means different issues.

Is modern wheat really a danger?  Is soy bad or good?  One person I know who seems to eat in a healthy way has veggie burgers in her freezer, and another sends out Facebook screeds about how they are evil on a bun.  When I was doing my paleo thing I showed my brother what I was eating instead of cereal which was a mix I'd made up of various nuts and dried blueberries, and he seemed concerned that the nuts were high in fat.  I looked at him and said, "But, I have to eat something."

And I do have to eat something.  I just really don't know what, now.  I can't win.  There is something wrong with nearly everything.  For a while I was keeping track of calories with an online counter, and when it displayed my nutrition chart I kept ending up too high in sodium even though I wasn't adding salt to anything, and when I did a breakdown it turned out to be the celery I was eating.  Celery.

I stood in my kitchen yesterday feeling paralyzed before I gave up and skipped breakfast.  I've hit this weird impasse where there are too many voices in my head and they are contradicting each other to the point where I don't know what to do.  Is it better to pick some plan or other just to get my weight down and then pick a way to eat?  Or do I come up with a plan for the long term and hope I actually stick with it long enough to see results?  I have no idea.  I feel like a food failure.

So what did I eat yesterday?  I had some almonds, a big salad with very little dressing, a can of tuna, and a pear.  That seems stupid to me, but the idea of anything else made me tired. 

The big problem is that whatever I decide to do, I will bump up against the social aspects of eating somewhere.  To not eat with others sets you apart, takes you out of the loop.  We celebrate with food, we console with food, we befriend with food....  When you decline to partake it feels rude.  My kids are noticeably sad if I don't share in the Christmas cookies or don't join them when they eat pizza.  It makes me sad, too.  Food choices shouldn't make anyone sad, but mine seem to, no matter which ones I make.

What sounds most reasonable to me would be a mostly plant based diet and everything available in moderation.  I'm just not good at that.  I don't want the one cookie, I want all the cookies, so it's almost easier to just not have any than be unhappy about the one I got.

I will figure something out soon.  I'll have to.  In the meantime I'm in an ugly food quandary and I hate it.  (Which is making me want my grandma's rice pudding.  Which is making me feel both guilty and dumb.  And a little like I want to cry.)


  1. I know exactly how you feel!

    I tried Paleo and felt like I was just destroying my cholesterol, I tried "clean eating" but it let me eat as many cookies as I wanted as long as I made them with honey and almond flour (which means I ate ALL the cookies and lost no weight.)

    It is a really hard feeling when you feel consumed with your food choice. Hopefully you're able to find a happy place. And when you do please inform me what it is.

    1. I have a cholesterol problem, too, so yeah, the paleo made me nervous. But if getting to a normal weight is a priority and that gets me there is that worth the risk? I don't know.

      The cookies sound good.

    2. I feel like Paleo is not sustainable in the long run and that's what I really want. Something that works and keeps working.

      They were good. So good. *sigh*

  2. I think that is why I like the WW points plan - you can eat anything, anywhere; you just have to exercise some control over your portions. And now that fruit is zero points, I feel that I can gorge on fruit and salad and such and not feel deprived. That said, I don't follow it strictly, because I got tired of counting points; but I still have a much better grasp of what are normal portions and of how much I should eat in a day. I do feel everything in moderation is more sensible and sustainable than completely cutting something out of your diet.

    1. I liked the points, too, but it took up a huge part of my brain. The only time it didn't was when I was on the world's most boring food autopilot because I just ate stuff I knew the points for already. But yes, it does work, and it is sensible. But if I were sensible I wouldn't need to count points.

  3. An earlier attempt at a comment went poof, let me try again.

    I read your post and immediately thought "CSA!" It's too late in the season for this year, but just anything involving getting out in the sunshine at a farmers market or pick-your-own place to get fresh food bolsters eating well.

    We've just had two CSA pick-ups this season, and I can already see that we're eating more vegetables. It's great. We often grill on Sundays (meat and vegetables) and then eat on that for a few days, sometimes with bread or a whole grain, sometimes using the grilled items on top of lettuce for a salad. It comes out feeling healthy--lean meat/lots of veg/some whole grain--and happy.

    Good luck!

    1. We split a CSA box last summer with a friend and it was fun! We tried turnips for the first time. But our friend is just getting the box for themselves this year and our schedule is too goofy the next coming months to try to do that alone. My hope is to hit the farmers' market in the park near the violin store every weekend and support people and stock up on veggies that way.

  4. I have a lot of thoughts about how Americans are massively idiotic about food (I fully include myself in that). I've had success with elimination diets (eliminate one or two or whatever things: grains, dairy, etc) not because the diets themselves are so great but because, as you say, it makes it easier to say no to foods and you wind up eating less because food is not so easy to find.
    I feel your frustration though. I've been reducing (though not eliminating) grains for the last month in an attempt to lose some weight, and also working out more, and all I've gotten for my efforts is THREE people looking at my stomach and then asking when the baby is due. (I'm not pregnant).

    Let me know if you come up with any inspiration. :)

    1. At my age, too, it's really frustrating because you can't backslide EVER. I can be good for weeks and weeks and gain everything back with one piece of cake. That's not hyperbole. And it makes you want to give up. Exercise appears to have no impact on my weight at this point either. I swim a mile every day because I should, but not because I see any results.

      Oh, the pregnancy gaff. Ouch. A woman in my store actually patted my belly and was so excited we were having a fourth! Ha. I don't comment on anyone's pregnant belly unless the baby's practically crowning.

  5. I could talk about what has worked for me (strength training not cardio; calorie tracking; intermittent fasting) but I think it'd be better to point you to the most useful beginner's resource I've found: nerdfitness.com.

    They're very much about forming the right habits and finding your own way to fitness, and people in the forums are generally really supportive. Also it's all free :) Here's a post on eating: http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2011/11/10/healthy-eating/

    1. This is awesome! Thank you so much for the link to this site. And maybe I'll start breaking up my swimming routine with some weights at the Y.

    2. I've seriously fallen in love with strength training - losing weight is the smallest of its benefits, honestly! Hit me up on the forums there anytime, I use the same name.

  6. Lost a bunch of weight eating bran (MEGA BRAN) cereals two meals a day last year. But you're definately trading one set of issues for another, if you know what I mean.

    1. I love all cereal so I would probably be happy with a MEGA BRAN diet like that, regardless of issues!

      I actually know how to lose a bunch a weight (I helped Ian lose a bunch before a PT test not long ago using the "too fat for surgery" soup diet, and it gets your weight down fast), but I'm sick of the yo-yo thing. I feel like I should be able to not have to think so hard about food all the time and just live and eat and stay approximately the same weight, but that's some weird fantasy for some reason. (Except Mr Rogers weighed himself every day and was supposedly exactly the same weight every day, but he was a better person on pretty much every level so that doesn't surprise me.)

  7. Can I just say, since I can't say much else, that I think you look smart and kind and looked good in that purple dress? How long a day do you walk the dog? Walking her dog 2 or 3 hours a day is the only thing that finally got my SIL's weight under control, as her mother put her on a diet at 12 years old, and that has been a big mistake.

    1. Aw, you are so sweet. I don't think I could get into that purple dress at the moment, so it's a good goal to get back to that place.

      We take the dog for several smaller walks in a day, but I don't have a schedule where I could block out that much time for it right now. Yesterday I was up at 6, made breakfast, walked the dog, got kids (and one extra) to school, swam, came home and walked my dad and then the dog, went to work where I got as much done as I could, raced home at 6 (with a stop at the grocery store on the way) to make dinner, cleaned the kitchen, got the kids through all their piano and violin practicing, signed a permission slip after at house-wide search for it, helped my dad with email, then after a quorum of kids went to bed I went back to work and didn't get home until 11. (My husband handled laundry, picking kids up, taking Quinn to the dentist....) In the meantime I keep looking for pockets of time to edit my novel and build violins but they are rare.

      Someday it would be great to do regular long walks with the dog, and I think you are right, that it would be an excellent routine to get into. It's just not happening for me this week.

    2. Er, hum, my SIL of course doesn't have any kids.. I do not have time for exercise but I do hope to walk to work in September since all my children will be in school. We'll see how that goes.

    3. Maybe the trick is to walk the kids....

      (Good luck making time for exercise! I'm glad I make myself do it most days.)

  8. Yes. Yes to all of this.

    I quit. One year fat is the enemy. The next, sugar.

    I repeat, I. Quit.

    So, instead, I'm trying to just take a moderate approach to it all. I know my triggers. I know sugar and carbs (particularly bread and pasta) are my biggest weaknesses so I try to really limit those. I eat lots and lots and lots of fresh fruits and veggies--because I *like* them, not because I "should". I eat chocolate. I'll have a cookie. I'll have a bowl of ice cream. BUT, I don't have the goodies everyday. I didn't when I was a kid, I don't really allow the girls to have a lot of goodies, so, I'm trying to eat the way I feed them.

    I'm running three days a week and doing weights three days a week. I know my weight won't move without the weight training. It just won't. And, my doctor just told me that if the choice is cardio or weights to go with weights. I'm using "New Rules of Lifting for Women" as a guide.

    And, slowly, so very very slowly, it's starting to go away. I've lost five pounds--but a drop in the bucket to what I really need to get rid of, but it's a start in the right direction.

    I know it's going to take a long long time to come off at this rate, but my focus now isn't on weight loss, it's on being a healthier me. I want to be here with my family for as long as I can, and if that means less sugar and carbs (MY choices and ideas, not something I've read, heard, or anyone told me to avoid) and more exercise, that's what I'll do. I'm trying to focus on *feeling* better.

    Ultimately, I go with what works for me, and say "to hell with" whatever it is the "experts" say--they'll be changing their tune in another three years anyhow.

    1. I think it's all made harder when you have to feed other people every day. I do best if I can stay out of the kitchen and don't have to handle food I shouldn't eat. But with kids you are constantly dealing with food whether you want to or not.

      Last night I looked at my plate when we all sat down to dinner and decided it was okay. Small serving of roasted chicken, quinoa, sauteed Brussels sprouts, and grapes. I served bread, too, for others but didn't have any. It's hard not to think about who would balk at what. Half the people I know would avoid the chicken, some the grapes, some the quinoa..... I'm sure someone somewhere thinks Brussels sprouts are a higher functioning vegetable and should be spared the harvest but I don't want to know them.

      I guess all we can do is the best we can. I'm just trying hard right now to not take an "it's too late" attitude. It's very easy for me if I feel I've strayed to just toss up my hands and say, "Oh well! It's ruined! Time to just eat cake now."

      Good luck with the running and the weights! Running will never happen for me because I loathe it so, but the weights I'm going to try next time I get to the Y.

  9. I'd love to leave a longer comment but for now can I just point you in the direction of drfurhman.com? His nutritarian approach is, I'm fairly confident, the healthiest way of eating for the vast majority of people. I think you can access support forums via the website as well. Best of luck!

    1. I don't know. Anyone who markets an eponymous Supplement Pack makes me suspicious. But I'm willing to look at any advice that strikes me as sensible. (The Nerdfitness blog mentioned in a previous comment may be more up my alley.)

  10. Yes, I understand the suspicion. Perhaps it is warranted. I don't buy his products. But I try to follow, more or less, his 'food pyramid'.

  11. Such a heartfelt post. I don't think being smart enough to recognise the problem makes it any easier to find a long lasting solution.

    Personally I find that if I need to lose some weight the most reliable thing is to cut out sugar and alcohol and eat at least 5 portions of vegetables a day and only whole grains - I don't have room then to eat too much bad stuff. I think all things in moderation is good, but of all the foodstuffs sugar is the most outright bad - our bodies really don't need it. Personally I find it the hardest to eat in moderation - easier not to eat the entire pizza than leave cookies or cake behind.

    Remember all the things you are doing right! You can cook, you're exercising, you're helping your kids learn healthy habits. Can you find some cookbooks that will enthuse you and make it easier to eat the plant- based diet you're aiming for? There's a fantastic chef/restaurateur here in the UK whose books are veggie-heavy - Yotam Ottolenghi. Another book that I find is excellent on our relationship with food is 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver - my favourite writer in the world. Not by any means a prescription but a wonderful and hilarious read (your essays often remind me of her writing). In terms of tools, I've found MyFitnesspal useful for logging food and exercise - apparent keeping a food diary is effective and this one isn't massively time consuming to maintain (5-10 mins or so a day?). I also find that the Kitchn section of the website apartment therapy is excellent for nutritious (but not fad diet-based) recipes.
    Also, I had to smile at your kids being upset when you don't share treat foods. Mine would be delighted! You've clearly done a great job raising thoughtful children. Could you maybe have a month or two of no sugar and then have one treat a week or sugar only at weekends or something?

    1. Thank you for the long, thoughtful comment. I think you're right about a lot of things, particularly the sugar. We're deeply wired to like it and it's way too readily available, so it becomes a problem. Right now I'm focused on cutting out dairy and sugar, and I'm kind of lumping in wheat with the sugar.

      I think it helps me to try to be a on a streak. like I'm in a competitive challenge somehow. I've never had alcohol, and part of me feels like at this point I wouldn't try it now just to stay on my perfect streak. Which is silly, but whatever. (Often I think about how one day the sun will explode so everything we do is silly.) How long can I not eat dairy and sugar? I'd like to know.

      My kids are so dear. They are very interested in eating healthy things and self-regulate their treats. They still have Halloween candy lying around. But my oldest looks pained when I don't order ice cream with them when we're out, and unless I explicitly tell them not to they always leave me the last cookie or slice of pie on the rare occasions I make dessert. There's no subtle way to not partake with them. I'm trying to just shrug and say, "I just want the strawberries from the strawberry shortcake tonight" and have it not be a big deal in front of them. That's a really hard thing--trying to deal with my own food issues while not setting a confusing example to them. Mostly I tell them when they ask that bodies change as we age, and some stuff I could eat at their age without a problem doesn't work the same for me now.

  12. Oh, this is so odd! I hadn't realized you are facing the same challenge as me. In fact, I could have written this.

    My downfalls sound similar to yours - so difficult to be careful about what you eat when you are largely responsible for the entire family's meals. I crave foods that I can eat quickly and make me feel full - granola bars, bowls of cereal, bananas.

    I don't associate food with guilt in any way which, on the suface is healthy, but sometimes I think a tiny dose of guilt serves as a reminder to think twice before consuming.

    But it's so boring and brain-consuming to be counting calories and grams of fat and sugar. Maybe I need to hire someone to show me how to lift weights (that's what they mean by strength training,right?!)


    1. I console myself a little with the fact that if Oprah (who has enough money to pay one person to make her perfect food and another person to swat treats out of her hands) has the same struggle then it must be hard and I don't have to feel ashamed that it's beyond me.

      I think I would do better if I didn't have to be in the kitchen all the time. It's so frustrating to be handling food three times a day when it's a problem for me! There's no way to get away from it. I even have to bake treats for the end of school picnic this week. This morning I made my kids and my dad french toast from challah bread and it looked so yummy, and I didn't have any, and it was pitiful. I hate that inner struggle between Carpe Diem and Stay the Course.

      I did start the strength training thing at the Y today. Had someone show me how to use all the machines. It was more taxing than I expected. Could be a good thing to add to my routine.

    2. I find the machines at the gym really intimidating!

      Our teachers are on a rotating strike (terrible provincial government) at the moment, so I've been baking treats to make the picket line a little less miserable for them... I've had a few spoons full of batter and a muffin or two (some couldn't fit into the tupperware!) It's not really the sugar I crave, but the quickness and convenience of baked treats!

      And, yes, the struggle between Carpe Diem and Stay the Course is a problem. I love your turn of phrase, Korinthia!

    3. It only took about ten minutes for the woman in the gym at the Y to show me how to use all the machines, and they're interesting. For each one she suggested I do 10 reps, wait 30 seconds, then 10 more, wait, then 10 more. It doesn't sound like much and it doesn't take long, but by the end I was working very hard. You definitely feel you've done something!

      Don't be intimidated! If you're interested, give it a try. I only tend to regret the things I don't attempt.

    4. So the trick to weight loss is Carpe Diem at the gym and Stay the Course at the dining table... ;)

      Thank you for the tip!

  13. You are so smart, creative, funny, kind, and talented that it makes me sad that this one thing makes you feel bad about yourself. That said, here is what works for me for weight maintenance:
    1) Know your triggers and don't keep them in the house, not even for the kids. The kids don't need them either. My triggers are chocolate and potato chips. Wouldn't it be great if my trigger was broccoli? I mean, I like broccoli, but I'm not going to mindlessly eat a whole bowl of it.
    2) Don't shop hungry. Remember when we were in Alaska, and we went grocery shopping when I was feeling a little hypoglycemic? You were HORRIFIED by what I was putting in the cart. Don't shop hungry.
    3) If I do by a trigger food, I buy the best-quality, most expensive kind. So if I buy chocolate, I'll get the organic, free trade, free range cocoa beans kind (just kidding about free range cocoa beans). I know this sounds weird, but this is my reasoning: If I buy the pricey chocolate, I'll only get one bar, and then I'll split it with my family. I'd rather have a little bit of really good chocolate, than a whole bar of cheap chocolate.
    4) Small plates and bowls. I use a salad plate as a dinner plate, and the plate looks full even though there is less food on it. And we have these small glass bowls from Pampered Chef that hold 3/4 cup. They are great for things like ice cream, where it's easy to overdo it.
    5) Lately I've cut back on sugar. Did you know the American Heart Association recommends only 20 grams of added sugar a day for women? The Greek yogurt I'm looking at right now has 17 grams. So plain yogurt when I have yogurt (or maybe mix in a little honey or fruit), and instead of Honey Nut Cheerios (9 grams of sugar), I have regular Cheerios (1 gram). That's been hard to get used to, but my taste buds are adjusting. And oddly, water tastes sweet to me now.
    6) Cutting up healthy fruits and vegetables and just having them out on the counter makes me eat more of the good stuff, so I'm less tempted by the not-so-good stuff. When the carrots are still in their bag in the fridge, I don't tend to just grab one. But when they're washed, cut up, and out, then I do.

    As far as exercise goes, I probably don't do enough. Walking the dog, karate once or twice a week (I'm a white belt - look out!), the elliptical when I'm feeling like I should exercise more. And I'm just kind of antsy. Being fidgety must burn off some calories, right?

    I know I repeated what other commenters have said, but this is what works for me. It's not just one thing, like calorie counting, or cutting out one type of food. It's lots of little things.

    Have you read anything by Michael Pollen? The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food? A lot of ideas, but very readable, reasonable, and doable.

    1. Wow, thanks Gabby. That's interesting to have a window into how you deal with food on a day to day basis. How did I not know about the potato chips? I'm the weird person who is fine with just one.

      A lot of these things we do, too. (The small plates drives my mom batty when she visits, and she sets the table with plates that we normally use as serving dishes!)

      You know what seems to be helping a little? I'm on a new tooth cleaning thing (to see if I can get out of flossing) that involves this system of rinses. So sometimes instead of eating I clean my teeth.

      When did you start karate? I've been thinking about signing the girls and myself up for Krav Maga.

      I was thinking of reading The Botany of Desire to the kids when we're done with Harry Potter. ("You'll like this, kids! Tulips! No wizards or dragons or anything, but hey! The truth about Jonny Appleseed!" They'll love it.) I think Michael Pollen's best advice is: "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants." I've been trying to keep that in mind lately. (While cutting out dairy and sugar and adding strength training.)

      We ate a lot of questionable cheese in Alaska, didn't we?