August 12, 2009

Purge the Urge to Count Calories

I've made juice each morning this week so far, and today it told me that it's jealous of all the face time the eats get 'round here. Not one to deny juice its due fame, I give you today's concoction.

In a container much too large for an 8-oz quantity. I juiced lettuce, kale, carrots, lemon and ginger, and it produced about 15 oz of juice. However, in order to avoid a sloshy belly while working out, I tend to just drink about half immediately after juicing and save the rest for the office in a swank little green aluminum bottle.

Green bottle for green juice. We'll just call it coincidence that my favorite color is green.

So my fruit-breakfast went much the same way as yesterday (banana followed by two plums), but then I tried a new food! Yesterday at Whole Foods I spied a wee container of organic figs. Since I pretty much live and die for dried figs, I figured it was about time I had the younger version!

Yo, they're green too! Still coincidence...? Hold on, though--that first bite was kinda nast. In fact, so was that whole first fig. Mealy cardboard? What's up with that? Turns out it probably wasn't ripe, because the other two were delightfully squishy, juicy and sweet. There we go.

Lunch was yesterday's twin: another large-Marge salad with everything but the juicer itself on top.

I tried another new food for a snack, though. I'd had the Amazing Grass Superfood bar before, but today I busted out the chocolate-covered version. Can't possibly go wrong with covering something already good with chocolate, eh?

Indeed. Chocolate pretty much always takes it up a notch in my book. Pip pip, jolly good. It's kind of like a grassier Lara Bar, shellacked in a layer of chocolate, straight-up candy bar style. Works for me.

A year ago, I never would have allowed myself to eat an entire 230-calorie snack all in one go. A year ago, I was meticulously counting calories, aiming never to break the 1400 mark. I began my greater mission of toning up and eating better when I went to 2008's Self Workout in the Park. I had some "vanity pounds" to lose, but was never overweight in the first place. Over the next eight months or so, I dropped more than 15 pounds slowly and steadily.

That's all well and good, and had I kept my head on straight, I would have written a letter to Self and presented myself as a success story. However, what began as me taking control of my eating and exercise habits turned into full-blown obsession, the extent of which I haven't really talked about until now. I didn't ever engage in any dangerous behaviors (meaning I didn't drop my calories lower than 1400 or exercise excessively), but the toll that the process took on my psyche changed my once-healthy attitude towards food dramatically. By the time I found myself bawling to my mom that I suspected I was eating-disordered, I knew something had to change. I wasn't so deep in the hole that I couldn't dig myself out, and the restrictive approach to food that I'd developed was not something I was interested in continuing. There had to be a better way.

Fast-forward to summer 2009. I found myself a bit thinner and more muscular than I was a year ago. Ostensibly, I was a success, having achieved that the "healthy way," though my brain had yet to catch up--I was still counting calories, despite the fact that I knew proper portions like the back of my hand.

Through lots of blog- and book-reading, I'd discovered an interest in eating a largely plant-based diet and wanted to dabble in raw foods, the idea of which intrigued me on a very basic, instinctual level. It was also around this time that I began to grow sick of recording every calorie that I ate or drank, but I didn't know how to kick the habit. I'd even grown to appreciate my reflection in the mirror, knowing it was the result of hard work, but that it would have also been fine had I not been so hard on myself in the process (or ever!).

When you become accustomed to the control you feel when counting calories (or Points, food groups, grams of fat, whatever), it's very hard to relinquish that hold over what you fear is a very precarious situation. Namely, that you'll instantly regain any lost weight the minute you cease to keep track of what went in your body in a given day. But my practical side knows better, and I know by now that my practical side (almost) always wins.

Curiously, it was the Great Kitchen Purge that relieved me of my calorie-counting ways. It had been a long time since I worried about consuming too many calories, even though I continued to count. This was the point at which I coined the term "Radventure." I was overdue for an upgrade to my health habits (regarding diet, body care and the psychology of it all), so I began to play around with raw food, cutting out chemicals and generally just cutting myself a break. I felt less and less of a need to log the calories I was consuming, in spite of the fact that I was likely consuming way more than I would have wanted to see on paper. I was cleaning out the kitchen by eating everything in it (novel concept!) and felt an enormous freedom in doing so. When it comes right down to it, I think I was just ready.

I can't quite explain it, but gradually, I didn't need to total up my eats for the day, nor was I especially interested in stepping on the scale. I found a new (rabid) interest in the actual nutrition of my food, and knowing that I was replacing a lot of the conventional aspects of my diet with improved habits was so satisfying that the quantifiable aspect of my body seemed pretty insignificant, ultimately.

The fact remains that I have a deep-seated love for vegetables, and as I have expressed here many times recently, the farmer's market has become my playground. If stuff like this (below) is becoming the mainstay of my diet, do I really need to keep a database of my calorie intake?

(Today's haul: lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, apples, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, squash/zucchini blob-thingie, corn)

I have to pause and realize how far I've come when I look at a pile of rainbow-colored tomatoes and react to them like I once reacted to Skittles.

Besides the boyf, there are few finer sights to mine eyes than colorful produce! (That's an evolutionary development, by the way--I read in The Omnivore's Dilemma that flowers, fruits and vegetables appear in bright, attractive colors so that we are drawn to eat them and therefore spread their seeds. Cool!)

The great thing about my personal evolution is that it is genuinely rooted in a love for vegetables. I don't eat so many of them because I think I "should" or because they are low in calories. For me, it usually feels most natural (mentally, physically and digestively) to eat a mixture raw and cooked vegetables for most meals. However, ice cream, for example, finds its way to me frequently, but that is something I've come to accept as a worthwhile treat, and there is room for it in my diet.

For the most part, though, this looks like a meal to me:

Well, maybe after it becomes this:

Total repeat meal from last week when I hacked open my thumb (it's almost healed now!), but it was just too phenomenal not to make again, as long as I had some goat jack left.

Plus Gena's Massaged Kale Salad has become a total staple for me lately. I would consider it an ultimate food, being that it tastes just as good as it is for you. Not all veggies can say the same--even I will admit that!

I couldn't tell you how many calories were in that dinner, but the point is that it shouldn't matter so long as I'm feeding myself high-quality food. I spent a long time punishing myself for enjoying calorie-dense foods, whether that meant nuts and oils or candy and cake. But after a journey of highs, lows and lots of learning in between, it's clear that the last thing my body needs is punishment. If anything, it deserves a reward for all the hard work it does, and the best way I can thank myself is to eat and move to feel good.


Sarah (LovIN My Tummy) said...

I love it. This is exactly why the raw food way of life is so freeing for me. I'm always checking myself with, "You REALLY are questioning whether its okay to have another piece of fruit?" "You are feeling guilty about one too many carrots?" Come on!!! It's very freeing, isn't it?

Dori said...

Thank you for sharing your story. While I never counted calories, I always kept an estimate of each food/meal in my head -- although I am sure I was often way off. Once I started eating cleaner, I too felt no need to do this. Eat right and it will work out. Although since I can't eat vegetables it is a bit harder for me . . . I will get there though.

Your panini sandwich melty thing looks AMAZING. Where did you get the goat jack, whole foods? I always look for it there but never find it!

Diana said...


I got the cheese at a health food store near my apartment. If there are any small stores like that near you, I would check there first, though I think Whole Foods might carry it too. I think the brand is Shiloh Farms? Not positive on that one...I threw out the wrapper a while ago!

VeggieGirl said...

A-freaking-men. Enjoy the food, not the numbers :)

ttfn300 said...

wow, such a great post, and i love your tomato skittles :) i get so excited at the farmers market!

brandi said...

those tomato skittles are beautiful :)

that's one thing I've been moving towards - eating more nutritious things, mostly fruits/veggies/whole grains and just being okay with the fact that they are good for me. if that's the case the majority of the time, those numbers just don't matter.

Gena (Choosing Raw) said...

What a wonderful post, Diana! So glad that you shared you story and that you've freed yourself from the counting mentality. Also glad that you've found a balance that works for you in your life, based around veggie bounty!!!

fitforfree said...

Love this post!! Thank you for sharing the ups & downs. I'm so glad you're finding a new balance (+ produce abundance) :-)

Lainie said...

Wow - what a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I would LOVE to be freed of my calorie-countin ways; it's hard though, as it sounds like you know. Perhaps I should look more into the raw food movement....

Missy said...

Great most that I think many of us can relate to. I tried the whole calorie counting thing too, but yes, it does lead to obsession. I am now trying to eat more fresh and less processed foods which seems much more important than calories.

RunToFinish said...

I haven't been able to transition to as much raw as you have, but my fruit and veggie in take has skyrocketed this past year and you are so right...when eating well the desire to count calories goes away

Hayley said...

Diana I read your blog regularly but up until now I've remained a lurker. This post was so fantastic and boy did I relate to every single thing you wrote. Thank you so much for writing all of this - I have to agree with VeggieGirl - AMEN to everything! I look at people who are still calorie-obsessed and weigh and measure their food and I feel sorry for them. I know how vicious that cycle is because I was once there, too. It's so liberating to be where I (we) are now!

K from ksgoodeats said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story to health! I'm glad you're finding your balance and what works best for you :) It takes a lot of work but in the end it's worth it!

Kristin said...

A woman of my own heart! I love to see posts like this because I feel there are far too few of them in the food blog world. Everyone is so obsessed with logging every bite of food we forget to realize that when we're fueling our bodies with whole foods there is no need to count the calories!

I also just deeply love vegetables. I don't eat them because I should, I eat them because I want to. I crave them. I wish that everyone was this way, but sadly, not everyone is.

Although I'm beginning to think that everyone is wired that way but the SAD has convinced them otherwise...

Erica said...

So glad to hear you're happier and healthier now! Sounds like it was a journey, but worth it to get to where you are now! I love those superfood bars but prefer the plain to the chocolate- filling and delicious. I am still yet to try a real fig!

Anonymous said...

yayyy diana!! i always get so excited for stories of remembering/re-learning how to love food, separate it from guilt, and stop fearing it. as much as i love my cake, it doesn't even come close to a tomato fresh off the vine ... or a veggie panini with goat jack, mmmm. you've done an excellent job trusting your body to manage its own health!

healthy ashley said...

I love this post!! I love how your gradually made all these changes and are finding what works for you. I think I've been doing the same... since I went vegan I have a genuine and healthy love (most of the time) for food and haven't once counted (or thought about) calories. It's definitely a great way to live!

Elina said...

Great post! I stopped counting calories a few months ago and finally it all makes sense. I am happier and I can maintain my weight because I still love healthy foods and exercise. So funny, because I never thought counting calories was a big chore but somehow stopping has been a freeing experience :)