WHY WHAT I EAT IS NOT WHAT KEEPS ME LEAN
"What do you eat?" is a question I sometimes get asked, and it's one I have trouble coming up with an easy answer to. The students asking this question, I think, are looking for some tips on keeping off extra pounds and wonder if they can glean some insight into doing so from my diet. My dilemma is that I don't think I can be of much help to them. My choice of foods, which are too high in carbs and include too many chai lattés, won't give them much guidance. I do have, however, some really effective eating strategies I can share. Two eating rules in particular, which I've stuck with from my 30s to my 60s, deserve the most credit for keeping me slim all those years.
Rule #1: No over-eating. Everybody tries not to overeat of course, and I sympathize with people who struggle with this issue. The tactic that's worked for me is to cede full authority to my body when it comes to determining how much I get to eat. If my body gains weight, I don't ask questions. I eat less. Metabolism, hormones and aging don't have a chance against this strategy.
I can thank my mischievous Southern bell of a mother for teaching me to listen to my body from a young age. Starting from when my sister and I were in grade school, she'd tell us at the dinner table that any food we left on our plates was “better in the garbage can than in your stomach." I loved the impertinence of this rule. It thumbed its nose at everything kids in my time were being brought up to revere. Not only that, "better in the garbage can” pointed vividly to a destination for the food I’d otherwise have been stuffing myself with (unlike the moralistic-sounding “eat moderately”). You could make an argument for softening my mother's phrase to “better in the frig as left-overs than in your stomach,” but I prefer the defiant brashness of the original.
Rule #2: Exercise! You're probably thinking, "of course exercise burns calories and heightens metabolic rate. So what else is new?" Exercise has done these things, but that's not how it's kept me lean. Earlier this year I happened to spend a few months without much exercise due to some time-consuming projects. During that time I noticed that a kind of hunger-blindness set in. I lost my ability to tell whether or not I needed food. Was I hungry? Or was I just bored, stressed or fatigued? I felt awash. From this experience, I came to understand how living long term in a non-exercising state could cause someone to seriously miscalculate their food intake! When I finished my project and got back to exercise, I quickly regained my connection to my appetite. Hunger went back to feeling distinctly like hunger and food like replenishment, not just something to do. Feeling hungry and enjoying food: My body needs to experience both sides of this equation to stay in equilibrium.
So what do I eat? For one, too many carbs and grande non-fat chai lattés. My diet isn’t perfect, but it works for me.
(When at home) two eggs cooked in a little olive oil over rye toast (360 calories), an Activia yoghurt (100 calories) or
(When at work) a whole grain bagel with reduced fat cream cheese (390 calories)
Add to both breakfasts one or two Starbucks grande nonfat chai lattes (200-400 calories).
A Safeway-made lettuce, tomato and provolone sandwich (my estimate is 450 calories), or
A Starbuck’s goat cheese & garden veggies box (220 calories), or
A half a 7-11 tuna fish sandwich (the whole sandwich is 540 calories).
The tuna sandwich is a recent addition. Since meeting my husband three and a half years ago, I've been a vegetarian (eat no meat or fish bu eat cheese and eggs), an easy change
since I don't like meat anyway. Lately however I felt a need for more protein. My husband consumes a lot of nuts and protein powder drinks. These sources of protein don't agree with me. The 7-11 tuna sandwish is delicious, easy to eat, and a nice solution to my protein needs.
An afternoon pick-up. I rarely snack, but on occasion I'll have:
Pizza Kitchen spaghettini with goat cheese (1,331 calories, usually half saved in the frig), or
Bhaingan bhurta and rice (200-300 calories), or
Spinach tortellini made by my husband (calories unknown), or
Pumpkin enchiladas at our favorite restaurant Avatar (my guess is about 1000 calories), or
Two-to-three pieces of pizza margarita (my guess is about 230 a slice).
Add one glass of red wine on week nights (125 calories) and two on Saturday night (250 calories).
So you see that I don’t have the best eating habits! You can also see that I'm not a foodie! I eat a lot of rich food and don’t finish a lot of meals (“better in the garbage can….”). I skip lunch a few days a week due to mid-day meetings or getting busy. All told, I probably eat about 1700 calories a day, right on the mark according to what “ThinandHealthy.com’s” calculator estimates someone my sex, age, height and weight and exercise routine.
So there it is. If there’s any wisdom to be found in what I eat, it would be that different foods work for different people. One person can thrive by being a vegan. Someone else can swear by meat and potatoes. The best advice I can offer is, when you're searching for the diet works best for you: Listen to your body; get in touch with what your hunger is telling you; stick with exercise; and remember, as my mother always said, “better in the ...” :-)