Confessions of a chronic dieter
I was a pudgy child, or so I saw myself. Others may have called me solid. One boy friend told me I wasn’t fat, just well-packed – like this was what a teenage girl wanted to hear from a guy she wanted to date?
I have been thinking of food all my life. Seriously. I don’t need a shrink to tell me that food fills emotional holes. The first one opened when my mother died, when eating made me feel less alone. I ate at exam time in college, when food filled the confidence hole. I ate when my kids were little, when food filled the frantic, what-do-I-do hole. I ate when I wrote, when food filled in missing words or plot twists.
Some would say I’m a stress eater, that food brings me peace of mind when nothing else does. Food has always been a comfort, and I don’t mean just “comfort food.” I’ll binge on whatever is around that makes me feel full.
If you’re looking at my photos right now and thinking, Yeah, right, please remember that body image is relative. I keep my weight down. When (not if, but when) it climbs ten pounds, I diet. Here are a few of the diets I’ve followed over the years.
900-calorie-a-day diet, supervised by a doctor. This was my very first formal dieting attempt. I was in high school, and the doctor was a local one with a reputation for this. I remember bringing hard-boiled eggs for lunch to the camp where I was a counselor, and I did lose weight.
Weight Watchers was the first group program I joined, though I half suspect I liked being with other women as much as losing weight. I’d just had a child, had no babysitting help, and felt isolated and alone. This diet was a common sense one. In the forty-years since, Weight Watchers has often reshaped itself, largely for marketing purposes, but I still like its moderate approach. Back then, I actually trained to be a group leader. I figured this was one way to keep the weight off, that if a whole class was looking at me, I didn’t dare gain back my weight. Then we moved. So, forget that.
Diet Center entailed not a group meeting but one-on-one meetings with a weight counselor. The diet was well-balanced, and the weigh-ins meant accountability. In time I lost the weight, grew complacent, and decided I could manage on my own.
For me, the problem with some of these formal programs was that they involved too much thinking. I was thinking all day long about other things, trying to coordinate complicated plots and complicated kids’ schedules. I wanted simple.
That’s why the South Beach Diet worked for me. I cut out carbs, but enjoyed protein. I’m simplifying this, of course, but it was pretty simple. This diet worked for my body. Not only did I lose weight, but, following this diet, my body felt really good.
In time, naturally, the cravings for even relatively healthy carbs like wheat bread or fiber cereal nixed this one. But I do return to it from time to time, at least in concept, and, assuming I’m diligent, it still works for me.
A couple of truths I’ve learned over the years?
First, the older I get, the less I can eat to maintain the same weight. This is not fair. But there it is.
Second, the older I get, the more health issues affect what I eat. For example, I’ve become lactose intolerant, so neither cottage cheese nor yogurt sit well. I also have osteoporosis, so I drink almond milk and snack on lactose-free aged cheddar, both of which are more caloric than I’d like.
Third, not every diet works for every body. I’ve tried many versions of the hot new diet of the month, and struck out more often than I can count. I’m probably more of a Mediterranean Diet person when it comes to foods that I like and that like me, though I don’t follow this diet like a religion.
Fourth, accountability is important. I actually work with someone now, here at my house, who comes to see me with her scale. I may eat poorly every so often, but not in the few days before she comes. Her scale doesn’t lie.
Fifth, moderation is key. The holiday season is newly done, but if it’s not Christmas, it’s an anniversary or a birthday or a house-warming. I love sweets. Give me cake with sugar frosting, brownies with chocolate sauce, or eggnog, and I’m in heaven. If I deprive myself, I feel deprived, and what happens then? I get home from wherever and binge on whatever, none of which tastes as good as the goodies offered at the party. Better, I’ve decided, to take a little of this and a little of that at a party – to allow myself to enjoy these treats – and then watch what I eat for the rest of the day without feeling I’ve broken my diet.
So here we are, another year, another resolution. This year I’m trying the ultimate in moderation — a three-meals-only diet, meaning that I eat only at meals, those meals being breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I start to fade away mid-morning or afternoon and need a little something, I’ll modify that to allow for a snack. I’ll give myself permission to have a slice of toast or some cheese or fruit, and I’ll make sure I have my favorite kinds of each of those, so that they become a treat.
Sure, kiwi is expensive. But I’m worth it!
What’s your dream diet? Any recommendations for other readers?