This is the story about how I went from crazy to crazier and ended up just a little crazy. I call that progress.
I have lived my entire life in a toxic, self loathing relationship with my body. I grew up chubby, with a Father (whom I love dearly) constantly joking that I would have to be “greased through doorways” when I grew up. I know that a lot of you look to me for advice and inspiration and I am writing this today to tell you that you are not alone in your struggles. My journey has evolved along with my perception of my own body, but it’s not over. I’ve gone from calorie counting and macronutrient balances, to Intermittent Fasting and a primal style of eating; I’m still healing.
A few years ago, I underwent knee surgery which resulted in a loss of function and a subsequent increase in body fat. I was in a hell of a lot of pain, and ridiculously uncomfortable in my own skin. So after an overly dramatic emotional breakdown, I bought a food scale, logged all my calories on My Daily Plate, and became an avid follower of the frequent feeding model (eat small meals, 5-6 times a day, every few hours). I weighed ALL of my food except for my cheats; every last little caloric morsel, including sauces and vegetables. I legit had a dry erase board and a calculator on the wall in my kitchen to log macros while I cooked.
(See? I told you, cray cray.)
But guess what? It worked. I lost 4 pounds in one week and continued to lean out to 11% bodyfat, which, by the way, I maintained consistently. My lifts got BIGGER and my confidence grew exponentially. That summer, I experienced a leanness that was foreign to me. I was ripped. I bought shorter shorts and skimpier bikinis. For a girl who was used to covering up her thickness, it was physical freedom. Except for the hunger. Oh, and the food obsession.
I was a slave to meal timing and macros; inevitably I cracked.
I didn’t realize I had started to crack because it came on slowly. I would cheat just a little more on Saturday, indulging in pizza, cookies and wine. Eventually cheat day turned into cheat weekend; cheat weekend turned into an all out binge fest. I would often find myself searching for something to eat Sunday night, even though I wasn’t hungry, just so I could feel some respite from the clean eating that would commence on Monday.
As you can imagine I put my body and mind through complete hell. On any given Friday I would feel lean and weigh in around 121 pounds, and on Monday I would typically be back up to 128. I treated my body so poorly that I packed on an obscene amount of inflammation over the course of two days, subsequently returning to complete restriction mode in order to get lean again by Friday. I did this for months and months. It was absolute insanity.
Binge, Restrict, Self-Flagellate, Repeat.
It was a downright abhorrent cycle that left me ravaged, mind, body and soul.
Until I just couldn’t do it anymore.
So I said a tearful goodbye to my food scale and moved forward with the intention of finding balance. I began cutting out grains, limiting dairy and sugar, and eating massive portions of meat and veggies. Perhaps not so coincidentally, I also purged my life of some seriously toxic, unhealthy relationships. And a funny thing happened-I leaned the eff out!
(Side note: I am not suggesting that the food scale is evil or that calorie counting is senseless. These things have merit in that they create a better understanding of what constitutes an honest portion. I simply do not believe these methods to be sustainable.)
It was then that I embarked on what would become an epic journey; a quest to heal my relationship with food and the deep rooted dysmorphia that had antecedently guided my actions. Against everything I had previously known to be true, I began Intermittent Fasting, which played a considerable role in my healing process. For the first time in my life I felt free from food.
Until I started eating too much and ended up a little squishy.
Here’s the thing about fasting: it’s not a free pass to eat more than your fair share. This little girl can throw down some food, let me tell you. So when my fasting/feasting got out of control I had a painfully reluctant epiphany:
It wasn’t my style of eating that was a problem, or really even what I was eating; it was my complete lack of self control and my inability to embody the term “moderation.”
I’ll be the first to admit it-I have never been a girl who can do things in moderation. I am all or nothing and I am not ashamed of it. If a bottle of wine gets opened in my house, it does not get corked. If a bag of chips wanders into my lap, it winds up mysteriously empty. And if a batch of chocolate chip cookies gets baked, well get ’em while they’re hot because you’re lucky to find one left the next day.
This was something I had failed to recognize as I embarked on my various nutritional journeys. I should have been more aware of this, given my family history of addiction and my propensity to go balls to the wall on just about everything. Alas, I thought I could control myself and that’s just not the case. I can’t eat just one cookie or have just one glass of wine. And you know what? There is NOTHING wrong with that; that’s just not who I am.
This realization was the missing link for me. It wasn’t the frequent feeding model, the calorie counting or the Intermittent Fasting that made me lean. All of these methods work. Paleo works, nutrient timing works, Carb Back Loading works. There are a thousand ways to get results, but you’ll never get there without finding your own path.
You’ll never get there if you keep sabotaging yourself because you haven’t taken the time to understand your own psychology.
It’s taken me years to understand the fact that moderation, for me, is not proportionate to balance. Self control does not necessarily equal the ability to stop at one cookie (who eats ONE cookie, anyway?). Self control is the ability to recognize that I can’t stop at one cookie. It’s all cookies or no cookies!
Now I know a lot of you might be reading this and thinking I am encouraging restriction and binging. Let me say once and for all: that is NO way to live and I am in no way insinuating this.
Simply put, find out if moderation is something you can embody. If not, find a new strategy; don’t continue to berate yourself for not being able to adhere to moderation. Physical leanness and sanity can coexist, I promise you.
This is where I found balance, and here is how: (Necessary caveat: This is what works for me. I am not suggesting that you do any of these things, merely that you should find out what creates balance in your life.)
- Intermittent Fasting. I keep my fasting windows long (18-24 hours) and my feeding windows short. This gives me very little time to stuff myself which makes it nearly impossible to overeat. I will also do a long fast (roughly 36 hours) after a particularly indulgent weekend/trip. This is in NO WAY a binge/restrict cycle as some would have you believe. It’s perfectly healthy and normal to take breaks from eating and allow your body time to reset to neutral. I actually thoroughly enjoy fasting, which puts the restriction argument to rest in that regard.
- Planning vs. Damage Control. These two go hand in hand. I can plan ahead before a party and bring foods that I know won’t sabotage my nutrition. Or I can fast all day, eat and drink like it’s my last day on the planet, and do damage control the next day by incorporating a longer fast. Either way, I am making a decision to be in control. Again, it’s not binge/restrict, it’s a well thought out plan.
- The “Wheat Free Cheat”. I wish I could give credit to the person who tweeted this but for the life of me I can’t remember who it was. I do this instinctively, because wheat just bloats me up. Incidently, corn causes my body to have an auto immune response so I avoid that, too. Majority of the time, I keep my cheats in the realm of “whole foods”. Meaning, I will eat things that do not directly support my goals but do not directly undermine them either. For me, this usually entails a cheese tray with salami, dried fruit and spiced nuts.
- Every once in a while, eat something truly wicked. This is where moderation comes in, for me. I just don’t want to eat one slice of pizza. Instead I eat pizza once or twice a year and eat the whole thing.
NYE ’11 in NYC
- Enjoy EVERY SINGLE thing I put in my mouth. (I know, I know, I set myself up for that one…). Seriously, food is meant to be enjoyed. We have ventured so far from our primal roots that we are now “eating on the go” and settling for less than amazing. I never settle for food that doesn’t knock my socks off.
- Don’t keep in the house. If I can’t control how much I eat of it, it has no place in my kitchen. If I have something leftover I’ll give it away, or if I have to, I’ll even throw it out. John Romaniello made a very good point (several, actually) in his most recent post: “Eating past the point of being full isn’t going to make starving kids in third world countries any less hungry. If you want to help, make a donation.”
- As much as possible, eat with others. This accomplishes two things for me: I eat less, because I’m less inclined to stuff my face in front of someone else, and it encourages human interaction while partaking in one of life’s primal needs. Imagine that. Michael Pollan talks about the importance of eating as an act of communion in his renowned book, In Defense of Food.
- Stop taking myself to seriously. Real talk-I don’t need to be shredded. I just need to feel comfortable in my own skin to keep myself sane. Do my favorite Lululemon leggings still look amazing? Okay, then I’m still in my comfort zone. Please pass the bacon.
With these strategies in place, I can safely say ditch moderation. I am still legitimately crazy, but in a way that I am completely comfortable and at peace with. I hang out around 16% body fat and I feel good in my Lulu. I lift heavy stuff and eat lots of bacon. Most importantly, I am insanely happy.
So what say you? Everything in moderation or is moderation an unattainable virtue? Are you more inclined to go cray cray on a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, or are you satisfied with just one scoop? Figure out what balance means to you, and I am confident you will find your own nutritional path.
*Neghar Fonooni, fitness & lifestyle coach, entrepreneur *Founder: Eat, Lift, & be Happy negharfonooni.com
*Image of “moderation” via Shutterstock