So, at the start of this summer (2010, for the record), I lifted all eating restrictions on myself. I would from this moment forward face all food as equally valuable in its nourishing qualities. I would remove the judgments of "good for me" or "bad for me." I would eat when I liked, what I liked, however much I liked.
This isn't the first time I've attempted this. Between 1995 and 2001, I adopted a "fat-accepting" and "no-diet" stance on life. It netted me a gain of 10 pounds per year (that's 60 pounds of pure fat, for those of you who are math challenged). I was sure fat-accepting. I was accepting fat to settle itself upon my hips and belly like there was no tomorrow. I became a firm supporter of the plus-size store cause... to the tune of a new, larger size every single year. I would try to tell myself that this was "natural fallout" from "quitting dieting." But I knew deep down that something was seriously wrong if I was doing that to myself when I wasn't restricting what I ate.
Enter low-carb in 2001. It did help me shed most of the gains from the previous 6 years, but I sure as heck ain't skinny from it. Upping the ante and going all the way down to zero carb did NOTHING to help me in the size reduction department, as I already mentioned. To preserve my sanity, I was going to have to do something else, and I decided that this time, it would involve embracing all foods as worthy partners in my self-care efforts.
But, this time, I realized I needed to approach the no-diet mindset with caution if I wanted to avoid ending up in disaster like the last time. At first, the only logical answer seemed to be to keep tabs on my eating, using a nutritional tracking website. Of course, it's impossible to keep track of such matters if you don't use a kitchen scale and measuring tools. At first it seemed like I was working on a puzzle, where I could fit whatever kind of piece (food) I wanted, as long as I stayed within a certain range. I was having fun. But it quickly turned into an exercise in OCD, where I fixated on the numbers more and more, and was feeling hungrier and more deprived, regardless of what or how much I actually ate.
So, I ditched the measuring tools and tracking website. I was going to have to learn to trust myself.
Seriously, the prospect of this had me cowering in fear. The notion that I would have to learn to navigate the world of eating without training wheels made me shake in my Converse hi-tops. But I also realized that learning to balance was PRECISELY about moving forward without the training wheels. And I also realized that I was not entirely without tools.
One of the good things I got from my time as a zero carber was the habit of eating only when hungry, and of being genuinely disinterested in food when I wasn't hungry. When you're eating only meat, this is actually easy. You have to be goddamn hungry in order to be willing to eat a naked steak with no sides. Still, I noticed that this habit carried over, even as I added more variety to my daily menu.
There is the common-sense dictum: "eat when hungry, stop when full." Seems simple enough, no? Not really. A large number of people (and a number of large people) have NO CLUE what hunger is, much less fullness. I felt that I had an advantage having learned genuine hunger during my year as an exclusive carnivore.
Fullness? A bit trickier. When I ate only meat, I would keep eating until the next bite seemed a disgusting impossibility. This never left me feeling uncomfortably stuffed. Only unable to face another bite (of meat). However, it is now obvious to me that this was an inadequate way to gauge when it was time to stop eating.
The only logical thing to do was to stop eating when I was no longer hungry. Note that this doesn't mean "full." It simply means "not hungry." In a hunger scale of 1-10, in which 1 is "passed out from low blood glucose" and 10 means "can't breathe or I'll puke," "not hungry" is right there between 5 and 6. It's that neutral state between meals, in which you wouldn't stop what you are doing in order to stuff your face.
Most of us don't stop eating until we've reached a 7 or 8. When I was a kid, I'd push it all the way to 10.5 if I could get away with it...
But it struck me that, if I was no longer hungry, I shouldn't continue eating.
Shit. I don't want to stop eating when I'm just "not hungry."
"But it tastes so good." Get over it, there'll be something just as awesome if not better in front of you next time you actually ARE hungry.
"But what if I get hungry again?" Then eat again when you are hungry. It's that simple.
"But I've already paid for it, and if I don't eat it it will go to waste." It can go to waste, or it can go to waist. Your choice. Or would you prefer to do the job of the trash can?
So, here is what I have been practicing recently: eat until no longer hungry (5 or 6 on the hunger scale), and wait 10-15 minutes. If, during that time, hunger returns. eat some more. If it doesn't return, then I don't eat again. Usually, I remain satiated for at least 6 hours after I do this.
If hunger returns an hour or two after dinner, then it's time for dessert.
I have to admit that the hardest part of this for me is to cease the consumption of delicious food (because I make sure everything I eat is fucking awesome) while I am still capable of enjoying it. The only thing that helps me is the knowledge that, if I get hungry again, I can eat again, whatever I like, without feeling any fear or guilt.
And, I can say that it is working. I can eat when I am hungry, and I can eat whatever I like. In the few months that I have been doing this, I have been slowly digging clothes out of the "too small" box, rather than enduring the misery of ever tighter clothing, holding out until the blubber was spilling over my waistband, like the last time I tried "not dieting."
A freakin' miracle.