This time two years ago, before I embarked on this weight loss journey, I ate whatever I wanted. I had as much of it, whenever, wherever, and with whomever. Often, I took on eating as a challenge. My friend, Carl, and I once did our best to eat a 30″ pepperoni pizza in an hour, failing catastrophically. On more than one occasion, I’ve consumed alcohol “to excess” for no reason other than “because.” One year ago, I was “a changed man,” eating very deliberately. Two servings of fruit, four servings of non-starchy vegetables, six meal replacements, and a jug or two of water each day were all I consumed. Turning away anything else was easy: “That’s not on the list.”
More recently, I transitioned to all conventional foods, planning and preparing my meals to very tight caloric and nutrition tolerances. I. Measured. Everything. Every portion, every time. I played portion control games, trying to guess at 3 ounces of chicken or carrots before verifying them with the digital scale. Everything I ate was something that had been carefully selected days or weeks ahead of time using the Diabetic Exchange System and my meal planning spreadsheets.
Nowadays, I’ve moved more into what I think of as a framework. I know, generally, when and what I need to eat to maintain, gain, or lose weight. I know, nutritionally, what proportion of my foods should come from carbohydrates, fat, and protein. I can look at a food and know how much of it to eat and how it “counts” in my daily food budget without carrying around a measuring cup or a scale. I still weigh foods when I’m at home, but I don’t panic when I’m out of the house and need to grab something. I just make good choices.
I’m working summer camps, and many of our meals are traditional cafeteria fare. Sometimes, the buffet has foods that I choose to eat. Last night’s dinner was pork loin roast with steamed vegetables. It was delicious. Today’s lunch was hamburgers and fries or spaghetti with meat sauce. I asked for a double helping of green beans and ate a can of tuna. You win some, you lose some. Being prepared helped me navigate that meal. Tonight, we’re going to Subway. I’ll be having a chicken salad.
Learning to eat, it seems, is a lot like learning to do many other things — cooking, dancing, playing an instrument — you start by learning “the basics” in a somewhat rigorous way. Nothing exciting whatsoever. You play scales. You do a box waltz. Then, you practice, practice, practice. Once things “feel” right and you have enough experience under your belt to go with the flow when things don’t turn out according to plan, you’re ready to step out there and “bust a move.” I’m not saying that every day of my life is executed as an exemplary eater, but I’m holding my own.
What’s my framework? It’s essentially the Diabetic Exchange meal plans that I’ve already shared with you in The Resources, but without all the planning ahead. I have a stock of items with me that I can call on in case of a “bad cafeteria day” — tuna, graham crackers, single serving peanut butter tubs, canned vegetables, and whatnot — and faith that I can spot healthy choices “in the wild,” consume them in reasonable portions, and pass on the foods that I don’t need.
I have no idea what’s going to be on the hot line tomorrow, but I know that I’ll be having 3-4 exchanges of protein, 1-2 exchanges of vegetables, a carbohydrate exchange, and a fat exchange for lunch. Today’s fat came in the form the oily coating that I found shimmering on the green beans. In the words of Margaret, one of UAMS’s dietitians, “When you’re eating out, just assume that the fat is there.”