Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My "Diet" Journey Thus Far

There is an overload of nutritional information online that has left me completely confused. Depending on who you listen to, you can be lead to believe anything. You never know who to listen to anymore. Online there are so many voices, all claiming to have the latest research as to why you shouldn't ingest wheat, dairy, tap water, bread, animals, etc. Stevia is good for you....WAIT! Not when it's been refined - then it's not natural! Chew on Stevia leaves instead! Hey, are you cooking your vegetables?! No, eat them raw! Hey, you're eating vegetables? Don't you know that our ancestors used to eat mostly raw animal meat? Animal meat? No, our ancestors ate seeds and tree bark, washed down with pond scum and hemp seeds. You should eat nothing but fruit and veg - but what you're eating isn't organic, so now you're great-grandkids are going to have testicular cancer and be born without eyes! And so it goes, on and on - you just never know who to listen to anymore. We've always heard that a little bit of dark chocolate is healthy for you, right? In today's Daily Mail there is an article warning that chocolate causes more cases of bowel cancer than red meat! And how about kale? We've all heard how healthy it is, but now studies warn that kale - a vegetable loaded with vitamins and minerals - can give you bloating, thyroid problems, and HEART problems! I watched a documentary the other day that said dairy and meat is causing cancer and other health problems in the Western world, so we should all adopt a vegan-style diet. That's all well in good, until you look at how unhealthy many vegans can be - just look at India, where so many birth defects occur. In their research, they compared cancer levels in the US with those in Japan; my thought was, "Ok, Japan - a place where they eat seafood." Plus, nothing changes the fact that so much research has shown that the eating habits of people around the Mediterranean is the most heart-healthy diet, and that diet includes fish, lean meats, and dairy. Again, in today's Daily Mail there is an article saying that the Mediterranean diet - due to all the fish, fruit, and veg - can help prevent the brain from shrinking as you age, which helps with your mental health. I'm sure next week there will be an article warning that the Mediterranean diet causes sterilization and tongue cancer...

Any readers of this blog knows that I am always thinking about making some changes to what I eat. Now, I admit that I enjoy pizza, chips, pretzels, ice cream, and tons of BBQ, plus everything in between! But, do I *really* enjoy that food? Not only do I gain massive amounts of weight, but - according to what I've been reading from Overeaters Anonymous (OA) - many of these items are "trigger foods" that cause an "allergy of body" - eating them (or certain ingredients they contain) cause me to react to them differently than "normal" people; much like an alcoholic can't just enjoy a drink, but instead it leads to an irrational, uncontrollable binge, so do certain foods that I consume - without being able to stop, I will inhale as much of it as I can). It would not be unusual for me to eat in a responsible, healthy manner during the day, but have a dinner menu at home such as this:

Monday: a medium, two-topping pizza, along with a giant pile of fries topped with two cheeses, bacon bits, and ranch dressing, followed by a dessert of some sort.
Tuesday: a General Tso's chicken combo with pork fried rice, egg roll, and an appetizer of fried pork dumplings (sometimes ALSO an appetizer of fried crab rangoon)
Wednesday: a giant cheeseburger topped with a couple slices of pork roll with cheese fries, a giant piece of tiramisu, and if I ordered dinner a bit too early, perhaps also a chicken caesar wrap for later
Thursday: nothing but junk food because it's the day I usually go food shopping; so *dinner* would be a bag of cheese popcorn, a pint of ice cream, a Hot Pocket, perhaps a mac & cheese from Stouffer's, and maybe some Combos or a candy bar. Or, perhaps it could be the ice cream and some chips or pretzels, along with an entire package of cheese dogs on potato hot dog rolls.
Friday: time for more pizza, but because it's Friday, just with extra cheese, please. And can I get the cheese fries without bacon today?
Saturday: I still have some junk food from Thursday night's binge, so I can finish that up for breakfast and lunch, but what's for dinner? I just had pizza...maybe another order from the burger place....or oh! I haven't had a burrito from Chipotle in a while! Or maybe just a 20pc chicken McNugget with a large fry...
Sunday: Ok, time to get serious - tomorrow is Monday and I can't keep living like this! I've got to change my ways! So, let's finish up all the junk food left in the house, plus the beer. Maybe some vodka, too. Eh, let's order ONE more meal....maybe some Chinese again....
Monday: Damn work! Keeping me there so late. *sigh* I'm starving - worked so much I didn't eat....damn. Pizza sounds good....

And repeat. I saw a headline on TV that said Americans on average spend roughly $1800 a year on ordering out. I spent $10,000 last year, or nearly the same amount I paid in rent. If we weren't talking food, but talking cocaine or prescription drug abuse, I'd either be dead, arrested and in jail, or in rehab. But, because it's food, they just keep selling me more and I keep buying it because you need to eat. And the more I eat, the better I feel - until I finish, and then you get feelings of failure and regret that go away once you overeat again. And the cycle repeats and repeats.

Another issue that addicts have is obsession of mind - when the author of an OA workbook started to explain what that was, my jaw dropped because it's exactly what happens to me with food (and with some sinful behavior). The idea will get into my mind that I will NOT misbehave. I will NOT eat something nasty. But then, maybe it's later in the day...or the week...or the month, but eventually the temptation will arise where I'll contemplate eating something terrible, like an entire pizza. It's just a quick little temptation, easily pushed away by my supposed will-power. NO! I'm not going to eat that! But then, maybe an hour later, it peeks it's ugly head back into my mind. I push it away again, but it keeps coming back. Again and again, the temptation arises and my willpower gets chiseled away a little more, a little more, a little more, and then finally - after minutes, hours, DAYS, of obsessing over it, I finally give in. FINE! I'll order the stupid pizza, just quit bothering me about it!

Normal people don't act like this - addicts do. And I am an addict. I cannot eat like a normal person. Moderation doesn't seem to work for me. Having "cheat days" don't seem to work for me. I start to have an obsession about food, which will be heightened once I eat certain trigger foods, which set me off on a binge. So, part of one of the steps of OA is to make a list of all the different foods that I binge on in order to 1) rid my diet of them, and 2) see if they have anything in common with each other. For instance, if it turns out that all my binge foods have bread in common, it might mean that bread will always get my obsessions going.

The documentary I watched a few weeks ago was called Hungry For Change, and it was about how corporations manipulate food ingredients (just like how the tobacco industry manipulates their product) in order to keep everyone addicted and fat. For instance, research conducted in labs in order to study the affects of obesity will routinely fatten up mice in order to make them obese - they use MSG to do this. Now, MSG is a naturally occurring thing, but what they've done is concentrate it and they feed the mice food that has concentrated MSG in it - boom, they get obese because it makes the fat cells grow quicker and faster, but it also makes the mice hungrier for more food. Guess what? 80% of the processed food in the supermarket contains MSG under 50 different names! They are purposely putting it in there to keep us addicted and to make us fatter! How am I supposed to fight all of this? If the corporations are trying to keep us buying their poison, and I have an addiction to their poison, is the solution to just eat natural, whole foods?

I'm often told (even with OA) that the only way to be rescued from all of this is to let God do it for me, so I've often (even before learning about OA) tried to find spiritual help for my struggles. One day I ordered a book called Cravings, which was a Catholic's experience in dealing with weight issues. I read her book and it made a lot of sense; the author painted food in the context of culture and family, putting it in the proper perspective (eat to live, not live to eat) and how food should be as natural as it can be (avoid artificial ingredients and overly-processed foods). She mentioned the Benedictine monks a lot, which led me to a series of cookbooks that were assembled by a Benedictine; the recipes were grouped by which season you were in (Northern Hemisphere) and were actual recipes used in the monastery and made from the vegetables grown in their garden! So, very natural indeed! They were mostly vegetarian recipes, although there were a handful of recipes that used very small portions of meat. Lots of soups and even an entire "cookbook" of salad recipes; the monastery was basically vegan or vegetarian, which helps with self-sufficiency. I made several of these recipes and started to really enjoy that closeness with nature and buying according to the seasons (easier to get cheaper veg and go organic if you're not looking for something that typically doesn't grow at that time of the year). I wound up losing 20 pounds in only a month just changing to these mostly vegetarian recipes, with occasional South Beach recipes or meals of lean meats or fish served with veggies and maybe brown rice or whole wheat couscous. Sadly, after a month I went back to my old eating habits...

Ah, South Beach, where twice I lost over 100 pounds. The documentary I watched told me what I already knew - that diets are temporary by design and that most people, since they can't eat responsibly after a diet, wind up gaining all the weight back, and then some (guilty as charged). But what I learned from South Beach was that there is a quality level in food that most of us don't think about: some food, even if packaged and marketed to be healthy, really aren't healthy. Thanks to South Beach, I started to cook on my own, which I wound up loving to do at the time. I also learned to eat a LOT more vegetables and fruit on this diet. Lastly, I learned a LOT about grains and bread and how you need to seek out the bread that's least refined, the least processed.

That's how I shop now, even when I don't diet and am eating tons of junk food - I still try to have good snacks during the day and healthy breakfasts and lunches (it's just that I fall apart at dinner). So I won't buy the white breads or the regular pastas. I try my best to not buy something with high fructose corn syrup in it, if I can help it (since they are making it impossible to do).

I often think back to when I did South Beach the first time; I worked two jobs, one of which had me work overnights every Saturday. I spent three hours at church every Sunday because I was in RCIA. I wrote an article for the local Catholic newspaper every other week. I cooked these meals for South Beach. AND I somehow found time to date! Yes, I was about 10 years younger, but still.....how in the world did I have all that energy, determination, and discipline back then and yet today, if I have to work 9 or 10 hours in a day, when I get home I just plop on the couch, way too tired and annoyed to lift a finger to cook, clean, or do much anything else. What a difference 10 years make! I'm 40 pounds heavier this time than the last time I went on South Beach, but each time I had energy and determination.

I wish I could get that again. This week has been sort of successful, with eating healthy the last three days and with minimal junk food (I went to the bar for wings with a coworker). I just wish this was as easy as it had been in the past. It was hard work, but I could do it. I'm tired of hearing everyone I know telling me, "You did it before - you can do it again!" You don't think I know I could do it before? That much is obvious to me. The colossal question today is: Why can't I do it now?

I'm trying to see food from a more spiritual level. Food is from God's bounty. He has provided. I don't need to eat all that processed crap when I have the natural things (including animals) that God has provided for us. I'm not going to obsess over all this contradictory information people give me. Everything is good for you today, will kill you tomorrow, and will be back to being healthy for you the day after. For me it should be simple: if God gave it to us, then it's ok to eat (as long as it's not one of my triggers). And the Good Lord ate lamb, he ate fish, and he probably ate some rich foods those times he was invited to dine with Pharisees and tax collectors. Remember, he said that people were calling him a glutton and a drunkard (so it seems like he enjoyed his wine, too). Don't tell me bread will kill me or give me cancer because the God of the Universe came to earth, ate bread, and before his death on a cross took bread, gave the blessing, broke it, and said, "Take, eat. This is my Body, which has been given up for you." Don't tell me that drinking a glass of red wine every day will kill me, because after supper He took the chalice in his holy and venerable hands and, looking up to heaven said, "This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins." So, I'm not going to stress about that stuff. Organic or not organic, meat or vegan meals - I'll borrow a little from everyone, not limiting myself, but exploring recipes and having fun with it. I will try to eat more vegan meals, but I won't be scared to have meat, seafood, and dairy. I do think that, because of elevated cholesterol levels, perhaps I should try to get more calcium from plants and less from dairy; that's probably a good idea, to greatly reduce the amount of dairy I eat for cholesterol-related reasons.

I guess you can say that I'm going to try and eat like these monks. That's when I lost weight the last time, all without feeling hungry all the time. Plus, as I said, I have thoughts banging around in my head right now - a sort of "spirituality of food", an imitation of Communion, if you will. This will be a blog posting in the far future as I contemplate more on the subject.

My wish, my desire, my prayer, is that eating becomes so natural, so carefree, that "diet" entries are no longer necessary (except for maybe storing recipes). That's my goal - to no longer think about food like I do now, to instead just take it as it comes and not overdo anything. I'm inspired by the people who just graze all day on fruit and veg so that meals are never over the top because they aren't that hungry. I'd love that. That would be freedom. But maybe this is my cross, that I won't experience any freedom until that which comes at my last breath.