“I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a Methadone addict.”
– Woody Allen, Annie Hall
Years ago, I went on Weight Watchers and over the course of six months lost about 20 pounds. I kept it off easily for a year and during that time ate a lot of fresh fruit, veggies, and lean meats, and stayed away from most grains. At the time, Weight Watchers was all about “points” and you had a limit to the number of points you could eat each day – a system that was sometimes problematic for me if I ran out of points at, say, 2 PM, which I often did.
After a year, I began to shy away from fruits as a snack. I was “spending” a lot of points on fruit and it wouldn’t fill me up for long. Instead, I would have low fat milk string cheese (2 points), Chobani yogurts (2-3 points) or Weight Watchers chocolate chip cookies, which, at the time, were only 1 point. My entire life revolved around trying to figure out how to stay full on as few points as possible.
I would make nachos with low fat cheese but could still only a small portion of them. To compensate, I ate a lot of popcorn. For the most part, I never felt satiated. Often, I would just go to sleep early because I was out of points and I didn’t trust myself to stay awake and not devour granola bars.
A year ago, I stared this challenge with much trepidation because I wasn’t accustomed to eating a satisfying amount of food guiltlessly. For a long time, I approached this new eating regimen as a hybrid of WLC and Weight Watchers – tenuously moving from fat free yogurt to 2 percent and still eating bananas in one-third increments over the course of several days.
In the middle of the challenge, my husband came home from a party at the yoga studio and brought with him a gluten-free, sugar-free carrot cake. Carrot cake is my favorite of all cakes and, while I didn’t know precisely what this one was made of, the two main evils – gluten and sugar – were absent.
“I don’t want any,” I said and he couldn’t understand why. For me, that cake was a slippery slope. I’d already gone weeks training myself off of a constant desire for sugar and I was afraid having an “ersatz” carrot cake was going to make me want a real carrot cake all the more.
This wasn’t just paranoia. I’d already lived it. Eating low-fat nachos on Weight Watchers, made it easy for me to say, “Oh, I’ll just have the regular awesome nachos this once.” And I do not eat small portions of those nachos; I literally cannot stop eating them until every morsel is gone and I feel like Jabba the Hut.
Cookies? Same. “Do I really like these cookies?” I asked myself when Weight Watchers raised them to 2 points apiece. They didn’t seem such a point bargain when a regular Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie was 3 points. I meted out these little cheats, counting my points, staying within my paltry point limit, going to sleep at 8 PM so I wouldn’t eat any more for the day. By the letter of the law, I ate within my point range. But I wasn’t “eating right.” It wasn’t long before I gained back much of the weight I lost and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.
“I’m gaining weight!” I cried to the Weight Watchers leader.
“Maybe cut out bananas,” she said.
And, tragically, I did.
Here’s what I’m afraid of for me: if I eat “compliant brownies” and “compliant chips” every day, then when I’m not motivated or accountable to a team, I’m going to go right back to “regular brownies” and “regular chips.” I know I’ll do it because I’ve done it. That’s how I roll.
On the other hand, if I eat all day long and it’s all fresh, compliant, non-packaged food, I don’t care how much I eat. And I usually feel really good.
When I’m eating a lot of stuff from a package – even compliant stuff – I can feel it. My clothes fit a little differently. And by different, I mean tighter.
The biggest change for me in this challenge was redefining what “dessert” is. I have (inadvertently) retrained my taste buds, so that fresh pineapple feels as decadent as crème brulee and mostly I’d rather have a smoothie that’s green and refreshing than creamy and sweet.
I know what I’m about to say is going to reveal me as the buzzkill that I am, but be careful of simply substituting compliant versions of snacks and treats for your old treats. Because when this challenge is over, you are going to have the Real Thing beckoning and no one to be accountable to. How great will it be when you want something sweet and orgasmic and instead of thinking brownie, you actually want to go cut open a mango?
For me, compliant treats are Emergency Food – and sometimes they are the only thing that will get me through a rough patch. But I know if I eat them every day, my next rough patch may require something a little stronger.
I’m talking about this now because many of you are hoping to look different 6 weeks from now – and I believe that the cleaner you eat, the more likely that will be the case. We all know what clean is. Sadly, it’s not Methadone.