I hear it, or some version of it, at least once a week: “Oooh, if I have this [insert delicious or even just plain regular food here] I’ll have to do at least an extra half hour on the hamster wheel tonight.”
To which I usually cringe, roll my eyes, eat the thing in question, and then leave. I don’t have time for this kind of tomfoodery anymore.
I was recently at a goodbye work party with a fantastic spread of Mexican food. Someone had baked the best tres leches cake I had ever tasted – actually, make that the best cake I had ever tasted…ever – and as I stood next to it at the end of the buffet, the middle-aged surfer dude I work with sidled up to the punch bowl, eyed it nervously and uttered, “Hm…is it worth the calories?” Then look lustfully at the cake. “That’s another hour of exercise for me, I guess.”
I didn’t walk away this day. “Really? Because I’m probably gonna lay down for a nap after this,” I said. I suppose sarcasm shouldn’t be my first line of response, but I am what I am.
I get it. He probably doesn’t want to look like me. We’ve talked before and I know he watches his weight religiously. But if you have to do so much hard math about what you’re taking in and expending, if your energy balance is so fragile that a glass of punch or a piece of cake can throw it completely out of whack, then you’re probably not at the weight that your body wants to weigh – a weight I’d like to define as your happy weight.
Your happy weight, by my own definition, is the weight your body arrives at when you’re just living and enjoying life, eating normally and moving pleasurably. You might be trying to eat healthfully and get regular exercise, but those things don’t take up too much mental real estate. It’s the weight your body eventually returns to even after a week of vacation in Paris (two words: baguettes and brie). It’s the weight you maintain without constantly trying to deny yourself cake or breaking yourself at the gym every night. Because, in the end, trying to outrun calories doesn’t work for most in the long run and it’s no fun either.
I remember having similar thoughts about food during my dieting days. Looking at a piece of birthday cake or a slice of pizza, I’d mentally calculate how much extra time I’d have to spend at the gym that night to compensate. I was terrified the dial on the scale would inch ever so slightly, but steadily, upward. Maintaining a constant level of hunger was crucial to my success, but it sometimes resulted in overeating the exact foods I was trying to avoid, without the joy I would have experienced if I’d just eaten the damn thing in the first place. I was definitely not at my happy weight. I was able to buy size 6 clothing but I was so preoccupied with outrunning my calories that I couldn’t even enjoy it.
The reality is, when you are at the weight that is right for you (and only your body can determine what that is, not some diet plan), you can afford to live a little out of balance, a little decadently, on occasion without facing massive exercise compensation. After I ate 3 small pieces of that amazing cake (that’s just how good it was) I was done with sweets for a few days. I craved lighter meals with lots of vegetables. As far as I can tell, my weight did not change significantly (I don’t weigh myself). The body has its way of bringing us back into balance if we will only trust it.
I hope surfer dude enjoyed the cake without too much guilt, if he could bring himself to have a piece. After all, cake is a normal, wonderful, usually occasional part of our lives. He probably would have been just fine. I know I was.