First of all, food. Food, to me, is not just a noun or object but an experience. I first learned this coming from an Italian family where one does not know what time of day it is but what course we are on. I was born where sauce from a jar is mocked publicly, even though my love of Chef Boyardee remains (rainbow sheep of the family?)
Food is love to Italians. We celebrate with food. We send food, save food, make food– all to show love. We center celebrations around food and make sure my godfather makes extra trays of stuffed shells for our cousins after parties.
In fact, as a tiny little human, I was born asking for a stuffed shell. First words. No joke.
Okay, that one piece might be a fallacy, but both my parents’ respective favorite stories of me tell it best. My mom’s favorite childhood story is the one of me sitting down and saying “I’ll have french fries” in the mess hall of the Intrepid, a non-functioning museum cafeteria. My dad’s favorite story of me is finding me eating an entire stick of butter to which he supposedly yelled out shocked, “Michelle! You can’t eat a whole stick of butter!” to which a 4 year old me replied, “But I like it?”
FAT KID NUTRITION SCHOOL
Now, I have been working on this nutrition thing before I could explain what the word nutrition meant and before I realized what exactly I was doing. As a fat young girl, you kind of just try stuff you see on T.V., especially in the pre-Google world.
I ate a burger a day on Atkins, tried Slimfast on the way to basketball camp, and moved chicken drumsticks on Richard Simmon‘s FoodMover. I counted points on WeightWatchers and tried teeny tiny little Jenny Craig meals after I worked out with Billy Blanks doing TaeBo in my bedroom.
When I was young, I just tried things. Trial and error. See what works. See how I feel. This led to a young life of nutritional inconsistencies. It was really hard to figure out what was working and what was actually healthy versus which was going to shut down my training and make me feel like shit. It was also really hard to have the foresight to see if something was long term. I couldn’t tell if I could commit to what I was doing after I got out of the honeymoon phase.
Yes, there is a HONEYMOON PHASE of any single thing you try in nutrition. When you start to see changes and think it is working, you get excited! It is easy to keep momentum in that time, but what about when that magic wears off?
You may love those hard boiled eggs for an entire year for breakfast, but there is a breaking point.
Is what you’re doing something you can actually do long term?
Now, hear this first.
Following a nutrition plan long term does not have to mean for life for it to be successful.
Just like beautiful relationships, some things are going to be successful and work right now, but then your goals may change. When that happens and the goals don’t align, you can leave that first lifestyle and move on to one that works for you. That doesn’t mean the first lifestyle sucked! The next one can and will still include everything you learned from that previous one.
I am saying this because I am not trying to deter anyone from one lifestyle versus the other, but to show the beauty of each and why one worked then and the other worked now. Choices in your diet now can perfectly suit your new goals whereas old choices supported old goals.
THIS TIME AROUND
Right before going into our stay-at-home directive, I knew that I was going to be home with a lot of food. This is terrifying to a yo yo dieter like any. Not only would I be home all the time but I would be home with a lot of temptations because we would be shopping for long periods of time at once. Access to a plethora of food and time for said food, What a nightmare for me!
I knew this was time to reach out again for support with my nutrition. I have worked with nutrition coach Kristi Freitag at BroccoliKlub when I have needed to for about 5 years. We have worked to create different plans or habits based on the fitness goals I had at that time. When something worked, I would go off on my own with occasional check-ins, until I felt I needed help changing things up again. This was definitely one of those times.
First of all, having a nutrition coach has been extremely beneficial for me. For me, accountability is key and having someone look at what I am doing helps me. Having someone check in helps me. More importantly, having someone knowledgeable giving me advice on my nutrition gives me the freedom to work on what is important to me, which is doing that work for myself. I don’t really have interest in the whys, hows, or scientific proof right now. I just don’t. While I try to stay generally knowledgeable about nutrition, it is not my main focus and I don’t naturally read up on it without a group or reason. Having someone available who has that knowledge and has done the work/training is key for me and worth the investment as well as every second spent meeting.
Now as you heard, I have certainly dabbled with nutrition.
In the dabbling over the years, I have discovered that there are fad diets that have worked for me. These are things I have tried like eating a grapefruit for a week and crying away my calories.
Then there are what I am going to call my lifestyle diets. Lifestyle diets are diets I have seen be successful in myself and other people for LONG term. Lifestyle diets are something you can adopt indefinitely and keep if you choose. The two lifestyles I will focus on are paleo versus portioning.
PALEO LIFESTYLE FOR THE BULK EATER
When I first worked with Kristi, we worked on developing a paleo lifestyle. At the time, I could not see myself as someone who could portion as I am naturally a bulk eater. I like to eat in large quantities is what I mean, if you are skinny and confused. At that time, I would rather slam an entire plate of broccoli rather than eat the pittance of pasta that would allow me.
I LOVED the fact that paleo allowed me to bulk eat. At the time, it was super easy. There was a list of foods on my fridge that were acceptable. Buy those foods. Eat those foods. DO NOT EAT ANY OTHER FOODS. Simple rules. Easy to follow.
I was never hungry on paleo. Never ever ever. The second I felt even slightly hungry, I could bulk eat my way through piles of chicken thighs and my body knew what it could handle. I never felt as if I overate, but then again, does one even overeat produce? Not sure, but I certainly did not ever feel full or bloated while eating paleo. I felt clean. I felt fast. I was strong, lifting heavy things for the first time. Paleo helped me hit my fitness goals and I had some really killer seasons of rugby.
Paleo helped me create habits in the form of food prep because there was little I could really eat out in restaurants. Being that limited forced me to food prep my meals in a way that I could just grab any meal and go. This created habits with food prep I still naturally follow when I am actively eating in a way that works towards my goals.
There were a lot of great things about paleo?! So why not go back to it this time around?
Think back to the first words I spoke about the meaning of life: food. That got dramatic but again, I do love food. My family gatherings are some of the best memories we have together centered around food. When I was on paleo, I remember eating paleo at those events. I remember not the food I had, but the food I had missed.
Like unrequited love or the shot you never took, I will always remember the food loves that could have been turned into beautiful food babies in my stomach.
I decided that I no longer wanted to live in a world without cupcakes!
This is why I decided to try my hand at portioning. I decided to commit to balancing my nutrition in a way that 4yr old me would still be happy. If 4yr old me heard the foods I have said no to, she would not be happy. I wanted to go back to less restrictions when it came to what kinds of foods I got to eat.
Now, why do I still consider paleo a long term diet if it didn’t work for me for the long haul?
First off, paleo helped me smash my goals then. That in itself, made it a success for me. I was healthy and strong. I do not personally see anything harmful this diet did to me even if I do not prefer to eat strictly like that anymore.
The reason this diet didn’t work for me long term is not that it is ridiculous or impossible. This is a diet one could use long term and be happy, full, and smashing goals. For me, I made the CHOICE to move away from this lifestyle because of the foods I still wanted to eat. Nothing was inherently bad about this diet or lifestyle.
THIS TIME AROUND
Portioning not Torturing
QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY
I decided to stop torturing myself, which I was doing by reducing the quality of the enjoyment of the food I was having. I was eating things just to get full. I was merely fueling myself for workouts on paleo. I decided to instead focus on my love of food. I decided to work on enjoying my yes, small, yes, portioned, but QUALITY happy foods.
I am eating what I enjoy and I am more than content with that. I am satisfied after meals and snacks. That is fueling my training right now.
This lifestyle has meant a drastic reduction in the quantity I allow myself in certain foods and for now, I am fine with that. The relationship I have with food needs to be give and take to work.
Now this is something really new to me, working successfully with portioning. I have said for some time that life was about balance, meaning I have attempted such things in the past. The problem with portioning for me is I don’t… yes, it is that simple. I just don’t.
The thing with portioning is that it sounds super easy. Just eat less. Just eat the right amount.
Dude, I am fat. I don’t want to.
Unlike, paleo where I could BULK EAT my weight in burgers, you actually have to look at portion size and learn how much to eat at once.
This is no easy feat, but here is how it worked for me this time around.
First of all, as I said before about learning from past attempts, Kristi reminded me of things that worked before that could blend into what I was doing now. With paleo, I food prepped all my meals and froze them for the week. Though, I wasn’t interested in that type of prepping now, the tupperware I used and portioning and planning were all ideas that would be helpful.
To portion lunches and meals I am packing easily, I have meal tupperware, candy tupperware, sides tupperware. That’s it. It is not strict or doesn’t feel strict to me. I am not actually measuring but merely putting my food away into those tupperwares ensures I am in the ballpark, which is close enough and working for me.
SNACKS! I love snacks and love that I can have whatever snack I want. I buy large bags of hazelnut m&ms and they go right into the candy tupperware. Simple, easy to grab. Taking an 8 serving bag to the couch with me would not be helpful to portioning so for me, it’s about figuring out how to balance having the things I want so I can snack. I buy the small bag of chips when I feel like having chips because who doesn’t finish a bag of chips? I follow the general rule of 1-2 servings of anything because that seems reasonable enough. I am finding ways to portion without driving myself absolutely crazy with counting anything concrete or weighing my food, which I refuse to do ever again by the way.
Intermittent fasting is what has made portioning more reasonable for me. Intermittent fasting has curbed my insatiable appetite and made it so I could make positive choices. While I hadn’t heard the term until the last couple of years, I realized it lined up with a rule that I had made with Kristi during my successful Paleo days. I would stop eating after 8pm, which almost met the hours of intermittent fasting that have helped me be successful now.
For quarantine at home life and summer life, I decided to flip my hours knowing how much I enjoy a midnight romp around with those Hazelnut m&ms.
When I wake up, I drink water and a black coffee. I have as much water as possible until I break my fast later in the day. At first, I watched the time a little more closely. Now, I have gotten to the point where my body knows the schedule. I do not wake up hungry. I get hungry around the same time every day.
With this added help, portioning my food has been easy.
Portioning my food has definitely left me with a different sense of control than paleo ever did. The restrictions of not being able to freely eat out or eat at events made me crazy. I never wanted to be the girl who chose to say no to the pizza. In fact, saying no to the pizza on paleo actually made it harder to come back to the pizza because when I would, it was like I had a hangover. With portioning, I could eat a slice of pizza with no hangover. Allowing the body a little was so good for my mind and overall health. Removing things from my diet seemed to make my body hate that thing and then it was almost like giving myself an allergy I did not have.
Portioning my food has allowed me to take up baking because I could allow myself to have those kinds of desserts. I had long past given up on desserts and convinced myself that french fries were simply Lucifer in masquerade. I am so happy having dessert every day and I think the friends I have shared with have been pretty happy too!!
Portioning Baking Tip: When baking for an event, make one big cake to bring, and use the leftover batter to make mini cupcakes for the week. I made a pineapple upside down cake to share and used the leftover batter to make mini cupcakes that I portioned for myself.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM BOTH
There were a lot of things I got out of both lifestyle choices. For example, I never felt hungry in either lifestyle. There is an inherent satisfaction in being able to train and work on nutrition without hunger. I have certainly had times in my life where this wasn’t the case. Both of these methods provided me a way to train comfortably.
The ideas of the paleo lifestyle have stuck with me even if I am focused on portioning now, even if I am also working on intermittent fasting.
This is something I want people to think about. You do NOT have to stick with a diet or lifestyle forever to learn from it.
I learned a lot from eating paleo and with my eating, I still try to think out of the box for the most part, the sugar processed cereal type box if you will. Avoiding processed foods overall is not a bad thing.
Trying out different diets is also not a bad thing. Learn and take something with you from each. Just remember not to take any one diet as Gospel or the law, which are supposed to be two different things, but you get the point.
This lifestyle works for a lot of people. My lifestyle works for a lot of people, too.
RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
Nutrition and your relationship with food are personal experiences and differ for everyone.
There is no one right or wrong way of eating. You need to find what makes you happy and healthy in your body and mind.
Stop looking at what other people are eating; comparison will always blind you from your own progress.
I have always known that I did not have the best relationship with food. Unlike other addictions, I couldn’t just break up with food and block her on Insta.
Instead, here I am working on that relationship and I encourage others to do the same. Remember any relationship has ups and downs, but you work on it and it gets better. The more I work on it, the better and easier it seems to get.
Maybe this is it for me. Maybe focusing on portioning and not torturing, allowing myself the freedom to have the things I want in moderation, is the method by which my body and food find this perfect harmony. Maybe this one works forever. Maybe this is our nutritional happily ever after if you will.
Even happily ever afters take work though.
As with most things I discuss, nothing is truly linear and my nutritional journey will take me back and forth.
That doesn’t mean I won’t celebrate the successes.
Cheers to the successes of the now and cheers to the carbs I am about to receive. AMEN.