I recently looked through my journal from when I was 10. I had recorded how excited I was to go to a local amusement park with my family. I filled a whole page with a sketch of the scary roller coaster I couldn’t wait to ride. I wrote a paragraph about a fun dinner out with my family the night before the amusement park adventure. (That paragraph was punctuated with nearly 20 exclamation marks.)
Nothing else got recorded in the journal for two months…and then this:
“I am changing this book into a calorie counting book!”
(The exclamation mark was because I felt hopeful about losing weight.)
My “calorie-counting era” spanned more than 25 years. I kept daily tallies in little notebooks and journals, all throughout my day planner, and then in a variety of smartphone apps. I tried desperately to stay below 1,000 calories a day but often ended up sneaking a Twix bar (and not counting it) or giving up at 4pm and vowing to do better the next day.
The summer before ninth grade, desperate to lose 20 pounds before stepping into high school, I averaged between 600 and 900 calories a day.
I was so proud of myself.
Not once did I consider my focus on calories to be an eating disorder. My mom counted calories, too, and as my body got smaller and smaller, everyone congratulated me.
I had been conditioned to believe that feeling hungry equaled success. (Maybe you can relate?)
I can’t even explain how painful it is for me now as I think back on those days.
But the worst part? I let the same thing happen to my daughter.
Alia noticed herself getting heavier around third grade.
I could see her stomach was getting rounder, and so I subtly suggested she eat less sugar or go running with me. She didn’t enjoy the exercise, however, and carrying those extra pounds put a lot of strain on her feet. She continued to gain weight all the way through middle school.
Because Alia had lots of friends, excellent grades, and a solid understanding of who she was, I didn’t worry much about her. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it, I told myself.
A couple of months ago, however, she opened up and told me how things had really been.
She shared how she felt self-conscious whenever we took photos of her. She explained that the reason she never went to the mall with her friends was because she didn’t want them to see her buying “big” clothes. And one day, when she was only nine, she looked at her body in the bathroom mirror and simply cried.
I never knew those things.
I do, however, remember the day she left a note on my desk (she was 10) that said this:
Will you please help get rid of my “tummy?”
I love you!
I’m guessing you can empathize with what I felt when I read that–total compassion for my sweet daughter, an incredible responsibility to help her lose weight, and utter panic as I realized I had no idea what to do besides feed her less and exercise her to the point of exhaustion.
So I taught Alia to count calories–just like I had done at her age. And I sent her out to the garage for 45 minutes a day to work out on our elliptical–just as her pediatrician had directed.
Meanwhile, I aged into my mid-30s, and the calorie-counting/exercise-like-crazy strategy that had always worked for me stopped working. This left both of us frustrated, exhausted, discouraged, and hungry.
Fast forward to the present…
Throughout the past year, with the help of a NYT best-selling book called The Calorie Myth, we completely transformed our nutrition and our habits, and we are now in a sustainable, amazing place where we no longer have to starve–yet our bodies continue to get more and more healthy.
To be honest, I’ve been hesitant–and somewhat scared–to talk about this openly. It seems like every time you turn around, someone is telling you how to “lose 12 pounds fast” or “drop 3 dress sizes in 10 days.” And there are a million different diets out there clamoring for attention. I don’t want to be a part of all that noise, and what I’m talking about isn’t a quick fix or a 21-day anything. We’re talking about long-term health and wellness.
Still, it’s not a comfortable feeling to be “putting ourselves out there.”
However, as Alia and I have talked, we decided that our story and our results are too important not to share.
So I am going to post our “before and after” photos (something I never thought I would do), I’ll give you the executive summary of what we did to change our approach to eating, and then I’ll provide links to where you can find more information, if you’d like.
Before and After Photos
The Executive Summary
Based on The Calorie Myth (by Jonathan Bailor) here are the changes we’ve made to our lives:
(1) We eat 10+ servings of non-starchy vegetables every day.
These are things like spinach, kale, carrots, celery, tomatoes, cauliflower, cucumbers, and bell peppers (not potatoes, peas, and corn). This sounds crazy, I know, but the vegetables fill us up, give us plenty of nutrition, and make us happy. This is not a low-carb diet. We just put 10 servings of vegetables into our bodies each day before we even think about any other carbs.
(2) Nutrient-dense protein
We eat at least three servings of nutrient-dense protein every day–we like fish, low-fat greek yogurt, egg whites, and chicken. Sometimes we eat low-sugar protein bars or protein powders. This was the biggest change for me.
(3) Whole-food fats
Once we build our meal around non-starchy vegetables and nutrient-dense protein, we add in a few servings of whole-food fats like avocados, coconut, chia seeds, flax seeds, and raw nuts. We make yummy breads and desserts with these whole food fats combined with safe sweeteners. I used to be afraid of fat. I thought it would make me fat. The right kinds of fats do not….
(4) Low-fructose fruits
We put the first three kinds of foods into our bodies first, so we don’t typically have room for a ton of fruit, but we do eat oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, and strawberries (and some other fruits occasionally–about one serving a day).
(5) Hydration, rest, and exercise
We make sure we drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, and move our bodies as much as possible (there’s more about a simple approach to exercise in Jonathan Bailor’s book and program).
We hear a lot about “feeding the hungry,” and usually that conjures up images of people in third world countries who are desperate for food. I have deep compassion for those individuals, and we donate money every month to help them to eat.
But have you ever considered the fact that there are people all around us who are hungry…who are starving themselves because they want their bodies to be acceptable to our society?
That was me. That was my daughter. Maybe that’s you?
Anyone who is struggling needs to know that starving isn’t necessary.
Now, whatever you decide to do with this information, I encourage you to learn how your body works and what foods are best for you. I invite you to put your knowledge into action and do something to change. And I invite you to become who you know you’re meant to be…which I’m positive cannot happen if you are starving.
Don’t worry, though. You’re not alone. We’re doing this with you.