The 23-Year Anti-Diet

I’ve never, ever, been on a diet.

There seems to be this trend in the Paleo community of distancing ones’ self from that word, “diet”. And also the word “Paleo” itself – although it seems to stay up for search engine purposes.

So far as I can tell, there are two reasons why:

  1. Too many people associate Paleo with low-carb and lean meats, and the philosophy is much more complex (should be a diet built around your needs, not a standard template).
  2. It’s too restrictive, which causes eating disorders and loss in interest in food and cuases more stress than it is worth.

I understand the first point. But I would like to address the second.

As I said, I have never been on a diet. I’d like to thank my dad for his tiny bone structure which meant I never felt pressured by society to be skinnier, and to thank my mom, who herself had a healthy relationship with food. She had a “health phase” in college (it involved eating liver – go mom!) but has since eaten pretty much what she wants, influenced by her Argentinean parents (red meat, bread and butter, ice cream). She won’t buy any groceries with High Fructose Corn Syrup in it but doesn’t seem to bat an eye when it comes to getting fast food. And, she looks fabulous for her age.

So I always had a high awareness of HFCS in my foods, though I can’t say that I actively worked to avoid it. I did give up soda when I was 16, though I don’t remember the reason. I never sat around eating Pop Tarts and thought, “Man, this is so bad but sooooo good.” If I wanted dessert, I got it, and enjoyed it. Chips were an acceptable lunch. Breakfast pastries were a-ok. Frosting on cake too sweet? Scrape some off. Weigh myself? Maybe, for the fun of it. French fries dipped in a McFlurry? Lovely. Free pizza at school and extra chocolates at work? Give it to me, I’ll eat it.

“Bad” foods were anything that were “low-fat” or “sugar-free”, and I stayed well away from those. They tasted terrible and life is too short for terrible food.

I studied abroad in Uruguay for a semester and I finally gained weight. I don’t know how much – I didn’t even realize it at the time. When I came back I tried to fit into a pair of jeans I’d left behind, I realized I’d gone up several pant sizes. Now, realizing it doesn’t mean I actually did anything about it. In fact, my thought process was along the lines of “Huh . . . guess I can put on the pounds” and I carried on eating as normal (much less beer) and dropped the weight fairly quickly.

My point is, I ate a “whatever I damn well please” diet for twenty three years. I was blissfully unaware of any changes in weight. But don’t get too excited – I also had terrible acne and picked it every night. Everyone wanted to feel more comfortable in their own skin, but I yearned for new skin entirely.

Maybe I just don’t have an emotional connection with food that triggers disordered eating. I’ll snarf up some corn or potato chips once every three months, but the other 89 days I could care less about them. I struggle to empathize with the “I was Paleo but it stressed me out and now I’m eating whatever I want” mentality. You shouldn’t stress about what you eat. You should enjoy what you eat. But I think it’s more about changing your attitude toward food than it is changing your food to fit your attitude.

Sometimes I do fantasize about being one of those people that went on Paleo, didn’t like it, went back to eating whatever they wanted and now they feel great. I’m happy for them. Not everyone is going to feel the same on a similiar diet and everyone is an individual. I’d sit down with the strictest vegan and share a meal with them if it meant lots of yummy veggies, and I’ll break bread with someone who thrives on grains and call it a treat meal.

But I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and had not a single ounce of guilt for twenty-three years, and it got me to where I am now. And where I am now is sick.

Look: I’m a quarter of a century old. I’m so young. I’m not even out of school yet. Let’s say I live to 90 years old. If I eat this way for the rest of my life, I’ll be Paleo for another sixty-five years. That’s two and a half more times the life I’ve already lived. After all that I could very well decide I want some bread every once in a while. I might be like my mom and enjoy ice cream every day. And maybe my mom will be like my grandmother and get dementia from disregulated blood sugar, or maybe her skin cancer will come back, and I’ll stay Paleo for life to avoid that.

(Sorry mom. Please don’t get dementia or skin cancer!!)

But I will never be able to unlearn this: food affects me. I’m content to eat this way 99% of the time if it means I can cure my acne and my anxiety. Yes, it makes social situations difficult. Yes, traveling to Europe and China and trying to eat clean is going to be interesting at best and frustrating at worst. But this is right for me. Several times it seemed that I was getting worse and at one point it seemed Paleo was the wrong way to go. Anxiety attacks, acne was worse than ever, couldn’t sleep. I didn’t say “well Paleo must not be working, time to go back to eating whatever!” My boyfriend certainly thought that’s what I should do. But I didn’t. I knew that there was an answer for me out there somewhere, and I found it.

Who knows what will happen in ten, twenty, thirty years. Who knows what will happen when the kids being raised Paleo grow up. Who knows what’ll happen when the Paleos and ex-Paleos age. Who knows what modern medicine will look like then. What I do know is this, right now, has made me feel better than ever, and has put me in control over my life. And that doesn’t stress me out a bit.

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