• A simple way to be less crazy at night

    A subscriber, M, asked recently about out-of-control eating in the evening. Here’s what she says:

    Q:  At breakfast and lunch I have a plan I can stick to. I am tired after a day of work and ready to eat anything. I can usually make it through dinner, but then I face evening challenges and I get really crazy.

    M’s question is a very common one. I asked What happens earlier in the day? What are breakfast and lunch like? And she said:

    I will admit it’s the same thing every day. I weigh and measure breakfast, usually cereal with fruit and milk or yogurt. Lunch is either salad or leftovers - small portions. 

    A:  This is actually a pretty easy problem to fix by going back to Square One, aka The Basics, aka What Your Grandparents Always Did, aka Starting the Day Right, aka … breakfast.

    Many people all over the world eat “the same thing every day” for breakfast. Nothing wrong with that, because lunch and dinner tend to vary. But breakfast needs to be enough food, and any time someone says they’re weighing and measuring, I think it likely they’re restricting. Undereating. 

    (And not necessarily! Maybe they’re an athlete concerned about getting enough of some macro for their sport. I don’t know. But … usually, it’s restriction. 

    So get enough. And if you’re trying to make it to lunch, get a balanced breakfast. I don’t mean meat, starch, and two veg - I mean protein and fat and carbs. Something that will keep you going for a few hours. Perhaps an egg sandwich. Some people like a chopped salad. No need to stick to “traditional” ideas of breakfast. (Check out the recent “Breakfast around the world” issue of Lucky Peach for ideas.)

    Lunch of salad or leftovers seems fine. Or salad and leftovers. “Small portions” does not seem fine, if you “go crazy” in the evening.

    We all know people - oh! just terrible people - who can skip breakfast, eat a small salad at lunch, and be happy with a cocktail and a bowl of cereal for dinner. But if you come home tired from work, face challenges, and then go off the rails, you are not that person. You will never win the battle to stay thin by undereating, because work and home challenges wear down your willpower while your hunger is building strength all day. You have the kind of body - a common enough kind of body - that’s going to win at the end of the day. It shows you exactly that, all the time.

    And that’s not bad news.

    Because, as I say, this is a pretty simple fix: Eat enough at breakfast, eat enough at lunch.

    Now some people do not want breakfast. Maybe they are not a morning person. Or maybe they, too, go crazy and get bingey in the evening and wake up full. But most people who want to shift this pattern find that within three days or so eating in the morning, their body has adjusted and is asking to be fed shortly after getting up.

    There may still be evening struggles, but they will be many fewer and much less crazy. 

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  • Staying ferociously on our own side

    As you may know, I think the core of self-care is staying - ferociously - on our own side. I have been studying my friend Jennifer (this is her real name but I have 86 friends called Jennifer, just like you), a woman who can stay on her own side no matter what. Always feeling herself. ADMIRE! RESPECT!

    I have never observed Jennifer to deflect a compliment. She prefers to amplify positive feedback. She can take a little fun-size compliment and make a meal of it. Here’s what she does: If you say Jennifer, I love your idea! It is so smart! she will respond, I know! Hot, right? Or if you say Jennifer, those yoga pants are amazing! They make your booty look really high and mighty! she will be right there with I know! Hawwwwt, riiiiite?!

    Disarm criticism with this hawt two-step dance move:  Agree, and make it a virtue.

    You have to LOVE. YOUR. SELF. to respond this way, receiving a compliment and then taking it even higher. It is genius. It is like the loaves and fishes of approval.

    Receiving compliments by pumping up the volume would of course be enough to make every day a gala event. (This is my summer project, by the way: Every Day a Gala Event. Feel free to swipe.) But! there is more. Because just as this response amplifies positive feedback, it can be used to deflect negative feedback. Jennifer works this angle, too.

    Now by negative feedback I am not talking about the kind of criticism that you’d ask for to make your work better. I’m not talking about the kind of thoughtful critique you’ll get from a friend who has your back. I mean the fear of being told we’re stupid, self-regarding, pretentious, overreaching, and doing it all wrong. This isn’t a slight suspicion; we have a body of evidence. The world is always ready with its message of Who do you think you are?

    And if we try to avoid it, we’re going to stay indoors on a lot of beautiful days.

    Now, because I have put in 10,000 hours experimenting with boundaries - hot, riiiiite?! - I get a lot less criticism than I used to. It’s like I am wearing an invisible sign that says I am impervious to your “feedback” so be quiet today.

    Once in awhile someone will throw something at the wall, see if it sticks. But it doesn’t! Because now when I hear, Wow you’re being kinda dramatic or You are criminally ignorant if you want your burger cooked medium-well, or some such freestyle unsolicited opinion, I can say I know! Hot, right? and instantly communicate 1. Guy, your opinion has added nothing and 2. I am ferociously on my own side, so if you try to knock me down, you'll just get tired.

    Obviously there are times when you need more than a standard deflection, and for this we have boundaries. (Boundaries! More boundaries! And one last word about boundaries.)

    But this little dance move is a cheerful first announcement that you're not defenseless. AND you can say this without sarcasm. You can defuse a criticism bomb without belligerence! You’re just letting your critics know you don’t need their approval because you’ve got your own

    Soooooo hot.

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  • Made in Spain: A decision

    The delightful internet outrage known as Ash Ambirge writes from Italy this week about the secret of Italian women. (“They like to be seen.” It’s a good read.) But secrets are to be found all over Europe. The French woman alone has inspired about 86,000 books on her secrets. 

    My most powerful understanding that there was a better, easier, more glamourous way to be female came in Spain. Here’s the story, from my vault:

    ¡Hola!

    So the other day I was comparing notes about Spain with a Scandinavian friend, who I will call Astrid. There are many striking things about Spain, but we were marveling at the way Spanish women carry themselves.

    As if they've been told they are God's gift, I said. Beautiful. And they believe it.

    Exactly! she agreed. Also the French and Italians. It's something Mediterranean, I think.

    Yes, I said, except the Italians really are beautiful, and that's because they're not sparing any effort. Spanish women, on the other hand, carry themselves as if they're beautiful even when they're not. Even, and here I'm pretty sure I dropped to a whisper, in case they could hear me in Madrid, even when they're possibly kind of a little bit… unfortunate.

    I was thinking back to one woman I noticed in Barcelona. She had a mullet that could not have been fashionable outside the smallest, most avant-garde segment of local hipsters, and her hotel uniform flattered her shape not at all, while at the same time signaling her probable lack of resources to acquire better things for off-duty hours.

    And yet she held herself with the same measure of satisfaction and self-assurance I had to assume is issued to every Spanish woman shortly after birth. Her patrimony.

    Well, I was impressed. And desirous.

    And perhaps because I'd been cut off from Anglophone advertising and there is nothing less persuasive than another culture's media, I had a little respite from the constant environmental reinforcement of "not good enough." I think I must have started considering that maybe I could just enjoy this Spanish illusion the same way I'd been enjoying their fine wines and sausages.

    So I made a decision. I didn't try to talk myself out of the idea that my looks are unfortunate, which I had believed for decades. I didn't try to replace thoughts of my ugliness with thoughts of my beauty, or any other well-meaning positive affirmation. I just decided to help myself to some of that Spanish attitude, which clearly did not rest on anything like arbitrary physical standards. I just decided to straighten my spine, put on some mascara, and act as if.

    Now, unless you are one of my five male readers, you are most likely already wearing mascara. (And if you are male, you could try it, to just to see why we are in there for forty minutes testing your patience. Or because it'd be a hoot.) I will just acknowledge that you have probably always been way out ahead of me in the Hey No Reason Not to Take Care of Yourself Department. But there are things in which you could benefit from, as I'm always saying around here, Going Straight At It, like acting as if you, for example

    • are an authority on the cuisine of Puebla

    • have no debt, and wouldn't dream of taking it on

    • do not now nor have you ever given a crap what your mother-in-law says about parenting

    Or whatever you want.

    How do you do that, exactly? Well, if you are Spanish, you keep your spine straight and you sail the hell out with your head high and you do not stop for whispers, imagined or real.

    No reason why you can't do that, too. And marvel as the gap closes.

    ¡Andale!

  • If you MUST count calories, don't restrict them

    I went to school with a girl - not a woman, mid-teens - whose doctor had put her on an 800-calorie-a-day diet. I bet you are wondering right now, Hey, how’d that work out for her?

    Of course I jest. You are not wondering that at all because we know precisely how that worked out for her. Same as for everyone else: desperate hunger, followed by failure to comply, ending with a binge, and then weight gain.

    There are some solid, science-backed reasons not to monitor calories at all. I don’t, ever.

    Science and scientists also tell us that people who monitor their calories routinely low-ball.

    If you must count calories, here are some numbers to ask yourself about:

    Is 800 calories a day a good number? No. Demonstrably not enough.

    A lot of diets prescribe 1,500. Is that going to be enough? Not likely. That’s a number that going to make your body turn the metabolism dial to LOW to compensate for the lack of energy coming in. Nobody wants that.

    Would 2,000 be enough? Possibly not. The government likes that figure because it’s round and easy to divide by, making “nutrition facts” (both words = ahem) easy to read. But they didn’t round up to 2,000. Two thousand is rounding down.

    How about 2,500? Maybe. You could try that and observe the effects.

    But if you’ve been dieting or restricting, feel cold and tired all the time, have sad hair and nails, are depressed as hell, seldom want sex, don’t sleep well, and sometimes feel you could kill for a cheeseburger, try 2,500 and see what happens.

    For comparison, the dieters in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment were fed 3,500 calories a day in their recovery. I’ve read that some of them went off-road and consumed 8,000-10,000 calories a day. And they, as men, had only been restricting for a few months, in the service of science. Many women have been on a diet since puberty.

    Your body isn’t as impressed by calorie counting as diets are, and I don’t believe you to stand to lose anything good by not paying attention to them. (I prefer to use my precious brain power working on my Spanish.)

    But if you still want to after reading this, count calories to see just how many it takes to keep you going. It’s usually more than we think.

     

  • Calories are good. Lots and lots of calories.

    Why do we eat? There are people who wish they didn’t have to (remember that Soylent startup? dear Heaven), but I’m not one of them. I have lots of motivation to eat. Here is some:

    PleasureEating is delicious! I eat for the sensory pleasure, for the taste of food, for the comforting feeling of being the right amount full, for the beauty of the colors and textures of food, the glorious scents - and of course the joys of tableware. Always that.

    ConnectionEating is convivial. Sharing food and drink is both ceremonial and relaxing. Have you ever been to a social gathering without food or drink? I have. Just shoot me.

    HealthEating is nourishing. You only get one vitamin from the sun. The rest have to be ingested. Likewise all the other nutrients we need for processes like reasoning, reproducing, and choosing table linens.

    But maybe most important, FuelFood is energizing. “Calories” is what we call the measure of energy in food. More calories, more energy. Energy is good and thus, calories are good. They’re kinda what we come for, when we sit down to eat.

    (You are sitting down, right? So important for enjoyment and thus nutrient absorption.)

    If you are a person that wants calories to feel welcome at the table, RESPECT! ADMIRE.

    But if you are more like one of the many people I overhear every day speaking as if this or that non-food or near-food is good because it’s low in calories, or this other food is bad because it’s got lots of 'em, please consider replacing that cultural Kool-Aid with the idea that calories, essential to life, are a virtue. This simple change will relieve 8,000 pounds of useless guilt.

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