When most people want to reduce weight, the first thing they think of is, “I better go on a diet!” Yet when I decided to shed some pounds recently, I knew I needed to do something terribly novel: I did not go on a diet.
The word diet is too often relegated to some rather bizarre concept, like only eating grapefruit or eliminating all starches. The Atkins Diet tells you to bulk up on animal fats while the South Beach Diet is at least slightly friendlier to vegetables and fruits.
Any good doctor or nutritionist will tell you that a diet is what we should be on for life. Namely, we should all practice a life-long diet that makes certain we get all our essential nutritional needs while consuming only the amount of calories our bodies demand.
The word diet, however, always leaves me cold. It immediately makes me think of deprivation and restrictions. I don’t particularly like chocolate or cake, but once I decide to swear off all sweets, I begin to crave chocolate cake and other things I would normally not want. Experts say this is common with many dieters: an intense compulsion for that which we cannot have even if it is not something we would ordinarily want.
I’ve been a vegetarian – the ethical type and not one who calls themselves vegan but makes exceptions for both red and white meat – and found the same thing happened at the start of barbecue season.
I was fine with tofu, ginger root, and snow peas as dietary staples until someone fired up his backyard grill on the first warm day of spring. Then I would begin to salivate with all the fury of Pavlov’s dogs. The aroma would send me into questioning whether I was frustrating my destiny as an omnivore by denying myself the pleasure of the meat with which endless forefathers had sustained themselves.
The point is that this is what almost any kind of diet does to you. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to have iron willpower or the strength of your convictions. But just because you can force yourself to limit your intake of certain foods does not always mean you’re on the road to health along with a smaller waist size.
My friend, Robyn, likes to switch between about a half dozen diet plans, from South Beach to the low-fat-soup-only diet, from one that has her consuming only fruits and vegetables for six days a week (but she can have anything and everything she desires on the seventh), and another that requires her to drink four glasses of water before each meal to make it impossible for her to overeat. In between those, Robyn moves between only fish and rice and the other which is all foods Mediterranean.
But for Robyn, the problem isn’t finding a new diet. She has huge bound notebooks of various diet plans, the majority of which she has tried at one time or another.
Like many women – and some men – the desire to lose weight can make them throw all concepts of adequate nutrition out the window. A balance of proteins and mostly good fats with whole grains along with fruits and vegetables can usually keep up in fairly good health. But diets often eliminate not just the foods we like the best, they also forbid you from eating those you need.
Understand, too, that different people can have widely varying nutritional requirements. One person on a meat-free diet may become anemic or iron-deprived very quickly while others can go for years or a lifetime without consuming meat. Any diet that excludes vegetables and fruits should give you reason for pause.
Owing to Robin, who routinely has problems with anemia, depleted calcium and bones, and high cholesterol perhaps at least in part because of all her diets, I chose the no diet route. I simply eat less and try to get regular exercise.
You know what? My way seems to be working better than my friend’s, too. If I went on a diet, I might lose a few pounds. Because I did not, I dropped 30, and all without deprivation or dieting.