So I've been thinking a lot lately about changing my diet.
And no, it's not that I've grown perniciously plump. Except for a little more padding on my tummy and hips than I would prefer (I could stand to lose 10 or 15 pounds), I feel largely comfortable with my body's shape and size. It's just that I've been thinking that my current diet-- a little too high in processed sugar foods, sadly low in fruits and veggies--could use a little help, for my health's sake. And no, it's not that my health has been languishing. It's just that I really, really enjoy being young and healthy and energetic and would like to maintain said youth, health, and vigor for years to come.
Which means that there's part of me that thinks becoming a strict no-bad-fats-no-white-flour-no-white sugar-no-refined-anything vegan would be fabulous.
Why? Because I read too much. In addition to a bevy of other diet books I've read, I recently (ahem, three years ago) picked up Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Eat to Live, which basically argues that in order to maintain optimal health, weight, and energy levels, it's best to eat a freakishly spartan diet based on plant foods. (Except, of course, Fuhrman doesn't say "freakishly spartan." He says something like "wonderfully filling and delicious," which sounds to me, a woman of perpetual hunger, a little far-fetched. Because seriously: who is going to eat a carrot stick and a bowlful of lentils and say, "Mmmm! I sure do feel satisfied!"?) Unfortunately, I found his book-- and the mounds of research he used to back it up--to be rather persuasive. You might be able to tell this from the fact that I read the dang thing three years ago and still think about it.
So while I really don't relish the thought of subsisting primarily on whole grains and lettuce, I do relish the idea of maintaining my current level of youthful, healthy vigor.
However. And this is a big "however:" Dieting and I have a bit of a history.
I will spare you the gory details, but it boils down to a several years of obsessiveness (and too much skinniness), followed by compulsiveness (and too much fatness), laced with generous amounts of crying, fear, misery, and self-loathing. Finally, at about twenty, after years of wallowing around in a mire of my own making, I realized that I would never be able to hate myself thin. So I stopped hating myself. I learned to love my body, the fact that it was healthy and strong. I learned to accept my new curves and think of them as sexy. And, most importantly, I learned to listen to and trust my body, to follow its hunger and fullness cues, to recognize its natural desire for exercise. I swore I would never go on a diet again. Over the next several months, I dropped the burden of obsessiveness and misery that I'd carried around for nearly a decade. I also lost thirty pounds.
At first it was really difficult to listen to my body's internal signals to eat only when I was hungry and stop eating when I was full, but over time it became a habit. I've maintained my weight loss over the past seven years simply by being more aware of my body's needs. It's nice to be thin again. But more than that, it's fabulous to have a normal relationship with food again. Even during the past year or so, when I haven't been as "intuitive" in my eating as I was in the beginning, my stress eating and comfort eating have felt normal-- not
compulsive, sad, and out of control.
So another part of me says, "Screw veganism. If you want to be healthy, go back to focusing on what your body wants and needs. Just remember to love yourself and love your body and you will be fine." And that part of me also recognizes that food is much more than a vehicle for vitamins and nutrients-- it is a joyful and a fun thing, too. It's a way that people connect with one another. It's community. It's culture. It's comfort. There's nothing like a huckleberry ice cream cone on a sunny day, funeral potatoes and ham at the Ward Christmas party, warm gooey cinnamon rolls my son helped make. I like cooking chicken Thai curry with friends. I like dipping graham crackers into milk late at night. I like to eat cheesy eggs on a Saturday morning. I don't want to give these things up.
And, now that I think about it, I don't see a need to. To be honest, when I started working on this post, I was kind of thinking there was a huge dichotomy between the two approaches, that I would have to choose between maintaining my current intuitive mainstream American diet and becoming a hard-core nuts-n-berries granola eater. But as I've written and thought, I've realized that--duh--I can improve the quality of my diet without reverting to obsessive dieting. I can experiment with quinoa and tofu, with brown rice and flaxseed oil. I can add these to my repertoire of joyful everyday foods. I can make a conscious effort to include more whole grains and more fruits and vegetables in my diet as a positive and joyful thing, while continuing to enjoy the foods that I already love.
I'm thinking that the key in making dietary changes safely-- that is, without plunging back into the dark world of dieting-- is in simply remembering to ensure that my approach is based on love, not fear, self-hatred, or a desire for control. To turn the changes into a positive focus on increasing health, rather than decreasing unhealth.
So I'm thinking I might do this in a series of goals, focusing on one at a time for about a month or so and then moving on to the next one.
My first goal, then, would be to simply make sure that I'm simply listening to my hunger/fullness signals, eating what sounds best, and stopping when I'm full. That is what I will focus on for the month of October.
The second thing I would like to focus on is healthy breakfasts: basing breakfast around plant foods (grains, fruits, veggies, soy, legumes, etc.) The goal would be to have approximately 4 breakfasts a week based on "healthier" foods.
For my third, fourth, and fifth goals I would do the same thing with lunch, snacks, and dinners, again aiming for approximately 4 days a week with each item.
The overall idea would be to do make these changes with a flexibility in mind, recognizing that, if I would really rather have a torta than a bowl of polenta with salsa on it, I am free go ahead and eat the torta without guilt; that if I would only feel satisfied with a warm brownie instead of RyeKrisps with tofu sauce, I'm welcome to eat the brownie.
So this is the plan. I'll try to keep ya'll updated monthly with where I'm at in achieving my healthier eating goals while maintaining inner body image peace.