Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Mythbustin': I'm Starting A Diet

Myth: Diets are something you go on and off of as needed for your weight.

Fact: You're on a diet, whether call it one or not.

"Diet" doesn't mean "strict eating regimen." It means, "Any eating regimen." Whatever you're doing right now, it's a diet. It is The You Diet.

Seem a little like I'm parsing hairs? Like it's not really a big deal? Like it doesn't change anything, but just is a semantic "Gotcha!"?

Well, it's not. Because think about it this way--when somebody says, "I can't stay on a diet," they're wrong. There is some diet they can do perfectly fine, and that's whatever they're doing. It may not be a perfect diet, or a healthy diet, but they still "have" a diet. If someone were to watch over their shoulder with a notepad, they could even give them a pretty good idea of what that diet consisted of.

When someone says, "I can't diet," what they're really trying to convey is one of three things:

The Diet Excuses:

1. "I can't tie myself down to a plan." Let's say that the person with the notepad came back at the end of the week, took out all his notes and said, "Okay, you have to eat nothing but these things this week at these times." The person who holds attitude number 1 couldn't do it. They wouldn't want to restrict themselves. Even though they found the diet perfectly satisfying the week before, the idea of being tied down to it sounds horrible.

"Do I really have to get up at three AM and eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry's?" they'll whine.

2. "I can't deny myself certain foods." This person might be perfectly fine with the above scenario. In fact, they may eat pretty much the same foods every week anyway. They'd grab the list from the guy, grateful they don't have to stand in front of the fridge any more. But if the guy started messing with the menu, making suggestions here and there, this person would freak out.

"But what if it's three AM and I want to eat a half a pint of Ben & Jerry's?"

3. "I do not want to be subjected to the financial and/or physical difficulties that might come from changing my diet." This last group has, either by experience or by word of mouth, come to believe that it would be either too expensive or too physically painful (e.g. they'd have no energy or feel hungry all the time) to change their eating habits. This group would look at any list handed to them and think either:

"How am I going to afford all of this?" or "Is this all? But what if I need more?"

The Excuse Busters:

1. If you're in category 1, here's the coolest thing you can learn about dieting, that will make you able to diet again: You can be in control. There is no guy with a notepad. The only one who will ultimately decide what you eat is you. At no point has any person who has ever subscribed to any diet stopped being in control. They've still had their free agency the entire time.

What I recommend for the controllers is this: Design your own diet. Learn all you can about nutrition. Read a couple of books that you think sound appealing, and then use all that knowledge you gain to create a diet for yourself. Use recipes from each book that sound appealing to you. Plan it all out yourself. Now, when you have to eat salmon and brown rice on Wednesday night, it will be fun, because it was your idea, rather than be frustrating because some guy with a notepad told you to.

2. Number two--here's your deal: You can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. You really can. There's only two tricks you have to learn.

First trick is to learn how to keep foods from being a problem. Plan for pizza night by eating low calorie, high fiber foods the rest of the day. Plan for the church Pancake Breakfast by having a sensible meal to prepare for dinner that night.

And second, learn tricks to reduce the calories of your favorite foods. Use less fatty cheese and meats on your pizza and more antioxidant-rich sauce. Use unbleached flour in the dough instead of white flour. Figure out how to get the taste you like with less caloric cost.

3. If you're the person who's afraid they'll be hungry if they eat better, think about this: Some foods, like asparagus and watermelon, actually have negative caloric value. It takes more calories to digest them than they contain. In other words, you could spend all day, every day, for a week doing nothing but eating watermelon or papaya, getting beyond full, and you would still wither away and die.

Okay, maybe you wouldn't die in a week. And you definitely wouldn't want to ever try this diet, but there still exists a happy medium. Somewhere between starving yourself and eating watermelon all day long, there's a diet that will keep you full and still be nutritious and help you lose weight.

If it's a financial thing--well, I hear you. While I struggle with just about every issue on this list, this one's probably my biggest one right now. We coupon shop, and with coupon shopping, junk food is where the bargains are at. We could be stocked to the gills with junk food for nothing right now, if we wanted to. But we don't. We want to eat healthy and lose weight.

Again, though--you can do it, if you plan. Not buying junk still saves us money, and we are able to find creative ways to save money. Buying in bulk, growing vegetables ourselves (did I mention I had the first tomato from our patio garden yesterday?), making things from scratch--they all help. It can be done. We're doing it.

Final Note:

You may have noticed all of these answers had a common word--plan. It's really all about making a plan. So I guess there's one excuse that I don't have an answer for:

"I don't want to have to make a plan."

If that's your reason, well--I can't help you. There is nothing in this life you can accomplish by luck. You have to make a plan and see it through.

I won't say "stick to it." You may find you have to modify the plan as life and circumstances happen. But you just adjust your plan so it still brings you firmly to your destination.

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