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Can I Follow My Own Advice? An Intentional Experiment in Dieting Failure

Posted Dec 26 2012 6:45am


Christmas, Day, 2012 – the Caribbean 6:00am

Today we return home. As a part of the book I am working on I have been thinking a lot about dieting failures and how to overcome them through the act of failing gloriously on your diet – pleasurably, gracefully, without recrimination or guilt – then bringing yourself back. I think the key here is not the failing itself nor the returning to your previous weight after a blowout and resuming weight loss – I think that the moments most important is that time in between – that bringing oneself back from planned and unplanned failures, doing so gently without beating oneself up over it and being oh-so patient with yourself.

Easy for me to say – right? I write these things that sound good, then if *you* follow it and it doesn’t work then ‘blame the victim’: you can’t cut it. That’s usually how these things go in most diet books: they trot out a good-sounding theory that doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work – and it’s your fault.

I need what I’m writing to be better than some abstract information that sounds nice but doesn’t deliver. I am planning on telling you to face your fears of certain foods and eat them – then stop. Then do it again after a while. Then stop. The result being this practice, over and over,  will place you so under control of these foods that you never need worry that they will ever destroy your diet to the  point that you gain all the weight back. You allow for setbacks, recover, and it really becomes a trivial thing – almost second nature. Along the way, you enjoy what you eat, not demonizing these foods but celebrating them.

They aren’t bad – no food is in this notion: it is frequency and setting that is the demon here.

So as part of my vacation I decided to put my hypothesis to the test on myself and awaken some personal demons I had vanquished. The least of these: carbs. I have a lot of carbs, but usually catch myself after a day or two. It usually keeps me sane and has allowed for a slow weight loss over the past few months, with me getting to a weight below 200 for the first time in maybe four years.

What I did here was completely abandon pretty much even the pretense of carb counting. While it is still second nature to look for the low carb foods in the grocery store and on menus, this did not stop me from a most wonderful indulgence in French baguettes, hot out of the oven smeared with butter. Or the fine French pastries at the wonderful bread shop where each item was a work of art to see as well as to eat. We had bought an olive loaf bread late afternoon to eat later in the evening and found ourselves devouring nearly the entire thing while there. We hit the supermarkets for their mustard seed potato chips and their bags of grocery store brioche.

They also know how to make a damn fine potato salad there.

There was also Christmas cookies, nachos, dinner rolls, jellies, juice, and a host of other things I can’t remember. I gave myself freely of all the good food and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Next up on my personal demon list was drinking alcohol. I gave it up about a year and a half ago, finding that I simply couldn’t drink what I wanted to drink and still maintain or lose any weight. I simply told myself that ‘I had drank enough for one lifetime’ and stopped. In the back of my mind, however, I had a fear that if I drank again I couldn’t stop myself.

That’s the problem most people have on diets: a fear that just one bite of some old food friend will unleash something so large and monstrous that it cannot be controlled. I’ve concluded that this type of thinking might be, paradoxically, at the heart of most major dieting failures. I think it builds up such an inner tension that when a mishap ultimately occurs, we are powerless. Our very perfectionism dooms us to failure.

So to place a large bet on my own hypothesis, I drank. I had wine, beer, rum, Champagne and a martini. I drank my fill but did find I am a lightweight compared to what I once could pack away. It would take some practice to get back into ‘Olympic condition’ – and I simply didn’t have the time. I enjoyed what I drank, though – and even had the experience of my first hangover in maybe a decade – a combination of a martini before dinner, wine with dinner, and a beer before bed.

Like I said – a lightweight.

To complete the awakening of personal demons, I smoked. I never stopped enjoying smoking – I just stopped smoking. I enjoyed a pack of Dunhills, then finished up a pack of 10 small cigars during the duration of my trip.

But now it’s over.

When I left for vacation I was 200.6. On Christmas morning I was 210.4. I gained 10 pounds in 10 days, drank and smoked.

I’ve completed the ‘fun’ part of the ‘failure practice’: I did what I did with a pure heart, guiltless, enjoying every moment. I now need to get back to the person who was under 200 lbs., and who doesn’t drink (perhaps except on the rare occasion) and most certainly does not smoke.

It is that getting from the former to the latter where the test of my hypothesis resides – the one I needed to prove to myself so that I could write it with a clear heart – that’s the experiment here.

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