That’s what this whole diet has basically boiled down to: Protein, and my endless need for it.
It’s the master of my schedule, the ruler of my moods, and the deity to which I regularly bow.
Because that’s pretty much all I can eat. And when you only eat protein, it burns up fast. See the nice thing about complex carbs like the one I typical ate – with lots of whole grain and fiber** – is that they are slow burning. Slowly burning into sugar, yes. But slow burning nonetheless. This is an attribute of carbs I took for granted when they were a part of my life.
But when protein is king, I can go from not hungry, to starving in less than 3 seconds. Every choice I make in my day somehow relates to, or is influenced by an opportunity to intake protein.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because really, over all, this diet is the best thing that’s happened to me, health wise, in years.
Pounds and inches have been lost. (More inches than pounds actually, which seems impossible, but is apparently true and according to the doctor, not uncommon. But smaller is smaller, so I’m not complaining).
But more than anything, a lifestyle has emerged.
A lifestyle of mindfulness. Mindfulness about when I’m going to eat, what I’m going to eat, and of course, how much protein will be in the meal. I have to make daily decisions about whether and how much GF and sugar-free protein bars or apples, or cheese sticks, or nuts, I need to put in my purse.
Fast food is a thing of the past, we can’t eat anything out of a box, and very few restaurants offer us more than one or two options on the menu (although the few that do, like Mongolian BBQ, we patronize often.)
On Friday afternoon Chris and I start thinking through our weekend and what our schedule will be like, and before we can settle in for the evening, we have to make sure we at least have enough eggs, fruit and breakfast meat to make breakfast Saturday morning.
At breakfast we talk through our day in detail, thinking about where we’re going, what our food access will be, if we’ll need to bring food or come home to eat. If we’ll come home to eat, what will we eat, will we have time to cook or do we need something quicker.
Crock-pots are an invention of the gods.
After a few weeks that all becomes second nature, especially to detail oriented planners like me and Chris.
But then there’s another level of mindfulness, having to do with correcting habitual eating and cravings.
I realized that I used food as rewards- a diet sabotaging habit if ever there was one.
Several times a day I’d think, “I’ve made it through a hard day, I should get myself a cupcake,” or “I’ve had a great day! I should stop at Starbucks for a frap,” or “I just did the bare minimum amount of work I need to do to stay employed. Time for some M&M’s!” At first I just focused on not robotically steering into the Starbucks or bakery parking lot.
Then one day it hit me: “Why do I need a reward for every goddamn thing that happens in my life? Am I 4 years old? Should I get M&M’s for making a pee-pee in the potty?”
First I thought “Well, it wouldn’t hurt,” but then I thought “NO. This is no way for an adult to live!”Because, as an adult, I’m responsible for my life. I’m responsible for all of my choices and my actions. I shouldn’t need a reward to get through a day in a life that I created.
“But,” I asked myself, “what about when things go wrong, and you’re too sad to do anything but eat a cupcake one crumb at a time?”
That pulled me up short because, I mean, seriously, WHAT ABOUT THE CUPCAKES?
Well here’s the thing about the cupcakes:
They served as a pseudo solution for situations I didn’t want to resolve for real. Relationship trouble? Lets not look at the ways in which I’ve participated in letting him make me feel bad, that’s icky, I’ll just eat a cupcake instead. Pain from physical therapy after my car accident? Eh, getting perspective about healing time and the human body is hard, I think I’ll mope and eat a cupcake instead.
The sugar and the feeling of getting what I want would make me feel briefly better, but quickly disappear leaving me feeling lonely and sad again. A terrible cycle that has now ended.
I’m not saying I’ll never have another cupcake, but it will be when my sugar intake for the day has been low, when its GF, and when its only because I want a cupcake, not because I’m using it to hide behind. Because being mindful also means having choices. I can choose to have a peanut butter cup, or a slice of GF apple pie at Thanksgiving because I can make choices about other things I eat – skip the potatoes, go easy on the citrus fruit and pick carrots over corn so my sugar intake is as low as possible when I eat the pie. I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as I’m always mindful of the big picture. Which makes me hate this diet a lot less.
Next, I realized that I mostly crave sugar and carbs when I’m dehydrated or just plain hungry. The body wants a quick fix, so it wants carbs and sugar. So I had to learn to ask myself what I was actually in need of – water? protein? just something in my mouth to chew?
What I didn’t expect to happen was that I eventually trained my body to crave what it actually wanted. When I’m dehydrated I crave water, when I need protein I crave cheese or meat, when I just want something to chew images of apples and carrots come to mind.
Swear to Protein, I’m telling the truth.
But it’s really easy to undo. One little slip – like eating rich chocolate desserts every night because you’re stuck in a hotel in the middle of the desert and you’ve only been able to eat like 20% of every meal and you’re sick of your protein bars and it’s not fair and a little bit of sugar isn’t going to hurt, and damnit why does everything have to be so effing hard all the time – and you kind of have to start the retraining all over again. But it is easier the second time around.
I was explaining these details of this diet to my dad a few weeks ago, and he said “So its like a Buddha diet. It’s all about mindfulness.” Which is the first time I thought to put it into that context. Of course, if we wanted to be very literal, Buddha’s diet would be vegetarian, but I like to think he’s cool with my using his name this way. Mostly because Buddha is pretty much cool with everything. But as soon as I re-contextualized this diet from a pain in the ass list of restrictions, to a lifestyle of mindfulness, everything got a lot easier.
For example, I’ve finally accepted that there were no short cuts anymore, that my idea of indulgent eating is adding kidney beans to my salad, and that I will spend an inappropriate amount of my life thinking about eggs.
And in exchange I have a clear mind, high energy levels, stabilized moods, a smaller waistline, and better functioning organs.
Seems a fair trade.
Except when I walk past a Starbucks and see a picture of their holiday drinks and wonder how many more times I can walk past before I run inside, order 12, and then sit in my car behind a dumpster pounding one after the other until I pass out in a pool of melted whip cream, chocolate curls and my dignity.
Those days suck. But mostly its, you know, the other way.
**this is an after post edit for clarity. I realized that by just saying “carbs” as I did originally it was misleading and just plaing wrong. But I’d been eating complex carbs, and whole grain/fiber filled carbs instead of simple carbs like white rice, white pasta etc, for so long that I didn’t think about what I was saying.