I love Gretchen Rubin and her series of books that began with Happier At Home. She wanted to improve her life and set about tackling it in a step by step way that lead her to discover that not everyone embraced following rules the same way she did; we couldn’t all decide to never eat sugar and follow that edict simply because it was a rule. Realizing this approach didn’t jive for all of us, she started to explore why not. This led to her work on habit setting and personality types in Better than Before and The Four Temperaments. While reading Better than Before, I was struck by her example of people that run marathons and then never run again. I’ve witnessed this phenomena in people, and I always wondered what caused the drop off. Now I had an answer—they set a goal for themselves with a defined end point, and this led to them not running once the big race was over. They didn’t commit to running every day for the rest of their lives; they committed to running a marathon.
I see the sense in this, and at the time when I was reading those books, I was grappling with the need to lose some weight I gained from not being able to walk long distances from a foot injury. So I established a system for myself, based on what I learned from Better Than Before, and gave myself an accountability tool with one of those apps where you record everything you eat to keep under a certain calorie goal. I told myself that I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
Well, I didn’t. But I did for a year and half. I lost the weight I needed to and then some. But the commitment to keeping under that calorie goal got the better of me. It took a lot of time, energy, and attention that I grew weary of. I didn’t want to think about my food choices that closely, monitoring everything I ate. I knew the calories counts of everything, and suddenly a glass of wine with friends felt like a calculus problem that I had to start the day before. I needed to work out what I ate and how much I exercised in advance to save up for that glass of Prosecco. I don’t know if this qualified as an eating disorder, but it certainly didn’t feel good. I viewed food as poison or food as problem, and I couldn’t keep tracking myself this way any more.
So I stopped, and while I put some of the weight back on, I stabilized at my adult life median weight. At 45, I am fine with this. I am not expecting some radical second act change in this arena. But when my Lyme symptoms flared up, my LLMD who is also a functional medical specialist, pointed to my diet at the first appointment. No carbs, he said. What, I said. You know, like Keto, he said.
So I hit the internet like everyone else does and found out what Keto meant. I got the basics. No carbs, lots of protein, plenty of fat. And after figuring out the hidden carb stuff like carrots, bananas, apples, etc, I could manage the diet.
Now after a month or so of trying to do the Keto, I can’t help but feel like I am possibly poisoning myself if I pick up a piece of whole grain bread or if I have a bowl of oatmeal. What if this causes the inflammation that impacts my body? What is this sugar is what the spirochetes eat to replicate?
I appreciate the concept of food as medicine and the need to improve our diets to improve our health, but something about eating full fat cheese and sausage doesn’t strike me as incredibly healthful, and to do Keto in a more healthful way might mean eating a heck of lot more dark leafy greens that my average day to day allows. And frankly, I’m not sold on the concept. I’m not looking to lose 20 pounds not matter what the BMI chart says; I just want my hands to stop hurting and my brain fog to lift.
My trouble stems from the crazy making approach to dieting that circles around us. I remember the low-fat, fat free, and lite crazy of my youth. The diet sodas and artificially sweetened yogurts. But that wasn’t the only approach. There’s the macrobiotic. Being salt free or egg free or red meat free. The grapefruit diet. Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig. Whatever Oprah Did Last Year Diet. Vegetarian. Vegan. Gluten free. The Mediterranean diet. Paleo/bullet-proof with butter in our coffee. Intermittent fasting. It changes with every new issue of XYZ Health magazine. There doesn’t appear to be any consensus on how to eat to be healthy. Especially when being healthy is often conflated with weight loss.
I am not saying I don’t understand the basic concepts of nutrition; I am just saying that I feel crazy sometimes when trying to figure out what is “safe” to eat or “good” to eat—and what safe or good even means in the first place. I just want my head space clear from this worry all of the time. Every time I feel hungry, I panic. I feel like whatever I decide to do next looms with greater consequence. I keep thinking, how am I fucking myself up this time? Will this cupcake make me fat or sick or both? Will this nightshade vegetable cause my wrists to hurt? Will this bagel make my brain fog worse?
I don’t think I have any answer for any of this right now, but I know I am not the only one to grapple with these questions. Clearly, I am not alone if entire industries churn out products, books, and websites dedicated to our collective desire to be desirable and live longer. But I can’t say I know anyone for whom this is all working. I don’t know anyone who unlocked the magic formula one time and used that to stay forever healthy and trim. And maybe that is it, maybe the magic formula changes over time, but that doesn’t ring true to me, either. But for right now, I don’t have any other answer that seems more plausible or better able to help me make it through this season in my life.