Food: It’s what we eat

Has everyone you know been doing a “30-day” diet lately? I resisted, held out for all I was worth, judged the idea for a gimmicky “fast fix.” Then my sister sent me before and after pictures. Fine, I said. I’ll do it.

One year ago I lost 50-lbs with my body after baby project, but back in winter again, February had the roads covered in ice and me spilling over the top of my jeans. The numbers that had been fine in the past were no longer acceptable – in large part because of the way my body changed after having a baby.

Fat that was once well-marbled, contoured, and strong was now only flabby. I wish I could claim some big-picture, inspirational objective behind my desire to healthen-up, but I just wanted to lose weight.

There are three options for losing weight: 1. Restrict calories in a measurable way, 2. Adopt a yes foods/no foods philosophy , or 3. Exercise like a maniac. Option 3 is not a real option for adults because anyone who does this still has their high school body.

The 30-day is a yes food/no foods system where you take out all of the foods that might be “bad” for you. Does that leave you going paleo? Vegan? Keto? Grain-free? Several takes on this 30-day theme exist. One must choose.

I look for inspiration in real-life experiences of myself and my friends. The structure of my 30-day was based on the eating habits of a few very fit friends and the delicious fare I ate at Yandara Yoga Institute during a 200-hour teacher certification a decade ago. Those cooks served up the gift of a healthy-foods education along with tasty plates full of vegetables and whole-grains. Here’s what I went with: Yes to a protein shake, veggies, fats and a walk every day. No to cow dairy, wheat, sugar, alcohol, and coffee. Anything is possible for 30 days.

I sort of hate to say it, but this 30 day thing was really effective. I always imagined yes/no method would require a discipline that I just don’t have; I kind of ignored the possibility. But in one month I lost 6ish lbs (my scale is lousy) and a total of 4″ off of my arms, legs, bust, waist, and hips (yes, arms and legs count twice). By the end of March I felt more toned than I’ve ever been as an adult.

If you try this, take “before” pictures and measurements. It feels sooo incriminating and shameful to take them but also committing in a good way. Also its so easy to lose perspective and just look at yourself and think blah no matter what your body actually looks like. Take the measurements and pictures so you can measure the change. You don’t have to show them to anyone.

Calorie counting and yes/no each have their drawbacks. I like calorie counting because I can eat what I want; but if I justify too many treats it doesn’t work. Plus all I get for dinner some days are split peas. With yes/no you never run out of calories, but potlucks and dinner parties are a drag. Until, that is, you return home the conquering hero of your own body.

That said, I ate very well on the yes/no diet: Salads with and quinoa and wasa crackers; smoked salmon and egg omelettes with goat cheese and greens; black tea with coconut cream and almond milk. And I never went to bed hungry.

The really impressive part about this 30-day is that I’ve tried to lose these last couple of pounds and I couldn’t do it with my old method. Calorie counting is like some cruel video game where the better you get at it the harder it gets until, right before you reach the finish line, the method you’ve mastered becomes useless.

Yes/no for the win? Not so fast. Upon further reflection, calorie-counting definitely informed my yes/no system. Based on body after baby I ate low-calorie veg to fill up plus protein and whole grains to stay fueled. It wasn’t simply that I took five items out of my diet: I also chose low glycemic foods like quinoa, masa, corn tortillas, soba noodles, rice noodles, brown rice over high glycemic foods like white rice, potatoes, and corn chips. I built treats in to every day and every week, but I knew not to eat more than about 200 cal of dark chocolate in a day. I found I was able to break the rules, like putting a little milk in a coffee on Saturday morning, without blowing the whole idea.

Because it’s never just about calories or which foods are “good” versus which are “bad.” It’s about nutrition, says my friend SNow I have the choice, to continue eating according to this yes/no diet that has brought me a better body and some joy, or go back to my old ways. I intended to take a month off and eat some ice cream, my daughter’s birthday cake, Easter brunch… But I miss it enough that I am thinking about going back to it early.

I feel like I’ve finally solved the puzzle of excess poundage I have poked at for decades. I like eating this way, but now that I have hacked weight loss I also want to take care that my body shape doesn’t become the one thing I can control in this chaotic life I lead. Behind all of our efforts to look better/feel better/take better care of the planet, let us always remember to fill our bellies with nutritious food and not become image-obsessed crazy people forever and ever. Amen.

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