Introduction: In Which I Confess I Really Have No Right To Write on This Subject From Any Angle Save One
Today, we continue the proud blog series of Ben talking about things which he is more likely than not vastly under-qualified to speak of: weight loss and, specifically for today, diet. Unqualified though I may be, this is something that I’ve been putting at least some modicum of thought into (or rather, quite an awful lot of thought, really, and a small modicum of action), and I’d like to take a moment to share some of those selfsame thoughts with you, gentle reader.
Although it likely goes without saying, I am not a doctor, a star athlete, a good eater, or really all that healthy of a person, and any words contained herein should be taken with a grain of salt (although watch out! Too much is bad for you!) That said, on the literal scale of obesity, according to WebMD at least I’m straddling the line between ‘healthy’ and ‘overweight.’ So if you, gentle reader, have a higher BMI than I and read the following tirade thinking to yourself “what’s this loser complaining about, he’s doing just fine” well, um, you are definitely right that I am perhaps being too vocal in my whining. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is how I *feel* about the situation. And isn’t the fact that almost *everyone* feels unhappy with their weight part of the human experience, that unites all of us together? I think so.
A Brief Historical Account of my Relationship With Food, Primarily Ice Cream, And a Skinnier Ben
My earliest memory of being overweight is in kindergarten, where, after school, a fellow friend walked up to me (his name was Ben too, by the by) and informed me that I was looking a little fat, and recommended that I reduce the amount of ice cream bars that I ate. This was, on the whole, probably pretty good advice, but alas, my kindergarten self, young as I was, was already full of my characteristic pride, and as such I was staunchly set in my ways. I continued to eat as many ice cream bars as I wanted, without really giving much regard for anything. Mainly, I ignored skinny Ben on account of him being, not unlike myself, a dumb little kid who was just saying things.
As an interesting side note that I never realized until this very moment, many years later that same friend invited me to a big festival with his family. I accidentally got lost and it freaked his dad out and when they found me they yelled at me (only because they were concerned for my well being, of course) and I felt really bad. Then later his dad bought ice cream for everyone, and I said that I didn’t want any to punish myself for getting lost. So, there you go, two traumatic ice cream related moments with one friend, which I’m happy to say on average must be about 1.99 more than I have with just about anybody else in my life.
Uh, anyway, where was I. Ah, yes. Weight. And the art of losing it.
I’ve long been told that the secret to successful weight loss requires a two prong attack: From the front you watch your diet, eating either less food or “better” food or both. All the while, your unsuspecting body is also assaulted with a flurry of blows known as “exercise” By doing these things together, you might, just might, eventually achieve the holy grail of being physically fit. It goes by many names. Trim. Slim. Buff. Swole. Whatever. You get the idea.
So, we get to the crux of the matter: What have *I* been doing in order to achieve physical fitness. In my pursuit of adonis-hood, have I been doing anything particularly remarkable. Nope. Not at all.
Have I been doing things that probably everybody else has been doing too and already knows about? I daresay I have!
So, let’s take a look at some of those things, shall we? We’ll focus on diet today, and save delving into the wonderful world of exercise for another time.
How To Diet: If You Know, Please Tell Me.
Diet is, without question the part of the equation I struggle with the most, which is saying something because exercise is no picnic either. There’s a couple of things I try to keep in mind when I eat though.
I know a lot of people really hate to count calories. They say that they don’t have the time for it, or they view it is a big chore. And you know what, it is a big chore, and it does kind of take a lot of time. But for me, at lest, if I’m not counting my calories — I have no GD clue how much food I’m actually eating — I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking that, after counting calories for a little bit, I’ve *learned* how much calories are in food and I can henceforth modulate my eating accordingly.
Maybe I actually did learn a little bit about the amount of calories in my favorite foods, but there’s always new food just around the corner that will have a new and mysterious caloric intake level hitherto-fore unknown to me. And though it’s mysterious caloric content might be part of this new meal’s allure, it also means that I can’t really get a good gauge on how hefty a meal it truly is.
The other aspect of calorie counting that is very helpful for me is that it helps me to appreciate what I’m putting into my mouth. If I don’t take the time to count my calories, I find that I kind of just cram food down my gullet without giving it much more than a second thought. And though that’s fine and fun sometimes, I suppose, it means I’m not really checking in with my body to hear what it actually *needs*
By counting calories, it helps me to revaluate, at the end of the day towards dinner time, if I need/want to eat a small dinner or a large dinner, for example. Simple, I know, and you’d think that by this point in my life I’d be familiar enough with the signals my body tries to tell me that I’d be able to do a better job with it by now. But, alas, I can’t. I don’t. I’m unable to.
Here’s a fun exercise that I learned in my Humanistic Psychology class: take a raisin, and put it in the palm of your hand. Look at the raisin–appreciate its creases and color. Think about the raisin: ponder on it’s journey from the vine it grew on, to the grocery store, to your palm. Think about the people involved in getting that raisin to you; the grower, the shipper, the checker, the person who invented raisins in the first place. Notice how it feels sitting on your palm. Feel the weight of it. Move your hand a little and let it roll around. Take in the fact that this raisin, small as it is, is actually a tiny miracle in and of itself, and the fact that it found its way to your hand is a twist of fate against astronomically low odds. Since your destinies seem to be intertwined, the least you can do is take a few moments to appreciate this small morsel before you gnaw away at it.
After you’ve fully taken in the raisin, you should feel free to put it in your mouth, but don’t slowly it right away, and chew very slowly. Notice how it feels on your teeth and tongue. Taste the difference between the outer skin of the raisin and its soft underbelly. Envision those same ridges you held in your hand only a moment ago being torn asunder by your maw, and consider what its new texture must be like. Finally, swallow the raisin, and enjoy.
When I did that, that raisin was the most delicious raisin I had every eaten. I think there’s a lot to be sad for actually appreciating your food instead of mindlessly eating it, and it’s something we can all work towards, even if we don’t all have the time to spend 20 minutes per raisin.
Calorie Counting Catastrophe
Although it i true, at the end of the day, if you manage to eat fewer calories than you expend, you’re probably going to lose weight, don’t forget that calories are just a measure of energy — your body needs lots of other nutrients in order to function, and so it’s really probably going to work out better for you if you eat food that HAS some of those nutrients! Don’t get so lost in calorie counting you forget about all those other important things!
I know this is going to sound pretty dumb, because it IS dumb, but there have been times when I’ve done (dumb) things like drink a (dumb) can of coke for dinner, because the can of coke was roughly 200 calories, and according to my calorie counters like My Fitness Pal I still had a couple hundred of calories entitled to me that day. So I figured why not, right? WELL, besides the fact that drinking soda for dinner is probably gonna make it hard to go to bed at night thanks to the caffeine (a fact which I somehow manage to forget on a regular basis), the fact of the matter is that, sadly, soda just isn’t very good for you. It’s sugar and high fructose corn syrup. It is, and it pains me to write this, junk. One of the worst things you can put into your body.
And yet I love it with all my heart.
Arguments could certainly be made along the lines of “if it makes you happy then it IS doing something for you” which I kinda believe, but I’m afraid I maybe only believe because it is a pretty compelling argument to engage in unhealthy behavior,
Long story short: don’t get so caught up in calorie counting that you neglect actual nutrition your body needs. And don’t drink soda for dinner. And also probably don’t drink soda at all, if you can swing it.
I know I can’t.
The California Theatre Center was very formative for me in many ways. I look forward to discussing the wonder and magic of CTC at another time, but for now, I’ll simply discuss a single one of their plays: Frog and Toad. In this piece of children’s theatre, the titular amphibians have a big tin of cookies that they can’t help themselves but eat. I can definitely empathize with them. They realize that eating cookies is bad for them, but they can’t bring themselves to stop, again, just like me! The solution they come to is to sling the tin at a big flock of birds, who descend to the earth and beak up every last crumb. Though Toad (or was it Frog) bemoans the loss of their cookies, the other happily declares “But now we have Willpower!”
The moral of this fable: Willpower is a lot easier if to achieve if you don’t have the food staring at you in your face.
I will eat whatever is placed in front of me. I will eat Good food and I will eat Bad food. At restaurants, I will drink as much water as they pour in front of me. Often the waitress remarks that I must be thirsty, and perhaps I am, but mostly it is because in another life I might have been a world championship eater as I seem to have the ability to stuff myself with any food that I see on sight. This is why it is very important that I only order water at restaurants, because I will do the same with soda.
The same happens for bread, which as Scott Pilgrim taught us, can have unfortunate side effects. Just YESTERDAY I went to an Indian buffet and the waiter brought out a basket of Naan bread. And I asked “if we eat all of this up, will you bring us more.” the waiter smiled and nodded his head, which had the dual effect of easing my nerves considerably, but also making me realize that maybe I’m a little bit crazy for feeling anxious at the prospect of there not being enough naan for everyone. I get even worse if I’m ever in a position where I think there won’t be enough pizza for everyone.
So, yes, I suppose that maybe this comes from a territorial place. A place of not wanting to share food, or a place of being fretful that there isn’t going to be enough food for me. I’m fortunate enough to be affluent enough that I have a nice refrigerator that is mostly full of good food, I live close to a grocery store that is similarly mostly full of good food, there really is NO FEAR whatsoever that I’m going to run out of food, mostly good or otherwise. I live close to a lot of pizza places. I’m fine. I’m going to be fine. But it still makes me nervous all the same.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Try not to have junk food in the house. It makes your will power a lot easier to deal with If you don’t have to be tempted in the first place. Then all you have to do is not buy it when you go grocery shopping, and that tends to be easier, for me at least. You can tell yourself “ha ha ha I’m not buying this junk food because it is too expensive” and then tada, you don’t have to buy it anymore. Didn’t that work out nicely.
Cook it Yourself
Cook more! You can try cooking more, and I think that can have a lot of positive benefits on your diet. For one, it’s likely going to be healthier for you because you’l know exactly where all of the ingredients come from, and you’ll likely make an effort to use at least nice-ish ingredients (as they say, garbage in, garbage out!). It also, in the grand scheme of things, tends to be less expensive than eating out, which is something your bank account will thank you for, in its silent, inanimate kind of way. Cooking can even be sorta fun! So yes, think about cooking some more!
If you don’t eat, then your body will enter what I know only as “starvation mode” — it perceives that the food intake has dropped below a certain threshold, and it beings to jealously store every calory it can get its intestinal lining on, quickly converting any any food you eat directly to fat. Or something, I think. Anyway, that’s not what you want.
What you want is to eat a reasonable amount of food based on your weight. Other websites far more legitimate than mine will tell you what that reasonable amount of food is, though a quick and dirty rule of thumb I like is that your daily caloric intake should be about your weight times 12 (or a little more if you are more active.) And that’s what it takes to maintain your weight. More calories than that means that you’ll ultimately be gaining weight, anything less than that means you’ll be losing it.
I feel that various words of wisdom I’ve heard cite that trying to eat 250 calories less than your ‘stability point’ was a good target to shoot for, because if you can pair that with burning 250 calories from exercise, you’ll be at a deficit of 500 calories a day; over the course of 7 days that leads to a 3,5000 calorie deficit, which science tells us is the amount of calories in a single pound. Just like that, you’re losing a pound a week.
But really, at the end of the day, I think you’ll just need to find a lifestyle choice that works for you. The above all the thoughts that I’ve had the most frequently, but very few of them, in any, are actually original ideas. Rather, what you’ve just perused is the collected wisdom I’ve accrued though speaking with friends, reading books, just trying things out on my own, and watching children’s theatre, so your mileage may definitely vary.
If you’ve learned something new while reading this, then I’m extraordinarily happy for you, and I wish you the best of luck in your fat fighting endeavors. If not, well, at least you can take solace in the knowledge that all you need to do is not ask for a refill on bread the next time you go to a restaurant, and you’ll already be doing better than me.
Be sure to tune in next time, where I’ll talk all about my relationship with another subject you’re likely better off learning about from someone else: exercise!
Until then, be healthy, gentle reader. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired.