Your Diet Part I: It's not always what people see

Quick poll of anyone who tends to eat more when people aren't watching?  

Will bring a salad to lunch where your co-workers see you eat it but finish the night off with multiple bowls of ice cream?

Snack in the car?

None of this is to shame the person reading this and thinking "yeah, I do that".  I'd know because I have done all of these (and more) on plenty of occasions.  Once you have experienced a behavior or pattern in yourself then it becomes much easier to recognize them in others.  I tend to easily spot the person who struggles with their weight and does all the right things when people (like co-workers or friends) are around but eat completely different when alone.

Basement eating

Basemeant eating was my jam when I was a kid.  Our house was built on a hill so our basement was ground level in the backyard with a full-size door to enter through.  We had a pool and were always doing yardwork on the couple of acres we had so if we were covered in lawn clippings, snow from sledding down our hill or wet from the pool, we'd enter there.

The basement also happened to be where my drumset was so I had even more time hanging out down there. As a side note, I still don't know how my parents put up with that racket for so many years.  There's no quiet drum playing.

Back to me eating in the basement!  Like plenty of other families, the basement served as dry food overflow: rice, pasta, chips, cookies and other snacks were down there and when you walk past them as much as I did, they are hard to ignore.

While it was years ago, I do recall my overeating started as a way to quell my emotions, which, if I had to guess, is why most people overeat.  So when I felt particularly stressed, anxious or mad I would find an excuse to be in the basement, stuffing my face with Ring Dings and Ho-Ho's (two of my favorites at the time) and I kept the entire process to myself.

Nonnie: The Enabler

I called my grandmother Nonnie.  She was extremely generous with us as children and adults; whether it was clothing for school each year, celebratory dinners, extra cash for work around the house and bonds (yes, bonds from post-World War II United States, does anyone still have these) that helped pay for culinary school. When I say extra cash for work around the house, her deal was this: grandpa paid me for mowing their lawn, raking leaves or washing windows and then she would pay me AGAIN.  Buuuut she was not very subtle and her usual method was to fold up a $20 bill into a tiny square and then hand it to me in front of my grandfather which I am sure he was 100% aware of.

She was also not subtle about offering food, of any kind and I used visits to her house an another means to binge. And like many in that generation, her fear of not having enough food as a child extended throughout her entire life, manifesting itself as pushing food onto her grandkids.  My grandmothe r on my father's side (we called her Babci) did the same thing, coming over from Poland when my dad was young. Having lived in post-World War II Europe made her extremely concerned with us eating enough and I think she would have preferred everyone to eat more at every opportunity. If she buttered your rye bread it came LOADED.  If she made pierogi you got a giant plateful. If you turned down seconds, she'd offer you something else.  Oh and she always had full fat milk, which, I have to say, is delicious.

Two different food lives

I am sure some of you reading this can also relate; certain places and times you have the ability to eat more and choose different foods than you would under scrutiny from your peers. So many of us lead two different lives with our food.

The food people see us eat

The food most people don't see us eat

For you, it might be some good 'ol fashioned basement eating like I did or it could be going out to dinner 4 nights per week, ordering pizza for yourself all the time or keeping high-calorie snacks in your car. Whether it's fear of being judged or needing to have control over something, there are many people living this way.  While I don't offer nutrition coaching anymore, in the years that I did, I had more clients than I can count open up to me about this issue.

And, what follows is speculation and hypothetical but I am sure it will ring true with many of you.  It's also not to pick on a particular person or make anyone feel ashamed as much as it is calling to light an issue that needs to be addressed.

Do you have a friend, family member or co-worker who struggles with their weight?  I've noticed, in individuals who struggle and are vocal about their desire to lose weight, tend to do one of three things:

-Make very clear and frequent poor food choices I had a boss like this, she would order pizza for lunch on the regular and sample any and all treats brought into the office. This person is often the easiest to talk to about their issue because they are vocal about what they're doing. They might express a desire to lose weight, acknowledge their food choices and pretty much sum it up with "I need to get my act together". In being open about their choices, desires and not hiding anything, they are usualy much less defensive when discussing nutrition.

-Never eats in front of others.  I have worked with people who are considerably overweight whom you never see eat.  Maybe a coffee here and there but otherwise you'd assume they go hungry most of the time.  I have noticed this personality type finds it easier to keep their food life hidden from others, probably because of fear of being judged.  Instead of bringing a lunch to work they'd enjoy, they simply eat nothing around most other people. If this person expresses a desire to lose weight, it can be hard to have a discussion because they have the leverage of saying "I hardly ever eat" and you have no reference point for their food choices. Social media has uncovered some of my past client's (and acquaintances) hidden food choices because so much is shared on Facebook.  People who I have literally never seen bring a lunch in are going out to dinner 5 nights per week. 

The issue here is that as a nutrition coach or practicitioner you know, in absence of other rare evidence, obesity is caused by too much energy coming in and not enough going out. So the person who is 50lbs overweight and never eats lunch is still consuming enough calories in shorter time frames to maintain their weight. If you live two food lives, it's easy to lie to yourself about this and rationalize that if you go for long periods of time without eating that you simply can't be overeating.  But in most cases that is what's happening behind the scenes.

-Only eats perceived "healthy" foods in front of others.  I have recognized this behavior as very close to the one described above but this individual does bring food to eat in front of others. In this case it just happens to be what they think other people will perceive as healthy and it's usually the world's saddest salad, a granola bar, a tiny yogurt or some fruit.  Something your grandmother would think is diet food. 

To me, this is sheds some light on why SO MANY individuals hate eating what they think is healthy food. Whether it's being misinformed or ignorant of what real, nourishing food is, this person might choose to eat differently in front of others but do it in a way that is filtered through what they think other people want to see.  This is often heavily influenced by magazines, social media advertising and outdated nutrition concepts like "carbs are bad".

It truly makes me sad and frustrated for these individuals to see them eating a cup of romaine lettuce with a few chickpeas and 1/2 can of tuna on it with no dressing. If that is the food it takes to be a normal weight, count me out too.  But the truth is, that is not what's necessary!

Creating the narrative

If you tend to spin a narrative that helps you avoid looking at yourself, your choices and owning up to them, you're not alone.  I was pretty much the Shakespeare of weaving a narrative at all times that supported the reason I was overweight.  Here are some true ones:

-Taking a passing statement by my pediatrician that I was big-boned and constantly bringing it up in conversation so if anyone ever mentioned my weight, they could reference back to me being "big boned"

-Pushing speculation from my parents that I had a slow metabolism (or thyroid, take your pick) and weaving it into conversation much like the big-boned theory

-Highlighting my heathier food choices in front of others to shed light on the fact that I was indeed "eating healthy" so it couldn't be about my food choices

-Avoiding exercise of pretty much any kind because it so quickly became apparent that I was very unfit.  I always had an excuse for why I couldn't participate or needed to finish early "my mom want's me home early" or "I'm tired, I don't want to play touch football".

And as much as you might lie to yourself, some people WILL be honest with you.  But it can happen in truly awful ways that only create more walls and defense as a result.  I remember being teased for my thighs rubbing together (lets be honest, I should have known better than to wear corduroys!!), having man-boobs("do you need a bra?"), having stretch marks ("what are those, cuts??") and even big feet ("I bet your feet are big because you're so fat that you smooshed them out").  Yeah, people actually SAY things like that to others.

So, why wouldn't I start lying to everyone, including myself?  If everyone else is going to be such huge jerks, I'd rather just hide from the problem, which I did, for years.

The thing that makes being honest with yourself so difficult is the fear of being judged by others.  I know from exoerience when you are looked at as "fat", pretty much anytime you eat people are judging you.  It could be a big-ass salad loaded with chicken, veggies, sweet potatoes and low calorie dressing and still, people will think "does he need to be eating THAT much salad?". So it feels like a lose-lose situation.  It's better to simply eat nothing around others or eat such a pittance that you can't be judged for consuming too much food.

In Part II I'll discuss some strategies for moving past this, addressing these issues and how to make empowered and confident choices that are NOT influenced by what you perceive others are thinking about you.