One of the biggest issues with weight loss is healthy eating. You’d think that’s pretty obvious, but people have so much trouble formulating a healthy eating plan. This is where most healthy eating/ weight loss plans fail before they even begin. People do things like drastically restrict their calorie consumption, eat the wrong foods for weight loss or just stop eating altogether! Everyone thinks, “yeah, I know how to eat! Hello- I’m an adult, and I think I can feed myself!” but actually designing a healthy menu plan for weight loss is a lot harder than it seems. This is why so many people/ companies get rich in the weight loss industry (it’s why there’s an industry in the first place!) People make drastic changes to their calories (or eating in general) and lose a lot of weight really fast, then go back to their former eating habits, and usually gain back more than they lost. Creating a healthy eating plan is key for long term weight loss and overall health in general, but that is actually not the topic I want to go over today.
What I wanted to discuss today is pretty basic: Eating. It’s one thing when you’re “just” overweight and it’s another thing when you weighed what I used to weigh. People are cruel when you weigh 300 or 400 pounds. The worst are the rude comments; the least of it are the looks. It gets to the point that you can almost hear their voices in your head: “she’s eating that?!” “I guess we know why she’s so fat if that’s what she eats!” You become self-conscious before long and the judgments become internalized: the voice in your head becomes your own. Every time you go to eat something that isn’t “diet” or “healthy” or even if it is but it’s “too much,” you hear the judgmental condemnations in your head. You hate what you eat and you hate yourself for eating it, but at the same time, you’re at a loss about what to do. Everyone can pretty much agree on what you shouldn’t be eating, but beyond the obvious vegetables (even that is not so obvious), there is not a lot of consensus on what you should be eating. So, you can rule out anything fast food, junk food and pretty much anything deep fried or sugary, but then it’s a toss-up. Salads are pretty much universally accepted for weight loss, but what goes into the salad? Only vegetables? How about things like cheese? Meats? Eggs? Then there’s the whole issue of dressing: are bottled commercial dressings okay? Or oil and vinegar only? And how much is too much dressing? Then the whole “low fat” or “regular” dressing question thanks to the whole transfat debacle. So, salads are on the list of “approved foods,” but what else is on there? Lean proteins? Eggs? Vegetables? What about carbohydrates and grains? They’re supposed to be good fiber and fiber is supposed to fill you up so you eat less. That’s got to be good, right? It’s just eating, for Pete’s sake! It shouldn’t be this hard!
This is where a lot of overweight people fall into self- destructive eating patterns. Already, they- we- don’t have the best eating habits, since we eat too much of the wrong things usually: junk food, fast food, sweets, fried foods. We start eating in secret: we become ashamed of eating. We know we’re going to get “the looks” from others, so we eat alone, which only increases the shame and guilt, so we start eating our emotions. It’s a vicious circle: We eat to feel good, to circumvent the shame, but then we feel ashamed of what we ate, and end up condemning ourselves, so we eat something to feel good…..
Or we go the other route: we start not-eating. We already weigh 200- 300-400 pounds, so we can “afford” to skip a few meals. Missing a few sure isn’t going to hurt us, so we skip breakfast and lunch and “just eat dinner,” or we flip it around, eating only one meal, or just a “few snacks,” because we feel guilty for eating. Our internal condemnation judges us for eating anything at all: we tell ourselves as fat as we are, we shouldn’t be eating- we don’t deserve to eat! Whether we mean to or not, we try to starve ourselves thin. This behavior is just unhealthy on so many levels.
Not eating puts stresses on our metabolism that doesn’t lead to any kind of sustained weight loss. The body has two options when it’s not getting enough food; one is to start consuming muscle tissue- not fat- and the second is to slow down the metabolism. It’s a lot like trying to save money on the heating bill: we turn the thermostat down so instead of coming on at 75, we lower it to 60, so it comes on less and it’s colder in the house than before. When we drastically lower our calorie intake, our body lowers our metabolism, so we have less energy, more cravings and our body slows down. This is how we can eat 1000 calories or less a day and still not lose weight. We are starving ourselves into greater metabolic damage, not losing weight, feeling tired, hungry and fighting cravings, and not understanding why this isn’t working! Not only does this hurt our self-confidence, it damages our bodies. Even when we go back to “eating normally,” our metabolism doesn’t recover like it should. This is how yo-yo dieting hurts us. Any weight loss we have is not sustainable, since we’re using extreme methods, and when we gain the weight back, our metabolism usually hasn’t bounced back to its former level, so our basal metabolic rate, which is the rate at which we burn calories just by being alive, stays lower. To go back to the thermostat analogy, it’s like we turn the thermostat back up from 60 to 75, but the furnace never gets the house up to 75- it only heats it up to 70. (This can happen because the more muscle you have the higher your basal metabolic rate, and if your body has been tearing down the muscle to sustain itself because you’ve been on a starvation diet, there’s less muscle to keep your BMR high!) Years of doing this starvation behavior can leave us eating lettuce and tuna three times a day and still not losing weight, besides feeling terrible in general!
Sustainable weight loss begins with healthy eating.
Whatever healthy eating program we end up creating for ourselves, there are a few basic ground rules that go with all of them. The first is that we need to eat a realistic amount of food to sustain our bodies; whether we end up eating many small meals, one big meal, or go with Intermittent Fasting, starving ourselves is not the way to go. The second is much more internal, but no less important: we need to stop punishing ourselves for being overweight. Condemnation and punishing ourselves by not eating is not productive. We all practice self talk, whether we are aware of it or not, and some of us can be incredibly cruel to ourselves. If we had a bruise for each time we castigated ourselves for eating something “unhealthy,” we’d look like we’d gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson! I hear and read some of the comments people on My Fitness Pal make about their eating habits, what they ate, how they went off their diet, and most of us would never think of saying those kinds of comments to someone else, but we think nothing of being cruel to ourselves. Why? Because no one hears it but us? Because we are trying to impress upon ourselves the “seriousness of our transgressions?” I admit, I tend to go the other way: “I had donuts- big deal, it’s done. Get over it and move on.” That’s pretty much how I talk to myself, and many times I wonder if I am too easy on myself. I more or less offer the same kind of support to my fitness friends: “it’s done, so don’t dwell on it and move on.” I sometimes think I’m a little too lenient. Maybe I should be sterner, more admonishing, but I don’t think so. I say what I think and I really don’t think reading someone (including myself) the riot act is the right way to encourage someone to stay on their program. You know what you ate and you know it’s not on your program, so beating yourself up isn’t going to make you “un-eat” whatever it was. I like to treat people like adults. I own my choices and I like to encourage people to do the same. If anything, I try to figure out why I chose to eat what I ate: was I at a function and everyone was eating the donuts? Did I go by the donuts in the bakery section and they just smelled so good that I had to have one (or two)? Did I just get a craving for sugar? What was it that triggered this and how can I stop myself from giving in the next time? Do I really need to stop myself from doing it again? Was it a treat that I enjoyed but I know I’m not going to go on a “sugar bender” anytime soon? Believe it or not, people can eat donuts without hating themselves!
Allowing yourself to eat-and to eat real food- is a lot harder than it sounds for some people. When you’ve been telling yourself for years that you don’t deserve to eat, and certainly not that much, it’s hard. You feel guilty; the recriminations start popping into your head and you start feeling like this is just so wrong! But the truth is that if you really want to lose weight and be healthier, and not just punish yourself for imagined past sins, then eating is the first step to getting there! Your body needs fuel to run the way it’s supposed to, just like your car needs oil and gas. When you’re trying to conserve gas, you don’t “force your car to run on fumes,” because that ain’t gonna happen! It’ll just stop dead in the middle of the road, and that’s what happens when you don’t give your body the fuel that it needs: you pass out or the body starts eating muscle. Neither of those are healthy options! So bottom line: you want to lose weight, you want to be healthier- YOU NEED TO EAT!!