It’s that time of year again. Time for weight-loss programs to ramp up their ad campaigns. You know, the ones featuring newly slim B-list celebrities parading around in skimpy outfits. Ever wonder what happens to these famous spokespeople when their contracts end? Exactly: just like us, most of them gain back the weight.
It’s hard to fathom why we keep buying into these diets, despite the fact that they rarely work on a permanent basis. We want to lose weight, of course, and somehow we think we’ll succeed this time if we can just sign up for the right program. We surrender our personal choice about what to eat, and turn it over to a faceless entity that Knows What’s Best For Us.
In a way, diet programs are kind of like religious cults.
Wait, I’m not assailing your spiritual beliefs. Nor am I questioning any well thought-out eating plan that truly addresses your health concerns. I’m talking about the weight loss program you see on TV or read about in a magazine or on a website, the one everyone’s doing, the plan with specific menus and/or its own packaged foods. The diet that demands that you practice unthinking self-denial and sacrifice in exchange for the promise of salvation: fitting into those skinny jeans. (Supermodel Kate Moss: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Honestly, does anyone really believe this... or do they just wish they did?)
When you stick faithfully to this type of diet, you feel virtuous; when you make a mistake and go off the diet, you feel guilty and must atone by cleansing or doing extra sit-ups.
Alex Witchell’s recent column in the New York Times sums it up perfectly. Witchell’s sister, a vegan, declares that she likes being told what to eat. “It’s like wearing a uniform,” she says. “The less choice you have the easier it is. Today there are too many choices of everything. If you rule out food groups, it makes it more manageable.”
Two paragraphs later, the sister confides that she sneaked some of her kids’ Halloween candy. “There’s a whole emotional content to eating and sometimes kale doesn’t fill it.”
Is her need really emotional? Or is there something important her diet plan isn’t providing? Either way, it’s clear that being a vegan is not working for her. But she doesn’t blame the diet: she blames herself.
What to do instead
OK, I know there are a lot of food choices out there, many of them bad for you. It can be overwhelming, and we all make mistakes, despite our best intentions.
But a diet plan, a set of rules someone else made up, can never answer your body’s unique needs. Every rigid diet eventually creates a nutrient deficiency -- which results in cravings and the desire to frantically munch your way through a package of Oreos.
And then what happens? You label yourself an emotional eater.
Suggestion for the new year: Don’t be swayed by those diet ads. Take the money you would have spent on membership dues and lousy frozen meals, and fill your kitchen with healthy whole foods instead. You know what that means: fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and organic dairy, eggs, and meat, if you so desire. Then eat them!
Yes, it’s simpler to consume packaged diet meals. It’s easier to follow a set of rules. But remember, rules are made to be broken.
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