Even after I reached a healthy weight, until I switched to a low-carbohydrate regimen, I was never able to feel completely free of food. That is, I always had food on the brain. I was regularly hungry, having to fight off the temptation to eat extra snacks or bigger snacks. Even though I finally got to the point of recognizing portion sizes, I was still struggling to stick to the calorie count for the day.
It wasn’t until I cut high carbohydrate foods (like brown rice, crackers, and desserts made from whole wheat pastry flour) out of my diet that I really started to feel like I had a healthier mental relationship with food. It was odd because by eating really wholesome stuff, I felt like I should feel better. In reality, it was just setting me up for starvation because I didn’t have a well-balanced diet with enough fat.
I stopped grading to write this post. (Oh, so many reasons to stop grading and do just about anything else…). I often treat myself to some chocolate in the afternoon when I work, because that’s often my snack. But in this case, it was 10:55 AM when I found myself reaching for the stash by my computer. I realized, though, it wasn’t (amazingly!) for a distraction, but I was actually hungry. An interesting conversation in my head followed.
“It’s only 10:55 and I want chocolate.”
“Yes, but I’m actually hungry. I wonder why?”
“I’m going to have some chocolate. It’s only 85 calories.”
“Yes, but that’s 85 more calories in the day than I would ordinarily have, since I rarely have a morning snack.”
It was at this point that I realized, though, that because I’m now better able to depend on the signals that my stomach is sending to my brain, I’ve also been able to eat whatever and whenever I want. It’s a very different model than having a calorie count/ food exchange checklist for the day. Under that system, almost every day I’d eat everything that I was ‘allowed’ to have–and sometimes more, regardless of whether I really wanted it or not. Now, I am much more respectful of what I actually need and eat accordingly. As a result, I’ve maintained almost the exact same weight for well over a year without keeping track of anything.
What I’ve come to realize is that some days I’m hungrier than others, so my varied intake balances out over time. This is a much more sustainable approach to eating, now that I’m not actively trying to lose weight, than having a calorie ceiling that is a negative reinforcement of an artificial limitation, as if my body needs exactly the same input every day.
I really appreciate that I’ve reached the point where I’m not thinking about or fighting the urge to eat practically every minute of the day. It’s a very odd experience for me, still new enough that I am regularly amazed when I think about it. I still love food, cooking, checking out new recipes, thinking about creative ways to make a new cake or what variety of chocolate I can make. But now I spend a lot less time worrying about what I’m going to put into my mouth next and whether I’m going to spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about it.