In my last post, I announced my goal to adopt a low(er)-carb approach to my long-standing vegetarian diet. I also mentioned my goal to blog more frequently. Over the next month or so, I’ll be adding new series like this one. “From Cupcakes to Cauliflower” will detail my progress toward carb-smart vegetarianism. I’ll admit, right now, the former still sounds a lot more appealing than the latter.
While it’s incredibly difficult to develop and maintain good dietary habits, my attitude is, “I have a Ph.D. – I should be able to figure this out.” My brief foray into dietary research, however, proved to be a migraine-inducing affair. Rather than choose one particular diet – each with its own adherents and critics – I decided to use 5 basic principles to guide my dietary choices:
- Reduce Carbs, But Get Enough Protein and Other Nutrients
On a typical low-carb diet, you switch to eating mostly meat and non-starchy vegetables. I want to stay vegetarian, so this isn’t an option for me. I know that giving up carbs means also losing other nutrients – pasta has a lot of protein, cereal is fortified with vitamins, etc. I’m being careful to get other sources of protein, take a multivitamin each day, and use other nutritional supplements as needed.
- Eat Carbs, But Stick to Low Glycemic-Index
For various reasons, I can’t go totally low-carb. Instead, I’m trying to stick to foods with a low glycemic-index (i.e. foods which produce a smaller, longer-lasting boost in blood sugar). I won’t pretend to understand the science behind it, but I already more energized and less prone to anxiety/depression. I still crave the taste and blood sugar spike of high GI foods (e.g. French bread, mac & cheese, and pastries), but I’m confident the cravings will subside soon.
- Not Too Many Animal Products
I still eat eggs and dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and butter because I’d be totally miserable otherwise. But I need to watch my consumption so that I don’t go overboard on saturated fat and cholesterol. I restrict my portions (see below) and make sure to eat a lot of fresh produce and other whole foods.
- Monitor Portion Sizes and Eat Mindfully
While I’m making a lot of changes to what I eat, I also need to change how and how much I eat. Both portion-control and mindful eating are about awareness. I’m trying to develop more awareness in most aspects of my life – in my teaching, bass playing, relationships, movements, etc.
- Keep It Frugal and Convenient, But Experiment with Cooking
I know myself well enough to know that if my dietary habits break the bank or require hours of work, I’m not going to stick to them. However, I do need to start cooking and eating like a mature adult – not the broke, overworked college student that I was for years. I need to experiment with recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques – and I need to get over my aversion to washing dishes and cleaning up.
In addition, I need to make or maintain some bigger lifestyle changes: 1) getting 8 hours of sleep a night, 2) doing hot yoga everyday, 3) limiting sitting time, 4) avoiding alcohol, and 5) avoiding caffeine.
In this series, I’ll share my ideas about the logistical side of things (tips, recipes, favorite foods, etc.), but also talk about the emotional and social implications of my dietary changes. As an American female, I’m expected to be naturally thin or on an ultra-restrictive diet. As a musician, I’m expected to eat and drink whatever comes my way at a gig. I know that even once I reach my target size, I’ll still be considered overweight by many societal and medical standards. I know that I’ll make people uncomfortable by not consuming certain foods or drinks in social settings and will be perceived as judgmental. I know I’ll be much more of a “hassle” to others by adding these dietary restrictions on top of my vegetarianism (not wanting to be a bother was what got me into a lot of bad eating habits).
But perhaps the most transgressive aspect of my dietary changes is this: it’s not about losing weight; it’s about taking control of my physical and psychiatric health. I’ve self-medicated with food for years and now I recognize that I need to rid my diet of addictive foods. If I want to lose and keep off the excess weight, I need to manage my depression and anxiety first and foremost. The ultimate goal of this is not thinness, it’s wellness.