Counting Calories, IIFYM, Weight Watchers, Meal Replacement Shakes, Juice Cleanses – All of these programs and diets have one thing in common: restriction. That’s what a diet is, right? Less calories + more exercise = weight loss.
Everyone knows that. So…why are the overweight epidemic and obesity rising in America? And why are eating disorders more apparent than ever?
There are probably a lot of reasons for those things, but one of them is this mentality of restriction. In a science lab, it is shown that less calories in and more calories out leads to weight loss. 3500 calories = 1lb. Yada yada yada.
What’s not factored in here is the fact that we are HUMANS. Humans with emotions, temptations, cravings, food preferences, packed schedules…and all the other reasons we “can’t stick to that diet and lose weight”.
The restriction mindset.
When I was of the restriction mindset, my whole life revolved around food. What I couldn’t eat, what I shouldn’t eat, what foods would “make me fat”.
If I ate something “bad” or went over my calorie limit for a given day, I would go off the rails. It was all over at that point – I felt ashamed and used more bad foods to comfort me. Even if I wasn’t hungry, even if it didn’t taste all that great (I was a Pop-Tart addict after all). I also thought if I ate what “fit/thin” people ate, I would look like them. Protein shakes all day and Artic Zero all night.
I was doing all the right things – counting macros (IIFYM), weighing food, doing cross-fit workouts and Insanity, lifting more, eating less…and I was losing weight.
Sounds great, right? No. I was exhausted all the time. I was hungry all the time. I ate every two hours…at least. My stomach was bloated and in pain constantly. I wasn’t actually improving in any of the workouts I was doing – I was starting to plateau or see negative results in that aspect. So I dieted harder. I worked out harder. …And I binged harder. And I was moody and lacked confidence. I wasn’t necessarily gaining weight back, I was still fairly happy with where I was. I was ashamed of all of these things and hardly told my fiancé (boyfriend at the time) ANY of what was going on with me. Something was missing.
So, I started listening to my body.
I took the plunge – I deleted the MyFitnessPal app. And I PANICKED. I figured at that moment this would become my weight gain sentence, not a transformation story. What if I don’t weigh my foods and eat more than a serving size? What happens when I go out to a restaurant? How would I know how many calories were in the bread I was sure to binge on? What if I don’t get enough protein for the day? I’ll lose muscle!
But I set out to try something new and went all in, despite my fears. I incorporated more healthy fats into my diet. I took out some processed snacks and foods. I started focusing on nutrient dense foods, not calories. I started this journey with breakfast – a spinach omelet with avocado on homemade quinoa chia toast.
When I was sticking to an IIFYM protocol, I wouldn’t dream about having that for breakfast – my fats would be too high and protein too low (but I would be saving a lot of carbs for later – Chickie’s and Pete’s crab fries for dinner then?) I couldn’t trust myself to have a big meal early, I had a whole days worth of calories to stick within…better to start off small. Another protein bar for breakfast.
But I chose to focus on the truth: eggs, spinach, avocado, quinoa, chia – those foods are not bad. Those foods are GREAT for you. Relatively high in calories, but also high in vitamins, nutrients, bio-available protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and other elements that were supporting my health and wellness. Wait, isn’t that what I was after all along..?
And what’s in a protein bar in comparison? Protein. Artificial Sweeteners. Other things I can’t pronounce. No fruits, no veggies, no natural sources of vitamins. Uhh…why was I choosing that protein bar again? It was low calorie and high protein, but how was it serving my body? Why was I always hungry an hour after eating that? But it had plenty “filling protein!” *insert eye roll here*
So, I (fearfully) had my eggs and avo toast. And I felt full. And it tasted better than the artificial chocolate peanut butter log I was used to.
And then I had a breakthrough.
Healthy fats do NOT make you fat. They keep you satiated throughout the day! I wasn’t hungry an hour after breakfast. I had a small healthy snack and made it all the way until lunch, hardly thinking about food at all *gasp*. My lunch ran the gamut of macronutrients, too. Plenty of well-sourced, whole foods, rich in protein, carbs, fats, and micronutrients. I was full again until dinner. Another filling meal. Not a protein shake. It was a miracle.
And after a few months, I realized continued benefits and breakthroughs. I had energy. I had no more GI issues. I lost body fat. I looked and felt healthier. And I felt less guilt when I ate.
When you stop restricting your diet, you stop restricting your life.
When I started to focus on adding nutrient rich foods to my diet, rather than restricting the “bad” stuff, the “bad” foods seemed less appealing. I let myself have them as much as I wanted. I can have a bite of cake and get the taste and experience of it, or have a reasonable sized slice…but if I want my body to run optimally, I don’t want to be weighed down by junk or feel sluggish and bloated after a binge. I can eat a pasta dish and leave some noodles on the plate because I am satisfied after a reasonable amount. I can go to a brewery and try beers and eat pretzels without a cloud of guilt surrounding me, because I know that it won’t break me. I know it’s just one day of some less than optimal foods in my body. That’s okay – that’s part of life.
You can go out with friends without worrying about the menu or how you’re going to “work it off” the next day. You can live your life feeling amazing and healthy and guilt-free every single day. The fact is, no single food will make you fat. No single macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) will make you fat either.
Do I still sometimes have some “guilt” after foods I eat – yes. And if my jeans fit a little
tighter at times, I’m not going to lie and say I’m thrilled. But the restrictive mindset has been part of my lifestyle for 20+ years and society reinforces it, so I don’t know if that will ever go away completely. I’m just mindful of those thoughts and become more aware and better at navigating that inner-conflict every day.
This new way of nutrition isn’t just about food itself. It takes a mindset change. This takes fighting societal norms. This takes trusting yourself. This takes research and experimentation as to what foods you like and work for your body and lifestyle. It’s not an overnight success story, but it’s a step in the right direction. You just have to start.
So if you’re unhappy with how you look or eat or feel, start slow. Add one nutrient-dense meal to your day. Add one article to your morning news routine about the recent breakthroughs in the realm of health and fitness (like this one!) Add one healthy habit that contributes to your happiness and wellness. Add sleep, and alone time, and time to do things you enjoy.