"These are definitely not on the diet," I said to him as I grabbed the bowl, my admission flavored with guilt.
"Yeah. We need to talk about your definition of diet when we get upstairs," he said. To make sure I knew that he was calling me out, he added, "because for weeks you've been touting this new eating plan."
Eating plan does sound so much better than diet, though. Doesn't it? But I could lie no more. The guide I had been following, Dr. Ian Smith's "Shred: The Revolutionary Diet," is most definitely not an eating plan much less the lifestyle we've been coached to create. It is a diet, as the title most definitely announces.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing, necessarily, but I think with many things, we too often hope to find the next big thing and fool ourselves into thinking that we've unlocked the secret to forever happiness, fitness, skinniness. If we can't recognize that what we're doing is a stop gap, we're setting ourselves up for failure.
Breaking free: A non-Shred lunch of mixed green salad and chicken and rice soup with a side of bread.
Here are five signs that your plan is not a lifestyle:
1. The list of what you can not eat is longer than what you can eat. Shred is the first program where I have been told to eat and when. Meals - all four of them - and the snacks in between are well dictated with little wiggle room. There are good foods, such as vegetables, smoothies and soups, but there are no free foods. Bad foods, though, do exist - white potatoes, white carbs, COFFEE. Let me say that again: Coffee is bad in this plan.
When the foods are limited, it's suffocating. A person will feel limited, obsess over the naughty list and more likely to binge. Hence the mashed potatoes. It also fails to teach a person what to do when a standard meal, like the smoothie for breakfast in Shred, is unavailable.
2. Family/social functions create crippling anxiety and worry. This time of year can be difficult to navigate with parties and family obligations, and it can create its fair share of anxiety among even the healthiest. However, parties should not leave someone incapacitated because she cannot eat what's dictated by a plan selected somewhat arbitrarily.
Case in point: Mark and I went to Louisville three years ago for a fun weekend to be filled with bourbon and rolling hills. I was at my lowest weight, having found success with Weight Watchers, and was feeling confident. However, at that time, I had so narrowly defined how I was allowed to eat that I spent nearly a half-hour staring at the menu of a small town cafe trying to find something safe. My stomach growled and I was near tears but could not let go enough to order something that was off my plan. Not only was I frustrated but so were the waitress and, more importantly, Mark. My eating was creating undue stress and havoc on our vacation.
Note: I firmly believe that Weight Watchers is and can be a lifestyle but I had taken it too far at that point in time.
On the Shred Facebook page, I've seen people post photos of suitcases with Shred-branded popcorn, protein bars and smoothies so they can stay on plan during vacation. While a trip should not be an excuse to binge or eat poorly, it also seems a bit much to pack things that seem "safe."
3. The way of eating becomes a fixation, rather than a facet, of life. It's one thing to casually look at a plan but if you feel compelled to take your book with you to work, to dinner, to bed, it might be more than a resource. It could be a crutch. When making changes, we should make them a part of life so that it becomes intuitive and not the be all, end all.
4. It becomes more about the numbers than it does about how you feel. The scale, calories taken in, inches lost - they are all important to weight loss. However, if they are the only things you are measuring, it could be an equation for disappointment. When I was losing weight on Weight Watchers, I did weigh myself weekly. I did count points. However, I also tracked activity and challenged myself with running. I began to focus on how my body felt when I did things and ate certain foods rather than eating a treat with 10 points.
5. It doesn't get easier. The first week of Shred was deceptively easy. I fell into a rhythm with the meals and snacks, happily drinking protein shakes at 10 a.m. and lunch at 2 p.m. Grilled chicken didn't seem so bad at dinner, and I came up with the best salad ever - greens, red onion, edamame and tuna mixed with 1 teaspoon low fat mayonnaise and wasabi. The second week came and went, and I took a reduction in calories OK. But the third week plan, nearly a liquid diet, was scary and I was stressed just looking at it. I skipped to the fourth week but protein shakes for meals one and two were hard to stomach.
When I have done other things, such as Weight Watchers and sugar detoxes, the plans got easier by the week. I learned how to work with it and live with it. I could go out, I could enjoy things, without guilt. And that's the thing about diets - they are designed with such rigidity that they set us up to associate food with guilt.
By the way, in case you were wondering, as of today I am done with Shred. I cannot nor do I want to live a day where three out of four meals are shakes/smoothies or soup.
Note: These points are observations I have made while adhering, mostly, to the Shred diet. I am not a registered dietitian or health coach.