A couple years ago, I shared how I finally lost weight without breaking my budget. I’m pleased to say that I’ve still maintained that loss, and the best part is, I don’t obsess over it. Seeing how it’s January and so many of us may be thinking about resolutions and eating better, I thought I’d share some of the key things I learned over the course of my journey that have helped me make peace with food.
A couple caveats before we begin. This is anecdotal – it’s my story. Take or leave whatever you find helpful! Finally, I am also not a doctor, and I always urge you to follow your doctor’s advice! Basically, be smart and feel free to think for yourself.
Restrictive and Short-Term Diets Didn’t Work
Ever hear someone say something like this: “the last time I did the no-carb thing, I lost 30 pounds. It totally works. I need to get back at it.” I’m going to suggest that said diet actually did not work. A successful diet not only helps you reach your goal, it should set you up to maintain it. If you have to do that 21-day thing every three months, you’re doing it wrong.
Trust me, I’m not sitting here in judgment, because I’ve done all these diets. I gave up meat. I gave up carbs. I tried the 30-day this, or the 20-day that. And each time, yes, I lost weight. But inevitably, I’d go right back to my old eating habits and gain the weight back. What I found is that whenever I followed a diet that eliminated something (say, sugar or carbs), I would begin obsessing about those very foods. It was exhausting! And as soon as the diet was over, I’d start binging on those exact items. This is a very frustrating way to approach food, isn’t it?
Most sadly of all, perhaps, is the underlying attitude I had about myself when approaching a diet like this: “you’re gross. You need to lose weight.” The diet then became a form of punishment. Looking back, it’s clear I had a serious lack of self-love.
Stop with the “Yummy”
I see you there, posting your plate of kale with the caption “yummy!” Here’s what I say: stop kidding yourself. Stop trying to pretend it’s “yummy” (and for the love of all that’s good – can we stop saying that word? It’s super annoying.).
I have come to accept that in order to enjoy a healthful diet, I must incorporate some foods that aren’t my favorite. The truth is, sometimes food that’s healthy just isn’t as tasty as a juicy hamburger. Is this so bad to admit? Some things in life we choose to do may not be enjoyable, but we choose to do them anyways because they are beneficial.
The other day, my son caught me eating a big plate of broccoli, and he asked me if I liked it. I told him, “to be honest, no. I don’t like broccoli. But I like what it does for my body, so I’m choosing to eat some today.” Not every food we ingest has to be out-of-this-world flavorful. I will say, the more I experiment with cooking foods like beets or broccoli and the more I eat them, the more palatable they become.
But don’t think for a minute that I’d rather eat kale chips instead of potato chips. Having said that, the next point is the flipside…
Food is not just Fuel
What if I told you that all the money you own had to be spent on practical things, like your electricity bill or school supplies for the kids or invested in an IRA. You’d probably think I was nuts! This is exactly my feeling about people that think food is only for fuel, and you should only eat healthy or “clean” (whatever that vague, over-used term means anyways).
One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had a few years ago was this: I LIKE FOOD. I don’t want to go through life without the occasional greasy fast food burger, slice of chocolate cake, or huge plate of pasta. I realized that if I was going to be successful with losing weight, I had to find a way to do so that included regular treats and foods I enjoyed. I’m happy to say that I was successful in figuring this out. It might have meant my weight loss was slower, but that’s OK. I decided early on this didn’t need to be a contest to see how fast I could lose the weight. My bigger goal, it turns out, was to figure out how to eat for the rest of my life – not just the next 2 months.
I figured out how much food I needed
I’ve written about MyFitnessPal before, but it’s worth mentioning again because I credit it with helping me FINALLY figure out how to lose weight (and um, did I mention – it’s FREE?). I don’t care if you eat Paleo, gluten-free, whole foods, vegetarian – whatever. The only way you’ll lose weight is if you eat less calories than you consume. After a few weeks of using MyFitnessPal, the scale finally budged for me and I saw how dishonest I’d been with myself about how much I really eat! I also saw where I was sneaking in mindless calories (spoiler: mostly late night snacking) so I could tweak my choices.
The funny thing is by simply logging my food, I found myself gradually making smarter food choices. I could choose the fast food meal, but that would use up all my calories for the day. Or, I could choose a salad, some chicken, some fruit, and a wedge of dark chocolate would still be filling and I’d save a ton of calories! More often than not, I found myself choosing those foods that would give me the biggest bang for my caloric buck. In a way, it became a fun game for me. It’s not dissimilar to budgeting money.
Many people criticize CICO (“calories in, calories out”) and say it’s not healthy. To be clear: I ate less to lose weight. I made smart choices about my food for my overall health and well-being. You can combine the two!
My Life with Food Now
Three years later, I don’t honestly log my food everyday. I’ve got it pretty well figured out how much I need to eat in order to maintain my weight. If my weight strays up a few pounds, then I log a week or so to correct it. Pretty easy.
The best thing about all of this: I enjoy food more now than ever, and I don’t obsess about it. I don’t worry on Tuesday about how I’m going to handle a social gathering on the weekend. I’ve got a good variety of food in my diet, and nothing is off limits. If I opt for the occasional drive-thru burger, I feel zero guilt about it. I never consider doing cleanses, buying over-priced “weight loss” shakes, or starting up this/that/the other fad diet. It’s a really fantastic way to live. Most of all, I want to model healthy behaviors about food to my children.
If you’ve struggled with your relationship with food in any way, I hope my story might have sparked something with you. Maybe there’s a different way you can approach food – and yourself.