Food and Happiness

"A Dinner Table at Night"  by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook”
– Julia Child (1912 – 2004)

I’ve been changing how I eat. It’s happened slowly, more by intuition than by anything else. When I started losing weight, I did it with the MyFitnessPal app. At the time, I made a simple vow – eat whatever I want, just make sure to stay under the calorie goal. I did that and it worked. In fact, it worked beautifully. Several friends have not had the same success with the app, but people’s bodies work in different ways. For me, it was perfect.

As I went, I realized that grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc.) were really high in calories for the size of the serving. For example, I figured out that I could eat twice as many of my favorite homemade chicken tacos if I used romaine or cabbage as a shell over tortilla. Plus, because they are stuffed with chicken and avocado (and I was eating twice as many,) I felt full longer. Same thing with rice. I love white rice. For many, many years my breakfast of choice was white rice with butter and salt. However, once I started figuring the calories, the servings just didn’t make it worth it. Little by little, I gave them up, not as a conscious choice, exactly, but as a way of getting bigger and better meals.

I weigh myself daily and I’m pretty tuned in to how my body is feeling. I also discovered that my body takes a long time to metabolize meat. I did a little research on it and started figuring out things about how foods are used in the body, and slowly began another change – I began making breakfast my biggest meal of the day. I ate a lot of protein in the morning, a lighter lunch and a mostly vegetarian dinner. I found that I felt fuller longer throughout the day, but I wasn’t sluggish at night. My body seemed to really like the whole “Eat like a King at breakfast, a Queen at lunch and a pauper at dinner” scenario.

Then I ran across I’ll be honest, she rubbed me the wrong way at first. (I suspect based on some of the reactions she gets, I’m not alone.) Yet, many of the fitness writers I admire kept referencing her site. Eventually I added it to my log of daily reading. Slowly, her message started seeping in. It wasn’t that I disagreed with it, in fact, in many ways I was already doing what she was suggesting – working on incremental changes, getting a variety of exercise on a daily basis, and adding strength training as a key part of the mix. One of her other suggestions took a little longer: eating a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight.

I decided to try it. I love experiments, and this was something I was kind of already working towards, although I was far below the daily goal. So, roughly 3 or 4 weeks ago, I started trying to do it regularly. 2 weeks or so ago, I started tracking it on the Lift app.

Honestly? I love it. I feel great. Here’s another interesting thing – for a very brief while I was trying to get an even amount of carbs, fats and proteins: 33/33/33. It was a nightmare. It was like when I had a container garden and I always ended up with too many plants and not enough dirt and pots, or extra pots and no dirt. Whatever I did, I could never get the ratios right. Trying to do that with food was much, much worse.

Then I saw on a forum that someone said they worked towards the protein goal and didn’t worry about the rest, that it somehow always worked out. Sure enough, it almost always does. Oh, for some of the day one part of the pie chart will be larger than others, but by the end of the day, it all evens out. It seems fairly easy to get carbs and fats into the diet!!

Here’s the important part – after I lost the weight, but before concentrating on getting the high protein, my weight was doing these odd little yo-yos. Nothing big, but weird: 2-3 pounds up in a night, 1 pound down the next day. Wilder swings that I would have imagined, considering the circumstances. Once I started eating the protein, the curves leveled off. Oh, I still have ups and downs, but they are more waves than cliffs – and I know why they are there. My weight now has settled down to where I love it, and doesn’t move all that much. It’s fantastic.

I’m not saying this is for everyone, I am just pointing out that this is what works for me, and works really well. This morning I had an amazing breakfast (New York Strip, anyone?) and I have a delicious lunch planned. As far as food goes, I am eating really well. And, I still haven’t cut anything out completely. I mostly stay away from processed grains at my house (except for the odd bit of granola or oats in an apple crisp) but will have them when I am out and being social. I watch my sugar, but I don’t regulate it too much. I drink wine (and beer), eat cheese, meat and vegetables with abandon.

Most importantly? I feel great and I’m happy.

Photo credit: “A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, posted by HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr

Food Absolutes

Delicious Bread by ci_polla

mmmmmm… bread

So, while poking around the interwebs, I ran across this article: Jane Says: Think Twice Before Hopping on the Gluten-Free Bandwagon. Here’s an excerpt I liked:

What we choose to eat is one of the most important and personal decisions we make. Consequently, I’m stunned and amazed at folks who think nothing of criticizing these decisions made by family members, friends, colleagues, or the individuals they meet in the Comments field of a website. Their behavior is extremely rude. And, unless you are seriously harming your health, it’s nobody’s business but yours.

Basically her point is that going gluten-free makes sense for a lot of people, especially those with Celiac disease and allergies. Cutting back on eating wheat in this over-processed age makes sense too, but when you get down to it, your choices are your own.

Incidentally, here’s another article by the same author on the same subject: Op-Ed: Going Gluten Free May Not Be the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.

I am not a food expert and I am certainly not going to dive into this debate. I post these more because I believe that, except in the case of serious illness, absolutes are awfully hard to live with. I’ve mentioned before that I am a planner, and I love rules, but there are rules… and then there are rules.

Being mindful about what you eat makes sense to me. Controlling the amount of what you eat, whether it’s the size of the meal or types of particular foods, makes sense to me. I can personally say that I have cut a lot of flour based products out of my life, but not because they make me feel bad, but because when you are counting calories like I am, they aren’t worth it. Flour tortillas, bread, pasta – for me most of this has been a vehicle to transport other items of goodness to my mouth. When I add up the calories, however, I am far better off with a burger sans the bun, or turning sandwiches into lettuce wraps. Nonetheless, I refuse to ban such foods from my life. Why?

Because I know me. If you tell me I can’t eat something, it will be the only thing I want. On the other hand  if I say, “Eat what you want – just track it,” I won’t feel that rebellious urge to “cheat.” And that’s really it isn’t it? If you set up rules you can’t live by, you will find a way break them. The trick is to find a framework that you can live with. For me, that’s the occasional dinner roll or slice of pizza. It’s the “no bad foods” rule.

Some friends of mine had asked me about my weight loss and this topic came up. When one of them made an offhand comment about not being able to give things up, I told her that I didn’t. I refuse to give anything up. She rolled her eyes and said “That sounds too easy, I don’t believe you.” It made me a little sad, and I never did get the chance to explain.

I wonder sometimes, with all the popularity of gluten-free foods, how long this trend will last. Some people are very good at giving foods up, but most aren’t. I remember the Atkins craze of awhile back. I understand the desire for a magic bullet, I really do, I just hope it doesn’t shoot people in the foot instead.


Photo credit: ci_polla