After conversations in other people's journals and reading some of my old posts, I realized there are strategies I no longer use. They've gone the way of calorie-counting in terms of goofy diet thinking. I no longer worry about: always being physically hungry before I eat, not snacking, going to bed empty or hungry, and lots of protein at every meal come to mind. Now, I would consider all of those forms of restrained eating. They all caused the pendulum of restriction and overconsumption to swing.
Here are some conversations where I discuss how and why I stopped calorie counting:
Releasing Calorie Counting
How My Calorie Math Finally Died
Being physically hungry before eating is interesting. I probably am hungry much of the time but with two important changes - 1) Physical hunger is not a prerequisite for eating. I'm never worrying, “Now am I hungry? Now? Now?” I can eat simply because I feel like it, or because it's practical or convenient to eat now. 2) I recognize far more subtle and early hunger signals. If I'm thinking about food, I’m hungry. This was a revolutionary observation. I don't think about food and then force myself to wait until some arbitrary time. I don't notice that my stomach is empty or my energy or concentration are fading but not consider it "legitimate" hunger until it feels like my stomach is chewing on my spine. Pushing the limits of comfortable hunger is fear-based and unnecessary. I thought getting very hungry before eating was a clever trick, something that would protect me from fat. It only caused me to think about food more, to eat more, and to have trouble stopping.
Not snacking was another one. Sure, I understand the benefits of satisfying meals at predictable times. No problem there. Where it got weird was thinking I wasn't allowed to do it any other way. I love having a bite of something my husband is eating, or enjoying something random during downtime at work. If I want something now, I like to go ahead and eat it with no debate. It's amazing how much crazy that shuts down! Then I'm not thinking about it anymore. I don't feel deprived or hit my next meal too hungry. I'm not feeling virtuous or like I've earned something. I ate more when I was very focused on not snacking. There was a lot of preemptive eating going on because I was telling myself I couldn’t eat again for however many hours.
Going to sleep hungry is awful. It leads to poor sleep and starting the next day already in energy debt, already feeling like I can't be satisfied. I don’t enjoy going to sleep while stuffed full either. I prefer feeling satisfied or neutral. Ideally, I'm not thinking about my hunger level at all because dinner was so great.
I can remember thinking I needed 30-40 grams of protein every time I ate, or one gram per pound of body weight per day. It had to be from a legitimate source like egg whites, whey protein, or chicken. The protein in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans didn’t count. For me, I think all that protein was a way to address my insatiable hunger without eating too many scary carbs. Or maybe it was some magic to do with the thermic effect of food. I thought protein couldn't cause me to gain weight. My thoughts were all weight, fat, and fear based. What I've discovered since is that there is protein in just about everything. If I eat enough overall, I get enough protein, and by "enough," I mean about a third or half of what I once considered necessary. I enjoy my food more and weigh less than when I was force-feeding it all day. I think there's a nice middle ground. When I first started eating more plant based and didn't consider protein at all, I would sometimes get too hungry. But as soon as I get foods like whole grain pasta, garbanzo beans, hemp seeds, lentils, or peanut butter involved, satisfaction comes right back. Or before plant-based, a greek yogurt, some cheese, or a little leftover chicken. Protein didn't have to be the center of every meal.
I have better results and enjoy my food more when my choices are based on my own appetite, energy levels, and taste preferences rather than diet rules. As an added bonus, it's completely sustainable, unlike when trying to follow someone else's food rules.
LOVE this post. Thank you so much for continuing to share your experiences, you have no idea how many of us you may be helping. Your voice of sanity in a world of diet culture is what I really need to hear. Or, maybe I need to be hit over the head with it a few more times before I stop being dragged into the latest diet trap sometimes disguised so cleverly it doesn't seem like a diet until I am already knee deep in the quicksand. I am slowly learning any weight loss plan that increases my stress level on a daily basis is not healthy even if it does produce weight loss. I think I should make this site (and the old one too) required daily reading!