I am up hours before the rest of my family wakes. I feed the dog, get the newspaper, make the coffee. I sit for a blissful hour or more, sipping hot black coffee and reading the front page section of The New York Times cover to cover.
I get up because I decide I’m hungry and go to the pantry. The bread is moldy; we eat so little of it lately, I chide myself for not keeping it in the refrigerator. Half a loaf gone to microbes.
I waver for a moment, considering what to do now that my craving for buttered toast has been thwarted. But only a moment. I grab my grandmother’s copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1950s and flip to the bread section.
In the time it takes for the oven to come to temperature, I’ve made biscuits from scratch, cutting in the butter, kneading for 30 seconds, rolling and cutting and placing them on the “cooky” sheet as prescribed by Ms. Crocker. Into the oven they go.
I’m on the eve of another planned foray into health. I used to be embarrassed by my multiple attempts at losing weight or starting an exercise program, embarrassed by the subsequent “failures.” I’ve since given up the embarrassment, choosing to feel proud, instead, of my continued dedication to treating my body better.
I’ve planned this particular journey for several weeks now. I know, by now, that jumping head first into a new “program” only works for a few days or weeks. (Sometimes less.) I know the types of things I do and do not tolerate well. (ie: Leek soup diets = monumental fail.) And I’m dedicated to no longer going to extremes; instead, I want to keep the pendulum as close to center as possible.
Revisiting Michael Pollan’s Food Rules recently, I was struck by his statement that nutrition as a science is today where surgery was in the 16th century, “which is to say very interesting and promising, but do you really want to get on the table yet?”
We are conditioned to listen to the reports on television and the web that praise coffee, chocolate, or red wine one day and revile it the next. We read books by earnest, scholarly doctors and scientists, each of whom has a different opinion about the ideal diet that will make us healthy.
I thought that a sort of survey of the latest books would yield a set of protocols I could say with authority that everyone agreed on. I was wrong. The only agreements I really found were that fruits and vegetables are good, and processed carbohydrates are bad. Milk, meat, wheat, sugar, and other staple foods are all variously sanctified or vilified depending on who you ask. Even the idea of strict veganism is suspect, with many doctors claiming that it doesn’t provide the balance of nutrients a human needs.
So what is a person to do? How am I to navigate this muddy water while living in an era in which, for the first time in history, humans have become so good at providing calories for themselves that we are now preoccupied with denying ourselves those same calories.
I’ve decided to create my own protocol, based on what I know to be true — both through science and personal experimentation.
I’m cutting out fried foods, processed carbohydrates and added sugars 90 percent of the time. I’m striving to take 10,000 steps per day, and standing up more while I work. I’m adding strength training to my days, mostly simple bodyweight exercises I can do anywhere.
My goal is to lose 10 percent of my overall weight and keep it off for at least six months before trying to lose any more. The keeping it off part has historically been the most difficult for me, and therefore needs to be a big part of my goals.
I want to do this not to fit into a particular item of clothing, but to feel healthier. I want to respect my body more than I have in the past. I want to live life right now, not waiting for some mythical future time that none of us is guaranteed. I want to be a positive role model for the little human girl I’m raising.
Earlier this year, in my business, I achieved a goal of nearly tripling the size of my email list in just under six months. When I started out, it felt nearly impossible. But when I sat down to write about it for my blog and subscribers later, I coined a hashtag that summed up what was required for me to achieve it: #dothedamnwork
It was shorthand for doing the small, unsexy things I knew I should be doing. And I’m going to apply it to my health as well. None of what I plan to do is particularly new or earth-shattering. There’s no name for this “diet” that will unite me with a community online — or get me a big book deal should I be successful.
But as I laid out my Sunday morning table today with the finest biscuits I have personally ever made (tall, flaky, perfectly browned), honey and jam, butter and cream, fruit and cheese, I felt a wave of overwhelming happiness. I realized that I don’t want the kind of diet or lifestyle that would deny me that pleasure; not now or ever. I believe I can make those kinds of indulgences part of health and a big part of happiness.
And that’s the sort of life I want more than anything.