I’m a food addict. I clearly remember one time during grad school that I bought a bag of miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I took out a few and ate them, but before I knew it, I was digging into the bag and had binged on half it before I was able to stop myself. It was one of the many times in my life that I wished I could just avoid food altogether instead of having to figure out how to limit myself, because clearly, I thought, something was wrong with me. I took the rest of the bag to class to give to anyone who would take them to release the grasp they had over me.
Many traps lie in wait to trip us up, foiling our best-laid plans. One of the biggest hurdles to conquer with weight loss is dealing with feeling hungry. It’s miserable. For me, it means being grouchy, frustrated, and irrational. Physiologically, it’s against our nature for our bodies to cut back on calories. We’re programmed to consume to survive and crave fat and sugar to store up for future shortages. Fast forward to the age of mass consumption and we’ve got a problem.
Before my lifestyle change, my body was accustomed to getting loads of calories. Sure, I went through bouts where I deprived myself out of guilt, desperation, or sheer will-power, but I only set myself up for future binging. Cutting back calories results in feeling hungry; there’s no way around a body rebelling against suddenly getting shortchanged and screaming in retaliation. Surviving calorie deprivation has got to be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome because of this biological resistance to a lifestyle change.
New Year’s Resolutions offer the impetus for us to make a commitment to something we want to change in our lives. I’ve only ever made one resolution, when I eschewed meat many moons ago, because I stuck to it and was afraid of ruining my perfect record. But at the end of every year, I find myself reviewing my life and evaluating what changes I could make for the better. So even though I haven’t since officially declared a resolution, I’ve certainly been inspired to act.
Whether you are a resolution maker or, like me, just someone who reconsiders your life with the hope of a new start in the New Year, the biggest reason for failure is a lack of strategizing. Even the best of intentions won’t materialize without figuring out how to implement changes. A perfect example is the surge in gym memberships every January.
With so many diets out there, how do you know what to choose to get started? Actually, it’s imperative to avoid choosing a diet, but rather, adopt a regimen that offers a template to get started. Since the key to success is a lifestyle change, instead of starting a (or another?) diet, it’s much more useful to find a plan that offers some useful tools. Well-known diet plans are set up to keep customers dependent on them rather than show them how to live in the real world.
As I mentioned in Start NOW!, it’s best to choose a regimen largely based on the foods you regularly eat (unless it’s all junk food, though I’m sure someone has proposed a junk food diet. Even then, I’m just not sure how successful it could be for long term health…). Along with laying out the science behind nutrition, I discussed the reasons for my regimen choices over the last 15 years in My Food Education, which might offer a useful starting point.
It’s the New Year, and with the New Year comes resolutions. Not surprisingly, the number one resolution made by Americans is to get fit. But how to get started, especially if you’re feeling down on yourself, gained weight over the holidays, or have loads of food you feel obliged to consume: Leftover Christmas cookies, boxes of chocolates, Swiss Colony beef log, and loads of junk food from New Year’s Eve?
How to get started: Decide you want to make a change. If you’re like me, maybe you’re in denial about having food issues. I was dead convinced for the longest time that I didn’t really overeat, but I had earlier in my life, so if I could just drop those unwanted pounds, I’d be able to carry on with my life. I expect others might feel this way, judging by how many people successfully lose weight only to regain it once they stop dieting.
I enjoy getting together with friends for a meal or dining with new people when I travel, but not surprisingly, I often find I’ve eaten without paying much attention to my food. And it’s usually at a restaurant where it’s nice to have something different for a change or a holiday gathering, when I’ve spent a good amount of time (usually two days) preparing a special meal. For me, in particular, these are special occasions because let’s face it, as a low-carbohydrate vegan, my restaurant choices are limited, and the number of friends willing to embrace my regimen as a challenge rather than a trial is, well, even more limited. So during these times, I especially want to pay attention to and savor what I’m eating, but I also want to enjoy the company. Finding a balance is the key.
Too many times I’ve left a meal feeling like I haven’t tasted anything I’ve eaten, and sometimes even end up feeling full without realizing how much I ate, though I barely remember putting food in my mouth. Since I want to relish every meal experience, over the last few years I’ve starting making a special effort to mindfully eat while being good company. It’s a lot easier with a group of people, rather than with just one person, but even that is possible.
Particularly around the holidays, I am frequently asked what I eat or make instead of a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas ham. It’s a legitimate question, for a couple of reasons. Because holiday meals are traditionally based around a roasted meat, most people are curious as to what I make as a meat substitute. I grew up with this very same tradition, so I can relate to how odd it would seem to not have a meat centerpiece at the holiday gathering.
It’s difficult to be mindful on a regular basis. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we need (or need more of, or a better) this or that to make our lives more complete, happier, better, blah blah blah… We are super busy. We have a perpetual “To Do” list, no matter how many items we complete. We have 100 things running through our heads at any given moment. We rarely take a breather because we need to keep up with social media, our friends, the news, pop culture, our calendars, and on it goes.
As a food addict, it has taken decades of regular practice to be more mindful of what I eat and how I’m feeling about what and how much I have eaten. The challenge is shutting out all the extraneous stuff and really focusing on what I’m eating. Of course, I don’t want to just sit and stare around while I eat, so I usually read at the same time, which is entertaining, but certainly a distraction from what I put into my mouth. So I’ve worked really hard to be more aware while I eat, whether it’s a sit-down meal or a standing snack.
One of the most effective ways I have found to avoid eating between planned meals and snacks–especially during the weight loss part of my lifestyle change–is to chew gum or eat mints. (Just make sure they’re sugar-free! Your teeth and dentist will thank you.) Even though they have calories or carbohydrates in them, most often along with artificial sugars, these trade-offs are worth it. Mint or cinnamon flavors are especially good choices because they pretty much ruin the flavor of any food you might stick in your mouth, so they’re a good deterrent.
I quickly identified when I was most tempted to indulge: When I was cooking, portioning out snacks, or grazing through the kitchen out of boredom, stress, or whatever else emotional issue sent me looking for a diversion. Gum prevented me from sampling anything I was preparing for a meal. When I got home from food shopping and needed to portion out snacks and desserts, I always put gum in my mouth before I even started. If I found myself roaming around the kitchen, I made my way to the gum tin to treat myself to one of the varieties of gum or mints I stocked.
With Thanksgiving, what I think of as “The Feeding Season” has officially begun. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could space out all of those parties and holiday meals throughout the year instead of within just over a month? Alas, that is not the case, so we must strategize to survive The Feeding Season. Using my strategies, it’s possible for January to arrive without adding unwanted weight, an elevated cholesterol count, or going into a sugar coma.