Gaining Mental Clarity from Losing Calories
Updated: Aug 2
“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we will not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” ~ Buddha
Recently, like many people this time of year, I decided to make a change to my eating habits. My long-standing affection for sugar was starting to become problematic. Chocolate had become one of my best friends – there when I was disappointed or sad, available to celebrate when good things happened and the perfect way to make an average day feel extra-special. For me, moderation is the true challenge. I’m sort of an all-or-nothing kind of girl, fond of the “go big or go home” mentality and not afraid of pushing just a little past the edge more often than not. It’s the reason I started this blog, with the title “Finding Balance” so many years ago. My search for balance is a never-ending quest.
Although I KNOW that I need balance, it’s easy for someone like me to focus solely on one aspect and forget that part of finding balance is finding it across my life, not just in select parts that seem to be where I’m struggling the most. The fact is that unless I focus on balancing my whole life, the cracks in one aspect start to take over and everything falls apart. My little ‘eating experiment’ reinforced that idea and taught me, once again, that it’s all connected and what we do in one area of our life eventually spills over to our whole life.
My metabolism is sloooooooow. I’ve always sort of likened it to a slug – moving almost imperceptibly and taking a monumental effort to get revved up. It’s a frustration I’ve dealt with since I was about 18 years old. Pretty much all of my high school years were marked with disordered eating of some kind – bulimia, anorexia and compulsive exercising were my drugs of choice and I used these techniques interchangeably in an attempt to achieve the weight demanded by my dance teacher in our weekly weigh-ins. When I finally ended up in a 30-day inpatient program to address my eating disorder, the dietician delivered the bad news: my years of abusing my body with yo-yo dieting and excessive exercise had done some long-term damage to my body’s processing ability. Never would I be the kind of person who can maintain a healthy weight by just watching what I ate or just getting regular exercise, I would need to coordinate the two and maintain awareness and balance of each to stay at a healthy weight.
Knowing that I needed to make a BIG change to my slippery slope of sugary indulgence, I opted to try what I thought seemed a fairly healthy jumpstart for my metabolism while also kicking my sugar habit. My husband and I did a 7-day chicken and broccoli experiment. Inspired by the eating style body builders use before competition, we ate 8 ounces of chicken and 1 full cup of broccoli for lunch and dinner every day for a week. We continued to consume our morning protein shake to ensure we had the vitamins, minerals, pre- and probiotics that we needed. Knowing that we might have some depleted energy and sugar withdrawal headaches, we also continued to have 1 cup of coffee in the morning with coconut/almond milk creamer and monkfruit to sweeten. So, we also had the benefit of eliminating dairy too. Here’s what happened…
The caffeine in the coffee helped to both minimize headaches and give us the energy we needed to get through workouts and strength training days. It was still a struggle, though, and we found ourselves needing a short nap most days. Getting to 1200 calories (the lowest recommended amount for us to maintain good health when not under professional care) was tough and I ended up putting some honey in my coffee a few days or grabbing a banana to get in the extra calories. My husband broke down and had some peanut butter on a slice of toast a few days just to combat the fatigue.
For me, the physical fatigue wasn’t the worst part. It was the brain fog that really did me in. Generally, I’m a fairly productive person who has lots of different projects going on simultaneously. Throughout the week, I found myself completely unable to get a darn thing accomplished. My inability to focus was so profound that I couldn’t work on anything all week long. On day number 8, when I added some quinoa and brown rice to my broccoli and salmon, I felt like I could climb a mountain or swim 3 miles. Plus, the amount of mental energy I gained was astounding.
What this taught me was a few important lessons:
1) It’s not just our body, it’s our brains that need a variety of healthy food from lots of different sources. Protein and veggies and great yet we also need complex carbohydrates to keep our bodies functioning optimally
2) Any sort of cleanse or elimination diet should not be undertaken if you require a level of focus or concentration for your job or daily life that could be impaired by reduced calories or nutrients
3) 7-days can feel like an eternity when you’re doing something radical for your body so any future experiments would probably be best in the 3 to 5-day range for me
I’m so glad I’ve given sugar the boot and have learned to thoroughly love my coffee with monkfruit instead. Bonus! My stubborn metabolism finally awakened and I got a 6-pound weight loss out of the deal. Yay! Now, comes the real challenge for me – maintaining moderation. Eating healthy portions and making healthy food choices, ‘feeding’ my body with the fuel to get strong through strength training, yoga and cardio sessions, and lastly remembering to nourish my mind daily with journaling, affirmations and meditation to maintain overall wellness. My word of the year for 2021 is “practice” so I’ll be waking up every day and practicing these new habits until they become my new reality. Until then, I’m grateful for the lessons and humbled by the reminder that everything is connected. Our actions have ripple effects, even when that’s not actually our intention.