- Lena Dunham’s food diary highlights common weight-loss mistakes
- Reflecting helps you learn
- 3 things Lena Dunham’s food diary can teach you
Are you always on a diet? Lena Dunham’s food diary helps us understand how to lose weight so it’s long term.
I wanted to write this post because when I was struggling with my weight, I never reflected on what I ate. If I had, I would have noticed an obvious starve, binge and purge cycle. I always thought over-eating was an isolated event; a moment I wasn’t able to summon willpower. Now that I have an uncomplicated relationship with food and understand how to reach and maintain a healthy weight, I see that looking at Lena Dunham’s food diary is an important exercise for anybody trying to lose weight.
Lena Dunham’s food diary is important
Did you read Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl? It’s a collection of personal essays that tell coming of age stories. I love documentaries, autobiographies and anything honest.
The creator, writer and star of the HBO series Girls (for which she’s won two Golden Globes) is known for letting it all hang out. In yet Lena still sparks controversy. But I agree with David Sedaris who said:
It’s not Lena Dunham’s candor that makes me gasp. Rather, it’s her writing—which is full of surprises where you least expect them …
Lena Dunham isn’t shocking to me either. Once you know her shtick it’s hard to keep being alarmed. What I like is her attention to detail. Lena tells you small things that show you big things. Her observations come across as scenery; the backdrop to a bigger story. But the effect is that you feel like a fly on the wall, watching an intimate experience unfold. Take for example:
He called me terrible names when I broke up with him for a Puerto Rican named Joe with a tattoo that said MOM in Comic Sans.
– Lena Dunham, writer
Lena’s book includes a record of what she ate over a nine day period. While many critics called this section of her book boring, she said it was “the most secret and humiliating” document on her computer. I love that she made being “real” a priority. Most people edit their image before it goes public.
Having recovered from a 10 year battle with bulimia, I recognize the importance of Lena Dunham’s food diary. When used as a tool for reflection, we can note common weight-loss mistakes and learn from them. Thank you Lena for putting it out there.
Reflecting prevents you from repeating mistakes
At the start of Lena Dunham’s food diary, she pays strict attention to detail (e.g. she’s careful to eat “gluten free toast”) and fixates on calories. Based on how she describes her eating habits at the beginning of this chapter, the choices she records while dieting are a big leap from her “normal”:
…I am thinking particularly of a shower I took where the lower half of my body was under the running water and the upper half was laid out on the bath mat, eating a loaf of bread. College was an orgy of soy ice cream, overstuffed burritos, and bad midwestern pizza inhaled at 3:00 a.m.
Lena Dunham, Not that Kind of Girl
Lena Dunham’s Food Diary: First day
*Please ignore the highlighting. It’s irrelevant to this post.
The result of Lena’s strict diet? Hunger, preoccupation with food and overall unhappiness. Over-eating (predictably) follows. For example, early in the week she made note of eating “2 pecans”. By the end of the week she eats 1/4 jar of peanut butter (plus apple pie, lemon cake, more lemon cake, etc.)
Lena Dunham’s Food Diary: Last day
Lena Dunham’s food diary demonstrates how restrictive eating (aka dieting) can lead to falling back into old habits or over-eating. This negative pattern, otherwise know as yo-yo dieting, confuses your body, slows down your metabolism and primes your body for fat storage.
The more often you repeat this cycle the more ingrained and preoccupying it becomes. For me, it took over my life. This pattern escalated into a viscous cycle and my eating became completely disordered.
Reflecting on your past behaviour — even if it’s not as extreme as mine — helps you learn. When you pair your actions with words, you can identify a pattern. For example, starving leads to binging and then purging. Recognizing which decisions lead to a negative or positive outcome, help you break the cycle.
3 things we can learn from Lena Dunham’s food diary
Lena Dunham’s food diary: Lesson #1
Solution: Adapt what you’re already doing.
In Lena Dunham’s food diary you see that each day is a struggle. But reaching and maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t happen when you shock your body with extremes (in other words: going on a diet). Getting and staying fit is about building sustainable habits.
Whether you’re aiming to eat more healthfully to:
- lose weight
- lower your blood pressure
- prevent diabetes
… or any other reason, it’s important to slowly adjust what you’re presently doing so you get used to the change. Then your food choices become second nature and you can maintain your goals long term. And more importantly, you can get on with the rest of your life because you’re mind is free to focus on everything else.
Build healthy life habits gradually.
Just before Lena shares her food diary, she states:
A friend once told me that when you’ve been in AA, drinking is never fun again. And that’s how I feel about having seen a nutritionist—I will never again approach food in an unbridled, guilt-free way.
When I was struggling to lose weight, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Lena. Dieting creates a complicated relationship with food. You end up guessing what you need to do and cutting out foods you can actually eat! But when I stopped dieting and focused on building healthy habits (by making small changes to my usual choices) I stopped feeling like I was denying myself. And there was nothing to feel guilty about. Take time to transition from old habits to new habits.
Lena Dunham’s food diary: Lesson #2
Solution: Eat balanced meals made of whole foods.
Lena Dunham’s food diary lists the calorie count of every food she eats. Rather than getting caught up in numbers, consider focusing on food groups.
Lena Dunham’s food diary: Lesson #3
Solution: Go back to the basics.
Lena Dunham’s food diary includes specialized foods. And she consumes them at random times. But eating doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. Before you start thinking about whether your food is gluten free, choosing flax seed oil over another type of oil or eating whole wheat bread instead of white, get yourself into a healthy eating pattern.
Living things thrive when they have a predictable pattern. Take care of your plants, pets and your sleep cycles. Be kind to yourself! Get into a routine.
When you find yourself getting lost in the details try to press pause and refocus on the basics. Eat 3 balanced meals made mostly of whole foods each day. Include a balanced snack if you’re hungry.
When you start eating breakfast, lunch and dinner regularly, you’ll find you can eat complete meals; just like everyone else who has a healthy relationship with food.
Once you’ve got important things in place (3 balanced meals/day), start considering healthier alternatives to the staples you’re already eating.
I lost weight and have maintained it for more than 18 years, by eating white rice, milk chocolate and roasted nuts, for example, when building a healthy meal or snack. Recently I started choosing healthier alternatives like brown rice, dark chocolate and raw nuts. Not because I have to. I want to! The more I understand how the body works, the more I want to work with it. But before you start worrying about the small things, break the cycle of yo yo dieting! Get your body into a routine. Then slowly adapt your routine.
Lena Dunham’s food diary is NOT shameful
All the behaviours outlined in Lena Dunham’s food diary are a product of the weight-loss industry. It focuses on details, calorie counting and dieting. It pushes rules, tips and tricks. The diet industry makes eating so d*mn complicated! No wonder so many people have an unhealthy relationship with food.
People who want to lose weight end up putting their well-meaning and commendable efforts behind the wrong information (that’s widely available). Kids start dieting before they understand that everything you read isn’t true.
Get your body into the basic routine of eating 3 balanced meals a day made of whole foods. Don’t shock your body by going to extremes. Just adapt what you’re already doing.
Simplify your life and reach your goals.
Why critics are wrong about Lena Dunham’s food diary
Many critics slam Lena Dunham’s food diary because her food lists are “too long”, “unremarkable” and because they “look like everybody else’s.” But that’s exactly why they’re important.
If Lena, who often shares e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is shy to talk about her eating habits, imagine how many other people are too.
Thanks to Lena for putting her eating behaviours out there. She’s provided us with a resource to acknowledge common mistakes and learn from them; ones that can only be evident in a food diary that’s long enough to capture a cycle (that sets so many people up to fail).
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
– Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher
Ask for Help
Don’t wait until you have a big problem to ask for help. The goal is to prevent a problem from escalating. Remember, anyone who truly cares about you will be happy you opened up.
Speaking to someone you trust opens a world of possibility. Other people can often identify patterns we don’t notice; when you’re at the center of your storm it’s hard to see beyond your next choice. They can also assist you in getting the help you need.
If you’re in the habit of binging, speak to a professional. Expert advice can help you transition destructive behaviours into healthy habits. Asking for help builds in accountability. As does keeping track of how often you binge each week (or month).
Set yourself up for success by aiming to stop binging one less time a week, or one less time a month rather than cold turkey. I always aimed to make big changes. I wanted to get better fast. I missed my old life and who I used to be. But that just made things worse. Trying to get better with the flip of a switch prolonged my illness over 10 years. I didn’t get healthy until I focused on little changes.
Instead of deciding if you loathe her or love her, focus on what can you learn from her. Lena Dunham’s food diary offers the chance to reflect on ourselves or the ones we love and find patterns that set us up to fail.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
Whether your experience is more or less extreme, focus on getting your body into a routine of eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner made mostly of whole foods—rather than going on a diet, getting lost in the details and shocking your body with extremes.
If you’re asking yourself: “How do I get there from where I am now?” Sign up for my weekly blog post (below) and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned. It will help you build healthy eating and exercise habits—or reach any goal.
Eet by Regina Spector
“Eet” is the backspace key on a typewriter. It allows you to type over a mistake. We can’t do this with our lives. We have to keep moving forward. Instead of wishing you could erase the past, take time to look back on it and reflect. Then you can apply what you’ve learned moving forward.
Click here to read Lena Dunham’s food diary.
Sharing what I learned makes those 10 years worth it
What is a positive pattern in your life?