Food: A Love Story
Eating for a Happy Body
If you came here looking for a meal plan or a breakdown of what exactly you should eat, I’m afraid I can’t give you that. Because if I did, I would be a douche bag. First of all, I don’t know who you are, your activity level, health history, goals, age, or size. Plus, how the hell am I supposed to know what you LIKE to eat? My client who is an Indian immigrant is not going to have the same tastes as my Mexican-American client. If you hate eggs and my meal plan has you eating eggs every day, how long do you suppose you’re going to stick with it? So, I’m going to go ahead and say that any article that gives a general meal plan for all of its readers is complete bullshit. And I urge you to tell them I said so. I get it, people want the quickest, easiest ways to get what they want (don't we all). And in the service industry, giving people what they want pays the bills. But I prefer to give them what will change their lives.
Food is an incredibly personal subject for people. And a touchy one. Parents, peers, teachers, movies, books, and a multitude of other people and things have influenced how I eat. I have so many great memories that involve food. Food brings people together. It’s a centerpiece in most of our special events (birthdays, weddings, barbeques, Halloween, Christmas, and the holiest of them all...Thanksgiving). People take great pride in the traditional foods of their culture and heritage, even regionally. It is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures.
It wasn’t until I started becoming aware of my body that food became the enemy. And that awareness was all negative. A boy told me I was the fattest girl in school in 1st grade (asshole). Some girls in 3rd grade loudly whispered about how fat my legs were (bitches). Someone pointed out that I had cellulite (and I learned what the fuck it was) at age 9. Someone compared my chest to a 2x4 when I was 12. And on and on and on. Ask any woman, and she can probably tell you every single cruel thing that has ever been said about her body.
I’ve actually always loved food and eating. Like, a lot. So when I kept being told to eat less, food just became my forbidden lover. I am now a size that society would agree is reasonably fuckable enough to not bully. And I therefore have been given permission to love food. When I joke about overeating, it’s commendable and kind of funny. I remember seeing this Kate Hudson movie (I must have lost a bet) where she was the “cool girl” because she ordered a cheeseburger instead of a salad. Ugh. As if I needed another reason to hate a Kate Hudson movie. If only men knew how much of our lives were built around trying not to get or be seen as fat. Because in the 17 years I spent as an overweight girl, it was absolutely not okay for me to openly love food. I struggled to understand why my skinny friends could eat a bag of Cheetos for lunch, but if I did, “that’s why I was big.” Or why I ran cross country for 2 years and still had to get my pants tailor-made (I grew up in Asia, so lord help you if you’re above a size 10). So yes, I understand that when I talk about loving food, it’s a huge privilege. But I still get shit from people about the way I eat (PB sandwich?? Good heavens, call the Paleo police!) or jokes about powerlifters being fat. Fortunately at this point, I don’t really give a flying fuck. And those assholes are usually stuck in that food and self-loathing prison I know all too well. So sucks for them.
When I decided that I had taken enough abuse for having a body, I started dieting. I used a food journal and tracked calories. And I cleaned up my diet. I cut out soda, ate more produce and lean proteins, and started measuring my portions. I also gradually learned to enjoy the flavor to healthier things like whole wheat bread, natural nut butters, vegetables, and water. I genuinely love the taste. This worked very well and still does. I created habits that have helped me maintain my weight for 17 years, give or take 5-10 pounds. I’m grateful that I took a sensible route and didn’t get pulled into the neverending fad cycle.
Unfortunately, the dark side of this newfound weight loss is that I became obsessive as hell about dieting. I kept a food journal for 5 YEARS. And if I went over this completely arbitrary caloric limit some toxic rag of a magazine set for me and every other reader, I would beat myself up and then squeeze in a second or third workout the next day to make up for it.
Through the years I got better at allowing myself to eat. It was really when I became a full-time trainer and dedicated my life to fitness and health that I gradually made peace with my body. I am still in awe of what my body can do. Deep down, I still felt like I was the big girl who always came in last in cross country. Let me tell you, that is a LIE. I stopped telling myself that and you must do the same. Your body is truly amazing. It is never too late and your body is capable of some really cool stuff.
I am not against wanting to lose weight, get lean or even super lean, or workout and eat in a way that makes you feel your best. In fact, I welcome it. My nutrition coaching is based on healthy eating strategies for goals, and the goal is usually fat loss. But I do not “put them on a diet.” I teach them habits. Most people want me to tell them EXACTLY what to do. Sorry, that’s not my style because it usually doesn’t work for the long term.
When I want to be leaner, I go back to the healthy habits I have picked up over the years: I eat more mindfully and bust out the food scale. I eat sensible portions of foods I like and limit higher calorie foods like nut butters (nut butter = life). And ta-da, I’m leaner. It really is that simple. Pain in the ass, but simple. Everyone wants to believe they are the genetic exception who won’t respond to calorie control (usually the same people who claim to get bulky from weight training). I assure you, the vast, vast majority of us aren’t. Sometimes, even though you realllllyyyyy think you want to be leaner, you just don’t really want to put in the effort. Pizza sounds better. And that’s okay! You don’t need to always be trying to lose weight, you know.
My methods for changing your diet are a huge buzzkill because I don't give you black and white answers, but I encourage you learn stuff (yawn!). Nevertheless, here's how to get started on transforming your eating habits in a way that you can live with:
- Get a general understanding of serving sizes, calories, and macronutrients. If you’ve been told calories don’t actually matter by someone who is an “expert.” Well, they are an expert in bullshit.
- Portion control is the most important thing you can learn for sustainable fat loss.
- Track what you eat for a week or 2 and include when, what, and how much you ate. Be as detailed as possible. It will probably be glaring what you can improve on, but it helps to have a coach look it over with you. Small changes can yield big results.
- Have a plan. Make sure you what you plan to eat on hand ahead of time. Keep your planned food readily available. And always have some backup snacks handy. Find convenient foods you like that are quick and easy to throw together. Set a schedule for grocery shopping. Nothing will make you hit the drive-through faster than failing to plan ahead.
- Don’t cut out any foods or food groups simply because you want to lose fat (your trainer diagnosing you with something doesn’t count as a medical condition).
- Eat foods you like! Whether you love gluten or hate it, think coconut oil is the second coming of Christ or avoid it like the plague, hate tomatoes or eggs or whatever... it's up to YOU. Don't try to follow a diet full of foods you don't like.
- Remember that “healthy” doesn’t really mean shit and calories absolutely do. I think we can agree that in normal circumstances, spinach is probably better for you than a Hot Pocket. But some people look at me like I have three heads for eating bread. Or dairy. Or...a Hot Pocket. It’s all relative. Hot Pockets are awesome (melted cheese and bread, come on!), and as long as my entire diet doesn’t consist of them, everything’s going to be okay. But the same goes for spinach. I promise, you wouldn’t last long on an all-spinach diet. And you’d be a lot less fun to be around than the Hot Pocket lady.
At the end of the day, you have to find what works for YOU. If you follow Paleo guidelines because it truly makes you feel and look good AND you want to do it, by all means, please continue. Same goes for Keto or Whole 30 or whatever else is out there. I personally wouldn’t do any of these because I know I would binge my ass off within days because I enjoy the things it's telling me not to eat. And no, bingeing doesn't happen because you're undisciplined, which is how proponents of these diets make it your fault. It's because the diet is stupid. I know from years of experience that most people are the same way. Restricting foods almost always backfires. Even if you had success with it for a year or more, if you stopped at some point and gained all the weight back, it DIDN’T work. If it worked, you would have had no reason to stop. Like I said, food's a touchy subject and there are some strong opinions out there. Try to think critically about what you're being told and ask yourself if it makes sense. And if it's right for YOU.
Life’s short. Food’s awesome. Make peace with it.