Food And Me: The Enemy Within
Illustrations by Charlotte Shen
Please tell me I’m not alone here. Sometimes I just can’t stop shoving food into my mouth, even when my good brain is telling me, “You’re not even hungry!”
Throughout my life, I’ve had a bit of a tricky relationship with food. I just love it a little too much. When I’m eating something truly satisfying, it’s more of a frenzy than a meal. I revert back to a primitive version of myself, a cave-dweller who’s returned from my first successful hunt in weeks to watch, salivating impatiently as my mutton roasts over the fire before chomping down with my brow aggressively furrowed, as if to warn off any would be poachers of this hard won meal. I dig in with the zeal of someone who knows not when or if he may have the pleasure again.
When I catch myself in the midst of this state, I’m both disgusted and amused. I think the people around me may be a little scared. There’s another trait of mine that leads me towards being a homebody – my eating style encourages me to eat at home so I don’t need to choose between being a polite public eater, inhibited by my self-consciousness, and being reviled and shamed by the horrified onlookers around me in the restaurant. If you’ve ever found your contemplation of “What will I have for dinner” turn into a full blown food fantasy, perhaps you can relate.
Are Some People Doomed to Obesity?
But how does a homebody learn to control such an overdeveloped sense of food lust and craving? It’s not a habit you can quit cold turkey after all! Many people will say that portion control is key to maintaining a healthy relationship with food. If you are good at eating small portions and stopping when you feel “just right” instead of stuffed to the brim, you have my respect, admiration and envy. But what if you just can’t seem to do it? What if every time you limit yourself to an “average portion” at meal time, you are left unsatisfied and in constant temptation to nibble on desserts and snacks in the following hours? What if you just always seem to be watching your hand go to your mouth as your bad brain tells you “just one more bite”? Is it hopeless for those of us with compromised powers of will? Are we destined to be obese and self-loathing?
Know Thyself (and Adapt Your Environment Accordingly)
Well, I’ve had a lot of time(s) to contemplate this, and while some may not agree that my choices represent the optimal ways to structure your eating habits, one thing I’ve learned is that knowing yourself, assessing yourself truthfully, is an important starting step to any kind of recovery or improvement plan. Once you can look at your traits in the cold light of day, you can assess whether it’s possible for you to change these traits. Sometimes you can, with practice and persistence, genuinely change your habits and traits. But if you fail time after time, should you just give up and hate yourself forever? No. You should work with what you have, and design your environment and conditions so as to maximize the benefit your good traits can offer, and minimize the consequences your bad traits get you into.
So Here’s What I’ve Found Out About Diet And Health:
- Improving your health and weight control is more dependent on diet than exercise. This becomes truer the older you get.
- Ultimately, calories in must be less than calories out if you want to lose weight
- What kind of calories you consume matters! Eat foods that have high nutritional value!
- Some people (like me) have a very difficult time with portion control when they are eating
- The wisdom of eating 4-5 small meals instead of 2-3 larger meals has been brought into question by recent research
- The age old practice of fasting, often having religious ties, has been validated by science as having significant health benefits.
- Lowering intake of processed and consequently of total carbohydrates can help to curb hunger by reducing the load on your insulin system:
As established in the previous article, focusing on foods with high nutritional value, and limiting “empty calories” like processed foods and sugary snacks, as much as possible, is the most basic step towards improving health through diet. This is regardless of your stance on meat and animal products. Choose “real” food first – whole, unprocessed foods whose ingredients you can actually look at and identify!
2 Pillars of Diet Mastery: Control the Type and Time of Eating
So, given the above, can you start to infer what my new relationship with food will look like? Right. What I want to achieve in the next year (and hopefully maintain for many years going forward), is basically 2 pronged:
Pillar 1: Choose Foods That Are Nutrient Dense, High in Protein, Fiber and Healthy Fats
If I want this homebody to get back in shape and create an diet that can promote weight maintenance and longevity over the long term, I’ve decided based on my research that it’s important to eliminate (almost) the most nutritionally barren, empty calorie foods from my diet. This includes: white bread, cookies, cakes, pasta, cereal anything processed flour-based foods. Even those made with whole grains, while better, deliver relatively little nutritional bang for your calorie buck. I guess this means a pretty much gluten free diet, though this is not my chief concern since I don’t suffer from this particular allergy as far as I know. Focus on nutritionally dense foods in roughly the following order:
- green leafy vegetables,
- cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, etc.),
- cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel,
- other fish and seafood,
- organ and other meat, preferably pasture raised and unprocessed (luncheon meats are processed = bad!)
- seeds and nuts
- starchy vegetables like sweet potato/yams, squash, etc.
- fruits – this is my new dessert if needed – fresh fruit, not canned or processed in any way with syrup. Lower sugar fruits are better – ie. berries and apples are better than bananas and mangos – but any fruit is better than any cookie!
For those who don’t want to give up or greatly reduce carbohydrate intake, (for example, athletes, who may want to make sure their muscles are being replenished with sufficient glucose their muscles to grow and repair themselves), choose low glycemic carbs like the following:
Low glycemic load (10 or under)
- Bran cereals
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Wheat tortilla
- Skim milk
These should form the final brick of our nutrition castle. Some of the foods on this list – bran, apple, beans and lentils are higher in fiber – choose these first!
Diet Hack: Fiber and Resistant Starch Don’t Count (as Carbs!)
Here’s a Carb Hack You Might Not know! Eating carbohydrates high in fiber and resistant starch can have multiple benefits, like increasing fullness, lowering insulin response thus stabilizing blood sugar (there is some debate on that), and providing food for the good bacteria in your gut; these foods are often referred to as prebiotics.
Weekends include one cheat day; so choose this day to eat the things you feel you’re missing out on. When you think about it, it’s not very restrictive after all to say you’ll only eat ice cream once a week. There are many pleasures in life that I only wish I could do as often as once a week! Anything that is a real pleasure will be diminished if we do it every day. Better to make it a little bit of a special occasion and truly appreciate it!
Read on to Part B for the 2nd Pillar of Our Diet Hacks
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