Is it all in the head?

You fail to see beauty in something, anything, once you understand it. So it the case with paranoia. You stop being afraid of something, anything, once you understand it. This applies to food as much as it applies to God and the devil.

Pretty cool line huh? Who came up with it? I did! And yea I know. I’m pretty awesome like that. Ok now, let’s talk about something you don’t know.

Back when I used to chronically diet…

… I was always on one diet or the other. In other words, there was always some food group I’d not eat. During the good old whole wheat days, I’d eat everything in whole wheat from bread to cereal to roti to naan to lavash bread to pita bread to pasta and hardly eat any fat whatsoever. I’d stay away from ghee like it was demon’s piss, shun cheese like it was illegal and fatty cuts of meat didn’t even exist in my food dictionary!

Then when I learnt more about nutrition and that fats were good and (thought) carbs were the devil, my idea of foodtopia (see what I did? Again, pretty awesome like that!) went from wheat-ville to lowcarb-asylum. I’d eat about 1-1.5lb of fatty meat and 2-3 lb of green veggies everyday in addition to cream and cheese and butter and macadamia nuts. I stayed away from wheat like it would clog up my respiratory tract and bananas were off limits ‘cos they were nothing more than yellow colored candy bars and chose cream over milk ‘cos milk was a carb source!

It’s amazing how things have changed in the last few years after I started doing more self-experimentation and began reading more unbiased literature (as opposed to reading strictly within the whole wheat or paleo or low carb circle, depending on which phase I was on), but here is something interesting.

Let me first say that I used to be the epitome of clean eating. Will power and motivation flowed so seamlessly like swear words out of a hookers mouth. Nothing could break me. I had no temptations and no one could ever convince or lure me into eating something I hadn’t planned on eating unless, of course, I’d already factored it into my ‘eating plan’. But I observed something.

When I did eat strictly low fat (and whole wheat), I’d eat sandwiches everyday and twice a day on many days. Even today, I’m a sandwich maniac and can eat one for every meal for the rest of my life, but living in a region where the best sandwiches are available at Subway, I don’t quite have that urge. Anyways, I remember I’d stand in line to order a sandwich and I’d know exactly what I wanted (whole wheat bread, lean meat, green veggies, mustard, fat free mayo yada yada)… except one thing – should I get the cheese or not? I loved and craved cheese (of course ‘cos I wasn’t “allowed” to eat it) but this question would confuse the shit outa me! I’d stand there in line letting people behind me go ahead ‘cos I’d never be able to make the call. Sometimes I’d get the cheese and sometimes I wouldn’t. When I did get the cheese, I’d love the sandwich but immediately after eating the sandwich, I’d “feel fat”. I’d literally feel like I had gained weight on my lower abdomen/belly area. And you know what guilt does… makes you want to compensate by doing some extra work or eating less for the next few meals. All this for a slice of cheese!

Funnily, when I was deep into low-carb dieting, the exact same scenario would happen when I a cup of rice or eat a banana or eat a meal which is even mildly high in carbs. The “feel fat” thing would pop up in my head which will lead to similar type of compensating.

And the gluten-free days weren’t an exception. Once slice of bread and boom! The next morning I’d feel like I had a “cannonball in my tummy” or like “I’m having trouble breathing well” or like “I’m feeling bloated” or like “I feel fatigued”.

But let’s look at the other side of the coin.

During my low-fat-all-whole-wheat days, I’d eat about 300g of carbs a day most of which was from wheat and didn’t get bombarded by cannonballs or continuously bloat to the point of explosion or feel so fatigued all day I couldn’t work. Heck, I have photos of myself with a prominent 6-pack and remember feeling so awesome I used to workout twice a day 6 days a week – that is 12 fairly intense sessions of physical activity per week with about 6hrs of sleep per day.

During my low carb days, cream, cheese and fatty meat were my main dish, side dish and dessert! My belly didn’t get bigger. Neither did I see the digits on my scale go up or any part of my oh-so-precious 6-pack fade even a little.

I’m more than sure you’ve been through or are going through the same or similar phases. So, you tell me, is it all in the mind? Is fat making you fat or are you just made to think that way? Are carbs fattening or is it that you don’t know any better? Are you truly allergic to gluten or are you just trying hard and finding the symptoms you are told you would experience?

Today, I am in a much better place…

… nutritionally.

Back then, I always was off something. Something was evil. At any point of time, I’d be “off” carbs or fat or gluten or something. Today, I eat everything. While I don’t stuff myself silly with junk food all day everyday, there is literally nothing I am “off” from.

Back then,  I always craved something or the other (probably ‘cos I was off something or the other). Today, I have no cravings whatsoever (definitely ‘cos I know nothing is off limits).

Back then, I was paranoid and, with a lot of focus and diligence, healthy and fit always looking for the next nutritional breakthrough. Today I am free and, with absolutely no conscious effort, healthy, fit and in peace not looking for the next big thing.

The truth is that science isn’t something you believe in. It is a fact. You either know it or you don’t. There is no anxiety in science. There is no guesswork. There is no maybe. There are only equations. You do the experiment (unbiased) and you get (real) results. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.

So are you making the effort to truly understand nutrition via unbiased research and self-experimentation or are you just jumping on and off the fad bus? Do share this post (buttons below) and let’s get this discussion started.

4 responses to “Is it all in the head?

  1. Anoop V. Mathew (@anoopm) August 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I find that by not eating grains, it is easier for me to control my calorie intake, thus helping with weight loss. Being a hard-core non-vegetarian, I find it difficult to control portions especially when grains are mixed with meat – chicken biriyani, chapati and meat curry etc.

    Consequently, I find a primal/RealFoods diet – meat, eggs, fish, full-fat dairy, vegetables, roots, nuts, seeds and fruits helps me the best. Just hope it’s not screwing up my cholestrol (Going for a test soon). I do have a fortnightly cheat meal – biriyani or pizza, which helps to ensure that I don’t feel I am in diet prison.

    After I made sugar-free chocolate ice-cream by adapting one of the recipes you linked to, I have an occasional treat as well.

    Luckily, I’ve been able to give up sugar, cake and other refined carb stuff fairly easily.

  2. Gayathri August 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Its in the head – In the past few weeks suddenly I seem to have got it into my head that I am off my diet – while I have not been as strict as in the past I am eating a lot more veggies, no wheat. But I feel fat and so I am fat!! And now suddenly I have cravings as well – mostly for sugar. I guess I have to go back to feeling on the right path and moving towards my fitness goals – I have to believe that I am on the path and it will happen.

  3. Arunima August 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Raj, Its not in the head but again there is scientific data to backup all kinds of argument and I am not sure how many of us have the time to really pore through such scientific data and make our own judgements…its like a black hole…you read one, which redirects you to another one and then it goes on and on. Having said that, I think it should be more on what works for you without allowing paranoia to creep up. I have noticed that high fat keeps me full longer so I can go by lesser meals a day plus loose weight. When I started dieting 8 years back, I went the low fat route and it worked for a while till nothing helped except starving at length. With low fat I did not see any hormonal benefits but with high fat my hormones seem to act as they should.
    When you read about stories where kids with autism or adhd have benefited by gluten, caesin, sugar restriction you tend to believe that there must be something to it and not just make-belief !
    And then there are people with cancer who have benefited from vegan diet…
    There is definitely science to all this but I think just like all of us don’t have same IQ’s – all of us don’t have same body types and probably this is where some people’s body does fine with whatever they eat and some dont ?

  4. Archana August 5, 2012 at 2:13 am

    There are 2 things here , and probably you have touched on just 1 of it here Raj. I understand that eating everything in moderation has worked for you in terms of maintaining your fitness levels. However what about the countless articles about gluten, grains etc leading to celiac diseases or cancer? Are we saying these foods are ok in moderation and will not lead to these diseases? I totally believe in ‘do what works for you’ and each individual is different. But aren’t you contradicting yourself here to your previous posts….Would like to understand this better please….Thanks!

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