I had an epiphany earlier today. Here goes: for most of people, weight loss is really very simple. I don’t believe it involves evaluating the many, many, many diets and nutrition plans out there. Success and failure can be had with any of them. There are some long term studies that show one version is marginally better than the other, but the reality is that the majority of people who try them, do not succeed. So we as a society have tried every possible diet under the sun but none of them work.
The epiphany that I had is that the reason we’re failing is so very simple. It’s not the program; it’s us. We don’t know how to say No to ourselves. It is true that the food manufacturers make it hard for us. David Kessler’s great book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite talks about the allure of foods that contain any two of fat, sweet and salty; and that studies have shown that even mice will ignore food that is right in front of them in favour of running through a challenging obstacle course to get Froot Loops. In other words, the corporations are doing their best to make sure that we continue to say Yes. As much as that makes it a challenge, ultimately, we have 100% control and responsibility for what we put in our mouths.
The great thing is that eating healthy is possible. In fact once you get in the habit of saying No to yourself, then it gets easier each progressive time. On the flipside, the longer you wait to start saying No, the harder it gets. But it will never be impossible. I believe there is an expression that goes something like ‘the best time to start a new habit was yesterday. The next best time is today.’
Speaking of today, have you noticed that the local farmers markets are full of fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables right now? Tis the season for delicious healthy eating, so take advantage! I had a peach last night that was so good that given the choice between it and my favourite chocolate bar, I would choose the peach. No joke. But delicious produce season does not last forever, so take advantage now! It is much easier to drop the french fries from the menu when you can replace them with fresh corn on the cob, or summer tomatoes! (insert Homer Simpson food orgasm sound here)
Now the next part of my epiphany is that most people find it easier to say No if they know they can say Yes at some point. I have been going through this recently, which is I think why I had the epiphany. My brother came to visit for about a week around Canada Day. I always enjoy his visits, but the problem is that he likes to indulge in the many foods that we grew up on that he does not have access to in California: like Montreal bagels, Colonnade pizza, scones from the Scone Witch, and Vietnamese baked goods. Of course I love that stuff too, and so it takes very little arm-twisting. ‘Do you want…‘ tends to work. His visit was combined with a trip to a cottage (eat, sleep, swim) and Canada Day barbecue, was followed by two weeks of Bluesfest beer nights, and was preceded by a two week road trip featuring all manner of poor eating (3 visits to McDonald’s in 2 weeks!). In the end, I gained 5 pounds in about 5 weeks. Not surprising since I said Yes to every manner of salty-fatty-sweet food within reach.
Since the end of EatFest, I have been working to get myself back on track. I initially found it hard because even though I like the idea of health, I wanted to eat more of this yummy food. Especially the salty-fatty stuff. (re-insert Homer Simpson food orgasm sound here). It really had nothing to do with hunger; it had to do with wanting. But then one day I said No. The next day I still wanted a plate of nachos, but I said No again. And that’s how it started. I have since said No several times, but I’ve also said Yes a few times. The key is to say No more often than you say Yes. You will find that you start to enjoy the healthy foods, and even look forward to it, and your desire for the trigger foods will diminish. They will likely come back periodically, and that’s fine. Let yourself enjoy them periodically, but continue to say No some of the time.
It turns out that you can be happy and healthy by eating good food most of the time.