Monday, March 31

A Dose of Sanity

As you may recall (if your internet memory is long), March Madness for me was asking for "eating plan ideas" and choosing one to go forth with. There were a ton of great outlines suggested--I could have taken any one of them and been better for it--but in the end I chose one put together by Regina over at The Weight of the Evidence.

Now, this won't come as any surprise to most of you, because I know you're smarter than me, but since I'm eternally pollyannic about how easy everything in life should be I was shocked by the lesson:

Eating well is not the same thing as eating low-carb.

I think I confuse these, and after further reflection, I think maybe a lot of people do, at least on occasion.

Sure, I can see the extremes and recognize it. We've got the Kimkins variants on the Cinnamon Toothpick Diet and we can easily see that no matter how lowcarb it might be, it's also ridiculous, unless you really want to lose all the weight your hair is taking up, which saves all that time blow-drying it in the morning anyway--surely a selling point for a variety of Eating Plans That Can Kill You.

But it's less obvious that more 'reasonable' low-carb eating plans, particularly those that non-geniuses like me gradually adapt, are not necessarily healthy just because they're low-carb. You can skip gluten and skip dairy and skip this and skip that and keep your carbs under 40 and still eat badly. I hadn't thought about this much until now. I'd thought about it in the context of staying on an eating plan, and in the inspiration after finishing the Gary Taubes book, but hadn't given a lot of thought to how genuinely *healthy* a given eating plan is.

It seems to me that some people--that would be ME--pay more attention to what they CAN'T have, than to what they SHOULD have.


Many of the skills I've been building for eating lowcarb over the last 18 months, go totally to waste on Regina's plan.

Do I need low-cal? I can do that. How about low-carb? I can do that. All meat? No problem. Sixteen eggs a day? I'm on it. Yes! I can juggle protein pudding and flax seed souffle and exactly 2,197 calories per day as adjusted by a 5.2% carbohydrate limit replete with exactly 7.5 sliced black olives every day except Wednesday and track this to the gram along with my weight, my mood, my food, the weather, and the digestive habits of all 8 of my cats, in a spreadsheet with seven auxilliary workbook pages including charts, graphs, and graduated projections.

In other words, when it comes to any extreme, I do just fine.

Regina's plan has been an educational experience--which is not to say I get any passing grade this month--and, as an ex fiance of mine used to say, "Things which are good for you are rarely pleasant"--(he meant me?)--but I have to say it's been pretty enlightening for reasons almost unrelated to food.

What she recommended, you see, was not merely some guideline--the more extreme and bizarre the better--for food. No, just to complicate things, just to make it a head-banging challenge for me, what she primarily recommended was SANITY.

So, not surprisingly, I've had some real problems with it.


First, she recommended that I not be my rather obsessive self: that I just eat well according to the general outline and not measure everything in mass detail, not record everything in mass detail, not stand on the scale six times a day -- just, you know, eat WELL and RELAX about it.

Eat well and relax about it? Who the heck can do THAT?

Now, I have approximately two settings in life: 120%, and 'Off'. So already I was in trouble. Her plan wasn't weird, extreme, bizarre, or hugely complicated. Those would have been easy. It was reasonable, balanced and moderate, which made it hard.

Secondly, her plan was a small to moderate amount of many things. So unlike my previous "dietary adaptations", my tried and true approach to making lowcarb work wasn't appropriate.

For example, my proven ability to simply eat a 4-5oz dose of super lowcarb chili verde for 36 meals in a row, which beautifully solved not only my carb number but my protein number too, that easy extreme wasn't called for here.

At the drop of a hat I can demonstrate my ability to eat more eggs per day than a 370 lb. tree snake, but that wasn't actually required either, since the idea was balance.

I've a full stock of "low carb processed foods" like protein powder, LC slimfast and puddings, but since she was recommending "real food" these weren't needed.

In a pinch, I can even live on "low carb junk foods" like pepperoni and mozzarella nuked, but as she was recommending plain healthy food and not processed meats, plus veggies, that was out too.

This left me in the terribly uncomfortable position of actually needing to eat real food. And not just occasionally.

Despite having the divine inspiration of my friend Sarah, who somehow can make a garlic roasted chicken and asparagus sound great even for the 1,928,625th time, so far I have not got a very good handle on eating WELL.

I am very good at eating low-carb when I choose to. But eating low-carb and eating well are not necessarily the same thing. This is the big lesson for the month.


And then there's the green stuff:

Regina's eating plan built in the assumption that because I was eating real, healthy food, in no extremes, that having fibrous vegetables daily would be reasonable.

This ruled out "nuking frozen peas with a bunch of butter" as my sole veggie. And it's not summer/fall so I can't pawn all my veggie needs off on peppers. And alliums and fungus (garlic, onions and mushrooms) are not veggies. So...

I ate broccoli once. Doused in too much soy sauce and stir fried. I was really proud of myself. After which I felt like I had maxx'd out my veggie interest for at least a month.

When I realized I had to find a BUNCH more veggies, EVERY SINGLE DAY, the shower theme from 'Psycho' played in my head. I panicked. I don't LIKE enough veggies to eat them regularly! And no burying them in 30 carbs worth of stir-fry sauce either. Good grief! What to do?!

My solution: I quit eating except at dinner. That resolved needing to worry about my vegetables 2/3 of the time, because it resolved needing to worry about anything 2/3 of the time. Of course, this obliterated all chance of meeting the daily goals of her eating plan (for obvious reasons). So it was not the appropriate response.

But it taught me, or reminded me, that this IS my common response to any sense of stress-challenge about food: I simply quit eating, often until I'm hungry enough that eventually I'll eat anything, including bad things, but not give a rat's butt about it by that time because I'm really hungry. When I 'care', when hunger is reasonable, if I don't "feel like" eating well for some reason (whether good ones, like I don't have the food, to bad ones, like I'm too lazy to cook), I put off eating, eventually driving myself to the other extreme. A dysfunctional, crisis-creating tendency. I'm sure this is echoed in many other areas of my life I choose to be in denial about right now.

As if this wasn't enough, she also recommended that I take a few supplements. This would require actually getting off my butt to BOTHER. I glanced at my spreadsheets where--in previous "less relaxed" eating periods--I have tracked every detail of my low-carb obsession. I noted something:

I "intended" to take supplements basically every day since about September 2006 when I began this lowcarb effort. Out of about 550 days since, I have met this goal approximately 8 times...IF I round up.

So... while patting myself on the back because I wasn't exceeding 30 carbs, I managed to completely overlook, in convenient denial, that I was not only failing to eat any decent veggies for the past 1.5 years, but abysmally failing to take supplements, either.

In short, I am malnutritioned, despite the fact that I've been obsessing on my food for most of (give or take some months off here and there) the last 1.5 years.

And this is mostly because of that easy confusion about the difference between eating LOW-CARB vs. eating WELL.


Next, I discovered that my personality is . . . in need of some improvement in a few places--this will not surprise many people around me who've griped about this for eons of course, but I'm referring to issues related to my eating plan now.

I do things in total overdrive -- for limited periods. I'm a sprinter, not a long distance runner. I start super-hard, and I go way overboard on stuff, from the emotional investment to the physical discipline, and then it had better be over fairly soon because I burn out totally and lose all interest in it and walk away.

Normally in my life, here is how I handle this appropriately: I don't. Instead, I adapt the things around me: I make a point to have too many things to do. That way, I can always be doing something to the extreme, then when I burn out on it, I do something else to the extreme, and so on down the line. Eventually I feel like doing one of the earlier things again.

When you take all the "extreme" and all the "didn't do it at all" and put them together, you end up with what SEEMS like, from the outside, a consistent, normal progress. But it really isn't. It's more like bouncing off the extremes, and "the average in the middle looks good on paper."

This works fine for programming; I'm a code hack at 3am for a week sometimes and don't even look at it for the next 3 weeks. It works fine for a surprising number of things. It does not, however, work very well for "a sane eating plan."

Also, it creates an interesting--if annoying--side-effect: it means that either I am obsessing on something or I am not doing it at all.

So, per instructions, I did not obsess on March's eating plan.

Which is to say, that a good deal of the time, I didn't do it at all.

Apparently this is now my eating plan for April too. And for every month until I GET IT RIGHT for at least a month, because now it's a matter of honor. Not to mention a matter of health!


I know that every reasonable person reading this is thinking, "Why is it so hard to be reasonable? Why not just be sane, moderate, balanced, appropriate, and have meat and veggies at nearly every meal?"

I don't know why it's so hard. Maybe my extreme personality is one reason I got so fat in the first place--my ability to eat nothing at all followed by overeating carbs bigtime, during extreme phases of overwork, overstress, and sleep deprivation--that's the formula that did a fantastic job making me gigantic in a surprisingly short time.

But this is a life-wide personality issue, not just a food issue. This affects everything in my world, from gardening to motherhood, from friends to online projects. Somewhere in the back of my head, my father's voice is lecturing me about priorities.


So all together, adding up my last month of experience, here is my result:

1. I failed 90% of the time at eating veggies. On the other hand, 10% of the veggies was more than I usually have, so I have to give myself some slack for that. Maybe next month I can increase the %, even if not perfect yet.

2. I failed 99% at taking supplements. This is some kind of passive aggressive, mind bogglingly lazy or in-denial thing, so I've got no excuse for it except that I sucked and I obviously need work in this area.

3. I did well at eating mostly protein, but much of the time I didn't eat enough, because I was so busy avoiding the fact that I couldn't eat perfectly at every meal that I skipped 2/3 of my meals. Obviously one can't eat well if they're not eating.

4. I ate more dairy (in cheese form) than I was supposed to, mostly on the days when I was living on tacos (let's just not go there ok), but I ate LESS dairy than I normally do, so that is an improvement I think.

5. I ate 'a few' organic things, not many. There are not many available to me easily and most are way expensive, and I often have a hard enough time with ordinary food costs for lowcarb let alone organic stuff. But a few is better than none and maybe I can continue the search for more of the stuff.

6. I ate off plan a few times--sweet things. I don't normally crave sweets. I think going without food for too many meals, combined with PMS, and probably typical low O2 from sleeping (I don't wear the apnea mask I should), resulted in a desperate need for energy. When I want 'junk' I usually crave bread-carbs, not sugar-carbs; sugar almost always means my body feels critically under-energy'd. I attribute this in part to not eating sufficient protein, not eating, and not taking supplements, any one of which would probably have prevented the problem. So, I'll work on doing better.


I think her eating plan is eminently reasonable, extremely healthy, and well balanced. How a very unreasonable, slightly dysfunctional, definitely not very balanced individual (unless you count being equally far on the extreme edges as 'balanced'), APPLIES themselves to this kind of eating plan, is another story.

It becomes a food-as-therapy thing. "Chop broccoli, drink water," to paraphrase the eastern sages.

A person living an unhealthy lifestyle is not going to become magically healthy when assigned a good eating plan, not because the plan wouldn't help, but because without some internal changes, they're unlikely to be able to follow such a plan. They'll eventually want to go back to just eating meat, then just eating eggs, then eating 36 straight meals of chili verde, then living off fabulously complicated baked concoctions, then -- well you get the idea. The extreme stuff is somehow easier to follow--although, obviously, only in the shorter terms.

The long term, day by day, reasonable, plodding along -- that is where the real work of healthy living comes in.

And I assume when you do that, it becomes habit. Regina probably makes broccoli casserole in her sleep, just like Sarah can whip up entire meals in microseconds that would take me a week of planning and days to implement. Some people, whether by nature or by persistent practice, seem to have "eating well" down pat.


One specific thing I think I need -- call it an "exercise" toward the larger goal -- is to work on making vegetables edible. I don't really know how.

I tried a cauli cheese casserole. It was horrible. I don't like cauli, and it tastes like cauli. Now this might sound more than stupid, but the shredded cauli stir-fried like chicken fried rice, doesn't taste anything like cauli, so I was hopeful. So much for that. And so far I only seem to like broccoli with too much soy sauce, so that needs a better way of cooking, I just don't know it'll be edible when done. I haven't dared try asparagus for years but want to. (I've composted plenty in my fridge veggie drawer though, in my optimism.)

I think if I could successfully cook a few veggies in a way that I liked them--this is not easy, I've never eaten them my whole life because I don't like them!--that obviously, getting them regularly into my diet will then be easier.

So through the month of April, I hope to come up with several ways to eat decent veggies that are not laborious and that actually taste ok to me and the kid.

April is another attempt at "healthy eating." I believe I can do better than I did LAST month -- and that will be something. If I could do even that for a few months, I would have a vastly healthier habit by the time I got there.

April is for sanity. The rains just arrived here on the flat edge of the ozarks, the sort that turn streets into veritable rivers and cause the grass to suddenly go from two inches of spotty winter nothing to nine inches of overgrowth waiting to dry so you can mow it. I have gardening and landscaping and other things to focus on as well. I have hope that in a month, I can report a definite *improvement* in my "average quantity of sane, well-balanced eating."


If sane and reasonable eating actually helps me be saner and more reasonable, that would be a novel side-effect. That might be putting a little too much into it though. Then Regina would not only be my nutritionist, she'd be my shrink.

Hmmmn. It could happen! ;-)



OhYeahBabe said...

Thanks so much for sharing your insights. You said ‘some people pay more attention to what they CAN’T have, than what they SHOULD have.” I pay more attention to what I CAN have, but that’s not the same as what I SHOULD have either. Good points!

I am similar to you in that I can do any plan that is laid out there but would struggling with the sanity plan and learning not to track obsessively. I know just how big a challenge that is and I applaud you for taking it on!
“Now, I have approximately two settings in life: 120%, and 'Off'.”

Me, too! Where we differ is on the veggies. OMG how I love my veggies! Check out Cleochatra’s blog for some really painless ways to incorporate veggies into your life. She has many that use cauli, but since you really, really don’t like cauli you might do better to reach for the zucchini ones instead. For broccoli, have you tried oven roasting it? Toss the florets into a bag or bowl with a bit of oil and some seasoning of your choice. Or use Italian dressing instead of oil &s easoning. Dump the stuff out onto a baking dish and bake it in a really hot oven until it’s starting to look like the edges are burning. Yum. Great with asparagus, too!

Build on your successes! I’m proud of you!
My blog: Kimorexia
Check out Kimkins on Insider Exclusive!

Anonymous said...

Neat post PJ - and I understand how sometimes trying to eat well can seem like too much of a pain in the behind. I've been there myself. Which is why my food's gotten rather simple lately.

I think that over the next month or so, you really *will* find some veggies that you like eating and that aren't too complicated/time consuming to acquire and/or prepare.

By the way, I bought a fancy-schmancy purple and blue acrylic vitamin pill holder dispenser's really pretty. Have I taken any supplements yet? Nope. I have hope!


K von M said...

your post reminds me of something i read in DANDR that's stuck with me for the last 10 years. it was the diagram showing balanced diet and metabolisms against unbalanced diet and metabolisms, demonstrated by rectangles and triangles.

put a rectangle on a triangle and they won't balance... either the triangle will tip over or the rectangle will slide off. so putting a rectangular diet on a triangular metabolism won't work. you have to pair the triangle with the triangle until they both even themselves out and can BE rectangles.

this isn't to say that regina's beautiful plan won't work. and you already know it'll take some focus to get it to work for you.

and by charting your progress, you know where you started. this is a good thing :).

orodemniades said...

I haven'tread the other comments yet, but one thing really stood out for me: you mentioned that you can't do something perfectly all the time - are you a perfectionist?

My other suggestion was that since you don't like veggies, you should check out Indian food. If nothing else, sag a couple of appetizers and see how you like them. I will add that I find graham (chickpea) flour makes me gassy, so you might want to watcth that.

Actually,most ethnic vegge cuisines are damned fine...

orodemniades said...

Damned spelling errors...hard to nurse and type at the same time. Sorry!

Also, v. pleased to see you progress. Eating well vs lc, they're definitely not the same, but I think I can guarantee that over time it does become habit, and, well, just common sensical.

Sherrie said...

PJ I used to make a lot of saucy/juicy dishes and I would use the veges to help soak it up. Kept the veggies from getting too boring.

Johanna Rothman said...

You might want to try roasted cauliflower: roast cut up cauliflower in a roasting pan. Add oil, salt, pepper to taste. Roast at 500 F for 15-20 minutes until soft enough for you. Take out. Shake parmesan cheese on top. Eat.

I also like eggplant-covered-with-parmesan slices. Heat oil in a big skillet. Cut up eggplant into 1/4 inch slices. Dip eggplant slice into scrambled eggs, then cover both sides with parmesan cheese. Fry. When done, remove to plate with paper towels.

Good luck.

nonegiven said...

The majority of my veggies yesterday was a whole can of french style green beans.

Nina said...

Mainly commenting to say how much I loved this post. Besides true, it was so well-written and funny.

And of course, it's the same for me. I love rules. Give me a rule, and I'm perfectly happen, and I'll run it into the ground, and it's best of all if it's really difficult and unpleasant. Yeah, I know, there really IS something wrong with that.

My veg suggestion... a lot of vegetables taste bad because of how they're cooked. I hated about everything as a kid, because my mother is the queen of overcooking. So just try whatever it is in some different way rather than trying to force something that you know you don't like. Eat zucchini and summer squash a thousand ways. Green beans are great with pine nuts or garlic or paprika and onion... lots of taste relative to the either fat or carb cost of what you're adding.


The Bionic Broad said...

I have a similar WOE personality. The more rigorous and structured, the better I do. I was on a medically supervised fasting program and besides the 500 calories a day of liquid protein, ate only two salads a week for six months. I only lost 50 pounds. I do well on Atkins induction, but the minute I try to find my CCL, I get scared and run back to induction. *sigh*

Tracy said...

I'm of the "if you don't like veggies, don't eat them" persuasion, but you can make them more appetizing. Maybe.

Green beans are nice sauteed with a titch of white wine and garlic. Anything is nice sauteed in bacon grease. :) Hot bacon grease and some italian dressing - toss greens in this mixture (in the pan, so the greens wilt) and you've got a nice, warm salad-y thing. Zucchini can be made into pancakes. Or you can bung a bunch of veg into chicken/beef broth, add some tomato paste and meat, and you've got soup.

Eat the ones you like. Don't eat the ones you don't like.

Prudentia said...

Man, can I relate. Thanks, PJ, for taking the time to journal your experience, and for taking the time to ask the questions in the first place - out loud. Many of us - well, me, anyway - toy with those very questions in some dark recess of the mind. I think I'm afraid that if I bring them all the way out into the open that I will become accountable for actually dealing with them.

On second thought, gee, thanks, PJ!