Sunday, December 30, 2007

Thoughts on Diets

As far as I'm concerned, "Diet" is a 4-letter word. In my mind diet means deprivation, suffering and a short-term eating plan that cannot be sustained.

The majority of people I know who diet do it continuously and tend to mess up their metabolisms by not eating enough quality calories. Or the first thing they do is "deprive" themselves of some food they love, making it a huge taboo. Eventually they end up binge eating or giving up totally, gaining back the weight they lost or even more. It's a vicious cycle.

There are several things in my personal history which have added to my jaded view of diets.
1) My Mom never sustained weight loss on a diet. Granted, my Mom had no self control, but she made a big deal about dieting and we all had to suffer when she was on one. She never tried what I thought were fad diets, but I was pretty young then. Regardless, diets were all about suffering.
2) I remember some relatives who went on a bunch of fad diets: the grapefruit diet (they were miserable) and the hot dog, boiled egg and banana diet. They lost a little weight, but were sick of grapefruit, hot dogs and bananas. Oh, they gained the weight back.
3) I tried a 5-lbs in 5 days diet I found in a magazine. It was right before a big party and I wanted to look great in a clingy dress. (This was about 20 years ago.) I had to buy lots of unusual foods that I would never use again, but I followed the diet to the letter. After a full day of eating just vegetables on the last day I was to drink a glass of prune juice. Needless to say, I ended up rushing to the bathroom and spent over an hour in there, unable to leave. I felt pretty stupid that it didn't occur to me what effect the food combinations would have had, and I was angry that this diet's method of weight loss was a self-induced case of intestinal distress!
4) My in-laws lost weight on a packaged meal plan right before my wedding. Not only did my father-in-law need his gallbladder removed (a common side effect of this diet we found out years later), but as soon as they went back to their own cooking they gained back the weight.
5) I have family members who tried the Adkins Diet. They lost weight pretty quickly, and sweated over the 5 goldfish crackers they ate one weekend. The weight came right back on as soon as they went returned to their normal eating.
6) I know another person who was on a diet that seemed as if she was being deprived, but complained she had not lost a single pound even though she had been eating a local restaurant's taco salad every day for lunch. (Ugh!)

Compare all of that to my Dad. He never said he was on a diet, but had such great self control he could lose weight whenever he wanted to simply by controlling portions, eating lots of fresh vegetables, and planning his daily calorie consumption around special events such as parties. (His salad tub in the fridge was pretty amazing.) He could keep the weight off as long as he wished. Unfortunately, he really enjoyed food and drink and became a yo-yo dieter. Regardless, he remains the only person I have ever known who could decide to lose weight and lost weight making it look effortless. (He quit smoking the same way, but that is another story.)

OK, not everyone can be like my Dad and have such great self-discipline. (How much peanut brittle did you eat last week, Cindi?) Many people are more successful if they have a support group environment, such as WW. Many people have difficulty knowing what is healthy to eat without help, and there are some great books on the subject. If that is what works, great!

There are a few things that people seem to forget.
First, to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. If you consume too few calories you will not be healthy. Feeling deprived will probably lead to failure. And it is better to find a healthy way of eating that can be maintained for life than to alternate between starving and gaining. Afterall, isn't maintaining our health our ultimate goal?

Note: This is what I remember from my Dad's weight loss plan. (He's been gone over 10 years, so it might not be totally accurate.)

For breakfast he ate one piece of dry toast with coffee.

At around 10 a.m., he would eat a small apple.

Lunch was a large salad, usually at a restaurant. I don't know about mid-afternoon snacks.
For dinner, he would fix a HUGE salad then have a small portion of whatever the rest of us were having for dinner. His salads had become legendary in our family, and the preparation was pretty elaborate. He had a plastic tub he kept in the fridge that contained everything he could possibly want on a salad. He had the standards of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, etc., and other choices such as canned beets, garbanzo beans, red beans, peas, corn, low fat ham or turkey and a wide variety of fat free dressings. You name it, and it had probably been on one of his salads. He would ocassionally just put lean chicken or a small scoup of chili on the salad and skip the rest of our meal. I think I even saw him put sauerkraut on one once. His theory was, as long as it was vegetable or bean, he could consume as much as he wanted. His other theory was, as long as his salads were not boring, he could eat them every day.

If he had a hamburger or other high-calorie meal for lunch, he would skip the higher calorie salad options at dinner and eat more lettuce.

In the evening, when he got the munchies, he would eat raw baby carrots. He loved crunchy snacks, so it was the perfect solution.


Tammy said...

Great post, and great reminder to everyone out there that DIETS DO NOT WORK! If you want to lose weight, you need to have a new lifestyle. That will work - I lost 105 lbs on Weight Watchers and have kept it off for a year and 2 months now. Racewalking is an essential and enjoyable part of my new lifestyle.

Thanks, Cindi, for a great magazine... I hope you achieve all your goals in 2008!

Cindi said...

Thanks, Tammy. And congratulations on your weight loss success! You are absolutely right about the lifestyle change. When I interviewed Matt Hoover from the Biggest Loser, he said the hardest part of the entire experience was going back home and trying to maintain the new lifestyle.