All my life, even as a little boy, I’ve struggled with my weight.
I just wrote this, it may or may not be really good, it’s a bit raw for me to write, but I thought it would be helpful. Hopefully not adding more confusion. ~ ed.
All my life (yes, men go through this stuff, too—you’re not alone, whomever you are), I’ve eaten rather indiscriminately. If I’m around food, I’ll eat it. If I’m not around food, I won’t.
I got into a bad habit, in my athletic days as a young whippersnapper with an endless appetite and a 0-60 in five second metabolism, of showing off how much I could eat. 12 Dunkin Donuts in one sitting? Watch me! Full pizza? No problem! Cleaning off the unfinished plates of an entire table? Happy to help. Babe Ruth did this too, he of the infamous potbelly seen around the world.
Nine meals a day was standard in my high school years (if you counted full servings of seconds: breakfast, breakfast, snack, lunch, lunch, teatime, dinner, dinner, dessert).
Now, I’m 38, and I’ve wrestled the hungry bear of my discursive eating (and, emotional eating—if I’m stressed, tired, sad, depressed…food is pleasure) for a solid 32 of those years. It’s sad how much mental energy I’ve put, daily, into wanting to diet, wanting to eat…at the same time.
About 8 years ago, or 11 years ago going further back, I discovered adult exercise. When I was a young punk, I exercised a ton—for fun. We called it sports, or just plain running around doing stuff. But when you grow up—well, at the age of 25, I suddenly found myself sitting at a desk all day. Luckily, my girlfriend at the time, a co-founder of sorts of this Journal, saw what was happening.
“Where’s the handsome boy I fell in love with? Now you’re all pudgy, with skinny arms.” And she imitated the walk of a (handsome) gorilla. And she took me to the gym. On my own, I fell in love with bouldering. On my own, or through friends…over the years, I’ve fallen in love with cycling, and now running. I still play a little basketball. I do my morning calisthenics. And I do my yoga, usually, which might be the most challenging of all my workouts.
Anyways, I found that exercise, instead of binging and dieting, was a means to even out the crests and troughs of weight gain and loss. I spend less energy, now, thinking about myself, and more energy thinking about how I can best be of service.
And that’s the point of all of the mindful life. To be of use to the world, and have a good time doing so.
10 Mindful Diet* Tips from One Who’s Been There:
1. Exercise. Every day. Something. Something you enjoy. If you want to eat more, then
plan ahead (see #10). Schedule exercise to balance against your business lunch, or dinner date,
or date with yourself and House of Cards and a big bowl of vegan nachos (looking at you, Lewis).
Most effective exercise? It’s not in a gym. It’s whatever you love.
Most effective exercise of all? It’s practical: it’s bicycling, or walking, instead of driving. Move. You’ll find yourself in the sunshine and fresh air, your mind will wake up, life will be good.
1a. Get a dog, if you’re a responsible human being: dogs have to pee and dogs need tons of exercise (the backyard is not enough, folks) so they’ll get you to go outside and move, regularly—and in so doing they’ll change your life, and health for the better.
There was a study released recently that showed that those with dogs lived longer, and more healthfully. Duh. Hope they didn’t spend to much on that study: we coulda told ’em that.
2. Don’t diet. Relax. Stop it. It’s okay once in a blue moon not to eat if there’s no good food around—like, if you’re in an airport or on a mindful cleanse (but beware of cleanses, they’re often a fancy excuse for purging). But dieting is a great way to starve your health, and the fat will come roaring back. Stop it.
3. Don’t binge: ever. And if you do, which you will, because that’s the nature of neurosis, it’s like a 12 year old boy who just has to challenge any and all authority…well, that’s fine, because you saw it coming and [refer to #1] or you didn’t see it coming and it’s time for [#1].
4. The Michael Pollan Diet: Eat Real Food. Mostly Plants. Not too Much. The better food you eat (ie, food with, say, five ingredients or less), the more you’ll enjoy it, and the less hungry you’ll feel. And the healthier you’ll be, and you’ll be helping your planet, or at least hurting it a bit less.
5. The Tom Cruise Diet: this could also be called the Oprah Winfrey Diet, but we know better. Don’t eat after a certain time of night. I don’t like this rule, because rules are made to be broken,
so I set my time at…midnight. I stay up late, but even I don’t really ever want to eat after midnight. So keep this rule in mind, but be gentle about it. Just remember that eating late at night is a great way to gain unwanted weight, and it’s harder to digest ’cause you’re not moving, and it’ll mess up your sleep. Bad, bad, bad. But don’t be heavy about it. Which brings us to…
6. Maitri. You’ll fall. You’ll fail. You’ll eat two pints of vegan ice cream. You’ll fail again. Constantly. That’s the nature of the beast. Having an eating disorder is perhaps even harder to manage than being an alcoholic, because you can’t go cold turkey. You eat the cold turkey.
Of course, having an eating disorder just means that you’ll gain weight, starve yourself, harm your health, take years off your life, mess up your sleep, avoid going swimming, avoid yoga, avoid sex, avoid dating, and feel bad about yourself minute after minute after minute, day after day. Which isn’t nearly as bad as the effects of unaddressed alcoholicism.
Anyway: Maitri. Read the link. Read about it. Learn to make friends with yourself. There’s so many benefits from this one, it’s almost as if your suffering was all worth it, because it gave you a doorway into loving life fully.
7. Water. Drink it. If you’re neurotically hungry (as in you feel hungry, you want to eat, you’re gonna eat, but you’re not actually physically hungry), drink water instead. Often we’re just dehydrated, and that dehydration is the feeling of “hunger” that fools us into eating crappy food.
8. Cook. Again, as Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Cook them yourself…It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I’m a bachelor, and I don’t cook much. But I make stuff at home, mostly Mexican stuff and salads and pasta (which I guess is cooking) and sweet potatoes and popcorn and now stirfries, which I learned how to make (so easy) from an ex-girlfriend. Learn a few simple dishes. Learn to make things you actually like to eat. As an added bonus, while things are cooking, I love to do dishes, laundry: whatever I’ve been avoiding. It’s like there’s a race clock, a stopwatch that’s gone off and I only have so much time to do whatever in, and suddenly domestic tasks are fun. And suddenly my sink is clean and my sheets are clean and my bed made and my recycling taken out and my dining table clean and…
9. Wear well-fitting clothes. Trungpa Rinpoche, the great Buddhist teacher, said that well-fitting clothes give our egos less room to hide. That’s not a lofty, spiritual observation: it’s a practical one. When we’re depressed, who doesn’t love to assume a bad posture, curled up, hiding our open heart, to dress in comfy sweats with elastic bands…and to eat comfort food? It’s nice, for about three minutes. Then, it’s a good way to fall down the rabbit hole of food depression.
10. Here’s a slightly embarrassing one: but I figured out how to eat mindfully after, like, 36 years of my life. I literally count meals vs. exercise, each day. Every. Day. Why? Because I’m not like those fit, healthy people: I have to be mindful of every bite I take, and every exercise I make.
So I say, okay, if I don’t exercise much, I eat on average 1 meal and three snacks (.33 each) a day. I know that seems low, but that’s what I generally need. Maybe I have a slow metabolism. Who knows. Who cares. If I eat that much, I’m strong and healthy and anyone who knows me knows how much energy I have. I could power a generator, if they could plug me in.
So I wake up, have a small meal–like half a cantaloupe, say, with peanut butter in it—all organic—and then I’m down from 1.99 to 1.66 for the day. Then, I go work, and around lunch I’m actually hungry, so I have a healthy yummy meal. I’m at .66. Then, maybe around five, I have a snack. I’m at .33. Then, come dinner time, I have another snack. I’m at .0. I go to bed, and I haven’t lost weight, or gained weight. I’m balanced. It’s all good.
But what if I want a full dinner? No problem: see #1: exercise. One good session of exercise (running, yoga, basketball, whatever—I don’t count walking or bicycling unless it’s a long bike ride, those basic habits figure into the basic 1 meal and three snacks a day equation) equals one meal. So if I know I want to eat 2 meals and 3 snacks in one day (total of 2.99), I just make sure I exercise once. That brings my total for the day from 1.99 up to 2.99 (two meals valued at 1, each, and 3 snacks at .33, each). Capiche? Works for me.
11. We go to 11, around here. Tips from you? Leave ’em in the comments, below.
*a mindful diet does not involve dieting.
Bonus: Here’s a photo of me in my undies, by one of my bromance buddies, Robert.
These days, whether I’m fit or not so fit, it doesn’t matter. The discipline of coming back to the present moment—or, in this case, a mindful diet—is what I practice. Failing is okay. Coming back—getting back on the saddle of maitri—is everything. It’s everything because it allows me to stop self-obsessing, and enjoy life fully. This life is short, and precious, and meant to be used to be of benefit, with joy. You in?
Bonus: if you don’t like the advice above, leave a comment. If I forgot something, leave a comment. I’m not expert—in that I’m not perfect. But I’ve been there, and I am there, and I know this terrain intimately. So, in that sense, I’m there with you. But there’s a thousand other blogs on elephant. Just search, top left, words like “binge,” “cleanse,” “dieting,” “bulimia,” whatever—you’ll find dozens upon dozens of (more or less) mindful takes on it. Ultimately, however, always trust the principle one. It’s up to you. Jolly good luck, sweetheart. You’re not alone.