Trim Down Tuesday: This Is Your Brain On Food
As I mentioned last week, I’ve gained a few pounds and am crawling out of my skin until I get back to my fighting weight.
My face may not show my age, but right now my figure sure does, with that nice thick center where a waist used to be.
At the same time, I want to hit the pause button before blindly swatting at my body with another diet. I’m no stranger to what good nutrition looks like; it’s my relationship with food, pleasure and relaxation that gets in the way.
I need a bigger, more permanent change if my 45-year-old mind and body are going to take on the next several decades in fitness and in health.
So last Wednesday, my meno-pot and I visited a nutritionist who specializes in behavior modification.
Over the course of 2 hours, the nutritionist spent less time talking about what I put in my mouth, and more time exploring what was in my head.
We talked about my “Life in Llbs”, why my weight spiked when it did (teenage ennui, college, baby weight, premature menopause) what made me lose weight and what I should think about in terms of a realistic goal.
She told me that even though I might want to be 110lbs again, in truth I’ve spent the better part of the last thirty years somewhere between 115 and 125, so a weight lower than that might not be sustainable. 120 pounds is probably more realistic.
My nutritionist agreed with my self-assessment that I’m a hedonist. Not a bad thing, we’re fun people to be around.
But she pointed out that part of my issue is that when it comes to food, I live my life in extremes.
Good or bad. Stop or go. Opt out or all in. What can I say, I’m a Gemini?
Monday thru Wednesday, my eating habits are sparkling with health and restraint. Come Thursday, I justify a little chocolate or a café mocha. Friday, a quarter of a bagel with a schmear might sneak it’s way into my life and you never have to twist my arm for a cocktail after work, even though I save drinking for Saturdays. In my mind.
But Saturday, oh Saturdays. This is when I step on the gastronomic gas pedal because I’ve earned it. It’s not like I’m working my way thru a bag of Snickers, but rather tasting, licking and sipping whatever I feel like. Sneak a French fry here, share a dessert there, start off with a martini and order a bottle of wine, pretending not to notice when the waiter keeps topping off my glass. Sunday is a smaller version of Saturday, with a little less alcohol, but more carbs.
The solution for me lies in living in the “mindful middle” with food, according to my nutritionist.
A place where nothing is off-limits, provided I listen to what my body wants. Where meal times are opportunities to stop moving at the speed of light, slow down and think about what you’re eating. There is no overeating, only overfeeding which reframes for me what it truly is to put too much into your body.
Wine on Wednesday? Sure, provided it’s only one of the 4 glasses I can have a week.
Sounds great in theory, but putting it into practice will be a long, slow process.
Mentally, I was ready to jump-start into a Spartan plan of deprivation. Instead, the opposite happened. I’m instructed to spend the next 10 days listening to my body, nourishing it and tracking my feelings of all things.
I’m given a starter meal plan, but part of the process will be understanding what my body responds to in terms of weight loss.
Here are the nutritional tenants I am to live by, and how I fared sorted by easy to hard.
1. EASY: Eat 5 mini meals throughout the day consisting of a little protein, carb and fat. As it was explained to me, you need to add kindling to a fire to make it burn; if you stick a big log on a fire it will fizzle out. Same with food and your metabolism.
This has been my favorite part of the plan; I have tons of energy, I’m never hungry and it’s enabled me to eat much less at traditional meal times. And look at the tasty mini meals I get to eat!
2. EASY: Avoid processed foods like the plague. My nutritionist shares the popular opinion that the way food is manufactured in the US is inherently broken (watch Food Inc to see what I mean). We over process foods to the point that it becomes more of a chemical than something occurring in nature.
Case in point: during a day stuck at the airport I ate nothing but Balance Bars and couldn’t poop for a week.
I use this as an excuse to splurge on local produce at the Union Square greenmarket. Just look at this beautiful produce! It’s ridiculously overpriced, but it’s so pretty, fresh and local.
3. EASY: Track what I eat on Recovery Record. While originally designed for people with eating disorders, my nutritionist likes this app for anyone looking to change their behavior because it tracks your mood, hunger and satisfaction with each meal. It also nags you when you miss an entry.
I’m still getting used to it; I miss being able to see a quantifiable goal the way I could with my WW tracker. I’m a little concerned I’m eating too much because I’m never hungry (and my pants aren’t any loser, but it’s only a few days in). I’m reassured this is all part of the process, albeit a slow one.
4. EASY Skip the gym, but move your body. I could have hugged her when she told me visiting one of my two gyms (shame) wasn’t a requirement. “You’re just going to wind up resenting exercise instead of loving it,” she told me. But, I need to be active all the time.
I claim I walk to work everyday, and in my mind I do. But the reality is, I’m always late for something so wind up grabbing a cab more often than not. The solution? Well, be more on time and walk, but I’ve also discovered CitiBike!
I’ve been eyeing the big blue bikes and their intrepid riders over the summer. Riding in traffic terrifies me, and I’m about as comfortable on a bike as I am a runway at Fashion Week. But I grew wings one I discovered the Hudson River Park bike path which took me from 59th to Tribeca. I felt alive and connected to the city in a whole new way. I arrived late for meeting my friends, a little dewy with sweaty helmet hair, but the endorphins pumping thru my body made up for that.
5. HARD: Sit down, slow down. This means no nibbling while cooking, grabbing food on the run or eating at my desk. I have to sit my butt down, in a chair, eat on a plate, with utensils.
On weekends I can do this, because I eat with my family and it’s a lovely ritual. But at work, it’s a different story. I realize I inhale my food while digesting email. My brain is processing what I need to get done rather than what’s happening in my mouth. Clearly, this will take work.
6. HARD: Focus on satiety and fullness. I’m told to nix the shakes and vegetable juices in place of real food. Apparently, masticating (the act of chewing food) signals to your brain a greater sense of satisfaction.
What also helps satiety are a variety of textures coming together like creamy, crunchy, crispy and chewy (see above snacks). Big, bold flavors also help satiety, like a bit of parmesan cheese. This is the easy part.
The harder part for me is that I’m tone deaf when it comes to listening to what my body wants. If’ I’m eating something tasty, my mouth wants more while my tummy says “hold on, not sure if we need more, but I guess I can find room”. It’s a nuanced distinction that will take practice to recognize.
7. HARD: Limit wine to 4 glasses a week. I generally hoard my wine chits until the weekend, but her advice is to drink whenever I want, provided I limit it to 4 glasses per week. Per week. Yes, I’ve broken that already.
Rules aside, six days in and I feel fantastic. I have bounds of energy, I’m never hungry and I’m sleeping like a lamb.
But the real test will be when I weigh in next Monday. I’m a little worried about not losing anything, but I’ll take a slow start for longer term transformation.
Next week on Trim Down Tuesday: tennis, Zumba and surviving (or not) a sangria fueled picnic.