Going Off The Rails

Anyone who’s spent any significant time with me in the last few years knows how strict I am with my diet. I’m borderline militant, in fact. 

A few years ago, I made a decision to radically change what I ate. The reason for doing so was simple. I believe, at a very deep level, that our nutritional inputs affect our short-term energy and long-term health. If I want to perform at the highest level over long periods of time, health has to be a priority. So, I made it one.

As a result, the list of things I don’t eat is way longer than the list of things I do. I’m a terrible person to go eat Italian food with (I’m the “I’ll have the salmon” girl). I went cold turkey on bread products and dairy, won’t eat anything with vegetable oil or refined sugar in it, and have tried out a series of diets from paleo to ketogentic to vegan. 

For interested parties, I’ve compromised somewhere in the middle, low-carb, high fat, moderate protein with some intermittent fasting thrown in there. And to give you an idea of just how crazy I am, on Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, despite cooking most of the menu items myself, I skipped appetizers and dessert and just ate a plate full of roasted and mashed vegetables. What’s crazier is I didn’t mind.

I’ve never felt that it’s a “sacrifice” or that I’m denying myself some sort of pleasure. I know why I’m doing this and it means something to me. The way I eat is a fact of my life, not some temporary diet that I plan to terminate in the future. So I’ve found ways to operate within the strict guidelines I’ve set for myself (much easier to do in LA, by the way).

Yesterday, I had a bagel for the first time in three years. I also had a piece of cake. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Make fun of me all you want for this so-called slip, this divergence from normal life. To most people, this seems silly to even mention. But for me, it was a big deal. The first act of nutritional spontaneity in a very long time.

You have to realize—I’m a recovered bagel addict. Growing up, a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese was my breakfast of champions. Every morning. On repeat. When I gave my morning bagels up, and stuck with plain old eggs instead, it was a large feat.

So yesterday… the damn thing was delicious, let me tell you. 

But here’s the thing. I’m paying for it today.

While medical professionals are often suggesting that we should diet because of weight, heart disease, and diabetes concerns (valid), I think the real reason for doing it is to improve how you feel NOW.

Today, I feel hungover. My digestion is out of control. My energy is depleted. My head is in the clouds. I can barely focus on my work long enough to get through one single task.

I’m not lactose intolerant and I don’t have celiac disease, so that’s not the problem here. Why I feel like this is more nuanced. I’ve deprived my body of certain substances and additives for years, so its response is poor to say the least. 

What many struggling dieters don’t realize is that once you get past a certain point, your body no longer craves the foods you once thought you couldn’t live without. When you’ve unwound your emotional attachments to food, invested in a deeper sense of purpose that requires energy, given yourself some time following a strict, clean diet, your body rejects certain foods so hard that you decide you’ll need at least another three years to recover, no matter how good the damn thing tasted. 

This is not to say you shouldn’t loosen up sometimes, take a break from being so militant. I certainly don’t regret that bagel or piece of cake. This isn’t a statement about cheat days, cheat meals, or having a little slack in your life. I could use a little more of that, for sure. 

My point is that if you are struggling with nutrition, exercise, or other healthy habits, what I want you to realize is that it gets much easier as you go. After you put in the initial surge of effort to drive through the emotional and physical withdrawals, and the necessary effort to maintain a system that works, everything begins to conspire for your success—your body included. 

The beauty is that, as a result of your investment, you are rewarded with the energy you need to go bigger, love harder, and live louder.

That’s worth more than a slice of pizza any day.

Or hey, maybe that’s just me. 

Kate Ward