Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This is Not About Deprivation

First, please note that I'm sick. So, when you peer at my empty training log, too-variable calories, or nearly certain upcoming plateau (or worse: weight gain), your sympathies are appreciated. Wait, strike that. Your sympathies are appreciated now as well. I can use all the happy, healthful thoughts anyone can spare.

OK, on to today's topic. This one has been jumping out at me for a while. It hits me when I see people talking about how to avoid or replace some particular food that apparently needs to be banished. It smacks me in the face when I look at the nutrition log of someone who simply can't stay on a diet, and it turns out that they're eating maybe 1000 (or fewer) calories of typical "diet" fare. It nudges me when I see certain coworkers dining on only a large bowl of edamame for lunch. It really stopped me dead in my tracks when one of those coworkers walked past me with a half-eaten platter of nachos and apologized.


Yes, as she walked by, she said that she was sorry. She knows that I'm working hard to lose weight and didn't mean to parade "real" food right in front of me, knowing that I'm probably starving. I was flummoxed.

Who's starving?

Well, I suppose I'd be starving if I only ate a big bowl of edamame for lunch. (What kind of lunch is that?) I'd be starving if I eliminated anything that was "real food" from my diet. I'm sorry, but everything I eat today is real food. (Note the italics.) What else is there? No, no need to answer. I know the alternatives to real food. On both sides.

I'm going to posit this: For the greater part of my adult years, I rarely ate real food. I'd subsist almost entirely on food I could get handed to me while I sat in my car. At other times, I'd subsist on almost entirely on protein-based foods, including pancakes made with some sort of protein-based substance. Some times, I'd eschew all "bad" food, and dine on only things that grew out of the ground or had some sort of "organic" label affixed to them. At other times, I'd subsist on almost entirely packaged foods with some sort of "diet" or "100 calorie" phrase plastered across its colorful wrapping. (The colorful wrapping, no doubt, making up for the lack of color inside.)

All of these diets, for better or worse, were devoid of real food. Whether it's all fast food, or all low-calorie fruits, vegetables, and pieces of cardboard masquerading as low-calorie crackers, it's not real food.

But, yet, all of those foods, together, can be real food. The key, I believe, is balance.

It's like basic chemistry. Hydrogen isn't water. Oxygen isn't water. It takes balance to create water. The same thing goes for real food. It's not only hamburgers, and it's not only carrot sticks. It's a delicate balance that satisfies our bodies and minds.

If you enjoy red meat, then go ahead and have a nice, juicy steak for dinner once in a while. But skip the starchy vegetables with oil and choose, instead, two servings of yummy vegetables. Have some nachos when you want them, and increase the amount of fruit and vegetables later in the day. Want waffles? Go ahead, once in a while, and make sure you're getting in protein to balance the sugar.

Perhaps I have a different perspective because I have the luxury of room for calories. I'd rather exercise more than eat less. The good news is that I can keep this up all the way to my goal weight and beyond. I've done the math. Since I'll be active, I'll be able to eat 2000+ calories per day even at maintenance of my "ideal" weight of 135 pounds, if I take myself tha far. I may need to take it down to 1600-1800 when I'm crawling to the target weight finish line, but you'll never see me sit down to a plate of carrot and celery sticks trying to desperately maintain a 1200 calorie diet. Honestly, I don't think anyone should pull down their calories that far.

For a time, years ago, I attended OA, Overeater's Anonymous. Now don't get me wrong, there are people with legitimate eating disorders, and perhaps OA helps them. But here's my problem: How do you abstain from food? Every meeting, people would lament about how they failed at abstinence. Well, of course. You cannot abstain from food. You must not abstain from food. Food=life. We know that, right?

I recently looked for synonyms for the word "diet", knowing that when I use it to refer to my daily nutritional intake (i.e. what I eat), some people might confuse it for me going "on a diet". What did I find? Here you go:

Wait, what? The definition of diet is "abstinence from food"? Seriously? Look at the other words. Regime, restriction, starvation. This is awful. If this is true, then Food=Life, and Diet=Death. I'm not kidding. Look at those synonyms again.

At least the picture looks better a little farther down the thesaurus.

Much, much better. Definition: daily intake of food. Synonyms: daily bread, edibles, grubbery (how fun!), nourishment, nutrition, subsistence, sustenance.

We've got to realize that food is nourishment. It is also grubbery. I think. Let's skip that one. It is also goodies. Yes. Diet, our daily intake of food, is both nutrition and goodies. Why not? It's all about balance. And balance needs everything. We can be unbalanced one way just as easily as we can be unbalanced the other way.

When we want to lead a healthy lifestyle, we need to remember that real food is part of the second view of diet, not the first. Healthy living is not about abstinence; it is about nourishment. It is not about deprivation; it is about sustenance.

My advice: When someone starts talking about "real food", or about eliminating some "bad food", smile and nod, and be gently sympathetic. Then sit down to your meals of healthful, balanced, real food. When they peter out and become frustrated that they just can't continue on their deprivation-based diet, and wonder how you're able to continue improving your health (and reducing your weight, if that's your goal), then remind them that it is not about deprivation. It is about balance. And it's about eating real food.

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