Published April 2, 2009

Making Pizza Part of Your Diet

by Helen M. Ryan

It is common knowledge that a healthy diet for weight loss consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, unprocessed foods and loads of fiber. But if I told you that pizza is part of the equation, would you believe it? If I told you pizza is a health food would you buy it?

Refined carbs (including pizza), soda, alcohol and candy are all persona non grata in the health arena. Caffeine, sugar and fat are on our "bad" lists, as is eating late at night. And yet, just two weeks ago I found myself driving home at 1 a.m., eating five-hour cold greasy pizza out of a box in the backseat of my car, and stopping at a fast food joint for fully caffeinated coffee in the middle of the night. How does a personal trainer justify that? Easily. And would she recommend it to her clients? Definitely. With the following disclaimer, of course.

pizza1Every day we make choices, some easier than others. What we wear, what we do with our day, who we talk to, and if we exercise, improve ourselves and eat healthily.
A few of us live under strict standards, rarely indulging in anything known to thicken our waists or tickle our taste buds. The flip side are those of us who eat whatever we choose whenever we choose, justifying our decision to scarf an entire bag of chips and a box of chocolate because we are stressed, tired or frustrated. We lay on the sofa watching TV because we are too fatigued to move, becoming even more so in the process. Neither of those scenarios are ideal.

The first group is often in pursuit of perfection, chiseling and sculpting their bodies into amazing pieces of art. They are simply beautiful to look at and we envy their dedication and restraint. Working in the fitness field as I do, and knowing many of these perfect creatures, I have come to the following conclusion: They may be gorgeous but they are no happier than us mere mortals.

Having been part of the latter group who eats to fill a void or because we "deserve" a treat (or ten), never making a change and always waiting for tomorrow to start taking care of our health, I can also state that they are no happier than the rest of us, either.

So where does the pizza fit in? Under B for Balance.
Balance is the melding of two worlds: the perfect world and the real world. Balance is the ability to indulge every now and then without going crazy. Balance is the ability to enjoy life while being healthy overall. Balance is the ability to stop obsessing about everything you put in your mouth, making good choices most of the time and less good choices other times. Balance is where the 80/20 rule comes into play. 80% clean eating, 20% fun eating. Will you be a size 2 with the 80/20 rule? Probably not (though you may be a 4 or a 6). Will you be healthy? Most likely. Will you be happy?

Almost certainly.

The cold pizza at 1 a.m.? It was a bonding experience with my son. We bought it on our way to cover the Blue October Concert in Los Angeles, ate some in the car on the way from Temecula, finished off the rest on the return trip. It was unhealthy, greasy, and oh-so-much-fun, as was our evening together. I didn't compound the damage by continuing to eat junk the rest of the night. I didn't feel I had "blown it" and used that as a license to further feed my face. I used it as an opportunity to share a moment with my near-teenage son, who won't want to hang with his mom pretty soon, no matter how cool I think I am.

Pizza as a health food? Yes. A mental health food. My son and I ate, laughed, watched the concert, hurried through the empty streets of LA, ate more then-cold pizza in the car, pulled over for coffee halfway home, and fell into bed at 2 a.m., exhausted but happy. The evening became a memory - a memory of doing something together, sharing a moment, experiencing life - over pizza.

Balance = bonding
Bonding = happiness
Happiness = good life
Good life = balance
What is your take?