Food For Thought

This blog post has been one of the harder ones I have written. As someone who has been on a serious mission the last two months to lose weight, I spend A LOT of time thinking about food, dieting, and all the challenges that go along with that. I have vacillated between writing about the social expectations of what one should or should not eat versus the idea that diet is all about free will (so screw social expectations).  Instead of picking one of these two perspectives, I am deliberately leaving it open (and quite possibly a bit disjointed).

Let me start with a personal story.  After  seeing the horrifying results of a body scan, I became determined to change my body composition. (More info on what a scan is here which for the record despite how humbling a scan can be, I am a total advocate for getting them). About three weeks into this revamped diet, I had a birthday around the corner, I refused to be the oldest and biggest I had ever been. By reevaluating and changing my diet, which entailed generally turning down most social invitations that involved eating or drinking, I did manage to lose 6 pound before I turned another year older.

Having said that, life is worth celebrating and diet or not, I was excited to go out for a birthday dinner with friends. I managed to indulge in some foods I hadn’t had in a while without overdoing it or feeling guilty about it. I was mostly just very happy and blessed to be in the company of close friends. After our meal it came time for dessert.  I declined as I felt like my cheat meal dinner was more than sufficient. My friend repeatedly asked if I wanted cake and insisted I needed to blow out a candle. I assured her I would not feel like I missed out if I skipped cake. After the second time though she asked, I did find myself feeling frustrated. Was I being disrespected? Why was I feeling so offended? Didn’t she have nothing but the best of intentions?  Life is short, we should eat cake, right? I wondered though, why if it is a voluntary choice to not eat something, is there still pressure to overrule that?  I felt completely conflicted.

What is it about social expectations around diet and food choices? People have opinions about what others should  or should not eat. Does it matter? Why should I care what other people have to say or think about what I eat? In the story about cake  was it indeed insensitive, or rather a wrongly perceived reaction on my part?

A few days after my birthday, my friend came to me and profusely apologized for the cake incident. She comes from a place of after years of battling some serious health stuff, she is grateful for being able to enjoy foods she hadn’t been able to. She had nothing but good intentions in wanting to see me kick back and enjoy a birthday tradition. It was not a case of judgment or insensitivity.

It has been common for me of late to be in situations where I am offered  either food, drink or an invite and I decline. I immediately feel the need to explain that I am on a diet.  Shouldn’t  simply declining be sufficient enough? Why do I feel compelled to explain why? Is it my own self -defense or is it because I anticipate that when I say “no thank you” it will be followed by “why”?

I do also realize that I have free will.  I choose what I eat and when. No matter if I get one invite or a dozen to be indulgent, it is ultimately within my control as to how I respond.  Whether or not someone asks politely or with a tad of judgment (perceived or real), it should not matter. I know what is best for me so why pay any heed to temptation, whether good intended or not?

On the other hand, there is still a  school of thought that I have a hard time ignoring. I still have that nagging sense that people do at times pose their expectations onto others. As someone who is pescatarian, I am also closely aligned to the vegan lifestyle. I do not eat meat by choice but I still love seafood and eggs. Due to an intolerance of lactose, I cannot eat dairy. So I do get slightly irritated when I see posts on social media poking fun at vegans. Why should someone care if I chose to eat tofu?  I’m not asking them to nor do I care if they eat beef and chicken till the cows come home.

Here is a scenario I pose to you as I think we all have been in this at least once. Two people go out to eat dinner. One person wants a glass of wine and the other does not. What ends up happening? Often the one who really wants that wine, decides against it as they rather not drink solo. So I ask you this without being facetious. Why does it matter what the other person is drinking or not drinking? Does the wine taste any different if the person in present company is instead drinking water? Does it somehow take away from enjoying that desired wine? If it does, I ask you, why? Is it some societal rule that drinking alone is frowned upon? Or does it have something to do with it just simply is not the same if it is not a shared experience?

I truly have no conclusion to my conflicting thoughts and the many questions I have posed. So I ask you: how do you perceive dieting and social expectations?

The Diet Journey

*Disclaimer: I am by no means saying paleo (or any other diet plan) is good or bad. I am hoping to convey what I have learned about “dieting” as it may help you reach your goals.

I gained a lot of knowledge and changed my eating habits immensely from doing a Paleo Challenge a few years ago. Focusing on every little thing that went into my body taught me to pay attention to ingredients and spend an extra few minutes at the grocery store to find items that did not have so much unnecessary crap added to it. Dried fruit for instance is perfectly delicious on its own without having to add sugar to it. Prior to Paleo, I dreaded cooking and rarely did it. Paleo reminded me of the value I would gain from making Sundays my food prep day so that I would have healthy options for the week.

Paleo also helped me to recognize what foods fuel my body versus the ones that deplete energy from it.  I lost a few pounds and inches when I did Paleo and I kept them off. I also then hit a plateau about a year into it. I had to reevaluate my diet once again just like I did when I started paleo. I enlisted the expertise of my sister this time who is a registered nutritionist. While I was eating paleo about 80% of the time, I was getting into bad habits. I tracked my diet for a week and had her look at where I was getting unnecessary calories and what changes I could make. The short version of the findings is that I was eating a lot of Paleo approved foods but too much of them like dried fruit (dates for instance are high in calories) and nuts (which are heart healthy but I was consuming too many).  I was also snacking way too often which was indicative of not getting enough substance in my meals to keep me sustained for 3 hours in between meals. As a result I made small tweaks like giving up dried fruit and nuts and adding more servings of veggies. I even started reintroducing Paleo forbidden foods like chic peas. I managed to lose about 9 lbs of fat and reduced my body fat percentage by 3% over 5 months. (This may seem like a disproportionate amount to lose over the time span but keep in mind I’m only 5 foot. Every pound I lose is a lot of hard work).

Then, over the last few months I slowly noticed my weight on the scale was starting to creep up. In a panic, I went and had another BodySpec scan (this is a whole other blog post worthy topic) and was pleasantly surprised to learn I gained 3 pounds of muscle.  I had also been a few weeks into a new workout regime that followed Invictus competitor programming and had an increased appetite. I was trying my hardest to not succumb to it and when I got the scan results, I was able to relax a bit. I knew I needed to change my diet to keep up with my workouts.  Here was another key time to reevaluate my diet.

My workouts start at 5:30 in the morning and I was finding that eating  what I always did (a banana) an hour before the workout was not making the cut. I would be so hungry about a half hour into my workouts and my energy pretty much died out shortly after.  Also, I was typically eating a salad for dinner with a lot of veggies and avocado. I instinctively knew that I was not nourishing my body with what it needed to get me through an hour and a half intense, high volume workout. With the permission and sense of my sister, I reintroduced carbs into my dinners. Eating pasta with mixed frozen veggies and homemade sauce has made a huge improvement in my energy level. (Carbs are not always the enemy!)

The most important lesson I am learning is that no diet is one size fits all. Also like other things in life, diet is something that should be flexible and change with your lifestyle’s twists and turns. Paleo, or any diet for that matter, is not cookie cutter and I find it a bit alarming when people jump on any bandwagon without properly understanding what it is they are signing up for. I am guilty of this. I still don’t quite understand what harm a chic pea can do that perhaps a green bean doesn’t? I subscribed to the rules of Paleo without properly learning the “why” behind them and if they truly made sense for me.

I know a lot of CrossFit gyms promote Paleo Challenges and other healthy eating challenges. I am by no means saying these should not be encouraged. I just think prior to signing up participants should do their homework and whenever possible talk to experts (i.e registered dieticians).  While people who have done Paleo can definitely offer their own expertise and tribal knowledge they have acquired, it is really up to you to ensure that you are following a plan that suits you.