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The Diet Wars: Learning to Listen

Posted Mar 15 2009 3:51pm
You can thank Reader Forest for this little gem. Hope you weren't eating!

Welcome to Dueling Diets! I'm your host, Crazy Charlotte. Today I'll be pitting the Primal Blueprint a la Mark Sisson against the Engine 2 Diet a la Rip Esselstyn, all as part of my " Striving for Perfection" Experiment this month.

I'm going to be honest with you. This has not been the best Experiment. Physically and mentally I would have been a lot better off with my original plan of kickboxing. And yet I'm still glad I'm doing this. Why? Because this is quintessentially how I think. I like extremes. I like to do things all the way. My mother loves to tell the story of 18-month-old Charlotte screaming bloody murder for 45 minutes straight until I learned how to buckle my sandals all by myself. I'm still that girl but now in big girl panties. Some would look at that 18-month-old and think "Now there's a lifetime full of frustration ahead of that one." But if this blog has taught me one thing, it is that I am not alone in the way I think. My brand of crazy's got company.

Perfectly Primal
So back to the dueling diets. First up was The Primal Blueprint. Why oh why, many of you asked, would I attempt a lifestyle that had made me so miserable the first time around? It was because, due to the way I imploded during my Primal Experiment, I wasn't sure if the epic fail was due to the diet not working for me or me not working the diet. I hadn't gone "full primal" and so I was left wondering if I simply hadn't given it a fair shot. This idea lingered in the back of my head as I read all kinds of wonderful success stories about people for whom this diet has been a Godsend and as I read Mark's Daily Apple and I pored over the latest diet research. So when Mark Sisson approached me about giving it another go, I was interested.

He advised me to start slow to avoid another elephant-poop level implosion and so for three weeks I did mostly primal (lots of fat, fish, nuts and veggies at every meal plus a couple of servings of dairy.) I gained about a pound a week. I was not happy but kept plugging away at it because everyone says it takes three weeks to get your body adjusted to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs. Finally, after watching the scale go upupup and my mood go downdowndown, I told Mark that I had two choices: a) to go Full Primal (take out the dairy and add meat) or b) quit. For the record, I want to say that he was nothing but kind and supportive. It was me pushing me, not him pushing me.

So then came my Week-O-Perfect Living. I went full primal. SAAANNNNDDAAAALLLLLS!!! I did it. One week of perfect primal living. And I gained two pounds. That was it for me. I'd given it a full 4 weeks and had nothing but 5 extra pounds, a bucket of tears and some additional crazy issues to show for it. I quit. The Primal Blueprint doesn't work for me. For realz this time. (Which is not to say that it doesn't work for anybody. There are lots of Primal success stories out there - check out Son of Grok for a great PB blog.)

Vigilantly Vegan
Next up, Perfect Vegan. Like the Primal Blueprint, I've done vegan before. I did okay on it until I decided that a life without brie and scrambled eggs wasn't worth living. Not to mention that I don't tolerate processed soy products well and they're hard to avoid as a vegan. But for my week of Perfect Vegan living, I bought a package of the evil but supertasty Spicy Black Bean Gardenburgers and prepared to stink out the Gym Buddies (they're so forgiving!).

This week was a lot easier for me to stick to, mostly because if given the choice between giving up meat and giving up carbs, I'll ditch the meat in a heart beat. I discovered I still hate soy milk but Heather at Heather Eats Almond Butter (who also gained weight on the Primal Blueprint) clued me into coconut milk and I might have a new love. The one hitch is that the Engine 2 permutation of vegan is that it is low fat. I thought this would be totally horrible - and I'll admit that counting out my 5 almonds a day made me want to tantrum - but it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. In the end, my weight stayed stable. I didn't drop any of the Primal poundage like I'd hoped but at least for the love of little green apples I stopped gaining.

Conclusions
A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at dieters on several different popular diets. Their conclusion - and this will surprise no one - is that despite all the hype, it doesn't really matter much which diet you pick as long as you cut your calories. I know, the whole "eat less" thing again. The key is to find the diet that helps your body live with the calorie restriction the best. And that apparently can differ from person to person.

I think I gained on the Primal Blueprint because it gave me a free pass on the nuts and avocados. I can literally eat my way through a 35-serving jar of raw nuts (thank you Super Target!) in one week. That'd be, uh, 5 servings of nuts per day. I can eat a whole avocado in a few bites as a snack. It's hard to cut - or even maintain calories - with that kind of excess. The Primal Blueprint promises that you can eat all the fat you want as long as you don't have carbs but I think they weren't counting on butterballs like me. (My other theory is that some women have hormone issues that the Primal Blueprint isn't equipped to handle but I don't have any research to back that up. Just a bitter woman hunch.) Conversely, I think the Engine 2 Diet worked for me because it reined me in on the fat and I also liked the food choices better and so felt less deprived than I did on Primal.

However, neither diet did what I wanted them to. And that's probably because there isn't a diet out there that is designed to melt off a bad self-image. I am so grateful to all of you who commented on my Bad Thoughts post or sent me a personal e-mail on the topic. You all had some great ideas for stopping repetitive bad thoughts and were so generous about sharing what worked for you. (I LOVE YOU GUYS!) For my benefit, I'm going to summarize them here:
- Art therapy (for me it's drawing but it could be anything you do with your hands that takes your mind out of it's thought holding pattern.)
- Picture a stop sign or some other image
- Replace the bad thoughts with positive ones
- Refute the negative assertions
- Practice saying kind things to yourself in the mirror
- Write kind things about yourself on paper, use the paper whenever the bad thoughts attack
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and/or guided imagery
- Acupuncture and/or massage
- Anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication

Here's what I learned: I need to start listening. To myself. And stop listening to other people. The hard part of that lesson is that I don't trust myself. Most days, I don't even really like myself. It's funny how it all goes back to that self respect thing. I think that random diet gurus know my body better than I do. That's just silly. I've got to learn to start listening to what my spirit is telling me and to start treating myself with some dignity.

So now I'm curious about you. I know that some of you have been through this process and come out the other end. How did you finally get off the diet coaster and figure out what really worked for you? Which diet/lifestyle plan have you found works best for your body? Are you a primal wunderkind? A vegan vigilante? An everything-in-moderation mama? And for the rest of us still caught in this wasteland (waist land?), do you want out as badly as I do?
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