I had a chat with a Filipina friend the other day, and we were joking about how bad our diets were growing up; pan de sal, pancit, white rice for almost every meal, salty canned meats, lumpia—the list could go on forever. My epiphany was a little delayed, but on my drive home, my mind was blown when I realized how addicted my body was to sugar at a very young age.
I prefer savory foods over sweets, but for the longest time, I believed I would never have a problem with sugars because I didn’t have a sweet tooth—what a HUGE misconception! I had no idea how simple carbohydrates in the things I ate regularly were affecting me.
I’m first-generation American, and growing-up, my parents never wasted an opportunity to remind me how blessed I was to be able to eat 3 times a day. When I told my mom that I thought balut was disgusting, she would recount how she would often have to split 2 fried eggs 6 ways to share with her 5 other siblings. My dad would tell me ways he used to distract himself from hunger for several days when I would complain that we were eating the same thing for too many meals in a row. My parents were raised in survival-mode, and so my sister and I grew-up with a very similar mentality; waste nothing, eat everything—there was no regard for nutrition or portion control.
On the other side of that coin, I have memories of my family making comments on my arms and thighs as early as 7 years old.
I grew-up extremely self-conscious. My parents never said those things to hurt me, but I’ve learned that my culture is very critical, and at times, unforgiving—my parents say a lot of things with no filter because in their mind if its true, it can only be helpful. But, once you turn into an especially inhibited teenager, when your parents tell you not to eat because you’re “getting fat,” you don’t eat, and you develop an eating disorder.
1. Skipping Meals (Especially Breakfast)
When I was in college, I would go to class in the morning without breakfast, drive to my retail job snacking on whatever junk I bought from the vending machines around campus in the afternoon, and wouldn't have my first meal until late in the day. By that point, I would probably be moody from low blood sugar or processed foods, then end up eating whatever junk was in the food court, ready to eat my emotions. A lot of this was just not knowing how to be an adult and failing to plan and make time for meals, but believe it or not, a large part of it also stemmed from being afraid to eat and then being too deep rooted in bad habits and sugar addiction to fight the urge to indulge on a pizza from Sbarros once my body was begging me to eat anything. Nowadays, I’m such a grandma, I ALWAYS have nut bars, Mauna Loa macadamia nuts, Craisins, and almonds in my bag. I’ve learned to listen to my body—especially with PCOS—and I don’t dare let my blood sugar dip and spike. Keeping my blood sugar stable has been key, because I don’t trust myself to make good food choices when I’m border-lining hangriness.
2. Caring more about calories than nutrition
Speaking of Sbarros, I used to think that eating spinach pizza from there was healthy. HA, I know. But like I said, I knew nothing about nutrition until my mid-twenties. The same way you can’t out exercise a bad diet, you’ll never be healthy eating just enough Hot Cheetos while staying within your calorie limit. I’m exaggerating—I’ve never done that—but eating junk thinking it’s okay as long as you don’t exceed X amount of calories is ridiculous. What you eat affects how you feel. I’m telling you—that sugar addiction is real. Digging deep, my worst day probably consisted of a cinnamon roll for breakfast, Hot Cheetos and a Dr. Pepper for lunch, and a bowl of instant noodles for dinner. If I ate like that now I would be in excruciating pain. Nowadays, I know to eat colors—finding different ways to prepare vegetables and attempt to put a rainbow on my plate for each meal (Yes, I know the halo-halo pictured above doesn't count). When I first started getting serious about my health, I tried the Whole 30 Program and it completely repaired my relationship with food. To date, it has been the only diet I have been able to commit to and see significant results with (another blog for another day*).
3. Comparing how much I ate to what other people ate
Everybody is different. Different things work for different people. But, again, this didn’t really click with me until a couple of years ago. I would see a friend who ate tiny portions and think, “Okay, she's skinny, so I should also eat tiny potions.” not considering their size and how more frequently they ate their meals. I would see a friend who played soccer eat meals like it was a food challenge and think, “It’s okay if I eat 2 cheeseburgers, fries and a milkshake, because he did, too.” I’ve learned that when I eat sensibly and regularly, it’s easier for me to tell when I’m satisfied, and I don’t have the desire to overeat.
I’m not saying I’ve magically stopped craving comfort foods.
I have never met a fried chicken I didn’t like. I’m saying that I wish I learned balance sooner rather than later in my life. I didn’t have to be extreme with dieting, I just needed a diet that was balanced. I probably could have titled this "HOW BEING FILIPINO ALMOST KILLED ME" but that would have been a touch dramatic. I don’t eat much Filipino food these days, but I won’t say no to an invite to Max’s of Manila. :)