“No lo sabes?” Asked Carmen, my Spanish roomate, while we stood in our tiny kitchen in the middle of our little flat in Madrid.
No lo sabes translates to “Don’t you know that?”-- a phrase Carmen would say to me frequently over the year that I lived with her.
Carmen had decided at some point, probably before she even met me, that it was her responsibility to educate poor little ignorant American girls on the evils of the American diet and to enlighten us with the wonders of Mediterranean gastronomy.
And while she typically trended towards the dramatic, she was pretty on point with her knowledge.
Americans have a ton of mental anguish around their bodies and eating.
Spanish women, on the other hand, barely think about it.
Americans, after all, are constantly struggling with their weight and dieting like their lives depend on it, while the French, Spanish, and Italians are known for quite the opposite.
They enjoy good food and maintain la bella figura effortlessly.
I found this fascinating.
I was a sponge for Carmen’s lessons.
I had moved to Spain with the intention of learning how Spaniards enjoyed food and yet stayed slim. I was hyper aware of the evils of the American diet then and yet, despite eating a very healthy diet, was still overweight.
Carmen was the perfect guide.
And she taught how to cook and answered all of my questions.
She took me out until 5 in the morning to secret flamenco bars where we danced for hours.
On my own I would study people in cafes and restaurants to see what and how they were eating.
Here is what I learned.
We have a lot to learn from Mediterranean gastronomic food traditions, but the most important points are not about the actual gastronomy. Instead we could stand to examine how people think-- and don't think-- about food and how that, in turn, informs how they feel, the actions they then take, and the results they get.
I recommend you pick one thing from the list of 10 to start to implement today. Pick one that feels good to you and go for it.
No drama, mama.
Recently a pregnant yoga student of mine told me that, at 16 weeks pregnant, her doctor was concerned that she had gained too much weight.
According to the doctor, she was seven pounds “overweight”.
With all due respect to doctors, this drives me a little (OK, a lot) bananas.
Doctors told me the same thing when I was pregnant: you need to not gain anymore weight because you are five pounds overweight.
Here’s the thing: when you are pregnant, you get to just be pregnant.
Just be pregnant.
Don’t worry about weight gain.
Because you can always, always lose it after baby arrives.
No matter what other people tell you.
And everyone will freak you out telling you that they “still” haven’t lost their baby weight and it’s been 25 years, blah blah blah.
And all the “pre-baby body” media bullshit that infiltrates our lives will make us think this is some kind of problem that needs solving-- that pregnancy is a problem that needs solving.
That our bodies are problems that need solving.
And the anxiety and fear and compulsion sets in.
And the vicious cycle keeps on rolling.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Just be pregnant.
Listen to your body.
Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are not.
Eat food. Mostly plants.
If you can.
And if you can’t or won’t, that’s totally OK.
Because you are the Boss of you.
Pregnant women are the Boss with a capital B.
You get to do whatever the hell you want-- including gain weight.
Because that is what your body is supposed to do.
And when you have your baby and get settled in, you can come back to yourself and create a body you feel good in.
It is totally possible.
It’s just a choice.
And it is a choice that YOU get to make.
Eliminating sugar and flour is a total game changer when it comes to managing my hunger and overeating.
My body is no longer writhing with an overproduction of insulin, screwing everything up.
Planning and committing to a meal capsule has changed everything about the way I eat and the results I get in terms of weight loss.
Meal capsules and planning ahead have simplified my life in ways I’d never imagined possible and are now habits that I will practice for the rest of my life.
Eating food, mostly plants, not too much (as the Michael Pollan mantra goes) has become a way of life.
But of course, I make exceptions.
And learning how to make exceptions without derailing your goals takes time to master.
Because there is a difference between exceptions and excuses.
Learning the difference between an exception and an excuse is critical for weight loss, but also critical for accomplishing every single goal that you make in your life.
Our prefrontal cortex, the evolved part of our brain, is designed for executive functioning. Things like planning and judgement happen here.
When you use your prefrontal cortex to plan what you are going to do ahead of time you override your animal brain impulses to eat something that doesn’t serve you when the opportunity arises.
For example, if I planned in the morning to eat a salad for lunch, wrote it down, and committed to that plan and then a colleague approached me with fresh, warm slice of pizza leftover from a meeting, I am going to say no thank you.
Because I already made and committed to my plan ahead of time and am prepared for temptations such as this one.
I would experience no, or very minimal, mental drama around this.
But if I hadn’t planned ahead, if I’d just had a vague idea that I might eat a salad but that I’d see what the options were/what looked good and decide then, my animal brain would’ve chimed in loudly:
And it is very likely that I would, in fact, eat the pizza.
And then I would feel like shit.
And then I would spend the rest of the day obsessing about how I was going to “make it up” with exercise or by eating a “zero point” vegetable soup for dinner or planning to go Paleo or signing up for Weight Watchers, again.
All that wasted mental and emotional energy!!
All for a stupid piece of pizza that wasn’t even that great!
Or, even if it was pretty great, definitely wasn’t worth the mental aftermath.
Totally. Not. Worth. It.
And totally not me, anymore.
Exceptions vs. excuses
Your animal brain is a ninja when it comes to making very convincing excuses.
Planning a meal capsule and committing to it wards off those excuses and leaves you feeling well-prepared for the landmine of food temptations that are sure to be hurled your way each day.
But that doesn’t mean you can never have pizza again, if you want it.
As long as you plan it ahead of time.
That way you are using your prefrontal cortex to make decisions that serve you, and not your animal brain that tends to screw up all of your long term goals.
The difference between an exception and an excuse is that you use your evolved brain to make exceptions, and you use your animal brain to make excuses.
So go ahead and eat your favorite combo pizza.
Just plan for it and write it down 24 hours ahead of time.
And, this is the kicker, you have to like your reason for making the exception.
An exception is
Ask yourself the following two questions to determine whether you made an exception or an excuse.
For me, exceptions are linked to larger experiences like celebrating Christmas eve with my family while enjoying my mother’s seafood pasta that she only makes once a year, recalling decades of memories around the table together. Or making homemade fettuccine noodles with my father and son on Christmas day, watching as old, wrinkled hands guide little, smooth ones to turn the crank and sprinkle the flour.
I like my reasons to participate in this way.
No fetishizing of food.
No binging, frenetic eating, kid in a candy store wild child.
Lia Pinelli is a weight loss coach and educator who helps women put an end to emotional overeating and lose weight, permanently.