What "lifestyle change" really is

Do you think that never eating your favorite food again is going to "change your life?" 

I did. 

I'll never forget study abroad in Argentina. It was a glorious time where I enjoyed dancing, late-night dinners, and eating lots of steak and dulce de leche, the Nutella of South America. I also spent a good amount of time worrying about my weight and "engordar," or getting fat as they say in español. So I restricted food at lunch, ate "too many" snacks and then I ate dinner, too.  All of my sins I confessed guiltily in my food diary each night.  I did, however, live in blissful ignorance of any weight gain because there were no scales in my life at the time.

 And then, I returned to 'Murrica (USA) and I went to the gym and stepped on a scale (scales are stupid). Unfortunately, my first thought was, "Oh no. I have engordandoed!"

And so, I sought to "change my life" or find a "sustainable solution." I wanted to "start healthy habits." 

This meant that I vowed to never really eat pizza or french fries. I would try to eat "lite dinners" that left me feeling hungry for lots of dessert afterward.  And, I would plan lengthy runs that I was never in the mood for. Of course, it didn't work the way I thought it would. I ate pizza and skipped my workouts sometimes and ate "too much." And my primary motivation was weight loss. It was not about whether or not I was healthy. I wanted to maintain a lower weight. 

 Lifestyle change or "being healthy" is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's code for diet. 

I was recently listening to Katie Daleabout on Summer Innanen's podcast, Fearless Rebelle Radio. She was discussing her eating disorder and the process of recovery. She brings up how her eating disorder was couched in "being healthy" so much that she even convinced herself. She states: 

"The interesting thing is that you know in like the 90s and the 80s, dieting was just as prevalent as it is now but now we call it "being healthy." Back then, dieting wasn't like really necessarily cool. It was just, they called a spade a spade, right? They called it dieting. It was clear that that was for vanity.Whereas now, we a lot of times are dieting but people call it, "oh I'm just trying to be healthy"... It's not necessarily healthy, first of all. And, if you're doing it for weight loss, if you're doing it to manipulate the size and shape of your body, not just to feel really good, then it's dieting. Whether you're doing that through green juice or you're doing that through low-calorie low-fat whatever whatever 90s type of dieting, doesn't really matter, it's still dieting."

Back in the 90s and 80s, working girls were wearing sneakers and shoulders pads and switching to high heels and diets when they got to work.

But in those times, people called diets, "diets" and it was clear that they were doing it to look like Melanie Griffith or Molly Ringwald. It was absolutely about weight loss. It was a time where the fitness industry was really starting to take off. People were trying to get "physical, physical." 

Diet culture often frames diets as "lifestyle changes" when in reality they are diets.

Now diets are far more insidious because we can't even clearly see that a diet is for weight loss or body shaping. It may not necessarily be healthy for you, especially if it's causing you to drop down to a weight that is not within your normal healthy body range. If you're changing what you're eating in order to change your body shape or size, it is a diet. Juice cleanses, no pizza ever, the cookie diet, no-carb, low-carb, no oil, Whole30, paleo, vegan shananahammocks, these are all example of diets if you're doing them to CHANGE YOUR BODY SHAPE OR SIZE.  

My impression is that most people think that if we want "lasting weight loss," we need to make a "lifestyle change." AKA if you just eat enough fruits and vegetables, regularly attend your hot yoga class, and never eat [insert your favorite food here] again, you'll finally be able to lose the 30 pounds and keep it off for the rest of your life. 

 Many believe we're just not "changing our lifestyle" enough to lose the weight.

#Sorrynotsorry to be the angry feminist in the room once again but fat people aren't fat because they haven't "changed their lifestyle" or don't care about health. Most people know they need to exercise and need to eat fruits and vegetables. And most people are trying to do that. Some are even successfully doing that. And guess what?! They might not lose the weight. 

I'm glad that people are stoked about making sustainable changes, especially if they're monitoring their health in ways that don't involve standing on a scale and frowning at their body in the mirror.

After all, I really believe that we need to make moves that we can actually stick to in order to make our lives truly better. My hope is that we can change what we're eating not for vanity if health is our main concern. Because vanity doesn't necessarily make you healthier. 


Why You Should Just Eat the Macaroni and Cheese


I have never gone a day without food.

But I have gone 28 days on a low fat, low sugar, low sodium, no dairy, no meat, no alcohol, no caffeine, no oil diet. Also, I only ate whole grains. Well, technically, I only went 27 days. I cheated once in the 28 day span because there was oil in my vegetable soup.

A little background: I was working for a “wellness club” that promoted this restrictive diet. According to studies, this diet is fantastic for the heart. I had read books like the China Study, Dr. Esselstyn, Joel Fuhrman all promoting this “lifestyle.” It was something we were selling so I figured I should give it a real go.

And so, on February 1st, I began the 28 day challenge. I planned my meals, switched to decaf and did my shopping. I really thought I managed it pretty well. I even maintained it during a bout of stomach flu. In a month, I had lost 5 pounds.  In a lot of ways, it was great. I got to flex my culinary muscles. I learned to cook a bunch of new things. I got really creative with my food purchases to stay within my budget. I saved money not buying meat, dairy, alcohol, and caffeine. I even discovered a few new foods that made me feel really good. 

HOWEVER….. there were problems with this "lifestyle" that made me reconsider the value of the diet: 

1. I got a little nuts and judgey about food.

One time during the 28 days, my boyfriend and I ordered sushi. I forgot to ask him to request brown rice but hoped that he would remember because he knew that I was doing this challenge. When he did not remember, I was a little hangry and kind of lost it when I realized my tiny sushi roll had white rice. I then marched back to the sushi place to buy replacement sushi with brown rice.

In short, I was a pain in the ass and pretty neurotic about food. Even after the 28 day challenge was over, I didn't feel comfortable eating foods on the “no” and “low” list. I had a hard time feeling okay around foods on the bad list and spent a lot of time feeling guilty for indulging.

 2. I didn't really feel that great.

In the depths of winter in New York City, it’s pretty hard to go fully vegan. When it’s cold outside, eating lots of cold fruits and vegetables is challenging. I was cold ALL THE TIME. This is likely because heme iron, or a more absorbable form of iron, is more prevalent in animal products. 

I was also HUNGRY all the time. I realize now that I didn't have much protein or fat which are both digested more slowly than carbohydrates and, therefore, keep you fuller longer. 

I was tired and a little weak. I think it’s because my body just runs a little better with animal protein and living without coffee is HARD. Also, I was calorie deficient. As calories are literally a measure of energy, it makes sense that I had less energy.

3. I was a little anti-social and it was hard to go out with friends

Going out to eat or gathering with friends was its own animal. A few of my friends had birthday parties that month so it was a bit of a bummer to show up to those parties with guacamole, whole grain pretzel sticks, fruit and seltzer and then proceed to not partake in any drinking or eating festivities. No pizza. No cake. No booze. I’m not saying those are necessary to a good time but they certainly help. Even though I don’t remember minding that much, I just felt like a weirdo.

Going out to eat was basically a no-go unless I had full control of my food prep, so that wasn’t great for my romantic or personal relationships. I stayed home a lot. 

4. I was straight-up obsessed with macaroni and cheese.

Because macaroni and cheese was forbidden for 28 days, I became obsessed with it. I’d walk the frozen aisles of the grocery store perusing ingredient labels seeing if it could somehow fit into my crazy diet. Inevitably, there was oil or too much salt. I did end up making my own version of vegan macaroni and cheese which was delicious but did not stop the cravings.

And so, when the 28 days were over, I proceeded to eat macaroni and cheese for the next two months. This resulted in about a 10-15 pound weight gain which undid my challenge weight loss and left me heavier than before. In the end, it was a lot more trouble than it was worth. 

I’ve talked about this in previous blog posts; restriction often leads to the very thing we don’t want. Our intelligent bodies compensate for starvation. Dieting isn't really that great for your social life. It's not guaranteed to make you healthier or even help you feel better. It can leave you with some long-term issues around the food you restricted. 

So, save yourself the trouble.  Just eat the macaroni and cheese. 


Legalize it

The 3rd principle in "10 Principles of Intuitive Eating" is Make Peace with Food. 

As someone who has explored the field of nutrition for the past six years, I know that food is a loaded topic. I know vegans who adhere strictly to their diet for animal rights and ecological reasons. I know people on ketogenic (aka little to no carbohydrates) diets that have quite possibly saved their lives. The Paleo diet sometimes seems as controversial as the latest immigration legislation between Republicans and Democrats. 

Food is absolutely political and charged. So, it's no surprise when I have clients coming to me with years and years of food beliefs deeply ingrained.  "Pizza is bad." "Salads are good." "French fries are bad for you but whole baked potatoes are good." "You shouldn't really eat cookies but you should have smoothies." 

So what do you do? 

 It's not that different from what I told you last week:

EAT.  Legalize it. Make all foods legal. Make all foods neutral. 

Eat the foods that you've forbidden yourself to eat in all your years of dieting. 

For those of you freaking out right now, KEEP READING!

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch describe this in detail in the their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works

 "Psychologist Fritz Heider stated that depriving yourself of something you want can actually heighten your desire for that very item. The moment you banish a food, it paradoxically builds up a 'craving life' of its own that gets stronger with each diet, and builds more momentum as the deprivation deepens. Deprivation is a powerful experience both biologically and psychologically," (Tribole & Resch, 75).  

In other words, your low-carb diet is like Eve in the Garden of Eden. As long as you can't eat that piece of bread on the Tree of Forbidden Carbohydrates, you will increase your feeling of deprivation and desire for that piece of bread. This will impact you on a biochemical and psychological level.  

The book also describes the "see-saw syndrome" of deprivation and guilt. At a certain point, our willpower runs out and we end up overeating the very thing we've been trying to avoid.  

To banish any guilt or deprivation you might be feeling, here's my story: 

I went on a pretty serious "28 day challenge" where I was eating a vegan, whole foods, no oil, low salt, low sugar diet. And I did it for 27 of those 28 days (one day I indulged with some oil in my vegetable soup), including a small bout of stomach flu. I lost about 5 pounds.

However, I also had a building obsession with macaroni and cheese. Like, it was all I could think about. I tried eating the "28 day challenge" version of it, which tasted good but didn't satisfy me like the genuine, ooey-gooey article. So, at the end of what I later called "Vegan Ramadan," I ate  an inordinate amount of macaroni and cheese,even though my stomach was curdling in response to it. 

I ate SO much macaroni and cheese that I actually gained back a lovely 10 pounds.  (See my other blog post for more information about why diets don't work).

But the truth is, I got over the macaroni and cheese because of a lovely thing Tribole and Resch call, HABITUATION. In laymen's terms, habituation is the process of you eating something so many times that you eventually get sick of it - kind of like the latest Taylor Swift single.

To explain habituation, I love to tell the story I heard from Geneen Roth during my training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). 

In her lecture, she describes a transformative experience when she went from battling a very serious eating disorder to drawing a line in the sand and choosing never to diet again. She notes that for two weeks she ate nothing but cookie dough.

That's right, folks, she allowed herself to have all the cookie dough she wanted. And you know what she discovered? After those two weeks, she didn't want cookie dough anymore. Her body started to crave salad, fresh fruits and vegetables. 

And that's just it: when you stop treating a vanilla milkshake like Olivia Pope treats the President, you'll actually probably feel less inclined to secretly binge on it. 


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