I have been following a flexible dieting approach to my diet for about 18 months and it’s never going to change! After years and years of battling with food, self-esteem issues because of my weight and constantly losing and regaining weight, I have found my magic bullet. And it is anything but that in reality…it’s really about the consistency with which I have applied it.
I have checked into My Fitness Pal every day for 585 days in a row and probably tracked for 580 of those days. Yup, there has been the occasional day when I haven’t recorded the minutia of my daily intake and I am totally relaxed about that. Unlike people may think I am not obsessed with my food tracking, it is simply something that I do to keep me from overeating and slipping back into my old habits when it comes to my diet.
This DOES NOT mean that I have been on a diet for 585 days. After losing about 30 kgs over the course of about a year I decided to carry on tracking my food in order to keep myself accountable when it comes to how much I eat. The reason being that even at a much lower bodyweight I really do still want to eat…A LOT! I feel like I am always hungry and in order to not go back to my starting weight of 101kgs, I use calorie counting as a way of being accountable to myself and yet giving myself some semblance of freedom in which to nourish my body.
At the moment I am wanting to lose a few kilograms and because of that I am going to be focusing on a deficit intake of 1,600 calories/day, probably with one or two days at 2,000 calories. I have an event in November that I want to look kick ass for, but since January I have eaten more at my maintenance calories than I have at a deficit. So just because I am tracking my calories and macros doesn’t mean that I am dieting. I LOVE food and we eat lots of it. And the the upside of calorie counting is that the eating I do is GUILT-FREE eating. Something which I NEVER imagined could ever be possible, especially in this lifetime.
I adhere to the idea that 80% of the food that I eat is nutrient-dense; whole food with lots of salads, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and lean meats. I have made really good friends with the trusty potato (who I feel has been given a very bad wrap over the years) and love all sorts of food which I would previously have seen as bad and not to be put into my body. I eat homemade pizza on a regular basis because all the ingredients are weighed and measured and I can control the calories by knowing what’s going onto my plate and into my mouth!
Because the majority of the food that I eat is whole food, cooked in my very own kitchen, there is space for some of the other stuff so many people consider to be bad and unhealthy. How can the bliss that a couple of squares of dark chocolate or a few fruit pastilles be considered bad for me!? I mean if I count it as part of my daily intake and don’t overdo it, whats the harm!? Of course I am not eating 2,000 calories worth of high-calorie, low-nutrient food, but I am giving myself the space to enjoy it here and there rather than NEVER being allowed to consider the dessert menu.
Spending years on deprivation diets and not being allowed to eat so may things was much worse for me. This “absolutely-not-allowed-under-any-circumstances” approach to food and certain food groups led to a really nasty food addiction and a tendency to regain all the weight that I had lost the minute I was off the latest diet that I had been on. Not one professional I worked with ever got me to look at my relationship with myself and the way that I used food, and I was too deep in the denial to believe that food was in any way masking my unease with who I was. It really wasn’t about how healthy or unhealthy the food choice was, but rather the emotions and reasons behind the eating that were toxic for my body and my mind.
Working with a coach who really got me to understand what food is all about was revolutionary to me. Food is not evil! Carbs are not the devil! Chocolate is not bad for me! Burgers don’t need to be on the banned list! What I did need to learn was that it’s a complex interplay between myself and the world around me. It’s not about eating the chocolate brownie as much as it’s about why I am eating the chocolate brownie. I have learned to nourish my body through the food that we buy, cook and eat. I no longer punish myself by depriving myself of bad food and pushing unwanted, but oh-so-healthy food down my throat. Who in their right mind actually enjoys rubbery egg-white omelettes and endless lunched of steamed chicken and broccoli!?
I don’t cry about the boring food I am forced to eat when I am dieting anymore! I do give a lot of thought to what to eat and how to best prepare our food in a way that doesn’t turn it into a calorie bomb. I guess some people may consider calorie counting for so many days a little excessive, but for the first time since I was 13 I am able to enjoy food and not live in fear of the supermarket, kitchen and dinner table. More than that I am able to eat out and not feel the need to choose the healthy option off the menu, because I understand that going slightly over on my calories on the odd occasion really isn’t the end of the world. I guess I have cultivated a growth mindset of abundance when it comes to food. Rather than depriving myself at every turn to stay at my “ideal” weight I have come to understand that one big, un-tracked meal in a restaurant or a friend’s dinner party is not going to be the nutritional undoing of me.
So I approach food with a far more joyful attitude these days. I don’t dread eating out or going away for a few days, because I know that tomorrow is another day and that means I can tighten my eating plan and calories up a little if needed and not let things get out of hand. That was my problem over so many years – the idea that I was either “on or off my diet”. Being on a diet meant feeling deprived, miserable and pissed off. While the opposite was to eat whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it, and still feeling miserable and pissed off with myself because of my lack of self-control and -discipline. Now I am far more responsible towards myself and approach food and meals from a present and grounded place. I’d say I am responsive towards food rather than reactive.
I am not angry about what I should or shouldn’t eat. If I really want to eat that delicious piece of cheesecake at the end of the meal (or instead of the meal), it’s my choice and I don’t feel like my choices are being forced onto me. If I have a day when I eat too much then I simply balance it out with a day of lower caloric intake. I never spend time and effort chastising myself for something that I ate, especially since I probably really enjoyed it. What’s the point!? I know how to eat now and I know how to do it in a way that is sustainable and works for me. Like I said the magic bullet…of consistency!
I’m not saying my way is the right way or the only way. What I do know was that understanding what food is about has help me immensely in losing weight and keeping it off. The minute I tell myself no, I seem to rebel against myself and go to the extreme. So by giving myself choice and variety when it comes to food I am so much happier. I have learned to respond so much better than ever before. And it’s not just about food, but a lot of other areas where I used to be so much more reactive and self-defeating. It’s a much healthier place for me to be than the place where I am constantly telling myself don’t, can’t, mustn’t, shouldn’t!
This place is more about me checking in with myself and finding out if it’s what I really want and need. It’s about knowing and trusting that I have the skills and the tools to take care of myself. It’s about being comfortable with colouring outside the lines when it comes to my eating and knowing that I won’t bounce back into my size 42 jeans in a weekend if I stay conscious and aware .
I am writing this from a B&B in Calrens where I am spending a couple of days and I have enjoyed the delicious food that the little town in the Free State has to offer without worrying about whether or not I should be eating this or that. It’s so freeing after years of feeling bad about eating the dessert or having a second cappuccino for the day. I feel like I am getting to fully experience life without the crazy ideas I carried around about myself and food. I am happier, healthier, stronger and more balanced than ever and that’s because of how I feel about myself and how I treat my body with kindness, love and allow myself to have a little fun when it comes to the food I eat. So tonight I am going to enjoy my dinner and when I get back to Johannesburg tomorrow I’ll decide what needs to be done moving forward to the weekend. I’m thinking before I start my deficit there’s going to be at least one pizza meal and maybe a piece of cheesecake at my favourite little bistro in Norwood.