Lately, I hear people associating counting your macros primarily with eating donuts and Rice Krispie treats and other sweet and delicious food, but I’m here to tell you it’s really not about the donuts.
It’s about freedom. That’s what the donuts represent.
- The freedom to not be scared of food.
- The freedom to not live in terror of carbs or dessert or anything not on an approved list.
- The freedom to eat dinner with your kids or your friends, and the freedom not to have to ask for a special meal at a special restaurant.
- The freedom to live your life instead of exist in a continuous state of self-denial.
- The freedom to make one nutritional choice right now and make a better one later.
- The freedom to not beat yourself up.
Now, I know that lately we are seeing donuts everywhere. Not just in the donut shop, but in our Facebook and Instagram and Twitter feeds. There’s a donut frenzy, and it’s not limited to old guys named Burt at Dunkin’ Donuts. Everybody seems to be talking about and eating donuts, even professional athletes and gym owners and nutritional consultants. We made fun of Planet Fitness for hosting Pizza Monday, but now we have gyms hosting Donut Saturday. Same, but different.
Why the donut craze?
It’s a reaction, I think. A response to what came before.
For years, the diet industry fed us stories of how the path to the Kingdom of Lean goes through the Forest of Self-Denial. Starve yourself/deny yourself/stop eating. Drink only these shakes. Cleanse your body with this plan. Eat only these approved foods. Watch out for the scary carb demons. Deviations mean failure and you have to start over! (And we wonder why there are so many people with disordered thinking about food?) The message was consistently clear: If you want to be lean, you must deny yourself all the things.
The trouble with Denial World is that it’s no way to live, at least not for very long. Why? The psychological toll is huge. If you read Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s “Willpower” you learn that willpower may be a finite resource, i.e. you only have so much willpower and you use it for all tasks. Consequently, when the human brain is constantly occupied with exerting willpower to deny, there isn’t a lot of willpower left to do. As “Willpower” points out: “People can sometimes overcome mental fatigue, but Baumeister found that if they had used up energy by exerting willpower (or by making decisions …), they would eventually succumb.” Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein make it even clearer in their book “Quitting” when they talk about Baumeister’s work: “Any energy you invest in ridding yourself of those distracting thoughts will actually lessen the amount of energy you have to spend on other tasks.”
So, folks try to deny all the things, and they eventually fail. They start and then they falter. They feel guilty about faltering so they start again … and they fail again. Cycle after cycle after cycle. Well, if you keep failing at something, maybe it’s time to look not just at how you’re doing something, but also look at what you’re doing. Maybe you’re not setting yourself up for success. Maybe the life of a nutritional monk is not for you. Maybe you need to find something you can do not just for 30 days or 90 days or a year. Maybe you need to find a way to eat for the rest of your life.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in a cave. (It’s tempting, but I imagine Wi-Fi is pretty bad in caves. Also, I dig warmth, sun, and high-thread-count cotton sheets.) The real world is in my face every single day, and, as you know, there’s a lot of food in the real world. Also, I’m not perfect and I have weaknesses. (Shocker!) Sometimes I need a little self-regulation holiday — a respite during which I can use my willpower for other tasks, and after which I can recommit myself to my goals.
That’s where the donut comes in. Because the donut is a symbol of breaking free of the Culture of Denial. It’s a symbol of saying “I can eat and enjoy food and not lose my mind in this pursuit of a hotter/stronger/sexier body. I can live while I live.”
Now, I’m not saying everyone should be eating donuts, nor am I saying that counting your macros is right and everything else is wrong. Different nutritional plans work for different folks. But I am saying that sometimes a donut is not a donut. Sometimes a donut is a symbol of freedom, a sign that you’re not so obsessed over every piece of food that you put into your mouth, a sign that you can enjoy life and have treats too.
Sometimes the donut is just one thing you ate today. And then life went on.
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