What “Thigh Gap” Taught Me About Changing My Habits

by | Oct 27, 2014

Photo by jenny downing

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was sit in bed with my parents and read books. On one particular afternoon I was getting ready to read with my mom, resting my back against the headboard with my knees bent to prop my book.

While waiting for her to join me, I noticed with curiosity that when my knees were together the rest of my legs didn’t touch at all. I thought that was biologically interesting and pointed it out to my mom.

“That gap better stay there,” she retorted unsympathetically.

I was shocked. I simultaneously felt chastised, judged and confused. I was only 8 years old, and obviously had never heard of “thigh gap.” It was also the first time in my life I felt self-conscious about my body.

I didn’t say a word, and we never discussed it again. But for the following days, weeks and years the message sank in: being thin was incredibly important and my mom would be disappointed if I let my appearance slip.

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Goals are for Losers: The Life-Changing Advice No One Tells You

by | Oct 22, 2014

Photo by Bronski Beat

When I was a dieter I always had a goal. Many goals.

“I want to weigh 120 pounds.”

“I want to be a size 2.”

“I want to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs every day.”

I thought if I achieved these goals I would be happy. But the truth was that as long as I had these goals, I was frustrated.

I consider myself lucky that as a female I never confused my weight loss struggles with my self-worth. That is, I knew I didn’t need to be skinny to be a good scientist or a worthy girlfriend. But it was incredibly irritating to me that I was doing everything I was told to do––eat salads, avoid carbs, drink lots of water, exercise every day, etc.––and wasn’t getting the results I wanted.

It wasn’t until I stopped dieting and systematically started transforming myself into a healthy non-dieter that the “success” I had been seeking finally materialized. Trading in my goals for a system––a healthstyle––quite literally changed my life.

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A Tale of Two Parents: A Personal Story

by | Oct 13, 2014
Dad, Mom and Baby

Dad, Mom and Baby

If she were alive, my mom would have turned 62 years old this week. No matter how hard I try I can’t picture her looking older, and not just because it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen her.

Even on her 52nd birthday she hardly had a wrinkle on her face, nor did I ever see her with a single gray hair. She spent hours in the gym each week, had legs most 30-year olds would kill for, and felt perfectly at home in spandex and bikinis––the smaller the better. She loved organic vegetables, avoided the drive-thru and always took her multivitamins. Although my mom and I really didn’t have much in common, I definitely got my penchant for health from her.

My mom lived like she was in this for the long haul, and in that way she was the complete opposite of my dad. When they were young my dad lived his life like the future would never come. He took big risks, had a fabulous time, and threw caution to the wind with things like health and money. As he has reflected back over the past several years the most common thing I’ve heard him utter is, “I never thought I’d live this long.” (I know, straight out of The Simpsons).

The irony, of course, is that he did. And she didn’t.

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The Heartbreaking Story of the Joyless Splurge

by | Oct 6, 2014

Photo by Kalexanderson

Back in the early 90s I was offered a choice. Actually that isn’t quite right, because at the time it didn’t feel like a choice.

At an age when I was way too young to be thinking about these things there seemed to be two paths I could follow. One promised beauty, confidence and happiness. The other seemed boring, average and all around disappointing. Without hesitating, I swallowed the blue pill.

From the outside the dieting path seemed so glamorous. With my natural inclination toward perfectionism, the most seductive illusion––and the one that’s been hardest to break––was that of control. The myth I believed was that if I could restrict my eating enough, then I could control my weight and appearance. The confidence and happiness I envisioned stemmed directly from this control.

The sad irony is that dieting does the opposite of what I believed, and in fact robbed me of control. As humans we are not hardwired to withstand indefinite restriction and deprivation, particularly when it comes to food. The more we try to restrict and deprive ourselves of the things we crave, the harder it gets to hold onto the reigns.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying. For the truly dedicated dieters who still believe restriction offers control, we dig our heels in deeper and hold on with all our might. This manifests as some terribly odd behavior, like bingeing on foods we don’t really like.

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The Worst Thing You Can Do if You’re Trying to Lose Weight

by | Sep 29, 2014

beauty pageant

I have always had tremendous pride in everything I do. If something has my name on it, I go the extra mile (or 10 miles if necessary) to make it excellent. Even the thought of sending an unedited email or a sloppy text message makes me cringe.

Call it pride, call it self-respect. Whatever it is, I was born with it. My dad always tells me about how he and my mom would spy on me in my crib practicing the alphabet or reciting days of the week. But as soon as I knew they were there I’d stop and wouldn’t show them what I was working on. I wanted to make sure I had it right before anyone could see. I did this in my crib.

Naturally I had a similar pride about my appearance. Sadly, women in this country are taught at a young age that we will be judged (harshly) by how we look. I saw it in my own family as my aunts gossiped about each other’s “Pino thighs,” at school where overweight children were teased and tormented, and on TV where thin, beautiful women got all the attention.

Although I could write a book on how despicable this is, it isn’t realistic to believe our value system is going to change anytime soon. Instead, today I want to focus on one of the consequences of this mindset and what we can do to combat the negative impact it has on our behavior.

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Sugar’s Sweet Spot: How to Eat Less Without Saying No

by | Sep 24, 2014

Photo by pamlau.com

Recently I explained how restrictive dieting makes losing weight harder than it needs to be, not easier. But one reader wondered how my advice about limiting sugar and processed foods jives with this concept:

You say that mainstream diets encourage nutritionism and cut out groups of food like fat, gluten and sugar. However, much of what you discuss also encourages limiting sugar. How do you differentiate the two?

Am I hypocrite or trying to pull a fast one? Is this just a matter of semantics? As usual in biology, the truth is more complicated.

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The No.1 Thing That Prevents You from Changing Your Habits

by | Sep 15, 2014

Photo by Steve Rhodes

When I first went to college the last thing I cared about was learning to cook. Neither of my parents had a degree, and by the time I was in middle school it was clear to me that higher education was my only ticket to salvation.

I remember running errands with my mom one afternoon and seeing her bump into an old classmate she knew from high school. “Oh, hi! Wow, I haven’t seen you in 20 years.” They exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. It was obvious the two of them had no real desire to keep up with each other and that they were just being polite for etiquette’s sake. We were all glad when it was over.

The school they both attended was only a few blocks down the street and I knew it would be my fate to go there as well. Class of ’97. Go Vanguards.

Oh shit.

It didn’t take much for my brain to leap forward 24 years and imagine myself in her position, shopping at the same Albertson’s with my own children in tow, casually running into one of the mean kids who called me names and harassed me all year long when I was 14. At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

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Experience Stretching: Why I No Longer Love In-N-Out Burgers

by | Sep 10, 2014

Photo by Peter Fuchs

I grew up in southern California and, like most people there, I thought In-N-Out Burger made the best cheeseburgers in the universe. In-N-Out is legendary in SoCal, and I longed for their iconic burgers and shakes for years after leaving for college.

Even later as a blossoming foodist in my early years of graduate school, I gave In-N-Out the benefit of the doubt among fast food chains because of their commitment to “freshness”, and would occasionally stop there on the long drives home down the I-5.

But as the years went by and my dedication to real, fresh and insanely delicious food continued to develop, I noticed my taste for In-N-Out declined. Today it would take a substantial bribe (think 4-figures) to get me to even consider taking a single bite of a Double Double.

WTF happened?

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How to Kill Cravings, Reduce Your Appetite and Lose Weight Without a Magic Wand

by | Aug 18, 2014

Photo by charliebarker

Last week I received a comment on an older blog post that really took me off guard. The post was about 9 Simple Tricks to Eat More Mindfully and Kelsey, a recent foodist convert, had one of the strangest problems I’ve ever heard after implementing some of the tips.

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When Is a Habit Not a Habit?

by | Aug 11, 2014

Photo by Sasquatch I

Recently a reader contacted me with a curious concern. She was a big believer in the power of mindful eating and set about diligently performing all the guidelines of mindful eating practice, including sitting at a table, removing distractions, eating only when hungry, chewing thoroughly, etc.

It was going really well for a few weeks, until it all came crumbling down. Something in her day caused her resolve to crack, and without being able to stop herself she continued to break every rule in the mindful eating book: eating while standing, distracted, not hungry, and making poor food decisions that weren’t worth it.

“It was almost as if I was deliberately doing exactly what the guidelines told me not to do.”

I immediately knew what her problem was, because I had faced exactly the same thing when I was trying to build mindful eating habits.

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