I should clarify something before I start this post. Not everyone is in the same situation as I am or I was. I dealt with very severe and life threatening food addictions for a very long time, and still deal with battling them every single day. So this might not apply to everyone, but if you find that you identify with what I’ve gone through, I hope that you can find some peace knowing that you are not alone, and that there is hope.
For years I went through this massive internal battle. Truth be told, sometimes I still fight the battle. I don’t know if it will ever fully go away, all I know is the longer I commit to this way of living, the easier it has become for me. When I was on a chronic diet, I always found myself telling myself the same lies. I don’t know if I knew they were lies, the truth is that I was so good at deceiving myself that I’m not sure if I truly ever knew the truth. And I still find myself going down some of these dangerous thought patterns. I know where they lead me to. I used to binge, a lot. I used to to start with something innocent, a thought, an idea, and before I knew it I was in a full blown binge. These binges would cause me to become very ill, and caused a lot of long term physical, emotional and mental struggles. For some, eating is just not a huge deal. Some people can have one of something, and that be it. Some people can have a ‘treat’ or even a day off, and that is it for them, they think nothing of it. I have never been one of those people, and I’ve had to set my life up in a way to overcome it.
Much like an alcoholic, for me there is no moderation, there is no “tastes”, that’s just the way it is for me. It’s taken me a very long time to come to peace with that. And I don’t blame myself. I think I come from a very strong line of very strong people, who happened to know how to store fat very well. This was a line of people who were strong, and fought for survival. Just happens to be that in our modern society, we don’t have to fight that much to survive (food wise) and we’re not at risk for starvation (at least in our modern US society), and food is very easy to come by, specifically calorically dense food. If we were in a jungle with very little access to food, this ability to store fat would be a great blessing, however in our modern society it turns out to be troublesome for many people.
For years I went through this battle though, this fight with myself, and it felt constant. Frankly, it was exhausting. If I’m being honest, it still at times can be exhausting. There are days in which I wish I could get a break from thinking about food, or the battles I happen to have with food. So today, in full transparency I thought I’d share some of the lies I tell myself (or more accurately have told myself in the past).
I’ll start on Monday.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many “Mondays” I’ve had in my life. Mondays in which I promised to start all over again. And this would be the pattern. I’d decide to eat whatever the heck I wanted for the weekend. I’d live it up. I’d intentionally eat EVERY single thing that I thought I’d miss for the rest of my life. I’d binge to the point of throwing up most of the time. And then Monday would come. And I’d feel awful (physically, emotionally, mentally). I’d feel so down about myself for binging all weekend that I’d end up not really wanting to move or even attempt to eat healthy. I’d start maybe with a good breakfast, an ok lunch, and by dinner I was eating the leftovers from the weekend. And promising myself that I’d just start the next Monday. And I’d do the same thing, eat as much as I could until the new start date.
I’ll start on the first.
This was much like my Monday starts. I’d have this goal. I’ll start on September 1st! That’s it. And I’d get it in my head that I’d start then, and until then maybe I’d just work my way up to being more healthy. This really never happened. I’d get it in my head that I should just eat what I wanted up till the 1st, and then dive right in. It never worked out that way.
I’ll just have a bite.
I once bought a 5 pound bag of M&M’s with the thought I’d have 5 per day. FIVE M&M’s per day. Has anyone in the history of man had just 5 M&M’s? No. Well, at least not that I have met. Do you know what happened when I bought a 5 pound bag of M&M’s? I ate a 5 pound bag of M&M’s. IN ONE DAY. I mentioned last week that I had to finally listen to Dr. Esselstyn about my eating nut butter and whole grain bread sandwiches. A lot of people wrote to me and were shocked that I thought this was unhealthy. Let me clarify. For me, if I buy a jar of nut butter, I eat a jar of nut butter, and a loaf of bread. Not one a day, or one every few days. That day. I can eat a jar of nut butter and a loaf of whole grain bread in ONE day. Easily. This might shock some people, but yes, I am that talented. And my brain is somehow convinced that if I do not eat said nut butter and bread I will starve in a jungle. So for me? Having a nut butter and whole grain sandwich is not an option. It might not be the case for everyone, but for me, it definitely is. And if I try to just have one? That’s all I think about, the rest of the day. So it is much easier for me to opt out, and not buy it in the first place.
If I don’t treat myself, I will be depriving myself, therefore I will go crazy.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve struggled with this one. And more so, this is the one line that people tend to tell me, over and over and over. Even recently, a (well-meaning) doctor who found out about my diet. He said “Well that is great, but remember, you have to live and enjoy life, so having a few cheats here and there is important”. I wondered if he would tell the same thing to an alcoholic or a drug addict. For me, having a “treat” is bad news. And lets be honest, we’re not talking healthy treats. We’re talking things that can harm us, not help us. Why can’t treats and foods be one in the same? Why can’t we just enjoy healthy food? Why can’t a piece of delicious fruit or a beautiful, colorful salad be satisfying, delicious and “reward” enough? I have started to drastically change the way I think about food in this regard.
No longer do I see things as “treats” or “cheats”. I just see things as either healthy and nourishing for my body, or not. And while I’d like to try and lie and say that it’s hard to know which is which, the truth is I think most of us know what is good for us, and what could harm our bodies.
I have a different perspective on “cheating”, in that I realized the only person I’m cheating is myself. Perhaps that sounds trite, but that is the truth. Sure I have the right to choose anything I like to eat, but what does that do for me? It’s temporary. It’s a temporary, fleeting taste that lasts a few seconds. And no longer do I feel chained to the need to experience it at the risk of damaging my health. This has taken me a very long time to get to. And maybe you are not in the same boat as I was, but for me this was a huge part of my journey – seeing all (plant-strong) food as something I am fortunate to be able to partake in.
It’s better than X
I played this game with myself, a lot. I still find myself having these thoughts. I think “I eat a lot better than I did before!” “Before thinking that nut butter on whole grain bread was not the best choice would have been crazy, I was eating McDonalds back then!” “Sure it’s a cookie, but it doesn’t have eggs or dairy in it! It’s better than a “normal” cookie!” This one used to get me in trouble a lot when I started. I’d have these arguments with myself, about my diet currently being better. But the truth was that the only way I’d see improvement is if I kept improving. It didn’t matter that a few years ago I was binging on McDonalds or pizza. It mattered what choices I was making in the moment. I did this a lot eating out as well. I’d say “Well I had a ‘plant-based’ meal, so that is better than steak and french fries” it didn’t matter to me that the meal had lots of oil/saturated fat, even though it was still technically plant-based. And somehow I’d always forget those meals out when I thought about how great I was now eating. The truth is that it doesn’t take a lot to do a lot of damage when it comes to eating. 1 TBS of oil (which is pure fat and completely empty calories) will help you put on about 100 pounds in 8 years, if you only had 1 TBS PER DAY, which is a very small amount if you think about a tiny bit here and there. *There is a little more to that equation, but just based on empty calories, those are the mathematical facts*
Dr. Esselstyn always says that each BITE of health-poor foods is an assault on your endothelial lining. It’s not like my endothelial lining was saying “oh, but she’s doing so well, lets give her a pass”.
And as Rip likes to say “Our bodies do not know moderation, T2 diabetes doesn’t know moderation, heart disease doesn’t know moderation, many cancers don’t know moderation, Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t know moderation.” Our bodies, when it comes to health can be forgiving for only so long, but they do not know moderation, and they do not make exceptions because you might be eating a little healthier than you were before.
And of course this quote by Dr. Esselstyn is always in the back of my mind “If you eat unhealthy foods in moderation, you will have a moderate heart attack.”
I’ll lose 20 pounds this month. In 5 months I will lose 100 pounds!
I used to sit down with a calendar and figure out how much weight I could lose every month. I’d even start shopping for new clothes. I would get these really unrealistic goals stuck in my head, and I would have a very hard time letting go of them. This always set me up for failure, and then I’d feel like a failure. My weight loss has been a bit of a roller coaster. And honestly, I’ve stopped caring so much. My life is not about a scale or a number on a scale anymore, it’s about being the healthiest person I can be. It’s about having and maintaining healthy blood sugar, healthy cholesterol, healthy blood pressure. It’s about being able to be physically active and feel energized and alive. When I obsessed over my weight and how much I might lose, I was a miserable person. Now, focusing on health and wellness? I am a more whole person.
Maybe there is another answer.
As a habitual dieter, my biggest fight when I became plant-strong was to say that this diet was not for everyone. Of course, I had read all of the evidence, and I knew all of the success stories. I’m a big science geek, I love studies, and I love dissecting information. I knew the truth was that for the human population, a plant-strong diet was/is the healthiest. However, that first major plateau, I sat there thinking “maybe this isn’t for me”. I thought that maybe I should try high protein/low carb again, totally ignoring that, it was very clearly how I ended up in the life threatening situation that brought me to the plant-strong lifestyle. I was so obsessed with the weight loss part of my life that I would completely ignore the health part of my life. I always wanted a quick fix, something easier, something that would just show some more significant difference on the scale. Even within the confines of “plant-based” I would find myself looking for gimmicks, tricks and short cuts. The truth was (and is) there are no shortcuts. As much as I want there to be, there is simply living a healthy life, eating a healthy diet, and staying on course. I always wanted a magic bullet, when I gave up that notion, I gained a new sense of peace, one that I wish I had learned many, many years ago.
I recently saw this advertisement:
The sad thing is that I’m pretty sure that had I been around during that time period, I would have thought “you know, not a bad idea, maybe it will work”. After all, I tried every gimmick and quick fix there was in regards to my weight, so given the opportunity to try tape worms? I’m pretty sure my former self would have given it a shot, because that is how desperately I wanted to lose weight.
“THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
Ok, so it wasn’t exactly that. But it would go something like this: “My friend Stacey is thin and healthy, she eats cookies, she eats french fries” or “Well I know this person who lived till they were 100 and they ate whatever they wanted!”. This clearly wasn’t the case for me. I was a sick, obese, T2 diabetic with a slew of health trouble. Yet, I’d find myself saying it just wasn’t fair that I had to do things differently than people born with a different set of genes.
Not everyone who smokes will get lung cancer, but many will. Does that mean everyone should risk smoking because *some* people don’t get lung cancer? No. We have a crisis in our country. Right now a we have a conservative estimate that 1 in 8 people have T2 diabetes, and that is just of the people who know. 1 in 3 people will die of a complications attributable to atherosclerosis. While there are some people who will seemingly eat what they want, and never suffer from their dietary choices, that is not the reality for most Americans, most of us will end up battling a preventable disease, if we do not turn things around. Is it fair? Is not being able to smoke not fair? Maybe to some it seems that way, but for me, I think the far more “unfair” thing is to not be made aware that I have a choice in regards to the way my health turns out (for the most part) from here on out.
I can’t do everything so why do anything?
I used to get into this trap of thinking all the stars had to perfectly align for me to start eating right. I couldn’t have any stress at work, or school. I had to be doing well financially. I had to have time in my schedule to workout/shop/eat right. So I’d say “well, when I’m done with this semester or this quarter or this stress in my life…” THEN I’d start.
One of my favorite quotes, by one of the people who has helped me the most in my life is by Doug Lisle, PhD, author of “The Pleasure Trap” he said:
And that was ultimately what got me going. I just started. And I started to make changes in manageable, maintainable ways. I stopped waiting for the perfect time, I stopped waiting for the perfect date to start, I stopped waiting until I had had everything there was to eat. I finally started, and when that happened, life seemed to open up, and become a lot more peaceful for me.
I’m not sure if anyone has gone through what I have, or has had similar struggles. I will say this – it gets easier the more time that goes by, and that moment when this becomes a lifestyle, rather than a diet? An entire new feeling of peace will overcome you (at least that is what happened to me).