There has been a radio silence on my blog for the past few days because I was up in Northern Ontario to conduct fieldwork and I was without internet access. I wasn’t lifting or formally working out, but I did a lot of canoeing and hiking and swimming. While I was away I learned a lot about plants and freshwater biogeochemistry, but I also found myself making a lot of observations about other people’s eating habits.
During our trip, we stayed in cabins of 8 people, all of them my peers. On the first day we went grocery shopping together and decided that everyone would be responsible for one group dinner and we would otherwise fend for ourselves during breakfast and lunch. I say this not in a judgmental way, but rather as an observation that I found highly interesting and revealing: everyone’s diets suck.
Sometimes I read Yoni Freedhoff’s Weighty Matters blog and I think to myself, “Who the hell still buys fruit juice?” Well, no less than 10 jugs of fruit juice passed through our fridge this week, and it was considered perfectly normal behaviour to drink orange juice with breakfast. Meanwhile, I found it almost jarring the first morning, when I found one of my cabin-mates eating a bowl of Chex and a glass of sucralose-sweetened grapefruit juice.
I was amazed at the guy in our cabin who ate 8 packs of maple-flavoured bacon this week.
I found it funny when the 4 boys in our cabin would wander in at 9 pm and say, “No one fed me dinner so I haven’t eaten in 9 hours. I’m starving!” Meanwhile they’d make themselves hourly sandwiches of bread and ham.
Of the 45 people at fieldcamp, only three were sober for the week and I made the decision to be one of them. Although I’ve never been a heavy drinker, I’ve been avoiding alcohol for a few reasons. First, it does nothing to improve my mental health, which was admittedly shaky for a while there. But more importantly, alcohol metabolism takes priority in the liver and since I want to be leaner, I am focusing on my own priorities. But that didn’t stop a girl drinking her third beer of the evening from informing me that Diet Coke was basically poison and I shouldn’t be drinking it.
Towards the end of our stay, two of the girls in our cabin complained that they had nothing to eat and suggested that in order to use up leftovers, I could eat toast instead of eggs. I said a carb was not an equivalent substitute for a protein, and she said, “But the toast is still part of a complete breakfast.”
I was involved in more than one debate about whether or not peanut butter is a source of protein.
The dinner I planned and cooked for everyone was wildly successful. We made a simple green salad, pork sausages and potatoes with garlic and cilantro. Everyone raved about how good it was and no one else was able to recreate such a well-received meal, despite the fact that others endeavored to make highly complex, gourmet meals. I never thought I’d say this, but cooking good food is easy. The secret is in knowing how to keep it simple.
I lived for 10 days with one of my close friends, who has decided that she is gluten intolerant. She ate gluten-free bread all week. She ate spaghetti while drinking beer.
The phrase “But nuts are full of healthy fats!” was repeated ad nauseum while a kilo of pistachios was demolished during a late night study session.
I opted out of a communal meal that consisted of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Or rather, I grilled up a chicken breast and ate it with spaghetti sauce, but then I had to justify this choice to everyone in my cabin. Every guy in the cabin told me, “Carbs aren’t bad. Just go for a run to work it off.”
At first I was annoyed. These are university-educated people! They are all interested in sustainable food production and should be able to grasp the basic concepts of nutrition! But then I realized that maybe this conclusion was drawn in haste. While no one made exclusively healthy choices all week, I was by far the most overweight person in the entire camp. I was the only girl who didn’t don a bikini. Maybe it’s more fair to say that everyone’s conception of a healthy diet is a matter of individual habits and preferences.
But then there’s the whole group mentality. I caught a lot of flack for eating slowly, for eating small portions, for turning down chips, for choosing not to snack at every opportunity. I was eating enough that I was certain I had gained weight, but it was still subject to social scrutiny. Quite frankly, social attitudes towards food are kind of weird, given that everyone eats so differently to begin with.
Funnily enough, I came home yesterday only to find a quote from Mike Roussell that I’d wish I’d had in advance:
Getting lean and staying lean requires a change in your mindset. You will eat differently from most people.You will say ‘no’ to food much more than the people around you (when was the last time you heard someone refuse food – it rarely happens). Your behaviors will be different.
I was different than everybody else, but in the end I’m rather proud of myself. I had >80% compliance on my Lean Eating habit while I was away. I lost 8lbs. And mostly importantly, I stuck to my values. I was able to decline in the face of peer pressure because I would ask myself whether I was hungry or not, whether I wanted to eat spaghetti or not. For the first time ever, I feel like I’ve used my strength of character to reach my nutrition goals, without feeling deprived. And I’m relieved that there’s proof I’m slowly changing for the better. Being different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.