If portion-controlled diets make you feel like you’re having a food-related asthma attack (can’t….get…enough…food), but the way you eat normally makes you miserable, abstinence – not just a low-carb diet – may be a strong choice.
If you’ve ever been on Weight Watchers or other similarly-traditional diets, you’ve experienced the abject misery of controlling your portion sizes. A half cup of this; an ounce of that; six ounces of a lean, grilled something-or-other; some delectable seasoning, et voila: you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The problem with portion control isn’t the portions themselves; it’s hard to argue against a well-balanced, calorie-conservative meal if you’re trying to lose fat. The problem is how that meal plays on the mind. And I don’t care who you are or what happens to be the topic; reality takes a distant back seat to your interpretation of it.
If, like me, you are addicted to certain foods (if you’re genuinely overweight, with a BMI over 35-40 or higher, addictive tendencies may be contributing), any effort to control portions, practice moderation, and/or weigh or measure your kibbles isn’t just a lost cause, it’s a set-up for self-sabotage and certain failure. Imagine you are an archer’s bow, and that your capacity for craving is the bow string. Every time you eat a controlled portion of a triggering food, the archer’s fingers pull back on the string. Each measured, teasing bite pulls the string further and further back. The tension mounts. You struggle to stay firm. One slice of toast. One tablespoon of peanut butter. One cookie. Eventually, your forced, awkward self-control takes a backseat to The All Powerful Craving. The fingers release the string, and BAM, it snaps into action. You binge. You binge retro-actively. You binge because you were so good for so long. You binge because that’s what addicts do after a period of forced control. After the smoke clears, you and the bow are left, spent and shaking, wondering what the hell happened, and how it could possibly have happened again.
Challenge an alcoholic to drink exactly six ounces of their favorite beverage, no more and no less, every day. This experiment would end badly – predictably badly – as does the portion control experiment, time and time again. You have a period of “good behavior.” Then, on no particular Tuesday, you rationalize eating one more than your daily allotment of crackers. Now that wasn’t too bad, was it? Satisfied that you can stray from your rigid plan without gaining weight, you justify your way right back to eating plates full of pasta or the nutritional wolf-in-Grandmother’s-nightie: large quantities of organic, fresh baked, farm-to-table delicacies. BAM. Two weeks later, you’ve regained all your lost weight, plus. Next thing you know, a friend finds you strung out in an alley covered in baguette crumbs, living out of a shopping cart from Whole Foods.
Enter abstinence, stage left.
Cue the naysayer! “Coffey, don’t be daft. We can’t abstain from eating, so your drug addict parallel is useless.”
First of all, you can healthfully abstain from eating for a short time, but that’s another post for another day. For now, I’ll say this: you absolutely can, in good conscience, abstain from the foods that trigger craving in most food addicts. Sugar, flour, pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes…even (hold your breath here, kids)…fruit. A body so far out of balance that true obesity has set in has no need for these foods. NONE. Worried about scurvy? Take a damn multivitamin.
The challenge is to bring an addicted, imbalanced body back to rights. How does a bright person who loves and wants the best for themself treat addiction? Abstinence. If you’re not too far gone, you may be able to re-incorporate some or all of these foods slowly and mindfully, but that’ll be after you’ve reached your body’s happy place, not before.
Let’s trust what our bodies are telling us. If we experience the phenomenon of deep craving when we eat certain foods, there’s a stronger choice we can make.
For those with addictive tendencies, for those who’ve crossed the line with certain foods, abstinence can equal freedom.