Personal politics of food

This is one of those topics that can be difficult to talk about. I quite agree that fat shaming sucks, and I understand and support efforts to end it. Unfortunately, it seems to me sometimes that the reaction is so strong that it precludes even discussing things like weight, diet, health, and body image. Nonetheless, I am going to do so. It's my blog.

Just this week, I made a change and a discovery. The discovery wasn't a surprise. The result of making the change was exactly what I expected it to be. But until I actually made the change, it was only knowledge, not experience. Experience is the best teacher.

The change was to reduce the amount of food I eat at each meal and the amount over the course of a day. I had already taken the advice of a personal trainer I had worked with a couple of years ago to eat smaller meals (or snacks) five times a day rather than three regular (or, let's face it, large) meals. But I wasn't always successful at reducing the size of the main meals. Sometimes the snacks were too large. And some days included more than five noms.

I haven't stepped on a scale in a while. My clothes still fit fine. But lately I've been feeling kind of bloated and weighed down. I know when my body feels right to me and when it doesn't. I had known for some time that I would be uncomfortable if I ate too much, but I always seemed to forget that until after I had done it yet again.

So I got serious. I'm prioritizing protein and produce over carbohydrates but not stinting on fat, and making sure that less food does not mean poor nutrition. I make each meal smaller. I let myself get hungry sometimes. If I'm really starving between regular meals and snacks, the first thing I do is drink a glass of water, because what we perceive as hunger is often really thirst. If I'm still hungry after that, I have a small amount of protein, like cheese or peanut butter (or hummus when I get around to making any).

Is this making me feel better? Yes. My energy is still good (or would be if I got enough sleep and if someone hadn't put us all in virtual Mountain Time), and I am enjoying the food that I eat, but I'm feeling less like its an encumbrance. I go back to my desk after lunch feeling sated, not stuffed. Same after supper. No more going to bed feeling uncomfortable after having binged on a late-night snack, despite (or perhaps because of) having eating too much already that day.

I took this step after having considered eliminating various food groups. But truly, I am fortunate not to have an intolerances. I have never had a problem with dairy products, although for me that's yogurt and cheese much more often than milk. I have no problem with wheat or gluten. Frankly, I think fewer people are gluten-intolerant than the number who think they are. At least some people who go gluten-free and feel better are probably feeling better not from elimination of gluten but from getting away from eating too much of it. I eat less bread and pasta, and I feel better. I don't need to eliminate them. And I'm very glad for that, because life would be much less enjoyable without bread and pasta.

My impulse has always been to get too full rather than not full enough. I'm not sure why. It's not as though I grew up deprived of food. Even during the lean years, I never went hungry. Nonetheless, eating too much seemed like a normal thing. So did occasional (and sometimes more than occasional) heartburn and acid reflux.

But they're not normal. I am changing my mindset. If I eat too little, I can always eat more. If I eat too much, I can't undo it. I can only wait for it all to make its way through my digestive tract and feel lousy until that happens.

None of this has anything to do with shame. In general, I am happy with my body. What I have done is not a diet. It's an attempt to find what I think should be my norm, which is different than my previous norm. It's not about making myself feel better psychologically. It's about avoiding the physical discomfort of eating too much. There is no happiness in giving myself discomfort and even pain.

And none of this is about anyone else. Just me. I really don't care if someone is thin or fat or anywhere in between. That's their business, not mine. I love people. I don't judge them based on their size. I don't tell people they should weigh more or less than they do.

People often preach about food: no meat, more meat, no dairy, low fat, high fat, no carbs, lots of carbs, no gluten, all juice, kale in everything, coconut oil, whatever. There is a great deal of pseudoscience about food. But there's no need to go with pseudoscience. If you are allergic to or intolerant of some kind of food—and there are tests that can tell you—then eliminate that food. But if you are tempted to eliminate a single food or class of foods because you think it's harmful, try going for balance instead. In the oft-quoted words of Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I tended to forget that middle part, and didn't realize until I tried eating less that "too much" is a lot less than I thought it was.

1 comment:

Coline said...

Are we surprised that you eat cheese?

Not everyone has the gene which tells them that they are full. My doctor said that we should try to eat "five a day" of fruit and vegetables and I said that it would be hard to reduce to just five a day!

All the rage here in UK is a fast diet where two days per week you only have 500 to 600 calories through the day. As much as I love food I actually enjoy those fast days and the rest of the time it is easy to join in with others. Today is a fast, tomorrow I can go out for a meal with friends...