It’s breakfast time here at the Buffalo Moon Ranch, so it occurs to me that now is as good a time as any to talk about food. Besides, after yesterday’s leg-based riots, I am absolutely not in the mood to talk about exercise. Exercise schmexercise. Stoopid exercise.
So let’s talk about food. More specifically, let’s talk about diet food. This is a longish one; I apologize in advance.
The first rule of diet food: Don’t talk about diet food.
I don’t do diet food, because hahahaha no. One of my goals with this whole “healthy lifestyle” thing is the option of living a long and happy life…and to be incredibly frank about things, if you tell me the only way to accomplish that is to never eat another cheeseburger again as long as I live, then it’s going to take me about three seconds to decide that I’d rather keel over of a heart attack next week with a burger in one hand and a jumbo-sized chocolate shake in the other. I don’t respond well to strict prohibitions, and I did not make it to ~350 lbs by enjoying eating nothing but rabbit food. So any diet that bans foods or food groups is not going to work for me. Besides, I don’t like the word “diet”. It makes me feel like I should be in a 1980s Jazzercise class, wearing spandex and talking with other large-haired women about how I just love celery.
Rule #2: It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle change.
The other thing about diets is that they tend to have lifespans. You do the Ultra Hyper Mega Master Fat-Blasting CleanseOMatic for 10 or 14 or 21 days; you cut out all foods that start with C or contain anything orange for 2 months and then gradually reintroduce them on alternating Wednesdays; you deny yourself everything sweet for as long as your willpower holds out and then you binge on Ben & Jerry’s for two weeks straight. I need something that’s going to last a bit longer than that–I’ve literally spent my entire life getting to this size, so I need something that’s going to work for as long as it takes to get me into a different shape, and keep me there. And frankly, that might take a while. So anything promising miracles overnight isn’t likely to do it for me, and I know myself well enough to accept that I am really not going to stick with anything that has complicated math or weird calendar-tracking involved. Shoot, I’m doing well to get everyone’s birthday on the calendar; keeping extensive food diaries so I know whether today is an Ok To Eat Veggies With Leaves Day is just too much to ask.
Rule #3: My high school science teacher taught us not to eat the chemicals.
…Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not 100% sure that she ever did say that, at least not directly. But we pretty much all intuited it, y’know? Somewhere around “wear rubber gloves, use eye protection, keep your lab coat on so none of this comes in contact with your skin, and the fume hoods are there so you don’t breathe in anything that will kill you”, we pieced together “this is not food” on our own. So when I go looking for food, I’m looking for food–not some alarming chemical amalgamation that resembles food in strange ways. This can be challenging; the food industry has come up with some seriously creative ways to make our food less food-like…but the real food, like the truth, is out there if you do a bit of searching. (As a convenient tip: at the grocery store, shop the perimeter–that’s where the produce and meats and dairy all live. The stuff in the aisles in the middle, you’ll notice, comes in boxes and cans, and when I’m in a hurry, I cannot always be bothered to slow down and read 12,000 labels. Far easier to go for things that don’t require labels–like, say, an apple.) I could hold forth on this topic for a long time, but instead I’ll just refer you to Michael Pollan, who has said it all already and in convenient portable form: http://michaelpollan.com/books/food-rules/.
Rule #4: Read labels.
This is more about supporting rule #3 than anything else for me, though it can be interesting sometimes to know how many calories are in a serving of that breakfast cereal I’m eyeing. But there is a lot of information on labels, and it can become overwhelming quickly. That’s ok. I’m learning that the best option for me is to use a sort of gestalt approach–I get an overall impression of the food from the label, and just roll with that instead of getting hung up on the particulars (though if your doctor has told you to be vigilant about a particular statistic–say, the sodium count in your soup–then you are welcome to obsess over the relevant numbers). So if I’m choosing among 3 cereals, all of which are on sale and look equally delicious, I’ll look at the labels and give a point apiece to “lowest calorie count”, “least fat”, “lowest sodium”, “fewest sugars”, “most vitamins and minerals”, and “shortest ingredients list” (bonus points if the ingredients are all things that I recognize as being things a normal person is likely to have in their pantry). The box with the most points wins.
Rule #5: Stand between me and my ice cream, and you’re likely to lose a limb.
I am not giving up the foods I love. Period. Thank you for playing, have a nice day, please pull through. Instead, I go with an 80-90 rule, i.e., “Make the best choices you can, 80-90% of the time”. I’m trying to eat mindfully these days: the world has not run out of food today, so I will be able to go back for more if I’m still hungry when I’m done with this meal, so I probably don’t need to load up my plate like a madwoman; locally sourced organic food is less scary than the packaged stuff; sliders are cheeseburgers too, just in easier-to-control portion sizes; etc. But part of that, for me, means acknowledging that I’ll have cravings, and taking active control of what I do with those. If I want pizza for dinner, then a pizza I shall have; I’ll just have oatmeal for breakfast and a salad for lunch so I can indulge guilt-free, and then I’ll try my best to make wise choices tomorrow. Giving up all my favorite foods is simply not an option for me. See rule #1.
Rule #6: A cheeseturkey is not the same thing as a cheeseburger. Neither are mashed cauliflatos.
There are people who will tell you that food substitution is the best thing evar. They will say that ground turkey tastes “just like” ground beef, or that mashed cauliflower is “just like” mashed potatoes, or that sucralose is “just like” sugar. These people are lying liars from Liartown. Food substitution is totally fair game–ground turkey functions just like ground beef; just be prepared for a difference in taste. Ditto for the cauliflower trick; around here, cauliflower has historically come in your choice of steamed, raw, roasted, steamed, raw, roasted, or steamed, so on a lark, I made mashed cauliflower the other night, just for a change of pace. It was floopin’ delicious. It was also not mashed potatoes, nor was it ever going to be. Don’t lie to me about my food. If I’m going to make a substitution, I’m going to do so knowing that it’s the moral equivalent of choosing broccoli instead of cauliflower–the two things are not the same, are never going to be the same, and as long as I’m prepared for that, we’re golden.
…And those are the basics. There are a million other sub-rules and clarifications, but those are the main ones. And as with all things, your results may vary–if you’re someone who feels more in-control when you can add up some numbers at the end of the day, then by all means, go for it (I’m just too lazy for all that math). If you really do prefer ground turkey over beef, then bon appetit!
Just don’t talk to me about diet food. Mama BW doesn’t do diet food. Especially not when the world is full of delicious cupcakes. *grin*