I share my personal struggles with diet and weight, and my journey to health, in detail in my upcoming book, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean.
I'm still a little bit in denial that I'm airing my laundry so publicly, though I do hope my experience helps others...
Anyway, in honor of my new book coming out soon, I wanted to have a little preview memoir on the topic today!
I originally sent the first part of this post out in the meal plan newsletter (it's free, even if you don't use my super awesome - get healthy, save time and money - meal plans) but the bottom part is an addendum :)
I have a confession: I struggled with my weight (and diet) for years. In a desperation to be thin, I tried every crazy diet that sounded remotely possible (and even some that didn't sound possible at all). For example, I once read in a trashy mag that Heidi Klum only ate green foods so I put myself on a "green" diet, meaning I only ate things that were green. I lasted about 3 days on spinach and green apples.
I also joined gym after gym. When "diets" failed, I tried to "watch what I was eating" and "be sensible." Sometimes I would lose 5lbs. Once I lost 8 pounds! but, ultimately, the same thing happened: I got discouraged (or bored) and gave up.
Until my next "fat day" when I would solemnly swear to start all over.... on Monday. (and not without going whole hog on the weekend, having all my favorite foods "one last time.")
Eventually I got over my skinny chasing when a serious health scare hit me in my early 20s. I knew I had to get HEALTHY. Forget skinny, this is my life and health we're talking about!
First I was vegetarian, and then vegan, and then no oil, whole foods, plant-based.
Amazing things happened almost immediately: After more than a decade of embarrassing acne (I'd also tried everything for that, too) my skin cleared. I felt great. I slept better. My migraines went away. Best of all: The pounds were just flying off!! 20lbs gone in a blink!
I started exercising again but this time it was for fitness, not a desperate attempt to burn off enough calories to "compensate" for a cookie I ate.
I continued to slim down and once I hit my goal (-35lbs), and maintained it for a while, I started to be less strict with myself. I was always vegan, but I started eating vegan junk food "once in a while."
Typically I would see a skinny friend eating absolute junk and think, "well if they can eat THAT and stay slim, surely this pint of vegan coconut ice cream can't ruin me!"
For the next few years I gained (and lost) the same 10lbs.
When my clothes felt snug I would go back to my strict diet. Once I lost the weight again, and I would feel that false sense of security, I would -- predictably -- start slipping on my nutritional excellence. I also started letting in all those old excuses and justifications I said so many years ago that kept me 40lbs overweight. "You only live once." "I'll be perfect on Monday." "I'll go to the gym" "Everything in moderation" etc etc.
Last December I started following my meal plans strictly because I was fed up with the 10lb circuit and had a photo shoot in January for my new book Light & Lean. I had always followed my meal plans, but I was still eating out 2-3x a week, and eating vegan junk foods here and there. (Hence the unwanted 10 lbs).
By late January I'd lost the 10lbs. I was feeling and looking great. Then I lost another 3lbs, bringing me back to my high school weight. I couldn't believe it! Still another 2 more pounds followed. Incredible!
(With Jon at the photo shoot for Light & Lean in late January)
For the first time in my life I posted a picture of myself on my personal Facebook page in a bikini. (Below, taken in late March).
and another a few months later when I was in Belize (in August)
Comments poured in asking how I did it. I said, "I follow my meal plans."
Even non-bikini pics started sparking comments and emails -- "Lindsay you look so fit and lean! What are you doing?"
In San Diego, for Comic Con in July.
My visit to PAWS (an elephant sanctuary in March)
Striking a pose with Scott for my Minimalist Fashion blog post (in August).
(Speaking in Athens, OH in September)
I'd reply "aww thank you! I follow my meal plans!"
But perhaps I should have said "I follow my meal plans more strictly!" ;)
Maybe over the past few months you've noticed I'm looking slimmer, or maybe you haven't -- but I have. Not just in how I look, but how I FEEL.
Since my new "strict" adoption there have only been a handful of times where I caved and had vegan junk food.
The most recent a few weeks ago and let me tell you: I paid for it! Horrible stomach pain, bloating for two days, digestive issues and a general lousy feeling... AND if I'm entirely honest, the vegan brownie sundae (that I shared with my husband, and sister, who was visiting from Florida, hence my "special occasion" exception) wasn't even all that good.
I could have easily made a Happy Herbivore brownie that was light years healthier and way more enjoyable -- without the payback!
SO this post is entirely too long (and about to get longer) -- but I had to confess. Yes, I use my meal plans. I follow them strictly and I keep on the straight and arrow when I'm eating out and navigating through life. I don't feel deprived. If anything, eating those nasty foods left me deprived of feeling awesome!
Temptation is hard! I know it! I just remind myself that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels! and most importantly: I can always make a healthy option of whatever I'm craving. I'm worth it. My health is worth it. The brownie is not worth it ;)
Have a great weekend!
What I didn't say then about the brownie...
Is the power it has over me...
brownies are my weakness, quite literally.
It took me years to come to terms with the power food can have over a person.
Because I've never gone totally off the rails in a bad way, I wanted to deny that I had any kind of problem at all. Or that certain foods could have a power over me.
I wasn't eating in secret, binging on whole cheesecakes, or doing any of the other behaviors I'd cooked up in my mind as "necessary" for someone to have a food addiction.
I've been around all kinds of addictions. I have friends who are (were? I never know which tense to use) drug addicts and alcoholics.
Because my behaviors didn't look like theirs, I didn't see the parallel.
Even when one of my friend's entered a treatment facility for food addiction, I didn't "get it." I scratched my head in confusion. I said things like, "but you're thin... and you're not anorexic or bulimic... and it's not like you're holding up gas stations with a gun to get twinkies!"
I tried to be supportive, and I wanted my friend to feel better, but I just didn't understand how my friend could be "addicted" to "food."
Around this same time, a very well known actor entered a treatment facility for sex addiction, and stories of things this actor did started to surface.
It was the first time I saw a form of addiction that did not involve drugs or alcohol. I then tried to compare that to food... how could it translate?
Of course it didn't. You can't really compare one addiction to another, but there is this common thread --- a set of behaviors --- that exist when you strip down and peel back all the layers of each kind of addiction.
I finally saw that. And I finally began to understand how my friend was addicted to food... How food can be addictive...
I remembered something my friend said before leaving for treatment. The "final straw" was when my friend came home with a jar of peanut butter, intending to eat only 1-2 tbsp a day, and ate all of it by the end of the day.
No matter how hard my friend tried to resist it -- s/he couldn't. My friend said the peanut butter kept calling him/her loudly from the kitchen. That no matter how hard s/he tried to stop eating... how bad s/he wanted to stop eating... s/he couldn't. Not until it was gone...
Admittedly, I don't like peanut butter very much so I really couldn't relate to this experience or understand why someone just couldn't put the spoon down...
EVEN THOUGH I knew alcoholics and how there is no telling them to put the drink down either (!)
I just couldn't wrap my head around this "addiction" to peanut butter.
In a way, I think it's worse that I'd had that experience with an alcoholic because I kept trying to compare the two, thereby dismissing or trying to discredit the food addiction. "It's just not the same!"
(I'm not proud of this, by the way. I'm very ashamed to admit I did this and thought these things.)
Eventually, though, I got it.
I'm sitting here trying to find the words to explain how one day it all made sense to me, but I have none. It's like my brain finally put all the pieces together... or maybe I stepped back and saw the big picture, realizing my problem was I was just too close to it before.
Or maybe I just needed to accept a certain truth...
Point is, I finally saw how different addictions are, but how they are also the same.
Both of my parents, as well as my husband, are former smokers. I spent my entire childhood begging my parents to quit smoking. I even once said I didn't want any presents for my birthday, I just wanted them to quit smoking.
I cried. I begged. I pleaded. I couldn't understand why they couldn't just stop. What was the big deal? Why was it so hard? Just stop smoking! Don't light that cigarette!
Years later I watched from the sidelines as my husband struggled to quit. It was ugly.
My parents and Scott have all talked a lot about their smoking addiction... the pains of withdrawal, and how all these years later, the desire is still sometimes there and they have to fight it down.
I was never a smoker so I'll never really understand what they went through. Or what they're still going through...
Yet I can recognize that they were addicted, even if I don't completely understand it, and that was, perhaps, the moment of clarity I needed to accept my friend's food addiction.
But back to the brownie...
A few weeks before I had the brownie with my sister, I had another brownie.
On my birthday to be exact, after eating nothing but steamed vegetables, fruit and rice at the Wynn in Las Vegas for two days.
I said, you know, it's my birthday, let's get the vegan brownie sundae!
(I'd noticed it on the menu our first night there, and had been thinking about it every meal, every day, since).
I shared the (very small) vegan brownie sundae with Scott. He ate about 2/3. I ate 1/3. And it was good. The most delicious brownie I ever had.
And do you know what happened?
I went back to my room and tried to room service another one. (No luck).
I then tossed and turned all night thinking about it... how bad I wanted another one... IT WAS JUST SO GOOD!
and then then next morning I considered, for at least a hot minute, trying to order the brownie instead of my usual steel-cut oats for breakfast.
It was my BIRTHDAY after all!
As I was trying to build up the courage to ask the waiter if I could get the brownie for breakfast (oh, the shame! Why can't I hide behind the phone and get it via room service!) I had my breakthrough.
The brownie was my peanut butter.
Perhaps not to the same degree, but there was no denying that brownie had some kind of a power over me.
I didn't order the brownie for breakfast, but I did think about it for several days.
(Luckily we flew out right after breakfast so I was removed from the brownie).
When I came home from Vegas I talked to my friend, the food addict, about my experience. I found it troubling -- WHY was I so obsessed over that stupid brownie?
My pal gave me a long explanation about how fat and sugar are addictive and how they alter brain chemistry and so forth.
Basically I got a hit off the brownie and wanted more.
As the weeks wore on I realized brownies are my weakness, quite literally.
I had flashbacks to birthday parties where I couldn't seem to move away from the dessert table and stop eating the brownies... or the handful of times in college I baked a pan of brownies... and ate them all by myself.
You know that saying, you can't just have 1 potato chip? Well, I can (I don't happen to like potato chips all that much) but apparently this is not true about brownies.
I don't do this with all foods... certainly not with asparagus... but it was a real eye-opener for me.
What the heck is it about brownies?!
It was hard... maybe even a little embarrassing to admit my struggle... and to admit this weakness I had with brownies (who wants to admit they are weak?) but doing so has not only been freeing, but empowering.
and now I understand why it's so powerful to say, "I'm Bill and I'm an Alcoholic"
I love the idea of "live a little" but there is no "living a little" with addiction -- any kind of addiction.
Sometimes you just need to know your boundaries -- and where your personal weaknesses are.
For example, a friend of mine won't keep chocolate in her house because she can't control herself around it. Despite being perfectly smart, reasonable, sensible, and strong-willed, she can't practice portion control when it comes to chocolate. No matter how hard she tries. No matter what her intentions are -- she can't just have a bite. It's the whole bar or nothing.
"Just stop!" just isn't going to happen.
I post this blog with a bit of trepidation because I find people like to use these sorts of posts to attack me. Most commonly they'll say that I have food issues or an eating disorder, and I have neither. I'm in regular therapy for my OCD, depression and anxiety, so I think my doctors would have caught on by now ;)
BUT this gives me the opportunity to say something I've always wanted: Accusing someone of having an eating disorder (or disordered eating) when they really don't, does a huge disservice to those who actually do.
It's important that we talk about our struggles with food, whatever they are... or our hurdles with weight-loss, and the battle with food addiction or temptation or whatever you want to call it.... and that we can do it without being judged.
Struggling with food and weight-loss and diet and self love doesn't make you weak. And above all, most of us are not doctors or psychologists. Please don't go diagnosing someone else :)
I hope my post lets anyone who has ever struggled know YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Interestingly, shortly after my personal experience, a study came out that suggests Oreos are as addictive as cocaine.
Further information + reading + help:
The Pleasure Trap
Breaking The Food Seduction
The End of Overeating
Salt Sugar Fat - How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Two former herbies of the week bravely shared they were OA members:
HOW: Dr Cat
and of course, you knew this plug was coming, get on board with the meal plans!
Or give the 3-day reboot and 10-day cleanse immersion a try.
(Scott is also lookin' leaner -- he's lost over 25lbs. He too has lost, gained, and lost the same 20 lbs (20!) but is now much more strict, too. He had to curb his peanut butter habit, and eating out/eating vegan treats. He also cut way back on beer.)
Feel good on the inside + the outside. Shine on my friends!