Summertime Eating Challenges: Dieters verses Normal Eaters

We just can’t control ourselves. The plans and preparation started over a month ago. What began as a small fun thing to do to add to our neighbor’s July 4th annual picnic has evolved into a huge production and we love every minute of it. Our annual “Infused Fruit by the Fountain” keeps growing in the variety of infused fruits as well as the number of people who come to sample it. This year in addition to the Fireball Cherries, glazed rum pineapple, Rum Raison bananas, infused mixed fruit, and others we added cheesecake cherries (infused with vanilla and cake vodka, rolled in cheese cake cream cheese and dipped in crushed graham crackers) as well as Pina Colada pineapples. And there was more.

The weather was perfect this year for our annual July 4th Celebration with our neighbors and my guess is 100 people came to share salads, casseroles, desserts, eat burgers and dogs, listen to a live band and finally to enjoy our Fruit by the Fountain. What a great time, and yet, again, it struck me how powerful a topic food and eating and dieting and body image is. Besides Donald Trump jokes, comments and remarks about diets unfortunately filled some conversations. Don’t get me wrong, I feel passionately about promoting health and I love hearing about healthy changes people make. When people start cooking for once and making healthy meals instead of grabbing fast food, they do feel better. When they cut down on drinking or stop smoking, they feel better too. One friend I know started really getting into yoga, she absolutely loves it and her increased energy level and fitness level show. Yes, she has lost weight but her smile and what she talks about is all the cool stuff she can do now (from someone who can’t do a simple cartwheel anymore, trust me, that is a great accomplishment when you are over the age of 40). What struck me is that not everyone looks through the same glasses when it comes to picnics and celebrations and food. For some, this kind of thing is a blast, but for others, it is anything but fun.

I often refer to a “spectrum” or continuum when it comes to how people feel about food and eating, with severe eating disorders or eating issues on one end and absolutely normal eaters on the other end (whatever that means, a topic on its own). It is important to reflect on where you are and how you deal with crazy food situations such as this (not to mention there was a pool involved, so bathing suits often another issue altogether, combined with eating and drinking, well, that is enough to put some over the edge). The mumbling I heard that day went something like this:

“I feel so bloated”     “I’ll start again tomorrow”    “why did I just eat that?!”

You get the picture. What strikes me is that people truly believe something big is going to happen to their bodies in just one day of eating differently. It truly becomes a “head game”. Some people make healthy changes to their diets, start to feel better, but because they weigh themselves every day they see the normal fluctuations that occur (which are usually just fluid shifts because of more sodium, less protein, more carbohydrates, or even hormonal changes). For those eating lower carb diets, an increase will usually result in some water weight gain since our bodies lose water on low carb diets.  Also, most people eat more on picnic days or at parties than they normally do, but if you think of a “normal eater”, they probably are not thinking about calories and instead probably eating foods they enjoy. Truly “intuitive” eaters will notice a smaller appetite in the days after they may have consumed more than normal, and over time, their bodies naturally balance out. I often have told my patients to think about the reality: if it takes roughly 3,500 calories to equal a pound, and if we use an estimated 2,000 calories as a maintenance level for an average female to maintain their weight, that person would need to consume 5,500 calories to really “gain” a true pound. That is not easy to do, even at a picnic, since there is only so much one tummy can hold. It just “feels” like a lot because for those who diet and tune out their normal body signals to restrict, even a normal amount of food can feel like overeating (hence, the feeling of “bloated”). Yes, if this person jumps on a scale the day after a big picnic, the extra water that clings onto the carbs and sodium may add up to several “pounds” but these are not actually real body weight, remember. The reality is just going over your typical calorie intake by even a few thousand calories STILL will NOT equal even 3/4 of a pound. So why waste half the day worrying and stressing when you should be savoring every minute of such a beautiful day with friends, family and fun?

Instead, why not try to think about tuning in to your body especially at large picnics where you may have experienced discomfort in the past (can you relate?) For example, try looking ahead at the foods being offered before you start eating. Some people who are “breaking their diet” for the day tend to over eat foods they actually really don’t even enjoy that much (“I can’t have this tomorrow, I’m going back on my diet”) and so they may overeat cookies (the kind you can get anywhere), or hot dogs (you can make any day) or chips and dip, etc. Instead, a “normal eater” usually picks their favorite. That special potato salad Merri Jo makes (that they can’t replicate), or Bobby’s fried peppers and sausage they love but will never make at home, or Michelle’s amazing caramel brownies. Yummy foods to truly enjoy….without feeling guilty and knowing your body knows how much to eat…if you truly practice listening.

There are more picnics and holidays to come this summer. Enjoy the variety of foods you get to try, work on listening to your body, accept mistakes, and that this may be a learning process on what works for YOU as far as falling into a healthy (and happy) lifestyle. There is no right or wrong, just learning.

In the meantime…..time for some leftover fruit!

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