Friday, January 27, 2012

What I eat really does matter

For about six months, I haven't been eating much in the way of empty carbs:  bread, pasta, cereal, refined sugar.  Mind you, I haven't been anywhere close to perfect - I've gone off the rails in a spectacular ball of fire from time to time, but for whatever reason, this "way of eating" has stuck with me.  I've been refining it a bit, going from Atkins to Whole30 to a more sustainable Paleo gig.  I still have work to do to make it automatic - planning meals, cooking for the week, the usual things I complain about.

Last night, I learned a valuable lesson.  What I eat affects EVERYTHING.  I suspected as much during the past few months, but I'd chalk it up to "experimentation" and order dessert, raid the bread basket, or eat more cheese than could be considered "garnish" (we gave up dairy too).  I wanted to feel like I could "splurge" or "celebrate", or "cheat".  Any small joy I experienced by eating something "unapproved" was completely obliterated a few hours later, when I felt tired, sluggish, or had icky stomach-related symptoms.

This was painfully clear yesterday.  I met a former coworker for Happy Hour at my FAVORITE 21+ bar/restaurant in town.  I ate ancho-chile chicken wings there (not super healthy but not horribly bad either).  I also had a taco, with its tiny bit of cheese and the flour tortilla.  I had a margarita, which I haven't had in AGES.  And believe me, this place does it RIGHT.  Not Paleo-approved, but not ridiculously horrible, or so I thought.

After that, I drove over to the wonderful restaurant Tilth in Seattle, which I've been wanting to try for ages, to meet up with Shalini.  I had a snooty salad, with a bit of cheese. I couldn't resist the (very small) Theo chocolate cake for dessert.  It was tiny, so I figured no harm, right?  It delighted me.  It was rich, and soft and not too sweet, just the way I like it.  I was satisfied with a few bites, so I left some behind.  I inhaled the delicate whipped cream topping and also a bite of S's divine blood orange/pistachio ice cream thing. 

I went home, went to bed, and slept VERY poorly.  My stomach was NOT HAPPY - I woke up feeling like I had a tight rubber band around my midsection.  The diet Cokes I had at Happy Hour made it hard for me to fall asleep.  I KNOW that I can't have caffeine after 2pm or so, but I tend to ignore that when I really want a diet Crack.  Sigh.  I tossed and turned, and even though BabyT obligingly slept until 8am (unheard of in these parts), I felt like garbage when I woke up.

But it wasn't just physical. 

This morning I was in a BAD mood.  That one stinkin' margarita made me wake up feeling gross and dry, despite the umpteen glasses of water I drank through dinner.  I was still tired.  I was ridiculously craving carbs - all I could think about was thick, fresh baked white bread, or hot cereal.  Or even crappy white sandwich bread. It was a demon awakened inside me.  My patience was short, and let me tell you, with a 2 year old, it's already stretched on a GOOD day.

Of course it didn't help that I didn't have time to eat breakfast before running off to Little Gym with BabyT.  I scarfed two hardboiled eggs when I got home and about 15 minutes later, started feeling normal again. 

Egg Surfin'
egg surfin' by wickamoo on Flickr
But all day, those carb cravings plagued me.  Nothing we had in the fridge sounded good.  I ate one of T's granola bars (sigh) under the pretense of "sharing" it with her.  (I ate 98% of it.)  I couldn't stop thinking about a huge plate of pasta, or mac n cheese, or ... you get the idea.  I was tired and sluggish and cranky.  I napped while she napped.  I lounged on the couch all afternoon while she played nearby.  Not a good mama-day, that's for sure.

I am absolutely sure now that what I eat DIRECTLY affects my mood as well as my body.  The physical aspect is pretty clear - eating dessert now makes me nauseous about an hour later, exactly like it had when I was taking metformin for baby-making reasons.  (It regulates insulin response and made me really sick if I ate a bunch of sugar or drank wine.)

And eating those empty carbs and sugar just makes me want more of them, and makes me completely uninterested in the stuff I'm "supposed" to eat which starts this vicious spiral of bad food -> feeling crappy->more bad food -> more feeling crappy.

I know a lot of people will think that the way I'm "supposed to eat" is unsustainable.  That we need grains and sugar and pasta, for crying out loud.  But honestly, it's not.  Eating Paleo and keeping it up has been surprisingly easy for me, IF I AM CONSISTENT.  My mood is unbelievably good, I'm never hungry, I eat vegetables and I like it.  As soon as I go too far off the rails, it becomes HARD.  I don't want to do it.  I get back into that resistant, depressed, apathetic mindset.

I've been in that place for half my life - the place where "eating right" is some kind of punishment, where I ignore my hunger and eat rice cakes that taste like cardboard, where I feel like I'm weak-willed and if I could just get it together, I'd lose those 40 extra lbs I've been carrying since I was a teenager. I don't want to be in that place.

I've seen the land of sunshine and fuzzy puppies, where I can eat real food, not be hungry, and feel strong, awake, and energized.  Where nothing seems impossible, I don't crave an afternoon nap, and I feel rested after 7-8 hours of sleep.  Where it's not something I "have to follow", it's just how I eat, and it makes me feel good, both physically and emotionally.  I'm also a lot less fixated on "the number" as a measure of my success, and it's more about how I feel.  Yeah, I feel THAT good when I'm doing it right.  So strange.

I'm ready to go there now.  Again.


  1. I love this post. I think I am coming to same way of thinking as you. I have noticed recently both that when I eat crap, I am tired and short of patience, and that when I have sugar, I crave more sugar. It's time to get it together.

    I was wondering if you have any favourite go-to Paleo recipes you'd like to share - things that really get you through when you're hungry and have no time to cook. Things that will stop me from reaching for crackers or a bowl of cereal!

  2. @Lynn - The cookbook "Well Fed" has been really great. But I also always have hardboiled eggs and nuts in the fridge for a quick snack. And fresh fruit. Those things take the edge off so I can focus on cooking a meal, etc.

  3. Well, I am a regular consumer of sugary things, but YES. I find when I'm eating more veggies and fruits, I have more energy, am less of a grouch, etc etc. But how do I stop myself from eating ten Oreos? I...don't know.
    (It was nice to meet you too!)

  4. @Shalini - the way we stopped was to literally NOT have the stuff @ home. But I never would have made it through if TJ wasn't also doing it. After I get over the initial cravings, I find they don't come back unless I feed them more sugar...

  5. Good thoughts. It is hard to be disciplined about this. The thing that works for me sometimes is when i am in that 'hunger has struck mode' - I force myself to eat that boring banana before i get to eat that cookie. or have an interesting fruit selection at home (this is hard because fresh fruit goes bad way too son). also, this one is easier said than done esp with a 2yr old to run after but,I don't let myself reach the 'hunger has struck mode' a little here, a little there so then I am never really starving enough to scarf down 2 cupcakes in a row (although i think i can at any point of time:)) but snacking helps


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