Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I'm Eating

Or, I guess, what I'm not eating, which is sugar, dairy, and wheat.  Although, honestly, I focus on what I'm happy about eating and not things I'm avoiding.

Back at the beginning of the summer when I wrote about how I needed to get serious about my weight but wasn't sure anymore what to do, I made a decision to just do something and stick with it and see what happens.  And so far so good, actually.  I've been losing about a pound a week and I'm feeling better.  Do I miss things?  Sure.  But I figure the choice is between having those things and not feeling healthier, or feeling healthier and not having those things.  I've done it one way for a while, now I'm doing it the other.  I don't get to have it all so I'm not going to worry about what I'm missing.  I'll always be missing something.

So why am I cutting out those things?  Because it's easier for me in general to just cut out certain categories of food so I don't have to think too hard or struggle with anything.  When you flat out make some things off limits you kind of stop seeing them.  I did the paleo thing for a bit a while back, and the concept behind it is bunk, but it did work.  It taught me to read labels and focus on simple foods and avoid processed items, so going back to some form of that seemed like a good idea.

Sugar.  That's kind of a no-brainer.  If you're looking to make a change in what you're eating in terms of weight and general health, I recommend you try cutting out sugar.  That takes a lot of obvious stuff off the table that you don't need, and is easy to admit you don't need.  It also makes you more aware of what you're eating in general while trying to catch places it gets hidden.  I can't find any commercial salad dressings without sugar (or some questionable substitute) so now I use various kinds of vinegar.  (Avoiding sugar is obviously better for your teeth, too.)

Dairy.  I've read too many articles lately discussing links between dairy and cancer not to worry.  I'm at high risk for breast cancer, and tend to think of that possibility more as a "when" not an "if."  Now, it could all flip tomorrow and all the cancer studies will say "More dairy!" because that's the fun of our information age, but cutting out dairy mostly means I'm not going overboard on cheese and cream sauces where I have a weakness.  The truth is I don't need it, so eh.  Out it goes.

Wheat.  This one is pretty random, actually.  I'm just trying to not eat all the bread.  If I had to live on bread alone, I don't care what sayings there are about that, I'd probably be happy.  Should I get down to a reasonable weight and decide to start integrating things back into my diet in moderation, this would be the first one.  But right now I can't be trusted with wheat, so easier to just say no to all the wheat.

So what's left?  Lots of stuff.  Fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, eggs, nuts....  I'm eating a lot of quinoa lately, because I don't get tired of it, and it's good and grainy and fills out a meal nicely.  (I like the "tri-colored" and red varieties--more crunch.)  I'm in a habit lately of quinoa with avocado and tomatoes and hard-boiled egg whites, sometimes with tuna.  I like it.  I look forward to it.  I like to stir fry Brussels sprouts with onion and mushrooms, and sometimes with a little steak or chicken.  I love arugula.  I snack on almonds or pistachios.  When I need something like a dessert I make up a little dish of unsweetened pie cherries I can get from the Co-op and mix it with unsweetened coconut and pecans and it's good.

I eat a lot of what I think of as "ingredients."  When I'm cooking things for the kids I'll save out bits for me along the way.  If I'm making the chicken stuffed crepes Aden likes, I eat some of the chicken as I'm chopping it up, and I'll have some of the mushrooms and green onions before I add the cream sauce to them.  I don't eat the finished product all wrapped up in a crepe and topped with sauce and cheese, but I come to the table and have whatever the vegetable is I'm serving on the side.

Breakfasts are hard.  I love breakfast food, and I make good French toast and pancakes, etc.  I find I actually do better to just skip breakfast.  Once I start eating I tend to keep eating, so better to put that off if I want to eat less.  I don't care what the conventional wisdom is about how we should eat breakfast.  It doesn't work for me.  I'm allowed to choose to do something different.  It's been a good lesson in will power to be able to make breakfast for the kids every day and not have any.  If I can say no to waffles, then I can say no to lots of things.  And I have said no all summer.

The sad part about not joining in certain meals is the social aspect.  I like to be there.  What has helped a lot has been to read to the kids when we're having something I don't eat.  I'm at the table, I'm involved during the meals, but not in a position to be putting anything in my mouth.  I can whip up something like grilled cheese (my favorite) for the kids, and then read them the next chapter in our book while they eat and I don't feel tempted, because I can't read out loud and eat at the same time anyway, and the kids are happy I'm there and entertained during their meal.  That's worked out well.

It is hard to stick to self-imposed weird eating rules when out and about with other people and not call attention to yourself.  I'm trying very hard not to talk about what I'm doing, I'd rather just quietly do it and not let it be a focus of anything.  I don't want to be obsessing about food.  I'm trying to keep things simple and move my thoughts away from food to other things.  But some situations don't make that easy.

When we were in Ohio recently I had to find things to eat in restaurants where everyone else had yummy things like pizza and I didn't have the option to walk away (or read anyone a book).  In fact it was interesting, because in one place I ordered a salad without the cheese, and they put cheese on it anyway.  Melted cheese.  (I don't think anything on the menu came without melted cheese.)  My aunt told me I should just send it back.  She was wonderfully supportive about my food decisions and she didn't want to see me break my self-imposed rules if I didn't have to.  But I didn't want them to throw out perfectly good food just because I was being fussy.  I figured I'm not allergic to dairy, the doctor didn't tell me to avoid dairy, so a little cheese wasn't going to make any difference.

But you know what?  I felt sick afterward.  Not horribly, but that salad was really heavy, and my stomach rumbled and I felt weird the rest of the night.  I think keeping dairy out of my system for that long changed the way I react to it, which is interesting.  That experience also makes turning down things like ice cream and pizza a lot easier.  It's not worth feeling sick.

And that's when I noticed for the first time that the biggest change with my new eating rules is that I never feel bad after eating.  The kinds of things I eat now may not seem exciting or interesting to anyone, but I never feel guilty, and I never feel ill.  I never regret what I eat.  My one crazy indulgence is probably bacon, and hell, I gave up chocolate and bread and cheese so I don't want to hear from anyone about nitrates, etc.  When we have BLT night, I forgo the bread and wrap the bacon and tomato inside the lettuce and it's yummy and I'm happy.

Another thing that's interesting to me is how I think about cravings now.  Take, for example, chocolate chip cookies.  Is there anything more wonderful than a still warm homemade chocolate chip cookie?  No there is not.  I can completely imagine the crispy, buttery edges of one, the chewiness of the inside, the salty mixed with the sweet, the gooey perfection that is the chocolate in there....  Yum.  But if I went to the trouble to make some (as I normally would if such a craving struck and had time) the truth is that wonderful sensation of eating the cookie only lasts a matter of seconds.  It's great, but the moment it's over I'm back to where I was just imagining it.  I think that's a big factor in overeating for many of us, the need to repeat an experience that's too brief.  It would be ideal to be satisfied with one cookie, but I never am.  That few seconds goes by too fast, and the only way to lengthen it is to do it again.  And again.  And I will happily eat all the cookies and enjoy them, and then feel both guilty and not healthy.

And then I am right back where I started with imagining the cookie.  Now I try to be content with the imagined cookie and repeat that experience, and accept the fact that a real cookie is over too fast anyway, so why live with the consequences since it's never actually going to satisfy?  If I'm going to be unsatisfied, may as well be unsatisfied with the guiltless option.

Because right now the benefits are outweighing whatever rewards such indulgences might seem to bring.  I don't get headaches the way I used to.  I'm fitting into clothes I haven't been able to wear in a long time.  And I don't ever feel bad about food.  I'm not beating myself up for eating a brownie or finishing the pizza.  I don't go to bed saying to myself, "Tomorrow I will do better!"  I make sure the things I do eat, I really like, so I don't feel deprived.  I go to bed with a clear food conscience and that's a welcome relief. 

Will I be able to keep it up?  I don't know.  My intention at the moment is to keep at it until I reach a healthy weight and then reevaluate.  I'm about halfway there, but I know how much harder it is to lose weight the closer to the lighter end of the range you get.  I'm thinking a year?  Can I eat this way for a year?  I think I can.  I just have to decide to do it.  And the longer I do it the harder it is to want to disrupt a streak.  Plus it helps that imagining the taste of sugar kind of makes me cringe now, and I'm a bit scared off dairy since that dip into cheese went badly.  Life with BLTs on bread again would be nice, though.  Or a bun for my burger.  We'll see.

My only real concern at the moment is the example I'm setting for my kids.  Food issues can be complicated, and I feel like any sort of undo attention I create around it could create negative consequences.  I've explained to them that bodies change, and mine is slowing down compared to theirs which are growing.  A blueberry pancake works differently in my body than in theirs.  I'm not declaring certain foods bad, just not right for me right now.  I never announce I'm not having certain things, I just try to not have them unnoticed if possible.  But kids notice everything.  (Except for anything to do with laundry.)

I have no idea if any of this is of interest to anyone, but thought that earlier post deserved an update.  My belief is that food should be a pleasure, not a struggle, but at the moment my hope is simply for it to not occupy much thought as a basic necessity.  (But I tell you, if terminal disease strikes?  All bets are off and it's pleasure all the way, baby.  Cereal at every meal and Nutella on bread, and I'll be wearing stretchy pants at my funeral.)


  1. It is of interest to me. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

    I tried some crazy diet stuff a year ago to deal with my health issues (can you imagine what a no-starch diet looks like? it's horrible.), and it definitely made me think a lot about food, community, pleasure, priorities, etc.

    Also, I'm going to email you our favorite quinoa recipes! We have a new favorite that maybe your whole family would enjoy.

    1. Thanks for the recipes! I'm going to try at least one of them this weekend.

  2. Gosh, you are crazy!!!! Do people still live after they give up sugar, dairy and wheat? :)

    Just kidding. I'm actually very impressed with your resolve, and love your reasoning about how you avoid the chocolate chip cookies.

    I'm a foodie and if/when I decide *not* to eat something, that's all I can think about. So, I use some of these other tricks instead to eat relatively healthy -
    a) A list of things I MUST eat before getting the free pass to eat anything else. For instance, I MUST eat salad 2 times a week, I MUST eat non-rice item for one of the main meals etc. This limits how many opportunities I have for indulging in the not-so-healthy food
    b) Procrastinate. For instance, I really love fried chicken, but I promise myself that I can have it the next day, just not today. And then the next day, I'll do the same, until one fine day I decide that "I've finally earned it"
    c) Don't keep any unhealthy food at home. It is a bit odd when we have sudden guests and I don't have any juice/soda/chips to offer. But hey, you've got to do what you do!
    d) No separate cooking for different members of the family. My husband and daughter have to watch cholesterol (it's genetic) and since I have to cook healthy for them, this rule means, I have to eat relatively healthy too.

    Good luck with continuing your resolve. It's been a couple of months now? Think you can go till the end of the year? Till you next birthday? A full year? ;)

    PS: Loved your previous article about taking your kids to your uncle's funeral... I don't think I've ever really been to a funeral, so that was a very interesting post for me to read. I wanted to leave response, but got interrupted :(

    1. Thanks for sharing, Sumitha. The procrastination idea made me laugh!

      Our biggest problem with guests is not only do we not have chips or soda or juice, we don't drink alcohol or coffee. My mom keeps a corkscrew here, and a coffee maker just for her visits because I am useless on that score. (I just have to keep people distracted with my sparkling wit most of the time.)

  3. It will confirm it until next week when suddenly eggs are bad again and people are in a quandary about mutton or something.

    Actually, the funniest thing was when I started cutting things out and was mostly eating cauliflower and asparagus and salmon, and then I finally took the time to look up information about the "low purine" diet my doctor suggested I be on back in March. It pretty much said "no cauliflower, no asparagus, no salmon...." Ppphht. I'm just kind of banking on the idea that if I can get myself down to a decent weight and have cut out all kinds of processed junk, etc, that my few minor health concerns that the doctor keeps flagging at my checkups each year might solve themselves. If, for instance, my bad cholesterol is still too high at my next exam, then I will consent to pills to help. But not until I give my body a real chance first.

  4. Thanks for sharing!! I am working really hard on maintaining a balance and just not over-eating wheat... (I cut it out for a large part of the summer) but have found that I really don't lose much on the weeks I eat even a little! (On the other hand I don't gain much either). So we'll see. Good for you and keep doing what you are doing if it's working!!!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I'm only about five pounds away from matching what my driver's license says I weigh. That will be a pathetic little mini-victory of sorts. Good luck on finding balance!

  5. I hear you. Do what works for YOU. That's what I've been doing. Or, *had* been doing. I find that when I limit my carbs (I'm SO with you on the bread thing) and sugar, I feel sooooo much better. I eat them and I just feel blah and sometimes even vaguely nauseated. It's not a good feeling. So, the question then becomes, why do I eat them if they leaving me feeling so awful?

    It's for that moment of pure pleasure. And, it lasts all of a moment. Anymore, if I have a craving for something, I just drink water instead. I drink lots of water these days...

    Actually, the truth is, I don't crave those things I limit once they're out of my system. In times of stress I revert to form and turn to food for comfort and that's when I find myself back in the cycle of carbs and sugar and feeling miserable. I think I need to turn to water and running instead. :oP

    1. Oh, the stress eating. I did a good job of losing 40 pounds after Mona was born, exercising every day, counting points.... And then Ian got deployed again and I was pregnant with Quinn and that did me in. There was no way to be home with a preschooler a toddler and a newborn while breastfeeding and freaking out all the time about if my husband was going to die. Wheee! More cookies please!

      I'm also drinking a lot of water. It would go better with bread.

      But I'm struck often by how messed up it is, that there are people suffering from lack of food probably within a short radius of my house (not to mention big swaths of the world at large) and I'm essentially agonizing over too much. Oh, woe is me, too much food. And yet, it's a real problem, it's just hard not to see it as vanity sometimes when I put it into perspective.