Diet. I hate that word. Not the word itself, but what it often means at first glance. Low fat. Low carb. No sugar. Clean foods. Greens. Juicing. Grass-fed. Almonds. Chicken. Whey. Cardboard. Sadness. Frustration. I think I hate it because I like to talk about my “diet” without it being assumed that I’m on a diet. Hey guys, my diet is for life.
My diet wasn’t always for life, though. I once decided I was going to do a beauty pageant. I had three months to be bikini-ready on stage. I didn’t really have a plan, but I cut out all sweets and most fat. I lived off things I considered “good” foods: Clif bars (apparently not sweet) and grapefruit and salads. I didn’t fly off the handle afterwards, but I definitely wasn’t going to keep up that “diet.”
After naturally going back up to a normal weight, I looked for more dieting solutions. Low carb was sure to work. Every meal was determined by the book, and it certainly wasn’t more than 1300 calories. I can’t even remember the result of it. I’m sure it lasted a couple weeks and was followed by my transformation into a carbivore.
From there it was just counting calories. It didn’t matter to me if every meal was made up of cereal and skim milk, as long as I didn’t eat any bad (???) foods and I didn’t go over my calories. Oh, and if I ran that day, I could eat those calories back. That’s a big motivator to get out and run.
Then came my introduction to flexible dieting, or as some know it, If It Fits Your Macros. I’m sure many are familiar with the concept, but essentially you have certain amounts of each macronutrient that you try to consume each day without going over. This approach forced me to focus on getting protein and fat in my diet instead of just eating carbs all day long. The other key factor of flexible dieting is that you can consume any type of food you’d like, so long as you stay within your numbers and get the recommended amount of fiber and micronutrients through fruits and vegetables. This method combined with my new love for lifting had me feeling great.
Except I was using it to diet when I didn’t need to diet. When I first started and my macros were decently high, all was great and a variety of foods would fit in my diet easily. But as my weight loss stalled and my macros were dropping, I focused on eating low-calorie, high-volume foods to beat my every day hunger. I’d eat cauliflower until I was actually physically sick. I wouldn’t go out to eat unless I could ask a million questions about how the chicken in my salad was cooked. I’d eat barely anything throughout the day to ensure I could eat the ice cream I was craving at night. And it totally worked. I got lean and didn’t miss out on my favorite foods. But my mindset was all out of whack.
I’m still a huge fan of flexible dieting because it doesn’t impose limits on people’s food choices. I know when I’d put limits on my food choices, it’d only make me want them more. So now when I eat things that I never would’ve eaten before, I can easily stop when I’m full because it doesn’t feel like a one-time opportunity. But I think it’s also essential to have a healthy mindset towards your goals and your body while using this approach.
I started focusing on what I really wanted to accomplish with my life and I confronted what I wanted out of my relationship with food. Food to me is an experience. It’s time and love shared with family and friends. It’s bonding over a process and a recipe. It’s embracing and learning about culture and history. It’s growing and attempting and tasting and enjoying. If I didn’t put these things first, and I continued to be in the presence of food and only feel guilt, shame, conflict, and frustration, I was always going to be fighting a losing battle.
And, get this: ever since I loosened my grip on my relationship with food and my body, my weight has stabilized. I stopped trying to control it and suddenly it was easily controlled. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard in the weight room, and my increase in muscle mass has been a huge factor. I also pay attention to foods that make me feel good. I find myself naturally gravitating towards choices that fulfill my cravings but also make me feel energized and satisfied. I know I perform better when I make sure I eat some protein, and I practice the idea of balance. But you can bet that I eat fries and dessert whenever the heck I want, and I order cocktails with friends, and I never stress about meals anymore. Poof. Gone.
I’d often find myself rolling my eyes whenever I’d hear the word “balance.” We hear it over and over, but I wasn’t ever ready to accept the idea of it. People think they need to suffer to get results. I definitely thought so. I needed to accept my body’s capabilities, and I needed to treat it as a machine that needs to be fueled and a gift that needs to be cared for. I needed to align my goals with my reality. I didn’t need to suffer; I needed to realize that all these components can work together to achieve awesome things. And they have to work together, otherwise it will be a constant battle of which goal has priority. And with that, I’m no longer a slave to food. We’re actually the best of friends.