StillLifeCaravaggio opt Diet Contradictions, Cravings and Compromises

Car­avag­gio encour­ages you to eat your fruits and vegetables.

The other day I walked into an office I where I occa­sion­ally work, and a col­league came up to me and exclaimed “Brian, have you lost weight?  You look like skin and bones!”  Con­sid­er­ing I am 6’1″, ath­letic, and weigh about 180 pounds, I know that I am of a healthy weight.   Amer­i­can per­cep­tions of a healthy weight are com­pletely skewed. Even a week­end trip to Mon­treal will show that this is true.   Regard­less of mis­con­cep­tions, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of bad diet are profound:

And those are just three broad phe­nom­ena that affect the pop­u­la­tion as a whole.  Per­sonal sto­ries have more impact.  I was lis­ten­ing to a adver­tise­ment for a gym the other day, and the woman they were inter­view­ing said “I didn’t real­ize how lim­ited I was by my weight.”  How­ever seden­tary Amer­i­can cul­ture is, most activ­i­ties peo­ple find fun and reward­ing require mobility.

Main­tain­ing a healthy diet can be hard.   Your body craves the foods that are the worst for it, and this is a prod­uct of mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion.  Fats have the high­est caloric den­sity, are there­fore felt as the most valu­able by our sur­vival instincts.  Luckily, some sim­ple obser­va­tions and recog­ni­tion of habits can let you see how easy it can be to over­come diet problems.

Con­tra­dic­tions

Almost every­one would agree that you have more life options if you aren’t over­weight, but I think peo­ple should be more con­scious of the effect of poor diet and obe­sity. I have been out with girls, who after run­ning into an old friend, imme­di­ately com­ment, “Ugh, they are skin­nier than me!”  Guys are no bet­ter, and grab their bel­lies and make a self-deprecating state­ment.  I’ve even seen their girl­friends rein­force this by pat­ting them on the stomach!

But dur­ing the Olympics, I saw girls every­where ogling Evan Lysacek’s shirt­less pic­tures, and admir­ing his abs.  Its quite obvi­ous at whose stom­ach they’d rather be look­ing.  I would play hockey with those same belly-flaunting guys, and they’ll scream to every­one in frus­tra­tion, “Get­ting old sucks!”  Some of these peo­ple there are in their 40’s, but I know some­one who is more than five years older than that who is in great shape, skat­ing just as fast as I am and lov­ing it.

I don’t think any­one I’ve ever met is hap­pier being over­weight. Every­one loves to eat, but there are easy ways to enjoy both food and life out­side of eat­ing.  These con­tra­dic­tions mean you are not keep­ing with your true beliefs.  You have bla­tant desires about what you want in life, but are dis­re­gard­ing them to what end?

The first step to man­ag­ing your diet is to find a pur­pose in main­tain­ing it.

  • Keep­ing pace with your children
  • Per­for­mance in a sport, whether com­pet­i­tive or recreational
  • Ful­fill­ing the desires of a loved one

Really, it makes no dif­fer­ence what the rea­son is, just as long as you have one.  This way, every time you ques­tion a deci­sion, you can remind your­self, “Hey, I’m doing this for a rea­son that’s big­ger than myself.”

Crav­ings

As described in this arti­cle, and with sup­port­ing argu­ments from the The China Study, the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet affects your brain like a drug, trick­ing you into think­ing you need more calo­ries than is nec­es­sary.  I have def­i­nitely found this to be true in my own expe­ri­ence.   Through­out a given week, I can be care­ful with my eat­ing, and hon­estly not any food crav­ings. How­ever, if I go out with friends on Fri­day night, and get a few beers, a ham­burger and fries, or some other unhealthy foods…

The rest of the week­end I have awful, mind-consuming crav­ings!

I have found it takes up to 4 days to get the crav­ings to sub­side, and I have to actively tell myself  “I am not going to eat now” or “I’m not going to sati­ate this par­tic­u­lar crav­ing.”   It is a stress­ful expe­ri­ence, and if diet­ing were always like this, I think it would be unsus­tain­able for any­one.   How­ever, if you can get over the hump, which really doesn’t take that long, these crav­ings sub­side almost entirely.

Admit You’re Not Per­fect — Work for Com­pro­mise
Since going away to school and mov­ing out of my par­ents house, I’ve real­ized how con­scious you can be of your food choices.  Col­lege starts as pure bing­ing for almost every­one, as there are no par­ents to tell you what you can buy.  After a few years, I slowly began to real­ize a few things that were true of my eat­ing habits.

  1. I usu­ally was toó lazy to drive and pick up food, so I would eat what­ever I had at my apart­ment first.
  2. If I didn’t have any food at home, I would drive to Wendy’s for a junior bacon cheeseburger.
  3. If I was gro­cery shop­ping, I didn’t have too hard of a time con­vinc­ing myself to only buy healthy foods.

Your own habits may be dif­fer­ent from mine, but this is what I started work­ing with.  Cur­rently I work full time and have made the fol­low­ing obser­va­tions:  I need to keep myself sati­ated through­out the day, includ­ing break­fast and lunch.  I also like to snack pretty con­sis­tently through­out the day.  For din­ner I’ll either eat with fam­ily, my room­mate, or go out with friends or on a date.  So of these things, what do I have the eas­i­est con­trol over?   Break­fast and lunch, and any other food I eat while I’m at work. There­fore, I try to make this time as healthy as pos­si­ble. A nor­mal day will con­sist of:

  1. 5 or 6 fruits and veggies.
  2. 6 serv­ings of whole grains.
  3. A serv­ing of nuts.
  4. At least six glasses of water

I make sure that there is noth­ing bad to eat dur­ing this time, every­thing is one of the above foods.   One excep­tion is I do love Dori­tos, so occa­tion­ally I will buy a 12 pack bag from the gro­cery store.  These are a smaller serv­ing than those that come out of the snack machine, and 75% cheaper!

After an excel­lent day of eat­ing, what I do for din­ner and there­after is less of a con­cern.   If I want to go out with friends, or have a nice dinner,  it’s OK, because I was strate­gic about eat­ing dur­ing the day.

Really, I don’t think a per­fect diet is achiev­able, and even if it is, it can add just as much stress as a bad diet.  Real­ize your weak­nesses, attempt to com­pen­sate for them, and you’ll be on your way to a health­ier diet.

1 Comments

One Response

  1. My life has dra­mat­i­cally (and for­ever) changed for the bet­ter since I first read The China Study back in August. I fol­lowed a sim­i­lar diet to the one you describe for the 5 months after read­ing the book, as one of com­pro­mise, and decided in Jan­u­ary to see how it felt to only eat a plant-based diet. Find­ing your own pur­pose is absolutely key to being suc­cess­ful with any diet change. Per­son­ally, I con­tinue to make this choice for the health and envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits (my skin being the clear­est it’s ever been doesn’t hurt either)! I encour­age every­one to try eat­ing a plant-based diet for even just a week to see how incred­i­ble it can feel. If you don’t know where to start or “what you eat..besides salad” — check out http://www.veganyumyum.com and http://www.pcrm.org for great recipes and ideas.

    JoAnna

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