Honestly, the response to my last post – where I bared my soul about my changing nutritional philosophy – has just completely floored, astonished, overwhelmed and amazed me. I am so touched by the comments, support, empathy and love that you all sent my way, and I cannot say thank you enough. I was scared to hit “publish”, convinced that I would be laughed off the internet, and the condemnation would rain down upon me like… well, rain. But that didn’t happen. So, let this be a testament to the power of opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be honest and vulnerable and genuine. You might just reap rewards you didn’t even know existed.
You all rock (so hard!), and I send a whole lotta love and thanks to each and every one of you.
So, in that vein, I decided to share a little more about where I’m at and where I’m headed with this whole shaking-the-shackles-of-dietary-dogma thing. While publishing the last post was one of the greatest and coolest things I’ve ever done, it sure wasn’t the end of the story. It’s all very well to say “Yeah! I’m going to eat! Eat everything! Wahoo!”, but there are real-world ramifications of that, and I think I owe it to you all to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What I’ve Been Doing
So, as you’ll probably recall if you’ve read the last post, I’ve been nutritionally adulterous. I’ve been eating all kinds of weird shit, some of which strays far outside the bounds of Paleo. I’ve been eating what I feel like, when I feel like eating it. If that means chocolate for breakfast, so be it.
It has all felt so wonderful. So liberating. So freeing. It has almost been scary, at times – the freedom to choose whatever I want to eat. I had to remind myself of it a few times - anything is a viable option for lunch, I don’t have to wait until the next “meal time” to eat, it doesn’t matter if there’s not enough protein in that meal, I can eat it all or none of it if I want to. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten this way – perhaps I’ve never really eaten this way. So it takes some getting used to (though, admittedly, there are worse things – I’m not complaining!).
I want to underscore something here, too: I am not making any claims about the relative health or nutritional qualities of what I’m eating. I don’t want you to come away from this thinking I’m suddenly saying “BREAD IS HEALTHY! EAT LOTS OF IT!”. I’m not trying to eat “healthfully”. What I’m trying to do is just eat. Sometimes – that means eating stuff that probably isn’t doing me any good, but I’m going to do it anyway. This is not an exercise in achieving perfect physical health (yet), but in overcoming the mental barriers I’ve established for myself in my relationship with food.
I haven’t really learned anything all that new since my last post, in terms of what my body can physically handle and what it can’t. It can handle sugar. It can handle legumes. It cannot handle gluten. Gluten-free grains haven’t caused any issues that I’m consciously aware of. I enjoy eating, and I enjoy the freedom that this new philosophy affords me. I don’t *have* to look up the menu of a restaurant online, before I agree to eat there – I can if I want to, but if I don’t, I’ll still eat there. I’m not counting anything, I’m not measuring anything, I’m not trying to weigh up in my mind whether the two extra bites are going to throw off my supposed “balance”, or whether I put more than a tablespoon of coconut cream in my coffee. All of this makes me feel great, joyous, on top of the world.
What Else Am I Doing?
Of course, I’ve been doing something other than shoving food in my face. I’ve been trying to master new software programs (to bring you an improved choosingtoeat experience). I’ve been dipping my toes in the pool of strength training, trying new classes, running just enough to keep me in shape for a race I’m running but not so much that I completely eff up my legs (injury issues still at play). I’ve actually got a whole other post in the works about working out, so I’ll shelve that conversation for now.
In other news: I’ve also accepted a full-time job, which I’m very excited about. Of course, this has thrown my life into a bit of a tail-spin, with preparation and buying suitable-yet-flattering pants and trying to figure out when the hell I’m going to get to the gym or write my blog when 40 hours of my week gets sucked into an office… All of that has certainly kept me busy.
And I’ve got my family in town, for my graduation ceremony. That’s right, I’m finally getting my hands on the piece of paper that proves I didn’t entirely waste four and a half years. Exciting stuff!
But, I will confess, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In amongst all the liberation and the happiness, I’ve had moments of real anxiety and despair.
But, Why Would I Be Sad?
See, there’s this thing that happens, when you start eating a lot of food after a long period of restriction, and it can be quite distressing, but it’s almost embarrassing to talk about.
You get bigger.
That sentence doesn’t look like much, but it’s been a serious issue for me, and for a lot of other people in the ETF community that I’ve been speaking to. You bloat, you put on fat, you put on a little muscle – you start feeling like Helga the Heffalump.
The reasons for this should be fairly obvious, and I can’t pretend I didn’t know that this would likely happen. I could try to explain the mechanisms behind this, and how it all occurs, but I think I’m best off leaving that to the experts (like Amber at http://www.gokaleo.com). What I really want to describe here, though, are the psychological side-effects of this phenomenon.
When I let go of the diet reins, I cruised by for a few days. I ate sugar, I ate starch, I ate peanuts, I felt great! My body didn’t seem to change one iota, but I wasn’t weighing myself anyway, so who the heck cared? It truly was all sunshine and rainbows.
Then the gluten happened. And I got all bloated. And I noticed my pants were a little more snug. And I could feel a little more jiggle in my wiggle.
Then a lot more jiggle in my wiggle.
Right now, I’m still refusing to weigh myself, but I’m pretty convinced I’ve put on at least a good 5-8kg. Some of which is just water retention, some of which might be muscle, but mostly I’m guessing it’s fat. I feel bigger, and I certainly look it. I had to buy jeans in a size I thought I’d left behind a long time ago.
I am a person who lost a bit of weight – enough that people would notice and want to talk to me about it, enough that I had to go and buy a whole new wardrobe… heck, it was enough for me to start my own blog. I’m starting to realise that my weight loss became a bigger part of my identity than perhaps it should have. I was defined by my new physique. It changed how I related to others, to the world, to myself. I didn’t approach the world as a “thin girl”, I approached the world as a “former fat girl” – there’s an important distinction there, in my mind.
And to feel that going backwards now? It doesn’t feel good.
Part of the problem, I think, is that I’ve somehow come to believe that gaining back weight is a cliche. That gaining back the weight means losing the respect of people I care about. That gaining back the weight means I’m not as worthy, or that I won’t be loved. Gaining back weight means I am taking a step backwards in my life, that I am losing progress I have made, that I am a failure.
For the majority of others who ETF, as Amber from GoKaleo has described it, this weight gain is temporary. They keep working out, they eat a reasonable amount of food, and their weight levels out at a healthy point. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing, though, that it won’t happen for you. That you’ll be an exception to the rule. That you’ll have to give up this newfound freedom to eat, and go back to counting lettuce leaves, in order to not cringe when you look at yourself in the mirror.
The worst part, for me personally, is that I’m seeing friends and family members that I haven’t seen in a while – and I’m terrified that they’ll only be able to see the “failure” on my hips. They won’t see how happy and free I feel, they won’t notice how much more relaxed and open I am, they’ll only be able to see the (hopefully temporary) evidence of my supposed gluttony written all over my thighs and belly. When they see it, they might not love or respect me as much. They might not value my opinions as much. They might raise their eyebrows when I put a lot of food on my plate, or when I ask where we’re getting dessert. After all, if I’m gaining back weight, I don’t deserve dessert.
Writing this post has been like therapy for me. It’s so much easier to acknowledge your unreasonable assumptions, your negativity, and your illogical conclusions when you see them written out in front of you. If one of my friends was saying this about herself, I would laugh in disbelief – I love all of my friends and family, no matter how fat or how thin they are or become. I want all of my friends and family to be happy, in whatever form that takes – and I’m sure they want the same for me.
In a way, I’m still nutritionally dancing on a train. No matter how much my philosophy changes, I can never seem to manage to get on the same page as my community, or even my government – I’ve always got to be doing things differently. There are costs that come with that, but there are great rewards, too. In the end, I’ve got to be true to myself, and listen to what my gut tells me is right. I still think I’m on the right path for now.
My plan of attack:
(1) Keep eating. Even when the old demons raise their voices, telling me to put down the peanut butter and pick up exactly 200g of chicken breast, I will keep eating the food. I will not allow myself to believe that returning to old, restrictive, unhealthy patterns is the solution.
(2) Keep writing this blog. You all rock, and I’m so grateful for all of your support and love and input and empathy.
(3) Push through the “fat” days, the “ugly” days, the “I don’t belong in this gym” days – because I do belong, no matter how fat or how ugly, and I can be happy just the same.
(4) Remind myself that my loved ones love me, exactly as I am, whatever shape that takes. The jiggle in my wiggle does not change my sense of humour, my taste in music, my love of Star Wars, or my argumentative streak. They’ll be happy if I’m happy. It will be okay.
So, that’s the good, and the bad, and the fat, of ETF. Have you experienced anything like this before? Do you get so wrapped up in your weight?