Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting what I think I want isn't what makes me feel best

After my last post I thought I had it and was going to give up on all things health related.  I was fed up with struggling, always trying to eat well but failing.  Anyways, I've been continually eating what I very well wanted.  Pizza, chocolate, burgers, fries, soft drinks, all sorts of garbage.  And I've been feeling like absolute garbage too.

But the physical aspect of this debauchery was not the worst.  It was the psychological aspect.  The lack of control, shame, self-disgust, etc.  Last night I think I reached an emotional low-point that I just can't allow myself to reach again.  It became clear that whatever comfort I was looking for in this junk was not going to be found there.  And the negative feelings that came with it had gotten worse and worse.

Today I woke up and felt like I was starting fresh.  I know what my problems are: sugar and gluten.  I react badly to both and can't give up one without giving up the other.  When I eat either one I feel the need to continue eating them, for whatever reason.  I've suspected gluten intolerance for quite a while but ignored it for the majority of the time.  I can deal with the bad digestive issues, I'm used to it.  What I can't deal with any more is the beast that seems to be unleashed when I consume either of these products.

So today they have been banished from my life.  And magically, the cravings disappeared.  Not consuming them at all is just so much easier than trying to satisfy a never-ending craving, and I already feel better for it.

By maintaining a free mind that isn't hi-jacked by constant unhealthy food cravings, I'm free to pursue my interests in health and spend more time discovering other hobbies that I have yet to try.  I thought that  satisfying every urge was going to solve things, but I was wrong, another lesson learned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ramblings of a confused little man (that would be me)

Another day of not knowing what the hell to do with myself.  It's almost as if I'm bipolar, one moment I can be super excited about something, then give it up the next.  My mind seems to always want to latch on to an idea, a plan, a goal, in order to feel grounded.  When once the goal doesn't work out, it moves on to something else. Sometimes this can be within months, sometimes within minutes.  Depends on the mood, I suppose

An interesting discussion came up this morning.  I started to see a therapist a few months ago due to anxiety issues.  Anyways, we've been discussing my interest in health and how I continue to read and learn about it, to the point of obsession, yet often fail to even apply any of it.  The point is, apparently my attempt to improve my lifestyle is not so much about health, but more about having an obsession to distract myself with.  

Herein lies the confusion.  If this is the case, then why even bother?  What the hell am I doing?  Maybe I create all these food issues just to have a distraction.  Maybe the point isn't that I need to cut out sugar because of cravings, maybe I need to learn how to calm my mind the fuck down so it doesn't need to obsess about one thing or another.  It's a frustrating idea because it makes me feel that everything I try to do is pointless.  

So, is this just an obsession of mine or am I genuinely concerned about my health?  I don't know.  I love reading, learning, and (trying) to apply.  I love having goals to stay focused on.  But maybe I have some idea about achieving a certain level of health because I don't want to deal with myself.  It can be easier to look into the future at some ideal rather than deal with reality.

But feeling good doesn't seem to be enough.  I can't reach a certain point and then move on to other goals.  It becomes a search for perfection that doesn't really end up satisfying me in the end.  But this ends up with me giving up certain things which actually DID benefit me and make me feel better, because they get mixed in with all the other changes that were really not needed.

When I think about it I think the problem seems to be me.  I think if I ate what I wanted, stopped reading everything health related, and just focused on other areas of my life, I may be better off for it.  Take care of my mental health instead.

Maybe the one big lesson I needed to learn from all this was to EAT ENOUGH FOOD.   Instead of skipping breakfast, and eating a tiny lunch, then being starving by the evening time.  Learning to eat good meals until I'm satisfied.  If it has sugar?  So what.  If it has wheat?  So what.  None of my food problems happened until I started worrying about how much I ate in high school.  That's when I got the sugar cravings, the overeating, obsessions, etc.

That could be an experiment to try.  Stop reading all blogs, books, and health information for a month.  Eat what I want, eat enough, and get on with life.

Who knows...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stress - another factor that determines my eating behaviour

It became clear to me today that stress management is another important factor that I need to be paying attention too if I'm going to make any permanent changes in the way I eat.  I tend to be a bit of a basket case who thinks everything to death and worries too much.  I also tend to consume lots of caffeine which just magnifies these habits.  Unless I either a) prevent this stress from occuring, b) learn to deal with it, or c) start smoking again (just kidding, not a valid option), I will continue to crave sugar when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Today started off well, healthy breakfast, good lunch.  Cookies at work were not much of a temptation. Went out to dinner which was planned, although earlier I had decided to skip on the dessert.  A day of lots of coffee and mismanaged stress left me feeling jittery when I left work, and feeling the need to eat a big heavy meal to calm down.  Hence the burger, fries, and brownie with ice cream.  Then of course comes the fatigue, bad digestion, negative mood, etc.   Once I get into this "fuck it" mindset it's already too late, so I think the solution needs to come in the prevention.

It's frustrating when making one change requires me to make another change first, which requires another change, and so on.  Not drinking coffee in itself is a huge ordeal for me.  I've quit 100 times and always start again, I'm one of those die-hard can't live without coffee fanatics.  So while this is an obvious solution to reducing my anxiety, I don't seem to be able to just do it like that.  So maybe I need to dig deeper,  what change to I have to make in order to be able to let go of coffee?  Well, better sleep would be one thing.  Also, another supplement that I've learned about is l-tyrosine, which is supposed to be stimulating and help with caffeine cravings.  Or maybe just switching to tea would be enough of a compromise to reduce anxiety levels.

Meditation is another useful tool for dealing with stress.  I took a week-long course about 6 years ago to learn Buddhist meditation, and have been doing it ever since, with some breaks here and there.  Lately I've been on a break because for some reason the meditation was getting more and more difficult and my mind was racing.  But maybe this would be a good start to help with the anxiety aspect of my sugar cravings.  The chromium and l-glutamine supplements are helpful, I do know that, but not all cravings are caused by unstable blood-sugar.

Anyways, it seems like I have lots of things to work on to get my act together.   Hopefully writing about my madness will somehow keep me sane

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chromium and L-Glutamine for dealing with sugar cravings

After another chocolate fiasco last night, I once again felt the need to do something about it.  I'm not overweight, but a feeling of being out of control when eating just isn't right.  And it will certainly lead down the path to being overweight in the future.  The whole fiasco began when I took off the nicotine patch after quitting smoking for 3 months.   Since then I haven't been able to go one evening without chocolate, or a dessert, with some soft drinks and other sugar-laden foods thrown in here and there.

Today I decided to try two supplements which help balance blood sugar to eliminate sugar cravings: chromium and the amino acid l-glutamine.  Chromium with meals, l-glutamine in between.  While I'm always skeptical of results being due to a placebo effect, today was the first day in the last 3 or so weeks that I didn't need to have anything sweet.  No chocolate in the evening, no soft drinks during the day, no sugar in my coffee.   In perhaps what can be seen as some sick joke, there were two giant platters of cookies at work, and the lab was completely empty all day, a perfect opportunity.  But somehow they were not too tempting and I was able to get on with my day. 

I think there is an emotional aspect to food cravings, but lately I have been much more interested in learning about the physiological causes.  If there are supplements that can help with the situation, then I'm certainly open to taking advantage of them.  

Who knows, maybe tomorrow will be back to square one.  Whatever occurs, having had some momentary freedom was refreshing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's good to eat! Changing my attitude toward food

My diet seems to change from day to day.   One week I don't eat sugar, the next week I eat it by the truckload.  One month no coffee, then I'm drinking it like water.  All my efforts, no matter how good my intentions are, seem to vary so frequently that I just can't take myself seriously anymore.

Underlying all of this chaos seems to be a distorted attitude toward food and my relationship to it.  I haven't had a major eating disorder, although I've certainly had a lack of peace when it comes to food choices since I was in high school.   I can remember for a long time always having a feeling of guilt while eating, as if I'm doing something wrong.  I always felt the need to control my diet in some way, to have some rules.  The thought of eating what I want, when I want, is kind of scary.  Maybe I think I would go out of control, eating junk all day and gaining 100lbs.  I'm not sure what the reason is.  But no matter what kind of eating habits I have, I always have some sort of background rules to try maintain some sort of discipline.

But what is the point in this?  Do I really always need to making improvements in how I eat?  When I'm eating only junk, sure this makes sense.  But the problem is, no matter how clean my diet is, I'm always looking for new ways to improve it and make it even cleaner.  It becomes some sort of obsession.  No wonder I always end up crashing and giving it all up, to maintain some sort of sanity.  I turn something which should be a positive change, and turn it into an obsession, which makes it unsustainable in the long-term.  Food happens to be the main area in my life where I do this right now, but it can also apply to many other areas.

But my attitude has been changing lately.  I've been seeing food as something positive, something that I need to nourish myself and be healthy.  Instead of worrying about too many calories, I'm starting to see that I've often under-eaten and probably been malnourished for a long time.  For years I didn't eat breakfast but just smoked cigarettes and drank coffee until lunch.  From what I learned in "Potatoes Not Prozac" by Kathleen DesMaisons, this can be a way of getting a beta-endorphin "high" through lack of food.  I no longer smoke and recently I've gotten into the habit of eating a hearty breakfast of eggs and potatoes,  not having any coffee until after I've eaten.  While I miss the caffeine buzz that I used to get, I feel much more grounded and I don't feel like a starving lunatic until I'm finally able to eat lunch.

My attitude toward food needs to change.  I need to nourish myself to feel healthy, there's no debate about that.  I think that even looking at food in a different way would make a drastic difference in my health, without obsessing and nit-picking about making specific changing and cutting out certain foods.  As much as I'd like to, I just don't seem to be able to avoid certain comforts at the moment.  Maybe if I can learn to look at food differently it won't be such an issue, and I'll be able to take or leave these foods without having to go to extremes.  This is what I'd like to achieve.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 1 without sugar: an epic failure

So yesterday was supposed to be my grand entry into the sugar-free world.  The outcome: failure.  During most of the day I was able to avoid any sweets, although during the day is not the worst time for me.  Most of what I will usually have would maybe be one soft drink in the afternoon, and some sugar in my coffee.  But these were not so difficult to avoid.

Come evening, the cravings hit full force.  My ritual of coming home and having a giant chocolate bar with   a soft drink popped into my mind, then would go away, then came back again, and I would continue to try to push it out of my mind.  I had pizza for supper, which did contain some sugar and also a whole ton of white flour.  I'm pretty sure I react to flour in the same way, having some makes me want more.  So this may have contributed to my evening cravings.  I'm still considering removing gluten for digestive reasons.  I mentioned that I hate the idea of fighting against cravings, and I really do, I felt  that once they began I had already failed to achieve my goal.

So finally, I caved and just went for it.  Ironically this happened as I was reading "The Diet Cure" by Julia Ross, a book I wanted to re-read to give me some more insight into the addictive nature of certain foods.   Her book is great, and does a fine job of tearing apart the idea of low-calorie dieting.  We need to nourish ourselves with the proper foods if we want to overcome our mood swings and unhealthy food cravings.  She doesn't think there is something wrong with us, but that for certain reasons our brains  and bodies are our of balance, which leads to cravings and mood issues.  I do feel that her support of amino acid supplementation is a bit overly simplistic and I doubt it works as well as the examples she provides from her clinic.  I have tried 5-HTP and Tyrosine, and they may have provided some benefit, but not to the extend that described.  On the other hand, I never used the whole program she recommends, only pieces of it, so maybe if I gave it a fair chance it would be more effective.   Anyways, I'm fed up with taking supplements and don't want to spend a fortune on a bunch of them right now.  I prefer to learn to eat in a way that does not require extensive supplementation, that feels natural and allows food to not be a huge issue.

Yesterday I just felt like giving everything up.  Why should I keep reading about health when I can't even make simple changes?  But I think this kind of attitude is what I've always used to give things up.  I'm going to continue my research, trying different approaches, and doing whatever is necessary to make peace with my eating habits.  If that means eating whatever I want and not being concerned about health, then so be it.  I'm open to whatever it is that will bring me peace of mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goodbye to sweets

 I've reached the point where something has to change.  Since coming off of a low-carb diet, every single evening I've been eating one of those large 100g milk chocolate bars.  It's been some sort of habit I guess, something to look forward to in the evening.  The problem is, the more sugar I eat, the more I want.  Today I ate one of those big bars and wasn't satisfied at all, so I went and got another one.  That's a ridiculous amount of sugar.

Now, I can tolerate unhealthy habits for a while without letting them bother me.  But when it turns into binges, I can't accept it anymore.  And that's the truth when it comes to eating sugar, I always get to the point where I can't control my intake.  I'll moderate and control it, but then it seems like I need a higher "dose" to feel satisfied.  Is this a food or a drug?  I think the latter.

So tomorrow I'm kick-starting my transition back to a nutritious whole-foods diet.  I can't change it all at once, but the first major change is to cut out sweets.   In order to make it something realistic, I'm not yet going to obsess about small amounts of sugar added to other things like breads, sauces, etc.   I think that is the imperfection I need to make this something sustainable.

In a way it feels like a relief at the same time.   This has been the major thing preventing me from being able to make other improvements to my diet as well.  I kept holding on to it, saying how I would feel deprived if I couldn't eat sweets, etc.  But now it feels like the supposed comfort is causing more stress than anything.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anatomy of a craving

I'm fascinated with food cravings and what they actually mean.  When I really pay attention, my diet seems to be for the most part based on satisfying cravings, rather than what will nourish my body the most.  The strongest seem to be for caffeine, sugar, and bread.  But what's really behind these cravings?  What is it that I am lacking that is making me crave these foods which ultimately do not make me feel good?

In her book "The Diet Cure", Julia Ross explains how she helps many people overcome their cravings and food addictions by using amino acid supplements to balance their brain chemistry and blood sugar.  She says that we are trying to self-medicate ourselves using these foods which provide a temporary solution to our low levels of certain neurotransmitters.  Using food in this way prevents us from finding a long-term solution.  What I love about this is that it does not mean that those who overeat or who crave sweets are simply weak-willed or gluttonous.  I think this old view needs to be completely scrapped and replaced by a biochemical explanation which shows that when we crave something, it is our brain's way of telling us what we are lacking.  By using these cravings as clues to figure out what is out of balance, they can be a tool rather than something to feel guilty about.

When I have a craving, I can't seem to get it out of my mind.  On my way home today I was in such a frenzy to finally get there and eat the tuna sandwich with chips that I was fantasizing about since leaving work.  Instead of enjoying the warm weather and the walk to the subway, I was in a frenzy to just get home.  It wasn't so much a physical hunger, but a psychological one.  Usually this makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, that I need to crack the whip and stop obsessing about food.  I'm trying to instead accept that at this point in time I often feel the need to eat certain things, which either comfort me or provide me with what I think I need at that moment.  It's looking for the right thing in the wrong place.

I also happened to have a craving for pancakes soaked in butter and syrup today.  I remembered how my grandmother used to make these for me when I was younger, and how she used to always take care of me.  All of a sudden I felt sad, thinking about her and how she is sick now.  Then I realized that the craving could have been an attempt to relive my youth when I would spend time with her and always be well fed.  So it wasn't anything about the food, but what the food represented for me.  I think our cravings can also tell us a lot about our emotions.

I'm not going to fight against myself anymore.   I think by finding the cause of whatever cravings I have, I will be able to work through them and get to the point where they are not an issue.  Then I will be able to make food choices based on what my body needs.   Fighting these cravings with willpower misses the whole point; they serve a purpose and are taking care of a need that has not been satisfied in other ways.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why do eat what we eat?

I think asking ourselves WHY we chose to eat a certain way is just as important as deciding WHAT we are going to eat.  Do we feel that we have to eat a certain way, that it is necessary to gain or lose weight?  Does it provide a sense of control, by severely limiting what we put into our body?  Do we think we can somehow avoid every single illness by eating certain foods and avoiding others?

Nutrition needs to be put into context.  There are many valid reasons to eat a certain way, and many reasons that do not lead to improving health.  My food choices have often been a source of identity.  This was especially the case when I was eating a vegetarian/vegan diet.  I felt that others were blind to the pain of animals, and to all the unhealthy animal fats (which I now love) that were killing them.  I felt somehow superior, that I was special because I had enough will power to eat a diet that would save the planet and my own health.  Was I healthy during this time?  Far from it.  I was underweight, depressed, horrible complexion, and generally not well.  Was it because of the diet?   I don't know, I think I was probably in quite poor health before becoming vegan.   I do doubt the lack of animal products helped the situation.

I always felt pressure to maintain a certain weight, ever since I was in high school.  I was a bit on the chubby side and felt the need to cut down on calories back then, about 12 years ago.  That's when my dietary explorations began.  So really the original reason for my entry into the world of nutrition was  insecurity.  A comment from one person that I was "fat" and all of a sudden I had to fix that or else I wouldn't be good enough.  I wasn't even really overweight, maybe a bit on the soft side.  But that doesn't change the fact that my original reason for following a certain diet was not to improve my health but to become acceptable.  Now I'm quite slim but I feel that my decreased appetite combined with poor digestion are part of the reason for that.   I would kill to have the digestion and level of energy that I had back then before paying any attention to nutrition.  I loved food but it wasn't a huge issue, I ate and then got on with my day.  I didn't have bloating, stomach pain, blood sugar crashes, anything.  Ah, the good old days.

On the other hand, many food choices can be made with health in mind.  The reality is that I do have digestive issues, and food is one of the main ways of working on that.  Is gluten the problem?  I don't know, I've played around with cutting that out but maybe not long enough to fix the problem.  Food is a powerful tool for dealing with health issues, many of which are caused or at least aggravated by a poor diet.  I want my dietary choices to be based on my health, not feelings of inadequacy or the need to have an identity.

I see so much bickering about what people should be eating.  I enjoy the science of nutrition and following the arguments between different sides, but I often get frustrated with the whole thing because everybody seems to think they are right and wants to prove the other people wrong.  Why is this necessary?  Is intellectual superiority a valid reason to support and follow a specific diet?  What's your reason?

Finding balance

I have a tendency to enjoy making drastic changes in diet.  It's been fun trying out different ways of eating in an attempt to improve how I feel.  Low calorie, vegetarian, vegan, raw, low carb, etc.   I've gone through all the extremes and have yet to find something that is sustainable (for me), enjoyable, and that completely resolves my low energy levels and digestive issues.

This doesn't mean that particular diets don't have anything to offer.  I certainly noticed improvements on some of them, in particular low carb eating, but when it comes to long-term sustainability there's no way I can follow such a diet, nor do I know enough about the long-term effects.  But to ignore my own needs, whatever they happen to be, in order to follow a strict diet, is in my opinion a mistake.  For example, eating out at restaurants is a huge pleasure for me, and happens to be my favorite activity when going out with friends.  If I'm following a strict diet that doesn't allow whole categories of macronutrients, I will most likely feel deprived.  Some may be willing to make such a sacrifice, but it has become clear to me that I am not.  I can continue to struggle against this or I can choose to accept it and make decisions based on where I'm at.  When I was eating low-carb, my energy was more stable, but even eating an apple would cause a huge blood sugar rush that would leave me wired and uncomfortable.  I couldn't eat a "bit" of carbs without going into a binge frenzy.  Again, this isn't to say this way of eating can't work for anybody, but it won't work for me.

I think individual variation is essential to take into consideration when considering what is an optimal diet.  Look at how many different views there are, all having scientific evidence to support their side.  Sure one can look more closely at the studies and find faults in certain arguments, but the reality is that there are healthy people eating just about every single diet you can imagine.

I believe the different results that people have with various diets comes down to individuality.  Not just our individual biochemistry, but our psychology.  Our minds play an important role in determining our physical health, and focusing only on diet leaves out countless known and unknown variables that are also essential in determining our level of well-being.  Do you think that all the nutrients in that organic grass-fed meat you're eating are going to be properly assimilated if you eat it while experiencing a high level of anxiety while eating?  If you're sleep deprived?  If you're having an argument with a family member at the moment?   These are equally important in determining how our body is able to use the nutrients in what we eat.  We can't continue to obsess about eating a perfect diet while neglecting everything else, it just doesn't work.  I wish that was not the case, because changing what I eat is easier than working directly on my emotional or psychological issues, but they're all essential.   None of these are separate.  Our physical health determines our mental health, and vice versa.

My intention is to find the balance that works for me.  I think I will enjoy posting what I find along the way and discussing what other people have found works for them too.  I'm sick of dogmatic, one-size-fits-all solutions.  It's bullshit, and I refuse to continue listening to other people more than I listen to myself and what works for me.  I've learned a lot through various books and blogs, but ultimately along the way I've had to take bits and pieces from them all to find an appropriate mix.  Nobody has a solution that gives me exactly what I need, nor should I expect anybody to.  I'm responsible for my own health and can't expect it to be handed to me on a silver platter for $19.99.

I don't mean to imply that there is not an optimal way for me to maintain proper health, but rather that it needs to be found through trial and error rather than intellectual theorizing.  At this moment I'm allowing myself to eat pretty much whatever I want, and it's actually quite therapeutic.  But in the long-term, I would like to develop a diet based on how my body reacts, rather than satisfying any psychological cravings.  No strict rules, unless I determine that some foods simple can't be consumed in any amount without having an unacceptable effect on me.  I suspect that wheat and sugar may fall into this category, but I'm making any major rules at the moment.

Basically, I'm a big work in progress, and that's okay.  I'm skeptical of people who seem to know it all.  Whenever I thought I did, my beliefs had completely changed within months.  I'm choosing to stay open and learn whatever I can.

Monday, April 12, 2010


So I thought I'd just post a bit about why I am starting this blog.  I've had a big interest in health and nutrition for a while now, sometimes crossing the boundary to obsession.  Looking at my lifestyle you probably wouldn't guess it, because my interest and efforts tends to come in all or nothing bursts.  I try to give up every single bad habit I have and eat a completely clean diet, then crash and live off frozen pizzas and soft drinks.  My idea of what a "clean diet" is happens to change completely on each new health kick, but always ends at some point.

Here I want to explore different ideas that I learn about health, not limited to nutrition but everything this term encompasses.  I want to find what works for me, while allowing myself to make mistakes and be human.  No extreme diets that make socializing impossible, no guilt about food, and nothing that makes me feel like I'm making a huge sacrifice that I can't life with.

I'm not an expert on anything, and won't pretend to be.  I'm just extremely interested in health and want to learn how to make changes in my life without becoming neurotic and obsessive in the process.