June 19th, 2008

summer reading

Am I Bugging You? I Don't Mean to Bug 'Ya

One of my pet peeves is the dieter. Before you see red on that comment, let me narrow it down a bit because not all dieters bug me. The dieters that bug me are the ones who feel the need to tell you about all the things they are denying themselves. You know the ones...you're sitting at a restaurant and it's, "Oh, I can't have that because of the blahblahblah" or "That one will add 5 pounds to my hips if I even *think* about it." This manages to do two things at once for me: it makes me feel guilty for any of those food choices I was thinking I might like. And it bores me. Does anyone ever really care when someone else tells you about the salad consumed without dressing and the food not eaten all day and the meal left unenjoyed thanks to all the attention on the option not taken? You don't care, do you? Well, neither do I.

Now, if a person is instead approaching things from the angle of "I tried this new recipe and it tastes fantastic and it's not that bad for you", I'm interested. It's not that I don't want to be supportive, because I understand changing food habits can be a Big Deal. It's just that I don't want to be bored or guilted to death over someone else's food choices.

This was all a preface to me saying, again, "Don't be that guy". In an effort to save anyone else that agrees with me that talk of food, or more specifically, food denial, is boring as all get-out, I wanted to let you know the following skirts and flirts with just that. So if you're not interested, here's the moment for hitting the scroll bar.


For anyone still hanging in there, this turned out longer than I was intending - sorry 'bout that.


After I had my daughter, about half of the baby weight dropped off like that *snap*. I attribute this in part to breastfeeding (I swear, that has to be a huge calorie burner) and in part to the step classes I went back to about 4 weeks after she was born. I didn't realize at the time that, in theory, one isn't supposed to start exercise until 6 weeks after giving birth. Oops. By the time someone pointed this out to me, I felt dependent on those classes and I wasn't willing to give them up. You feel like you've entered some alternate universe when you've got a newborn to take care of and that hour or so out of the house helped me feel like I had at least a toe touching a reality that was "normal" a handful of times a week . There were a few weeks there that were just perfect: my daughter would need a feeding around 5am, so if she hadn't woken me up, I'd wake her up and take care of that, get her changed and put her back to bed. I'd get to the gym for the 6am class then be back and showered by the time my husband needed to leave for work or my daughter woke back up and needed her next feeding.

Anyway. As I said, about half the weight dropped off easy peasy. Then there was the other half that stuck around and stuck around and stuck around. Conflicting work schedules meant I had to give up the work outs, which certainly didn't help. Then there was the change in eating habits from before-the-baby where I'd spend at least part of every week-end prepping food so taking meals to work and cooking meals after work was relatively easy. That habit disappeared once I was taking care of a small child alone during the time I previously spent prepping food. I've never regained that habit, even though I don't have the small child issues any more. After a few years with no positive change on the weight front, I consulted with my doctor and ended up going to see a nutritionist.

That proved very useful and helpful for me. Writing down every food you eat is enlightening, for one thing. Reviewing it in 2 week intervals with a professional was more so. I discovered eating habits I didn't even realize I had. In the end I got more or less where I wanted to be, or at least to a point I could live with.

A few years ago I was sick for several months. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight and ended up looking just as I felt, which was pretty bad. Then there was a first for me: these unshakeable, insatiable cravings for the most terrible kinds of foods. Like fries with lots of salt, chocolate shakes, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I figured it was my body in starvation mode, trying to take in as much fat as possible to make up for what had been lost. But even moderating those cravings as much as I could stand (giving in a few times a week instead of a few times a day), gaining weight was inevitable. Which is what happened.

About a year after I was deemed "well" and released back to work, I was finally feeling somewhat like myself again. It was hard - really, really hard - but I eventually got back to exercising at a level approximating where I was before my illness. Slowly, some of the weight went away again.

This brings me to now. I've been at a relatively stable place for awhile now, so I figured it was a good time to start paying attention to what I'm eating again and make adjustments as needed. I've been tracking food for the past few weeks with the idea that I'd not change anything - only do the tracking for a short while, then examine the results and chart a course. Of course, once you start tracking things it seems only natural that you start limiting yourself, but for the most part I haven't changed what I've eaten recently from what I've been eating for months.

In examining the results, the not surprising part was that I take in the right number of calories to maintain where I'm at (well, duh). The pseudo-surprise was that I eat more fat than I thought (peanut butter, an absolute necessity in my family, is killer). The complete surprise was that I eat a lot more sodium than I ever realized. Like, nearly twice the US recommended daily limit. The British recommended limit is even lower than the US limit; I blow that one practically by lunch. The only times in the past several days when I've been close to the recommended level of sodium have occurred purely by accident. I've never had issues with blood pressure before, but I'm at the age when this kind of thing really starts to show if not taken in hand. For that alone, I'd say it's been a worthwhile exercise to have taken this up again.

Now comes the hard part: working to adjust my habits. I don't know why, but I'm more daunted by the prospect of reducing my salt intake than I am at adjusting my caloric intake. Maybe because it's easier for me to look at a thing and think, "If I eat only x% instead of 100% of that, that'll reduce my calories" whereas reducing salt means a kind of top-to-bottom review for culprits. I mean, seeing that I meet the fat requirement almost completely with what I consider a decent portion of peanut butter makes it relatively easy to see that peanut butter is a culprit. But salt? That's *everywhere*. A little here and a little there adds up pretty fast. Not to mention the fact that, obviously, since I eat so much of it and don't even notice it, there's an implication that my tastes are adjusted to this level and will notice the lack when salt is taken away.

At this point, I don't even have a weight loss goal, really. I see no need to be the size I was in college again, but I'd probably feel consistently better if I were a size or two smaller. On the one hand, I think I'll know where I want to be when I'm there, but on the other, there's the fact that it's generally easier to obtain a goal when it's specific. So that will require more thought. In the meantime though, less salt. Less salt. Less salt. Less salt. I need to think of a way to make that sound more positive, if only to help me avoid being "that guy": that dieter that bores everyone to tears with tales of all the foods she isn't eating.

If anyone has any tips on the reducing sodium concept, let me know. In the end it's a simple enough idea - just take in less of it - but in practice, I see this being somewhat of a challenge for me, at least at first.