Take my friend Jane’s fridge. It used to be full of diet foods: low-fat this, sugar-free that, carb- and calorie-reduced, imitation everything. You’d be hard-pressed to find an actual, unadulterated food product on Jane’s kitchen shelves. If it didn’t scream “diet,” she didn’t want anything to do with it.
At that time, what I could have told you about Jane was that she was convinced that she needed to lose weight and that she didn’t trust her body to help her make wise food choices. She didn’t trust food, period.
She seemed to believe that the power to change her body for the better lay somewhere “out there” — with multinational food-processing companies and diet-smoothie producers that presumably knew a whole lot more about her health and fitness than she ever would.
Today, I’m delighted to report, Jane’s fridge says something entirely different about her. And that’s because Jane’s perspective on food has done a serious one-eighty — and her body has come along for the ride.
About a year ago, Jane and I had a heart to heart. She’d been reading the magazine’s advice about eating more whole foods, but she was convinced that if she traded in her fake-o diet fare, she’d start gaining weight. So I started in on a little impromptu pep talk.
I said, “Look Janey, you don’t need all this diet stuff. It’s not going to help you lose weight. In fact, it’s working against you, and it’s preventing you from making good progress with your fitness program.”
I explained that all these diet and low-cal products were full of chemicals that were bad for her, and that just looking at all that stuff in her fridge and cupboards every day was sending her body the wrong signals — that she was a weak-willed person who didn’t deserve and couldn’t be trusted with real food. And that simply wasn’t so.
I explained to Jane that because diet foods rarely taste very good and they don’t satisfy our appetites the way their more wholesome counterparts and alternatives do, we tend to eat more of them (and more of everything else) to compensate. Our bodies and brains never get the message that they’re being nourished — because they really aren’t — and so we keep craving more and more food (read more about that in “Poor Substitutes”).
Meanwhile, our metabolisms are being slowed down by the toxins and pro-inflammatory factors embedded in processed-food ingredients; our energy levels are suffering so we don’t feel like exercising; and our brains are getting confused by the fake flavors and sweeteners that just make us want more.
Even if we exercise like crazy — and Jane had just embarked on a serious training regimen — our bodies aren’t getting the nutrients they need to build lean tissue and to recover from strenuous workouts we’re throwing their way. As a result, our workouts feel harder than they should and results don’t come as quickly or easily as they might. Eventually we become convinced that exercise “just doesn’t work for us,” and we give up.
At first, Jane wasn’t entirely convinced by my little tirade, but I’d struck enough of a chord that she was willing to give the whole-foods thing a try. Little by little, the density of diet foods in Jane’s fridge diminished. In their place, delicious-looking fruits and veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and even some full-fat condiments gained ground. She accumulated some herbs and spices, collected some recipes and began to cook.
And what do you know:
Jane started dropping weight. Her skin took on a translucent, rosy glow. Her eyes took on a sparkle. She started kicking some serious butt in her workouts and her body composition took a turn for the leaner and firmer. To me, she seemed happier, too.
Today, when I look in Jane’s fridge, I see the edible and very appetizing evidence of a healthy person who really cares about herself — someone who enjoys good food, who trusts her body and wants to feed it well. Our refrigerators should all be so lucky.