“Just take it day by day.” We hear this phrase all the time as adults, and it applies to so many situations; stress, change, grief, relationships, medical problems, fitness, health, eating… It’s a helpful term, in some ways, because it reminds us that really, we don’t have control over everything, and sometimes we need to just wait until the next day to tackle a problem (or discover it wasn’t really a problem, after all).
In the past few years as I’ve explored my eating habits, I’ve heard this phrase uttered from all sorts of wellness professionals — nutritionists, doctors, therapists, personal trainers, yogis, serial dieters, trusted friends. It’s good advice, really, it is — but it doesn’t work for me. The relationship I have with food is complex. Everyone has a complex relationship with food (except for maybe one person who I used to work with who said that he’d rather take a pill each day than have to eat. But I guess that IS a complex relationship with food, in its own way, right?). Complex doesn’t necessarily mean conflicted, but most of us celebrate birthdays with cake and Fridays with bagels or doughnuts. And that’s exactly the type of thing that make foods complex; it’s not only a way to sustain your body — it’s a celebration, a reward, a fuel, a nourishment, a punishment, a ceremony, a rite. See what I’m saying?
Why doesn’t “Take it day by day” work for me in relationship to food? Because I can’t take it day by day. I have to take it hour by hour. I need more minutia, more detail, more irritating, annoying fastidious thought to the act of eating and the difference between satiating hunger and negotiating an emotion. I don’t think I’m alone here. A lot of my friends who have successfully lost weight or are losing weight also live on an hour by hour basis. I see it in the neatly arranged stacks of Tupperware filled with chicken breasts and brown rice, the shopping lists of Greek yogurt and baby carrots, the hidden baggie of pistachios and Diet Coke at the theatre.
I felt this frustration of having to live hour by hour with my diet tonight. I had planned on grilling up a turkey burger, baking sweet potato fries, and steaming broccoli. However, I got a random burst of motivation to clean, and I ended up reorganizing our silverware drawer, junk drawer, and two other drawers in the kitchen. It felt awesome to finish up a project I’ve been putting off for months, but at the end of it, I was tired and felt too lazy to cook. The husband came home and we decided to go out, him suggesting Vietnamese or Ramen, two things I’ve been craving the past month. The irritation of living hour by hour crept in when I weighed those cravings against my current eating plan (low carb, heavy veggie, moderate fat). Both of the dishes I like at Vietnamese and Ramen are very heavy with noodles; delicious, delicious noodles that are made purely of starch; the very stuff I’m trying to avoid. We ended up going to a Greek restaurant instead, where I had a delightful and satiating salad topped with feta cheese and cucumbers and parsley and chicken. To me, that was a clear example of not being able to live day by day when it comes to diet: I need to be thinking about my food choices and diet more actively, more often, and more frequently, because a day doesn’t usually go exactly as planned. Hopefully one day, it will become intuitive — less of a process, more of a natural inclination.
What does it feel like to not make choices about food on an hour by hour basis? What does it feel like to not plan, to not wonder, to not worry? I don’t know if anybody actually lives in that care-free state of mind when it comes to food, because I’m sure that even people who don’t have weight issues have some lingering thoughts about nutrition and wellness as it relates to food. We all know the difference between quinoa and Cap’n Crunch.
So, dieters of the world, don’t take it day by day if you can’t. Take it hour by hour. Let the overtime or the burst of cleaning or the mold on the bread or the laziness guide you, but not derail you. This very act of needing to be so finely-tuned when it comes to food choices is annoying, but I have to remember that nobody ever achieves their wildest dreams by staying in their comfort zone. As long as I demonstrate instead of anticipate, I can make peace with food; day by day, hour by hour.