The more I learn about nutrition…

…the more convinced I am that eating an all-natural diet is the best – and perhaps only – way to stay healthy and sane.

When I look around me, I see colleagues struggling to stay thin. I see active, educated women fail at their diets (of all types: high-protein, low-fat…they run the gamut). I have parents who’ve been “trying” to lose those last 10 pounds for the last 10 years.

The more we know about nutrition, the harder it gets to eat right.  I know this, as a nutritional science grad who counted calories for years because I didn’t, and felt I couldn’t, trust my own body to tell me what it needed. The more low-calorie yogurts and reduced-calorie peanut butter I ate, the more I craved. I never felt satisfied. I ate according to the clock instead of how I felt. I nearly had a panic attack when I ordered a café latte and got whole milk instead of skim. I felt hungry all the time, and had wild cravings.

Jill and her hubby having a beer in Italy, circa 2006

Having a guilt-free beer in Italy

It wasn’t until a forced hiatus from counting calories back in 2006 that I learned to listen to my body again. I went on a two-week trip to Europe, backpacking through Italy and staying in hostels. I ate and  drank like there was no tomorrow because, as you may know if you’ve travelled to Italy, there aren’t necessarily vegetarian food options on every corner. I ate mostly cheese and bread (also pizza and pasta) to fuel my body and was sure I’d pay the price when I hopped on the scale back home.

Jill in Cologne, Germany

Backpacking through Cologne, Germany in 2006

When I returned, miraculously, I hadn’t gained an ounce. In fact, I was there very same weight as when I left. How was that possible? I hadn’t counted a single calorie. I hadn’t budgeted 400 calories per meal, and I drank beer instead of rum and diet cokes. Prior to my trip, I had resigned myself to using my online food journal every day. When I returned, I felt the first glimmer of hope that I might be able to log off for good and just eat like a “normal” person.

Uncle Ben's corn chips

Eating European junk food – Uncle Ben’s corn chips

Then I started paying attention to how what I ate made me feel. I cleaned out my fridge and tried to eat as naturally as I could – chickpea wraps and sprouted wheat bread and whole-milk yogurt. I felt satisfied. And finally, I could focus on other things besides food. Best of all, when I did eat junk, I could stop after a few M & M’s. I felt my body re-calibrate. I could trust it again.

When I tell people now that full-fat yogurt is the way to go, they roll their eyes at me and choke down their fat-free, high-protein, thickened-with-seaweed Greek yogurt. “You can do that because you’re thin”, they say. Well, maybe I’m thin because I do this.

For the past six years, my weight has slid up and down within a 10-pound range. I eat a diet that’s less natural than in the past – I do partake in white bread and diet pop and store-bought cookies – but my body still gives me the cues I need to keep my weight in check. I have strong nails, toned muscles, and a yearly blood workup that falls in the normal range. But two questions remain on my mind:

  1. Would it be easier to maintain a healthy weight if I ate no artificial foods?
  2. How can I help other people free themselves from the slavery of chronic diets and worry over their health/weight?

I hope you’ll join me on this journey, investigating whether it’s possible to eat an all-natural diet and whether or not it’s worthwhile to strive for it. You might not believe it, but I do believe you can feel good about yourself and your body without feeling deprived.  Are you willing to try it?

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