Know Thyself; Know Thy Enemy

Government is not reason, it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

-George Washington

 

George Washington could have said that about a lot of things. There are many things in this world that are fine in certain context, but when it gets out of control: look out.

I’m sure you’re thinking of some others right now…

I’m thinking of carbohydrates. I’m thinking about them specifically because of Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, I celebrated three times. First, I had Thanksgiving on the day with a group invited to my home. The next day, I had it again at lunch with a lady who came by specifically for it. Then, I had it again for dinner with a couple that had unexpectedly had to work on Thanksgiving Day.

I had scads of food. The only things I didn’t eat at all were wheat and refined sugar. I limited my intake of starch and fruit because I know I won’t feel very good if I overeat those. I don’t like to not feel good. But by “limit” I don’t mean tiny spoonfuls. I still had plenty!

I ate turkey and gravy. Lots and lots of gravy. There’s your protein and fat right there. Then you can turn your attention to the treats: potato and sausage stuffing, spicy sweet potatoes, cranberry grape compote, apple, pecan and cheese salad…and of course pumpkin cheesecake with cranberry topping, maple cream mousse, and pecan pumpkin pie. I ate the fat and meat preferentially, but I powered down that stuffing, let me tell you. And when I asked myself if I wanted cheesecake, mousse, or pie, myself said “Yes.”

I ate that three meals in a row, just fasting on Friday morning through breakfast. And know what happened?

Ooooh, oooh, I KNOW!!!

Yes, I see that hand. Please tell us.

You gained weight, right? All that starch and stuff? That five holiday pounds all the news sites whine about?

Hmmm, well, sort of, but not actually.

You didn’t gain any weight?

Sure. About five pounds.

HA!

Yes, I was about five pounds heavier for approximately thirty-six hours. Then I dropped seven.

HA! Wait…what? I thought that five-pound holiday weight stayed on you forever and was the explanation for why people fatten as they grow older? They keep putting on five extra pounds a year every holiday.

No. That’s idiotic.

Well then what happened?

What happened was I retained water because I’d eaten a lot more carbohydrate than normal. Within thirty-six hours of returning to my normal diet, It was all gone, plus some extra fat I didn’t need because my body was pleased with all that unusual plenty and so didn’t feel the need to store quite as much extra for famine. So the next day–for three or four days, actually–I felt so amazing I went running just because I had to. I had tons of pent-up energy.

AHA! You exercised and lost weight!

You’re not paying attention. Smaller first: running after.

But…

Ok, that’s enough of that. I’m cutting him off. Let’s talk about what actually happened.

I eat nutrient-dense, real food that my body needs at all times. I normally eat less than thirty grams of carbohydrate in a day and don’t miss it. That’s where I feel good. Some people feel best eating more–that’s fine. Know yourself.

So for Thanksgiving, did I stop eating well? No, absolutely not. I did what my great-great-great-great grandfather would have recognized: I celebrated a holiday by eating unusually large quantities of real foods. Not garbage. Not processed junk. Not cups and cups of refined white sugar. Real, nutrient-dense food that I can’t normally get or don’t normally indulge in to that degree. Turkey, for instance. Over here there are no turkeys. To get one imported from the US, you’re talking $130 for a sixteen pound bird. So turkey comes but once a year. And there’s nothing wrong with cheesecake, or pie, or potatoes, or cranberry sauce. Those are all food, and all real food with real nutrition. My cheesecakes are packed with healthy fat, lots of protein, and carbohydrates, yes, but proportionally very minimal. Nothing like Jell-O’s no bake strawberry cheesecake nightmare, which is 200 calories of sugar and almost nothing else.

Mine also has vitamins and minerals.

Here’s the difference between what great-great-great-great granddad did (and what I do) and what has become “normal” in the world today–especially the Western world:

1. In America, every day is treat day.

Every day I need a mocha latte. Every day I just need a few bites of that candy bar. This was a hard day, so I’ll whip up some brownies. Oooh, there are donuts in the office! Cookies in my kids’ schoolroom! Sugar-laden cocktails! FREE BREADSTICKS!!!! Go get me some fries and a double-thick milkshake, honey, I’ve had a hard day. Do we have any ice cream?

That means when you come to an actual treat day–a holiday like Thanksgiving–you’re not having a treat at all. You’re just having a different kind of treat. You actually have treats All. The. Time. You can barely get through one day without one, and you certainly can’t get through a whole week. Thanksgiving just isn’t as special when you live like that.

2. Almost all those treats are sugar/flour bombs.

That’s the “treat” everyone wants. You’d turn you nose up at a cherry, but pass that bowl of jelly beans, please. This is addictive behavior. God did not design us to eat nothing but Doritos all day. When people eat like that, their bodies are in constant crisis mode: Where is my nutrition?, it screams. They keep stuffing empty sugar into themselves in the form of crackers and Sprite, and then they feel horrible. Of course they feel horrible! This is the equivalent of saying: because my toe hurts, I’m going to fix it by breaking my finger. Then I won’t notice my toe so much… Ha, ha, you say to yourself. But it’s not a laughing matter. It’s sheer insanity. When a person says I feel horrible after skipping breakfast today and eating fast food for dinner last night, so I’m going to have a Coke till my headache goes away, they are doing exactly the same thing. They’re making the whole problem worse.

Eat food that is good for you, and you will likely spontaneously eat what I need. You don’t see anyone other than Micheal Phelps overeating eggs. If you completely kick your starch and sugar addiction, then your appetite is controlled by what your body really needs instead of what you’ve taught it to crave.

Then at Thanksgiving, continue to eat whole, real foods; only eat huge amounts of them, and some that you don’t normally eat, and go ahead and enjoy plenty of carbohydrates. (“Plenty” being maybe 150-200g).

When I did that this week, physiologically, I had just told my body: Hey! We’ve got plenty of food. There’s no hint of starvation anywhere in the near future. My body heard the message and responded by giving me lots of energy to do non-essential things (“essential” to your body being things like breathing and powering your brain) and letting go some more of the fat it keeps in storage for emergencies.

So now I’m back to my normal way of eating. It’s status quo till the week of Christmas, when the same thing will happen all over again. I’m not worried one bit about holiday weight, and you shouldn’t be either. Carbohydrates aren’t your enemy. Carbohydrates are good and right in their proper place. If you misuse them, abuse them, or rely on them as your primary fuel source, they will turn into a dangerous master.

For most of us, our only enemy is really ourselves. So know yourself, and then arm the good guys. Feed yourself real food. Do whatever it takes to break that cycle of sugar and brownie addiction. Don’t give in till the battle is won and you brush that stuff off like the garbage it is. That candy bar will make you feel good for half an hour, and then you’ll feel even worse; and you’ll be hungry. Three free-range eggs cooked in butter will cost just about the same, but you’ll feel great and stay feeling great for a lot longer–you’ve basically eaten a multivitamin covered in healthy fat and packed with muscle-building protein.

Know yourself–and you can’t know yourself till you get over that addiction. You might need more carbohydrates than me. Sure! But eat them as sweet potatoes, fruit, coconut milk–not french fries, pastries, and sodas. And when a genuine treat day comes, live it up! Take thirds of those sweet potatoes and have two servings of pie. Don’t give it moment’s thought of guilt: gluttony is habit–celebrations are a treat.

 

Plato says he’s hungry

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