A while ago the now-defunct Elastic Waist was currently looking for “anti-diet” tips, a concept which I love both for the opportunity of turning the diet industry’s sound bites back on them and for the opportunity to practice being witty and pithy. However, despite my being both witty AND pithy (in my own esteemed opinion) they did not chosen any of my tips. So I’m going to share my favorite anti-diet tip with you:
“Keep a food journal in which you write down every single bite you eat. That way, if dieting doesn’t work out for you, at least you’ll have a head start on your memoirs. Really, your posterity will thank you. “
Confessions of an Chronic Food Journal-er
For years (and I do mean years – about 17 of them, over half my life), I took to heart the advice that the best way to keep off the pounds is to write down every morsel that goes into your mouth. It makes you accountable! It helps you “see” what you eat (in case you missed it at the actual time you were eating it)!! It allows you to make charts and graphs of all your macronutriets!!! BRING ON THE OCD!!!!
I even had a fancy little spreadsheet that I created myself to track every number even remotely related to food. By the time I quit doing it, it was so elaborate it took more time from my day than I’m currently willing to admit to. If I’m really honest with myself (which I try to be only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so you get lucky today), it is probably the #1 most eating-disordered thing I have ever done. I used that fascist journal to dictate exactly what I would and, more importantly, would not eat. If it didn’t fit in my journal, I didn’t eat it. Not even a bite. Not even if it was the special trifle our German friends made us as a gift that was, so my husband told me, “one-in-a-lifetime good.”
“You have so much self control!” people used to always say to me. It wasn’t self-control though – it was fear, pure and simple. That little journal kept everything safe for me but the price I paid was having all the parameters of my life defined by Excel. Not even Bill Gates would want to live that life.
My Wake-Up Call
A couple of years ago my sister wrote a book on our grandmother, a woman whom I loved in a way that I have never been able to love anyone since. She was a teacher, a leader in her community, a published author, a mother of seven (!) children and so beautiful that she turned heads, even in her sixties. She died when I was nine and her memory is sacred to me. I still talk to her in my head sometimes. (See? Honest Tuesdays!)
She was also actively bulimic up until her death. An entire lifetime of bingeing and vomiting. When my sister started going through her journals for the book, she found something so sad and so sickening that it shook me to my pilates-honed core: page after page after page of food. Every bite she took, recorded in her beloved hand.
I knew nothing about how she felt when her children were born. But I could tell you every piece of food she ate on April 12, 1964.
My journal died that day. I killed it. I did not want that to be the legacy I left my children and, someday, grandchildren.
Easier Said Than Done
Like everything worth doing, giving up my journal was harder than I expected it to be. I was afraid to eat without it. It required me to eat according only to my hunger. I had to trust my own body – the very thing that every diet and “health” purveyor out there told me was my worst enemy. My body would sabotage my efforts with its insatiable hunger, they told me. My body wanted to be fat & lazy and unless I mastered it, it would ruin me, they whispered.
I didn’t know how to answer those thoughts in my head at first. It was a leap of faith. I turned off my computer and deleted the file. I called friends to keep my mind busy so it wouldn’t mentally do the calculating that Excel had once done. And at last, I found a different way to emulate my grandmother: I started writing.
Count Your Blessings
Today I still keep a journal. A gratitude journal. Every night before I go to bed, I write at least a couple of sentences about what I am grateful for. Sometimes they are small: “Today I’m grateful for bobby pins. How else could I have all these cool layers in my hair and still get my sweat on at the gym?” Sometimes they are so big I can’t wrap my heart all the way around them: “Today I am grateful for my baby’s chubby fingers as he waved hello to me (and his brother, and the neighbor, and the dog, and the nightstand.)” Sometimes they are tired: “Today I’m grateful for a warm bed and no insomniac tendencies.” Sometimes they are pages and pages of all the blessings God has given me. This is what I want to leave my children to read someday, when I’m gone.
So if you must count something, count these moments. And be grateful for every one.
And in case you are curious as to what happened to my weight after I quit food journalling – the answer is: absolutely nothing. It turns out that “they” are wrong. If I feed my body when it’s hungry and leave it alone when it’s not (just basic respect, in my opinion), it takes care of itself just fine. For which I am very grateful.
Note: Thursdays are greatest hits days here at GFE. This post originally ran January 2008. I will add that almost two years later, giving up my food journal is still one of the best decisions I have ever made. With the exception of my current pregnancy, my weight has stayed within a ten-pound range without any help from a journal. Every time I blog about this, I get a few e-mails from people telling me how food journalling saved their lives. I’m not knocking journalling if it works for you – in fact I’m thrilled that you have found what works for you – I’m just saying that it didn’t for me.