Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If I Could Go Back in Time

As usual, in recent days I've been thinking a lot about different weight-loss approaches and styles. I realize that I tend to be pretty dogmatic, despite my heart-felt attempts to live and let live when it comes to weight loss. After all, who am I to question anyone's weight loss journey--especially if that person is making true progress!

So please keep in mind that although I may sometimes (arg, often) seem to question the path you have chosen, I truly do admire each and every one of my fellow travellers on the weight loss journey.

And now, on to today's musings:

None of us were born weight-loss bloggers, none of us were born professional dieters. We were once all children who, at least in our very early years, just ate food we liked, turned it away when we were full and tried desperately to avoid food we hated.

Then we started growing up.

I remember being younger than 10 and feeling fat. I remember (and this is truly weird), looking at my shadow on the wall and trying to push the belly fat up and hoping that it would rise and eventually turn into breasts, leaving my tummy flat.

I don't think I tried to "diet" as a pre-teen, but the anxiety was building. As I've mentioned before, my mother was a health-food proponent long before it was a mainstream thing to do. The fact remains: it is just as easy to overeat on beautiful whole-grain bread, covered in preservative-, salt-and sugar-free peanut butter and honey as it is to stuff your face full of Twinkies and Coke. Believe me, I still remember those thick slices of bread, peanut butter and honey like it was yesterday.

Was I a particularly fat child? No, just a bit pudgy and a lot wider than my best friend, A.H., who looked like a concentration camp survivor. A.'s mom was a squat little lady who made incredible, thick home-made soups that I found disgusting and would probably adore today. I think A. was just naturally thin.

Finally, at around 15-16, the day came when I started my first diet. It involved starving myself one day a week (only liquids like water, tea and coffee were "allowed") and limiting my food intake at all other times.

I had officially begun to fear food.

Sadly, I think that fear of food is the hallmark of dieting and a source of immeasurable wealth to the weight loss industry. Here in Canada, there's a commercial playing on TV right now for one of those weight loss plans that mails you every morsel of food that you are allowed to put in your mouth. The "success story" woman talks about how she thought everyone was looking at her because she was FAT and that now, thanks to the XYZ plan, she doesn't have to "think" anymore and can just live. XYZ thinks for her. I'll admit that sometimes I've thought XYZ might be the solution for me too. Fortunately, when I see the plastic-looking pizza and the shiny squares of pseudo-chocoate stamped with the company name, I am quickly disabused of the idea!

Essentially, "traditional" dieting reinforces our fear of food. We think that if we cut out ... or ... or ... (fill in the blank with the food category of your choice) as if it were a cancerous tumour, our weight problems will be solved. The problem is that all these "bad" things a) surround us and b) are not actually bad, as long as they are eaten in moderation.

Have you ever felt like it would be easier to quit smoking or drugs or alcohol than to lose weight? I have. And it's embarrassing, because I feel that it trivializes the incredible difficulties involved in breaking an addiction. But I know that I've felt that way because I know that one can live without tobacco or alcohol or cocaine whereas it is impossible to live without food.

Thus, my weight loss challenge involves embracing ALL foods. I guess I should be thankful that my dreams never revolve around Twinkies and I very rarely drink more than one small glass of wine. I swoon over runny Brie, crusty baguettes and the gooiest chocolate cake you could imagine.

So what would I have told the 15 year-old me?

Food is not your enemy. Good food (yes, that includes fine chocolate and cheese) is your friend. Food nourishes you and can be a source of pleasure. But you have to find a way to get along with the food you eat. If you're not eating enough, you'll feel weak, your concentration will be shot, your marks will drop (remember, I'm talking to the 15 year-old me who was obsessed with getting good marks--that's another story). If you eat too much, you'll feel crummy, your stomach will hurt, your clothes won't fit and let's be honest, your self-esteem won't be too great either.

So clean out your ears...your inner ears, the ones that can hear your tummy talking. What's it saying? "I'm hungry, ooh, thanks for the food, that's better, STOP, I've had enough!" Learn to distinguish "stomach talk" from "mind talk". Here's an example of mind talk: "Yeah, yeah, that cheese sandwich hit the spot, but don't you just want to finish off your meal with a spoonful of peanut butter? Wouldn't it TASTE SO GOOD? How about a little cup of chocolate pudding? What's life without dessert?"

Eat more slowly. Taste your food more fully. Ask yourself if you'd prefer the whole sandwich or just half so that you can have that chocolate pudding too. Because once you're full, you've got to close your mouth, shut off the switch, just put down the food and walk away slowly, little missy.

Would I have listened to someone telling me this when I was 15? I don't know, but I really regret not having heard this advice over the years. Maybe it would have sunk in earlier and I would have saved myself a fair bit of grief and teeth gnashing. But yesterday is over and today is upon us. Carpe diem, friends...seize the day!


  1. I couldn't have written that better myself. Wonderful post. Thank you!

    My best

  2. I like your advice to your 15 year old self. I never had anything but crappy advice, such as "eat no fat", and even better, "you're fat, you should eat nothing but fruits and veggies". And the mom still complains to this day that I never listen to her.

    I respectfully disagree that it's just as easy to overeat whole grain bread with peanut butter as it is to eat twinkies and coke. At least not for me. I fill up really quickly on this kind of bread, because it's heavy fiber food, and I just don't like it enough to overeat it. Same with whole wheat pasta, I just CANNOT stuff myself on the stuff, whether it's the high fiber or I just don't like it, either way, I won't get full on it.