Food for thought with documentaries
Thursday, December 06, 2012
Last night Nick and I took a break from our Bond-a-thon (We started with Dr. No a couple weeks ago and are now up to The Spy Who Loved Me) to check out some new documentaries on Netflix. Last night's was 'Hungry for Change'
The movie had some familiar faces. Joe Cross from 'Fat, Sick and Nearly dead', and Kris Carr from 'Crazy Sexy Cancer', along with other various experts. I haven't actually seen 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead' yet because, to be honest, the whole juicing thing seems a little more faddish than I'd like. That's not entirely fair on my part, because I've been dismissing what could be a good documentary based on people who've watched it and purchased a $400 juicer the next day.
The first part of 'Hungry for Change' focused on some of the cultural and scientific causes of obesity. Things anyone who's done a bit of research will be familiar with. While this part wasn't new, I did find an interesting reaction in myself while watching. I have a lot of resistance to the whole "Sugar is POISON" mentality. The film skirted close to that line, basically stating that refined sugar, HFCS, processed foods and carb-heavy stuff should be treated as a drug. Even though I've personally cut a lot of those food types out of my diet, I'm still resistant to what seems like an extreme approach. I won't say I was ready to write the documentary off, but I definitely found myself getting more guarded as they moved into that territory.
It's amazing how eagerly we lap up information that fits with what we like, but write off what makes us feel slightly uncomfortable. In a way, that's a good thing - everyone has to find an eating plan that works for them, whether it's low carb, vegan, clean eating, or something else. As long as you're getting the nutrients you need and putting good food in your body, I think you're doing well. The best diet in the world isn't going to work if you can't live with it.
So, rather than writing it off as more carb hate, I started to look at why I'm so protective of my carbs and sugar. The easy answer is that I like them. Shocking, I know. I like bread and I like potatoes. I like sweet sauces and oatmeal and fruit. Most of my carbs are in the fairly healthy category - I usually keep it to one english muffin or cup of oatmeal for breakfast, something small like crackers for lunch (along with sugars in the big pile of freggies), and a half cup serving of rice or potatoes for dinner. For a former carb fiend who used to exist almost entirely on pasta and potatoes, that's pretty reasonable.
So, obviously I've been able to go from microwaving four baked potatoes for dinner or eating an entire box of kraft dinner to having maybe one pasta dish a month and steamed baby potatoes once a week. It's not my carb/sugar intake itself that I want to examine, but why it triggers a defensive reaction. After all, no one wants to hear an experience they enjoy compared to smoking a cigarette.
It used to irritate me when I'd read a message board post where someone proudly proclaimed that they had no desire to eat cake or found fast food gross. Liars, all of them! I thought it was smug, and that they were living in denial, forcing themselves to pretend to hate the foods that *everyone* loves.
Then it started to happen to me. Not all at once, and not in broad categories, but little by little, things just dropped off my dietary radar.
I honestly can't remember if I've been to a McDonald's in 2012. I've eaten fast food a couple times, and I've had one or two really good burgers over the last year (The Five Guys monster after my first half marathon was a thing of beauty), but I really can't remember the last time I walked through a McDonald's door. McD's used to be a treat for me. For the last five years, I've lived within a block of one, and it was regular dinner for me when I was working a night job. If you'd told me back when I started losing weight that I would never be able to enjoy a quarter pounder again, I'd have felt that same defensiveness and resistance. I didn't tell myself that, though, and somehow McDonald's just dropped off the menu on its own. I'll probably eat there again at some point in my life, and I'll probably order my usual quarter pounder (with water and small fries this time), but I really don't care if I do or don't.
Which brings me to the second half of "Hungry for Change", where they shifted from talking about causes of obesity to looking at solutions. This is where the movie won me back over, because rather than subtracting all these bad, nasty, horrible foods from your life, they talked about adding the good ones in.
I love this.
Think of it this way: When someone tells you that something you enjoy is bad, it's easy to hear it as "You are bad", even if you logically know that's not true. And hey, if you're going to be bad and fail, you might as well fail all the way. I think that's a big part of why there's such an all or nothing mentality when we start with weight loss. I figured out early on that this doesn't work for me, so I started focusing on the good changes. It's more effective to build good habits up than to break bad habits down. And that was the point they made in the film: As you start adding good food back into your diet, there simply won't be room for the bad stuff anymore. Like my McDonald's habit that simply dropped off, other foods will too and your tastes will change.
I think the mistake some people make is in assuming that this happens all at once. For some people, it does - they do a complete 180 (and then often write a book about it). But for most people, it's going to be a gradual lifelong thing. It might start with the really ridiculous food, the ones that are obviously horrible. Then it might sneak in in other ways - making a healthier homemade pizza when the craving hits, choosing better quality starches or slowly cutting portion sizes down on the not so good stuff.
Were I get tripped up is remembering that it's something you always have to work at. I've compared it before to strength training - it should be slightly out of your comfort zone, and you need to keep pushing that limit for it to be effective. I'd forgotten that a bit while struggling with winter and stress. When we go through a rough period, the usual response to 'fixing' it is to cut things out. Hell, I'm doing that right now, and I'm doing a decent job of it. I'm the first to admit that I've been overdoing it on the lazy and comforting foods and I need to force myself to moderate it.
But I've been forgetting the more important side of the equation. What am I adding? That should be the first step in trying to improve. I'm great at doing that when I'm actively preparing for something like a race, but not so good when I really need to use it to feel better. Maybe that's the negative vs. positive thing again? Yes, with cleaning up my eating I'm adding more veggies in and focusing on healthy, balanced dinners, but am I getting enough? I know that I immediately fall back to carbs when I'm bored or depressed - What am I missing in my diet that I'm filling with mindless cracker munching? Seeing that stated in so many words in the film was a good reminder.
The movie did talk a lot about juicing, but it presented it in a way that made sense. Right now, most of my freggie consumption happens at lunch, when I usually get about five servings on my plate (I try to go for 4-5 different veggies and a fruit). I could see how it would work to take that in in juice form, especially once you start adding in some of the greens and other things that aren't as easy to nibble on from a plate. Am I ever going to go on a complete juice diet? Of course not; But I wouldn't be opposed to trying some juicing.
Nick and I did get inspired to try some other things and to get back to basics. We do fairly well with freggies (especially for a couple former carb junkies), but we've been slipping back over winter. We need to buy more each week, since we're both doing the freggies for lunch thing. If they're there, we'll eat them. If not, neither of us will go out of our way to make sure we're getting enough. We had some fantastic salads over the summer, and I'd like to get back into doing that again. I'd also like to look at some meal options that occasionally skip the starches, and add in some vegetarian meals from time to time. We've been pretty good about avoiding processed foods, but not as good as we were when Nick wasn't working. That's another area that's easy to fix with some planning.
All in all, I enjoyed the documentary and came out inspired to put a little more effort into my eating. While I'm not ready to go to a completely clean, low carb, juice-heavy diet, it did bring up some very good points and it made me examine why I'm so willing to disregard things that go against what I'm 100% comfortable with. The thing is, you don't have to follow what works for the health gurus to the letter. You're perfectly welcome to pick parts of it, incorporate them into your life, get a little bit healthier, then possibly pick a few more things if it's working for you. You can move towards a more ideal diet, and every change will be an improvement. So far, my day-to-day diet has grown organically from fueling myself with nothing but white carbs and fast food to eating fairly healthy, balanced food. That doesn't mean there aren't places to go with it.
I think that the resistance comes from the idea of forcing myself to eventually give up something I enjoy now. Even if I give it up willingly, I feel sad about losing it, and even sad about the idea of not missing it. But tastes change. I don't miss eating at McDonald's and I haven't lost anything because of that. My life isn't emptier because I don't have to fight Big Mac cravings or because I don't feel the need to mourn something that, at one point in my life, was a treat. I don't eat much bread, but I do enjoy wheat products occasionally. At this point, I'd miss them from my diet - but who's to say that my diet couldn't naturally evolve to the point where I don't? I don't think it's likely that I'd go the low carb route, but I'm more willing to keep an open mind now.
I'm not going to force myself to drop anything (apart from reining in the sugary treats), but I do think it's interesting to see the foods you lose as they're replaced by better things. The bad stuff will naturally fall away if you let it. Some of it becomes a rare treat (like those burgers I like, but can't stomach more than twice a year), and some of it just disappears completely (ask me if I could even think of eating KFC now without gagging a bit). Others will probably be there forever, since I don't intend to give up chocolate cupcakes or ice cream anytime soon... but really, who knows? You won't find out what the ultimate, ideal diet for you looks like until you get there, and the way to get closer is to keep trying.