Saturday, June 27, 2015

In defense of clean eating: why I don't like IIFYM

Pop-Tarts. Ben & Jerry. Oreos. Cookie butter (mmm...).

I don't think it's any surprise to my general blog demographic that people who have a history of eating disorders tend to jump to extremes when it comes to food or lifestyle choices; we tend to have ultra-perfectionist, type A personalities and well, food is generally our coping mechanism.

So when in recovery and faced with a laundry list of "fear foods" (meaning generally everything expect a few leaves) and a much larger caloric goal than we are used to, it's so common drift towards less nutritionally dense foods to eat. Scroll through the #realrecovery or #minniemaud hashtags on Instagram and count the number of "pints" you see. We have created a whole new slang for containers of premium ice cream! If that's not an slightly obsessed subculture then I don't know what is.

Now a quick lil disclaimer: I don't see anything particularly wrong with these calorically dense, processed foods (and I'll just use the term "junk" foods for simplicity's sake) and in fact highly recommend them to those beginning recovery because they are easier to absorb, have higher fat and sugar contents, contain low amounts of fiber, and help attack on the mental inhibitions. And yes, I preach a balanced lifestyle where nothing is off limits.

That being said though, I rarely ever do eat those foods. I haven't had a Pop-Tart in years. The last time I ate Ben & Jerry's was on Free Cone Day (got in line three times, oops), and Oreos? Oh gosh, I don't remember the last time I bought some.

If you look at what I typically eat, it will generally be green vegetables, chicken breast, lean ground beef, eggs and egg whites, olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocados, oatmeal, rice, and white and sweet potatoes. Yes, from any point of view, what I typically eat can be considered very, very healthy.  But look here: typically is the key word. Just because on a normal day when I go to work in the morning and come home at night I eat my chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes doesn't mean that when I go out with friends I won't get a fried dish or a pasta dish, dessert, and an appetizer or two to split. It's just not a daily thing.

I truly think that the expectation in the eating disorder and fitness world is that if you don't eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's a week, you are not recovering. That if you do not fit some fun foods into your macros EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. you have a disordered relationship with food. Now, there is a bit of validity to that statement: if you mentally cannot handle eating a pint of ice cream in a sitting, then I do think you should challenge that notion! Trust me, you will not become obese doing it (I watch my two roommates do it every other night and both of them are quite slim).

But that's besides the point. I don't eat Pop-Tarts because I don't like them. While I haven't had a whole Pop-Tart in years, I took a bite of one a friend offered me a few months ago and thought it tasted like play-dough. I tend to eat "healthy" foods because they digest better for me and I am able to feel energized rather than sluggish. I have tried to eat sugary cereals and candy bars during the day (because I think they taste delicious) and it all ended up sitting in my stomach like a brick and in the end, I knew I didn't eat enough in the day because I just wasn't hungry.

Part of getting out of an eating disorder is transitioning back to normal eating. Do you really want to still be counting your macros or calories when you are 50 years old? Because that's not in my 30-year-plan (or it wouldn't be if I had one). I read a very good article by Jason Blaha the other day about how IIFYM can easily turn into an eating disorder and I couldn't agree more.

There is something wrong about hoarding macros to eat a giant candy-ladden night snack. There is something wrong with measuring ice cream and nut butters out to the gram so that you don't go over a caloric limit. And trust me, no normal person will sit there to calculate the macros in a slice of cake for you. Or at least I wouldn't. But maybe I'm just being a jerk.

That's why I don't like using IIFYM to transition out of an eating disorder: you never do. You just transfer one obsession to another. Yes, you might be eating a Twinkie, but you never learn about proper nutrition, balance, and how not to shift foods around to "fit" a Twinkie in. You end up seeing every Friday-night dinner out cheat day as an occasion to gorge yourself with pizza and pasta when it's perfectly fine to just order a 6-ounce steak (yes, those still do exist), plain potato, and broccoli when you go out to eat. It's probably a lot cheaper too.

It's about balance guys, not only clean foods or only junk foods.

And it's certainly not able bending yourself backwards to fit 24.6809 g of ice cream into your diet.