It’s been an enjoyable weekend so far.
Yesterday I NEEDED some open time to catch up on some things- I had been persistently sort of ignoring my personal email inbox honestly since we got home from Costa Rica. I mean, I had dealt with the must-dos, but it had just really accumulated and needed attention. It is now down to 11 messages, with 3 of them being related to a couple online returns. I spent over 2 hours on this, knocking out a bunch of misc. tasks. Felt good!!
So, I have listened to several podcast episodes featuring Gretchen Rubin this week, related to her new book that’s out, Life in Five Senses. (BOBW and also Beyond the To Do List had her on, among others.)
In every interview, she tends to bring up her personal story about how she completely quit sugar (and all carbs, really) many years ago now. She talks about how she is an Abstainer, not a Moderator, and how it’s much easier for her to just completely give things up versus eat “a little”.
Anyway, I found this intriguing, so I ended up searching back for an older episode on this topic. Turns out, her motivation to quit all carbs came after she read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat– which I also read in January (and thought I talked about here, but I guess maybe not, b/c I can’t seem to find a post).
This book seems to be Gretchen’s holy grail book about nutrition. I also found it very interesting and compelling! (But also, apparently not that compelling, because I still eat carbs. 😂)
She elaborates in this past episode on how she just completely overhauled her entire diet overnight- no more carbs, boom. Like a switch flipped; that’s it.
As someone with a “sweet tooth”, she found it exhausting to constantly be thinking about how much, or when she could have sweet treats- “later? now? 1? 2? Only on Saturdays? etc”. So, she just doesn’t eat birthday cake, no Thanksgiving pie, no “cheat meals”, ever. She also expanded this to ALL carbs, essentially- she even admits that she is super strict about it. To the point that she won’t eat a carrot because carrot = carbs.
Apparently, she just has zero desire to indulge in these things anymore – because she just flat out doesn’t eat them! It’s part of her identity.
If someone made her a dessert, she said she would just say, “Thanks so much for this, but I don’t eat sweets!” And that would be that. No guilt or question about it. She finds it much simpler and enjoyable to just have hard and fast rules that are part of her life. I think she actually said something like, “My life is so much more fun to me because I DON’T eat brownies!”
This kind of blows my mind. I mean, there are a lot of things I don’t eat. I’m on the pickier side about food. Like, I’m a hard no on mayo, sour cream, basically any salad dressing, pickles, etc. But these are essentially toppings.
I can’t really wrap my head around never, ever eating an entire macronutrient. This is a huge percentage of all foods. Never a bowl of popcorn at a movie again? Never having chips and guac, EVER? Not one Christmas cookie? Going to a social event and eating zero carbs?
I also realize there are people with severe dietary restrictions that have no choice but to avoid certain things- that sucks, but if it’s necessary, I guess that feels like a different beast.
And I can see completely cutting out maybe certain items- like, if you can’t resist the Oreos or the ice cream, you don’t bring them into the house. That’s one thing. But the idea of completely cutting out ALL CARBS, 100%, ALL SUGAR….. hmmm. I kind of can’t stop thinking about this! Hahaha.
She doesn’t claim that this is “necessary” or even the “right way to live”- it’s just how she prefers to eat and what works for her. And part of me gets this! It does seem simpler.
But it just also seems like it would be darn near impossible for me. How does one travel and not eat a single carb?? (Thinking back to our Italy trip last year….). Never a tortilla, ever?? Almost no fruit? And I feel like my family would find this incredibly annoying. Sorry kids, no pizza tonight, we’re having plain meat and salad again! With a glass of water. 😝
Anyway, I have just been rather fascinated by this idea.
She makes it sound like it was just so simple and easy: she just matter-of-factly, completely changed her entire diet overnight, and never looked back. Again, mind blown over here. (I feel like if I did that, I would fail on it at least 15 times before maybe eventually getting it to stick? If ever?) I think part of me almost feels envious that she was so easily able to do this!
Have you ever radically changed your diet (or anything else) like this?? I like to think that I could do this, if I wanted to, but my gut instinct (and past um, life experience) tells me I could not. (Unless I had to for medical reasons- then I suppose that would be a different kind of motivation.)
I am grateful for living so close to my gym.
28 thoughts on “Pondering: G.R. and extreme diet changes”
I find GR to be absolutely insufferable (although I do like some of her theories/ideas) in the way she describes how she makes choices/changes so this is not surprising to me at all 🙂 Because of my struggles listening to her, I won’t be diving deep, but what was her REASON for giving up carbs/sugar? Wanting to lose weight? “Be healthy” in the abstract? Were they causing her some kind of problem? This is my issue with hardline diets like that too – what’s the point? I understand if you have an actual dietary restriction/allergy or for example if sugar causes extreme migraines each day or something like that.
Food is a huge source of joy to me, and I understand that it isn’t for everyone – but I love cooking, eating, going to new restaurants. Even if I COULD cut out all of this (which, yes you COULD – anyone could if they had to!) why??? to what end?? This is my personality coming through – but I do not feel envious of this at all 🙂 If that’s what she wants to do, fine, but … there’s no medals at the end of this life for being perfect, might as well enjoy what you can 🙂
Oh, so interesting! Yeah, I guess I thought, based on limited information from just a couple podcast episodes, that she gave up sugar and carbs after reading that book and becoming convinced that it was the healthiest way to live. I haven’t ever heard her mention weight/ weight loss as a driving force, although I guess I really don’t know! I also do not generally follow her or her work besides an occasional episode here and there. I do think I’ve read a couple of her books, but a long time ago.
I agree with your second paragraph wholeheartedly! The reality is that food DOES = joy for so many of us. I think that’s why God or the universe or whomever you believe in made it to taste good. 😉
I guess I don’t actually feel “envious”, but I do think sometimes that I don’t have super great willpower around food. Fortunately, my genetics generally allow this to not be a huge issue, but I think sometimes it bugs me. That being said, I think my natural tendencies are not to overeat by a lot, I don’t stuff myself full of desserts, etc anyway, so maybe I’m actually a better moderator than I realize.
I also read it and eat carbs. Currently LOTS of carbs as I find it helps me run better! I also would never want to miss out on what I consider one of life’s innate pleasures – eating things like pizza . . . key lime pie . . . and about 942942 other things even things like bananas and sweet potatoes 🙂 I am a moderator in general so maybe that just comes more naturally to me.
Not really interested in hardline anything I guess. Though I can understand the value of abstaining from alcohol if one is prone to addiction – that seems to be pretty well-established.
all that said, i guess she does seem happier not eating sugar so . . . more power to her. I agree that her telling that story isn’t particularly inspiring to me . . .
(and I am someone that really enjoys her work in general — including her latest book, so far!!)
Yeah, I think I sometimes “like” the idea of hardline things, because it kind of fits my personality that generally likes structure, etc…. but at the end of the day, I’m not very good at doing anything with a hard line. haha! And yes, there are just way too many good carbs!! I am thinking right now of the most delicious pineapple in Costa Rica that I’ve ever had in my life… it was decadent! And if I had skipped that because “it’s a carb???” nahhh….. 😉
I read your blog daily and love it but have never commented but feel compelled to comment today. Do you not realize that Gretchen has a raging eating disorder??? Please add this caveat to your post. I use to enjoy her books, podcasts etc but have stopped listening/reading as I can’t deal with her preaching and support of such an extreme diet and support of an eating disorder. Just looking at her she doesn’t look healthy and she has indicated in the past that her husband was worried about her eating and habits but she doesn’t regard his concerns as valid. What is she teaching her daughters? It’s unfortunate she doesn’t realize she has a problem and use her platform for good.
I just said something similar, Cindy. This is an eating disorder. People look up to this woman, and voicing this opinion is actively dangerous.
Wow, this comment really made me pause, because I honestly hadn’t really thought about it from that angle!! But, now that you say that, I can totally see your point!! However, I am hesitant to make claims about someone else without really knowing her full story- I only just heard about this briefly in a couple of podcast episodes. And my intent would never be to portray anyone negatively or “bash anyone” on my blog, of course.
But I can definitely see your concern, and I do agree (now that I’ve thought more about it) that the extremeness of her diet feels rather “disordery” on the surface, anyway. I did have that thought flash through my mind once when I saw a photo of her. Again though, I’m very hesitant to make judgments of anyone based on their appearance- large OR small, and I just really don’t like to comment on another woman’s appearance as a general rule.
She seems to justify it by being something that just works best for her based on her personality as an Abstainer, but hmm. I don’t know. It does seem rather extreme, and maybe that is just what she’s told herself. Then again, I have never heard her mention doing it to lose weight or anything? But I also agree that it can be confusing/ influential for more vulnerable listeners or readers. I do not have any history of disordered eating, and I even found myself feeling a bit swayed by it- like, hmm, should I be doing that? lol.
I do not really “follow” her work, either- thought I’ve listened to a splattering of podcast eps over the years, and I have read I think 2 of her books. But I am not a regular listener or reader. I think maybe because her platforms are a bit larger and seem more “just for profit”, if that makes sense, versus other bloggers/content creators that actually connect with their audiences, I don’t feel very drawn to her. Like, I don’t think you can even leave a comment on her blog posts. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think she has the comment section turned on.)
P.S. Thanks for commenting!
I had to cut out gluten in 2009 when I realized I had a gluten intolerance. It was way harder back then but has since gotten much easier since more people realize they are gluten intolerant. I don’t love that people choose to go GF as a kind of diet fad. Because some of those people will ‘cheat’ and then it makes others think it’s something you don’t have to abide by. I am definitely way more of an abstainer than a moderator. If I grocery shopped, our freezer and cupboards would look so different. Like I would prefer that we not have ice cream, Doritos, potato chips, etc. but I am married to the ultimate moderator and he does our shopping.
I could never completely cut out carbs though. That is just way too extreme for me. I could see the benefit of cutting out desserts/sweets. It is easier for me to cut something out versus moderate my intake. But I already feel so high maintenance with my gluten intolerance. I couldn’t bear to add another restriction! And I just really enjoy a well-made dessert!!
Yes, I think gluten free is plenty to cut out!! I know in your case you don’t have a choice, but even that seems like it would be rather exhausting. I really take for granted that we don’t have any major dietary restrictions (besides Asher’s peanut allergy, which is questionable if he even still has it- last time at the allergist they thought he seemed to have outgrown it, but we haven’t done the offical peanut challenge test yet.) It’s plenty easy to avoid though, since he is so sensitive that he can’t even be around it, like some people. As in, I can eat a PB sandwich in the car with closed windows and he has no issue. So he just has to avoid actually EATING peanuts or peanut butter, but we’ve never had to even avoid things that say “processed at a plant that also processes peanut products” etc. It’s been very easy overall.
This was such a fascinating post! I don’t read GR and don’t honestly plan to, but I agree that her approach to carbs is WILD and fascinating.
I have dabbled in Keto before, which is very very low carb, but even then I didn’t cut them completely. And I once did a month of no-sugar. I like challenges like that, but it’s always in service of either a) losing weight or b) trying to “reset” after something like sugar intake gets out of control. I LOVE carbs. Like you, I just can’t imagine cutting out an entire macronutrient forever! But I am also an abstainer. It is much easier for me to cut something out than to have it in moderation. But for me, that looks like going out for ice cream rather than keeping a pint in my freezer, not avoiding ice cream completely. I don’t know. It strikes me as extreme. Carbs exist. They can provide pleasure and nutritional value. So it seems unwise — to me! — to just toss them out the window. But life is a rich tapestry and it is fascinating to see how differently people live their lives.
Right, I think when I heard this I was basically thinking that she was just doing a Keto diet, which there ARE a lot of people who do that, I think…. which is maybe why my brain didn’t go down the path of “disordered eating” at all.
I think I could see generally maybe “limiting” carbs as an overall eating preference, if that’s how one feels best, but yeah, the idea of NEVER having even a bite of a carb or even carby veggies, etc. seems so, so extreme.
It seems extremely restrictive and for me, would have a negative impact on my happiness and enjoyment of life. How do you socialize, eat at friend’s house, celebrate kids birthday parties, model a balanced diet for your kids? It would require way too much controlling of outside elements i.e. bringing your own food everywhere or making two family meals that it sounds exhausting and like so much work! Definitely not for me. And I think things like Friday night pizza or nachos are fun and bring joy. I do read some of her stuff but her rigidity is extreme IMO.
Exactly!! I think the only way I could ever do this would be if I lived alone, and rarely did anything with anyone else. I think about our family vacations- with my parents, the kids… or our trips to Mexico… or how often we enjoy eating in restaurants…. it would just be basically impossible. And to what end?! All of those things bring me immense joy and pleasure. Life is short. We aren’t getting out alive at the end, anyway. 😉 My husband would be an absolute HARD NO on ever doing anything like that- he would be a Rebel on GR’s personality tests- and this would set him off. Haha. He would be SO annoyed if I tried to do that, too, because it would inevitably affect him. lol!
I do not find GR to be in any way relatable, informative, or resonant. I read one of her books and disliked it, and then I thought I should try again because everyone loves her so much; I listened to a podcast with her. Well, she is NOT for me. And this opinion probably colours what I am going to say, which is that in my opinion eating this way is incredibly unhealthy, both mentally and physically. To me, this sounds like it is veering into eating disorder territory, and showcasing this idea as “the way it works for her” is putting potentially dangerous thoughts out into the universe. I mean, sure. Do you, GR. Go ahead an eschew a carrot but maybe keep those ideas to yourself. There are many vulnerable people in the world who may look up to her and think “hey, great idea, let’s cut out an entire world of food.” Physically, I think that’s unhealthy. NO CARBS EVER. That would mean most fruit and many vegetables are off limits.
More importantly, from a social and mental point of view, this kind of restriction is really awful. Food is about so much more than fuel or physical sustenance, and cutting yourself off from that world is a terrible, joyless thing, which strikes me as strange coming from a woman whose brand is all about happiness.
I HAVE A LOT OF THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS, KAE!!! Anyway, I suffered disordered eating for many years, spent countless time worrying and thinking about food, and it is all bullshit. Public figures coming out like this are actively harmful to women and girls who may be in a similar situation, looking up to her.
Thanks for sharing all this!!! So fascinating to hear people’s takes on all of this. I am familiar with her works, but I do not regularly follow her, either. I mentioned in another comment above, but her whole platform is larger and more of a “for profit” feel to me. Which is fine, and I do think she puts out some interesting content in a genre that I enjoy, but I agree that something with the whole vibe just doesn’t really do it for me. So, I don’t listen regularly at all. I am planning to read her newest book, though, because I think the topic sounds interesting. I think there’s something about her podcast that sometimes rubs me wrong, and I just have never followed her blog. Anyway! That’s just a personal opinion thing.
About the diet, I really hadn’t thought about it from the angle of what all of her followers are seeing and thinking when she talks about her extreme diet (frequently). I can TOTALLY see how this would be triggering for anyone with a history of disordered eating. I even felt a bit pulled or swayed by it I think, and I do not have that history. I really hadn’t thought about that angle when I wrote this post. Like I said above, I also really hate to bad mouth anyone here, but I can see the concerns, too. I do think that diet regimens are very personalized… maybe she really doesn’t miss carbs? Maybe this truly doesn’t feel disordered for her, and truly IS something she just enjoys??? I don’t know! It’s hard to say. But I do agree that it could be confusing or potentially damaging to people consuming the content if they are not in the right head space.
So many thoughts on this!!! Where to start?
I have read both Gary Taubes books…and while I find the research interesting, it in no way seems like a balanced and healthy approach to food. I have struggled with disordered eating for most of my life and in the last year have stopped weighing myself completely and now eat what I want when I want (as a side note: from what I can tell, I basically weigh the same now as I did before when I was thinking about food constantly and being hyper-vigilant about what I ate).
I think the thing that always bothered me the most about this approach to eating – and I will say I have gleaned a lot of great stuff from Gretchen Rubin! – is how it seems to remove both the pleasure of eating and the balance of eating. Things like only eating bell peppers in moderation and little to no fruit (she occasionally allows herself to eat berries) sound positively awful to me. Those things are delicious and also…provide such a wonderful array of nutrients. I remember her discussing how one year her mother-in-law made a cake out of vegetables; I literally think she piled raw vegetables on a plate and stuck in a candle. As someone who loves my birthday cheesecake, I thought that sounded like the saddest thing ever!
I agree with Nicole. Everyone has their own eating journey and maybe this style of eating suits Gretchen well (and fair enough), but it could so easily impact others extremely negatively in terms of disordered eating and shouldn’t be lauded publically. Because I’ve been reading her work so many years I 100% tune this narrative out at this point. Her sister Elizabeth definitely does not follow the same approach, nor does her immediate family other than her father from what I can tell…?
Thanks for these thoughts, Elisabeth! I was hoping you’d comment, as I know you have been on a more intuitive eating journey. A vegetable cake?!? Oh my. No, no, and no. hahaha! I definitely agree with you that food can and should bring joy! Now, that being said, I do think that we have been conditioned to think that we HAVE to have sweets in order to have fun or celebrate something, or we HAVE to eat x,y,z on vacation, etc. There is definitely a side of this that can go too far in the other direction, and we do have an obesity health crisis at least in the U.S. BUT, I totally see the point of view of these “extremes” being confusing and potentially damaging to the public. People are already so bombarded by different diets and approaches, that hearing someone they may really look up to tout the benefits of this one style can be very influential. And I will agree that anything with wild extremes (cutting out whole food groups, strict/extreme diets) is kind of a recipe for potential disordered eating, which is a very slippery slope!
I have many thoughts reading this post. 1) i used to think what our “idols” or people i really like in some aspects do is The way to do things. I came to realize that we all have issues, them included, so not everything they do is right nor that I need to imitate; 2) each of us have to find the way that can be considered healthy in a sustainable way. While I like to find new challenges, often time I learn that they are not for me, and I would have to spend too much energy and mind into it, thus they are not sustainable. 3) about diet, read Peter Attia’s book and you’ll learn that really what we eat doesn’t matter as much as we think as long as we eat mainly real food, not too much, not too little, and sugar is definitely not the evil of all. I’ve evolved quite a lot over the last 5 years about my thoughts around diet or food in general. Overall my takeaway is that I’ve been trying to find the perfect diet when there’s none.
I really, really want to read Peter Attia’s book!! I’ve listened to him now on 3-4 podcasts talking about his new book. SO interesting!! I really want to read the whole book. He seems in line with what I generally believe, too. He also promotes the benefits of lots of strength training, AND some good cardio for heart health, which I like. (I feel like there is so much talk in the health/fitness world lately about “strength training as king”/ the only thing that matters, which I think is true when it comes to body composition, but it’s also important to remember the heart health aspect that comes with cardio!) I sometimes need that reminder as I don’t really like cardio, but I know it’s good to do, too. Looking forward to reading that book.
This post and these comments are fascinating to me! I heard GRs story about cutting out all sugar on BOBW podcast and it just seems nuts to me. Food is so cultural and communal and in my opinion we miss out on a lot of we cut out big parts of it. Part of me wants to say “Whatever works for her” but then part of me reads all the comments and thoughts above and wants to instead say “whatever works for her but lets be sure people in positions of influence are promoting healthy and sustainable eating that doesn’t encourage unhealthy habits in others”. It’s complicated isn’t it!
Oh and I also hate Mayo and Sour cream and most dressings! I like hot sauce, but any creamy sauce is yuck. But I feel like if someone says “is there anything you don’t eat?” saying “Mayonaise” is way easier than “all carbs and sugar”. But then, maybe GR doesn’t have other people cook for her often?
I 100% agree with that end part of your first paragraph! I also felt like, well, it’s her life and her diet…. but it’s true that diet/ exercise habits can be highly influential to others. I mean, I think she should do whatever she wants, but maybe that particular habit shouldn’t be such a focus of her discussions on habit change. Especially since her audience is probably primarily female, and so many women are already all wrapped up in their weight, diet, etc.
And yes! Someone else who doesn’t like “creamy white substances”, as I like to say!! 😉
I don’t think that I have ever read any of her books and after reading this post and all of the subsequent comments, I don’t think I will put them on my TBR. I do like hearing a scientific take on different eating methods/styles but does she even have any credentials?
I do try to keep sugar to a minimum, and look at labels to see what kind of added sugar items have but I don’t think that a diet that has no fruit or veggies is one that is sustainable in the long run nutritionally.
She is very well known and I think does have a lot of interesting topics in her archives of books and podcast episodes, etc. BUT, there is something that just has never really “clicked” for me, so while I have occasionally listened/read her work, I really very rarely do. Just something that hasn’t lined up quite right for me, I guess, although I usually do like the social since/ happiness topic in general.
Oh, I’m so grateful for the comments that reflect some of my complicated feelings about GR, mostly that she’s insufferable and even when she has interesting ideas about things that I agree with, her presentation always makes me kind of shy away from what she has to say.
I think talking about food and eating is so hard to do! People are different and have different needs and I think cutting out food completely is a slippery slope to unhealthy thinking possibly unhealthy outcomes. As you know, my husband has dietary restrictions, so that means there are entire foods we can’t eat and that makes life hard. I don’t know why someone would do that voluntarily.
But. I’m not an abstainer. I find the idea of just saying no to be sort of abhorrent. So that model would never work for me! I’m not GR, I don’t have to like her, and I don’t want to be her friend. But I do want her to be healthy and I hope she is.
Yes, I thought of your husband actually when I was thinking about all of this! In that, it truly seems so difficult how he has to live, that I agree that the idea of voluntarily complicating everything seems rather odd and unnecessary.
I do think there’s something to be said for “knowing thyself”, and based on the conversation I heard with GR, it really does seem like for her she just finds this easier than constantly having to think about and sort out when to eat sweets/ when to not. etc. I DO get that, because I can see how that would just be more straightforward. No grey areas. But I think ideally we would learn to manage those cravings and impulses and really get a handle on them, which would mean being ABLE to say no sometimes and yes other times, in an even, controlled manner. It almost feels like her hard line option is kind of a cop out from dealing with it, if that makes sense?! I feel like true “success” in a balanced life is being able to be so well in control of your life that making all those rules isn’t necessary. But maybe she isn’t there, or doesn’t see it that way, of course.
Great post and lots of thought-provoking comments!
I’ve followed Gretchen Rubin for a long time and really enjoy her work. I just started Life in the Five Senses plus I think I’ve been listening to the same podcasts this week as you, Kae!
Her food choices have always seemed extreme to me but I’ve chalked it up to “good for her, not for me”. But these comments have made me think more about how distorted her relationship to food appears to be. Obviously, we are all free to choose our own way that we eat, but as an “influencer” of sorts, she does have a certain amount of sway…and I am trying to think about how much I think that it carries an amount of responsibility also.
Appreciating food is a central value of our family as my husband and I really love to cook as well as share meals with others, especially our kids. We’ve worked hard to introduce our kids to a variety of foods and to not place judgment on any food. We love cooking together, sharing fun snacks, trying foods on vacations, eating at church potlucks, etc. I think it would be very hard to not have that as a part of life. (Obviously, allergies/intolerences are in a completely different category than just dislikes).
I keep coming back to what I would think if one of my kids (especially one of my teenage girls) wanted to eat in such a restrictive way that Gretchen does. I’d be concerned. I’m not sure what to do with that realization, but it’s causing me to pause.
She’s obviously an abstainer. There are people like that (and it’s mind blowing to me because I am 100% a moderator in pretty much most areas of my life). I don’t think I would want to give something up completely just for the sake of doing it (illness is obviously a different reason, or let’s say you dislike something, then it’s easy to give that up)… I do get the idea that she doesn’t even crave sugar after a while because I know that the body can get used to not having sugar, but I’d think that the temptation might always be there?