Recently my partner and I went off refined sugars and carbs, following a meal plan from the book Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently (I know, terrible title and so very very loooooong. And awfully confusing when I tell people about it because it seems like the title is the very opposite of what you’re trying to achieve here) by David Ludwig. The book is in two parts: It explains the science of nutrition and weight loss beyond the “calories in/calories out” wisdom that has dominated the conversation about weight reduction and food health over the past fifty years, and includes meal plans and recipes to get you started on your post-sugar/post-refined carbs life.
I started following this plan because, like most people in the US, I needed to lose a little wight, and I had heard a report on NPR about the book and its premise: That people don’t overeat and then gain weight, but rather that weight gain makes people overeat. That is, for some folks, we gain weight because of metabolic imbalances caused by overreliance on refined sugars and carbohydrates that are low in nutrition, which then spurs hunger or craving for food that causes overeating. Additionally, Ludwig disrupts the “calories in/calories out” wisdom by pointing out that our bodies aren’t machines and don’t burn calories through a mechanically efficient method, but extract energy and nutrition from foods in a myriad of ways. For example, some foods, such as walnuts, may be high in calories and fat but take the body longer to break down. So rather than focus on treating the body like a machine that needs to be rigorously controlled, Ludwig and others who promote the path to nutritional health via correcting metabolic inbalances and insulin resistance suggest working with our bodies in order to work out the the best paths to nutrition for that specific body, which typically rely on eating more fruits and veggies, natural fats and proteins, and a LOT less refined and processed foods, in the portions that best work for your body.
This is easier said than done, especially when you realize how most of the foods that are available to folks are packed with sugars, corn syrups and sweeteners, and refined grains, and how expensive and time-consuming this kind of diet plan is to follow. I’ve been doing this diet off and on for 18 months, I’ve failed at it repeatedly because of the cost and time it takes to prepare foods for meals, and it’s only this time (third time’s a charm!) that we’ve been able to do it because we were able to get some time-management practices put in and learned from some of our past failures to figure out best tactics. Add the difficulty level of learning that plus battling sugar and carb cravings, and this. is. tough. Lots of places here for shame and blame on ourselves for not doing the “right” thing, not eating the “right” foods, not having the willpower to eat well or exercise, etc.
It’s been interesting to see where my shame arises when it comes to trying to alter my eating patterns, that in the past each time I’ve “failed” at this diet, I felt great shame for not being able to stick with a healthy plan. In addition to food in and of itself being a huge site for shaming — because food is a way that we show love and tell stories about ourselves, which make it an automatic target for shame — the nutrition industry itself seems to be focused squarely on ensuring that if you have gained weight, it’s because you are at fault. You lack the discipline to eat properly. You lack the character to resist those cookies. You are a lazy glutton who spends too much time playing X-Box and not enough time on the treadmill. While this nutrition plan doesn’t do that, I still felt like a shameful failure.
As I write my dissertation on the politics and theology of shame, I am stuck in the middle of a chapter on how Freud wrote (very little) about shame. Freud doesn’t explicate shame very deeply, and considering that the bulk of his psychoanalytic theory focuses on guilt, that makes sense. But he intimates that there’s a relationship between shame and passivity, that we feel shame when we feel powerless to move or act. I am not sure yet whether this is quite right, that Freud — like many scientists who have been trying to ferret our why we gain weight — might be coming at the question backward. Like the issue of how it isn’t overeating that makes us gain weight but rather weight gain that makes us overeat, I suspect that we don’t feel shame because we are powerless, but that we shame those who are powerless. In a world focused on discipline, control, agency, action, and strength, anyone who doesn’t demonstrate those characteristics are models of shame and ripe for shaming. If action is a virtue, then passivity is a character flaw. If someone cannot act their way into weight loss, then they surely deserve the shame of failing to achieve it. Freud prized shame as a method of social control, but never asked the question of who benefited from that control.
Two things additionally go along with this type of shaming: Weight loss as a marker of health, and one single method of achieving that weight loss that relies on action (literally!) and discipline. Shame and shaming are tied to norms, with shame arising when a norm is transgressed, and shaming arising in order to reinforce those norms. It makes sense then that weight loss and nutritional health, both of which are tied to social and national health and standards of acceptability, would get embroiled in shame and shaming. But bodies do not follow norms and sometimes no amount of discipline or willpower can make them do so. Like the metabolic path toward nutritional health, where you abandon the science of willpower and feed your body foods that were considered forbidden and terrible because that’s what it needs, we disrupt the shame about our food and our bodies by accepting them for what they are and giving them what they need, even when it doesn’t make sense.
That is, we love the very things we were taught to shame and see what we can learn about ourselves with them.
I can’t speak for the hard numbers like clothes size or weight loss as I’ve followed this plan, but almost a month in I feel like I have more energy and less moodiness. I’m not on the lookout for the next meal or next bite of food every second of the day. And after reading the science of how my body must be reacting to the food I’ve been feeding it, I have come to love it more. My body was simply doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing by storing away the refined carb and sugar energy I was feeding it. My body rocks at its job. And when I eat refined carbs for convenience or for fun, it’s not because I’m a terrible person or weak or whatever I had been telling myself, I know it’s just one meal and I can do it differently tomorrow. And I want to do it differently because it just feels better this way.
So this meal was something I put together out of the America’s Test Kitchen Paleo Perfected cookbook, modified to add a little brown rice to get some whole grains in and to make it a little easier to prep. It was an incredibly tasty way to get some veggies into a meal, and the lamb was rich and satisfying.
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 bag cauliflower “rice” or “pearls”
2 pounds ground lamb
1 small red onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
1/2 cup brown rice
- Bring 4 cups of water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cashews and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse well.
- Process boiled cashews in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Transfer to large bowl. Add lamb, red onion, 1 tablespoon mint, 1 tablespoon dill, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Knead with hands until combined and make meatballs, about 1 1/2-inches in size.
- Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until just smoking. Brown meatballs on al sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet and return to medium heat until fat shimmers in pan. Add cauliflower, rice, broth, lemon zest and juice, and add salt to taste. Nestle browned meatballs into skilled. Reduce heat to medium-law and cook until cauliflower and rice are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Uncover and cook until rice and cauliflower are completely dry, about 5 more minutes. Off heat, sprinkle with remaining mint and dill, and season with salt and pepper to taste.