Start from Scratch

ice cream at sunset unsplash

Revision and refinement. It’s important stuff. It’s how recipes are developed and books are written. It’s how we hone our sense of style–since most of us are probably dressing differently than in middle school (or even just a few years ago). Really, it’s a huge part of our everyday lives.

Those of you who have been following along will know I choose February to be sweets-free and put my own festival foods in their place. And cutting way down on added sugars can be a good thing.

However, mindset makes all the difference.

The Story that Started it All

When I was a high school freshman, I went on a diet. I hate that in a lot of ways, this is one of my huge defining milestones. But it was. It’s the reason that I got into nutrition in the first place. And the reason I can’t count calories now without dire emotional consequences. While I was never anorexic (and I use that in the clinical sense), I dug myself deep into the hole of disordered eating with my own hubris. Like some tragic Greek hero of yore, I was sure that I was smart enough to keep myself from getting sucked into a dieting mentality that I couldn’t even tell when I was swept away in it.

Afterward, I couldn’t look at food for a long time without mentally totaling calories and I couldn’t eat without this horrible sense of guilt or even self-loathing. I worked long and hard to get as close to normal as I could. That meant avoiding the diet books in the library, not renewing some magazine subscriptions, and beginning to make the transition to real and whole foods. And even though it’s been just about five years,  I never completely recovered that healthy relationship with food.

Another Brush with Unhealthy Eating

This month, as I have limited my sweets intake, I have changed, and not for the better. First off, the no sweets rule has made it difficult for me to hang out with friends. We eat ice cream. We get coffee (and by we, I mean, they get coffee and tea and I get hot chocolate or chai). We go to the bakery for pastries. Not knowing what to do in lieu of going out has been incredibly stressful. And I haven’t been turning to healthy stress relieving options (Yoga! Meditation! Walks in the park!), but rather, I’ve turned to popcorn (It’s not a sweet, at least, was my reasoning). Let me tell you, my waistline hasn’t thanked me.

The stress has manifested in other ways, and on Ash Wednesday, our priest gave a very interesting homily that resonated with me a lot. The gist of it was that a lot of people give things up for Lent and it makes them grumpier, not holier or better. Instead, we should focus on adding things to our spiritual arsenal–daily mass, more prayer, et cetera–sort of the religious version of adding something healthy rather than subtracting something unhealthy.

Not only that, but sweets have been all I can think about in my spare time. To the point that my (wonderful!) boyfriend has pointed out my unhealthy fixation. Neither of us knew quite  how much I liked ice cream until I couldn’t have it. He has been through so much of this diet-based roller coaster with me and he knows my normal. He gently reminds me when I forget about my ultimate goal: health.

Plain and simple, the effects this challenge is having on me are not healthy. This was never supposed to get in the way of socializing, stress me out, or turn me into a Minnesota experimental subject.

Lessons Learned

Looking back on the past two and a half weeks, I realize that I should have had plans in place. Ideas for non-food friendly get-togethers. Plans for non-chocolate stress-relief for when the going got tough. I probably should have allowed myself honey from the get go, to make honey-lemon tea just as a nice night time ritual (not just for sore throats) to replace having something else sweet. Most of all, maybe I should have started with a slightly different, more attainable goal. Going essentially cold turkey was not sustainable for me and put me in a deprivation (read: diet) mindset.

Having thought about this issue a lot in the last few days, I realized that I should have started by culling desserts I have solo. Going out with friends (or on dates) and having a little something sweet is not a daily occurrence, whereas eating some chocolate or ice cream after dinner was. Going out is a boost to my emotional well-being, whereas eating dessert by myself isn’t doing much for my health in general–so that’s what I should have targeted.

Going forward

This was a very difficult decision to make, but I am going to take a step back from this self-imposed challenge. I do plan to finish out the month of February by getting my sweets habit under control. However, I am going to make an allowance for myself: when I am out with friends or spending quality time with family, a little indulgence is okay.

This experience has reminded me how important it is for me to work on limiting the deprivation-mindset above all. It’s reminded me how fragile my relationship with food can be. And it’s reminded me of my values– that I stand for a holistic view of health–one that takes into account emotional, social, and physical well-being.

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