The “Butter on My Bread, Cream in My Coffee” Diet

It’s the new year and once again people are talking about dieting. In particular, I’ve realized that I’ve let my health go a bit, and would like to remedy that before my wedding. That said, I have a long, tumultuous relationship with dieting.

I suppose it begins in childhood, when I was very sick and actually had trouble keeping weight on. My mother used to make me a milkshake every afternoon when I came home from school to help me gain some weight. I got to choose the flavor (I like chocolate best, and it’s how I discovered that I’m not a big fan of strawberry ice cream). But at the same time, I watched my mother struggle with her own weight.

When I was older, my natural perfectionism and detail-oriented nature, which would later be diagnosed as OCD, led me to try to help her in her efforts to lose weight. I poured over Weight Watchers cookbooks and made her recipes so she could have treats within the strictures of her diet. I even made a batch of cookies that I marked in 1/4″ intervals so she could slice and bake them herself and have cookies that were only 1 “point” each. Soon, I found myself hitting puberty and “filling out,” as it is so distastefully called. I realized that I was no longer “the skinny girl” necessarily. It was strange; I had spent my life reveling in how much I could eat without gaining weight, and insisting to myself that I wasn’t worried about dieting or my weight. But now, I was terrified of not being skinny anymore.

So I started to diet. I started to count calories and make up the same special restricted recipes for myself. I’ve since come to realize that part of it was about trying to maintain a sense of control over something in my life during a time when I felt like I was losing control. I had changed schools and had no friends in my new school, plus the changes of puberty can be a bit off-putting, to say the least.

I will skip over the middle, where I drift in and out of disordered eating for 20 years, and instead come to now. I’ve tried a lot of different diets and detoxes and elimination diets and things, and my number one lesson learned is that I cannot restrict what I eat. The healthiest thing for me is to allow myself my indulgences, but try to focus on eating the healthy stuff. So that means looking at it as adding a salad to my lunch instead of removing a fried chicken sandwich. I still have butter on my bread and cream in my coffee. And I try to move around and do things more often than not. I eat and do things that make me feel good. And that is now my “diet” philosophy.

And, yeah, I’m not skinny anymore. I’m on the low end of the size spectrum, and plenty of people still consider me thin, but in a group of women, I’m rarely “the skinny one.” And that’s okay. I have so much more to my identity by now that I don’t need to be identified by what I weigh or what I eat or what I do for exercise. Instead, I can identify with my love of fiber arts or theater or skin care. I can be “the one with the good skin” (maybe not this week, though), or “the theatrical one.” And that’s pretty good, I think.

Adventures in Banting

I used to be that kid who ate anything and everything and never gained an ounce. Then, in college and grad school, I discovered long-distance running. So I’ve always been skinny. But since turning 30 and moving away from as much running and spending more time sitting at work, I’ve found that I’m starting to round out a bit. So lately, I’ve been trying to eat a bit healthier to lose some weight.

I discovered William Banting’s “Letter on Corpulence” through a low-carb blog I used to read. I have since determined that low-carb is not the diet for me, but actually reading Banting’s writing, I realized that his diet is not really low-carb, as it is lower-carb. He doesn’t eliminate carbohydrate-rich foods from his diet, but instead tries to de-emphasize them and eat more protein and vegetables. And eat less sugar. That’s something I can get behind.

So I’ve been “banting” the last couple of weeks, focusing on lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, some fruit, and some whole grains. Then, this weekend, for Memorial Day, I visited a friend of mine whose lost a truly stunning amount of weight recently, through exercise, calorie-counting, and just general commitment to healthier eating. We had a most un-traditional meal of fresh vegetable salads and a couple white wine spritzers, followed by a vigorous 45-minute walk outside in the sunshine. We returned to a lovely dessert of vanilla ice cream, strawberry compote made with strawberries from her garden, and a little crumbled up cookie on top. It was a fantastic and light meal that left me feeling good.

So this week, I’m re-invigorating my efforts to focus my diet on healthy foods, whole grains, enough protein, and plenty of vegetables and fresh-raw fruits. It’s certainly the season for it, with impulse-bought produce. Not to say that I’ve been perfect. Like Banting, I have a certain weakness for bread and butter, but I’ve only indulged once or twice. And I’ve tried to add some more activity to my day, mostly walking. I’m already starting to notice a difference in how I feel.