Sunday, January 20, 2008

What I Learned When
I Gave Up Dieting

Here it is, the middle of January, and diet season is in full swing. Everywhere I go, I hear people discussing how they are losing weight this time.* Some are counting one thing, some are counting another. Some are eating the food some program is willing to sell them. Some are modifying their lifestyle. And, of course, Weight Watchers is advertising that "Diets don't work. Weight Watchers does." Totally ignoring the fact that Weight Watchers is a diet and has horrible long term results. Ah, so nice to be free of all of the nonsense. To simply eat when I'm hungry, whatever it is that I'm hungry for, and stop not when the measuring cup is empty but when I'm satisfied.

It does, however, bring back memories of all the yeas when I did diet, when I had these strange rules for how I ate that were supposed to take off the pounds and not let them creep back on. Before I let myself out of the cage and discovered that I didn't have to live that way.

I used to never buy "forbidden foods"** when I did my grocery shopping. I couldn't bring them into the house via car. The rule*** was, any forbidden foods I had to walk home carrying. 20 blocks, ten of them uphill. If I wanted ice cream, I had to really work for it.

Another rule was, only enough for now. Once I got it home, I had to finish it all that episode. I can remember climbing the hill with a muffin, a pint of ice cream, a package of peanuts, and a couple of doughnuts and then eating the whole lot of it in one sitting, although I wasn't hungry after the first. But, I could only eat it if I ate it now, so I certainly didn't enjoy most of it.

I kept my butter in the freezer. If I wanted anything with butter, I had to wait while it thawed. Once I stopped doing this, I discovered that the bread lasted longer! It seems that, when I had to wait for the butter before I could have a slice of sourdough French bread, as long as it was thawed I might as well eat several. Once it was always thawed, I discovered that sometimes I only wanted half a slice!

There were many, many more rules, but since I gave up this nonsense in 2000, I don't remember what they were off hand. However, these days my house is full of formerly forbidden foods, and I have discovered that if there is plenty I have no need to eat it all. Particularly if it is obvious that I can't eat it all, I can eat much less. The more there is, the less I have to eat. Rather like when my mother was in high school and worked in a candy store and was allowed to eat all the candy she wanted. Soon, she was going weeks without any candy because she didn't want it.

When I first gave up dieting, I went out and bought formerly forbidden food like there was no tomorrow. Five pounds each of seven kinds of nuts. All sorts of candy. Chips of every kind. Crackers. Cheese. Salami, spare ribs, bacon. Bread! Doughnuts. Pie. Cake. Ice cream. I brought six gallons of ice cream into my house at one time. At the same time I brought in all the rest of this list. At first I would have five scoops of ice cream with toppings and nuts and banana. Daily. For dinner. Or breakfast. Then it was less. Before very long at all, it was one scoop plain. Now, sometimes I have a single scoop. Sometimes I have two scoops and topping. Sometimes I have a single spoon. Mostly I have none. I go months without having ice cream, because I don't want it. It is the same with all of the formerly forbidden food. I let myself eat it and eventually I didn't want it. At first I gained about ten pounds, since I no longer weigh myself I'm not sure how much, but all of my clothes still fit. Then that weight came back off. I was having a bowl of nuts and candy for a meal. I had spareribs at least once a week for over two years. I let myself have all of the things that I had denied myself for so long.

And then, as I no longer needed to eat all of these things all of the time, I began to discover things I had never known about them before. Like, cheese turns green. Nuts go rancid. Ice cream gets crystals in it. Salami grows white "hair". Bread and doughnuts and crackers and chips get stale. I had never had any of that food in my house long enough for it to spoil, but spoil it does. So, now I buy smaller amounts. Instead of five pounds of cashews, I buy the small can. And often have to throw out most of the can because it has gone rancid.

And, once I no longer needed to eat all of the formerly forbidden stuff, I discovered that I really like tomatoes. I ate some form of raw tomato every day for well over two years. I love produce more than anything else. I stock up on fruit, and it does not go bad. Spare ribs are too fatty for my taste. One day I looked up on the top shelf, and there was a package of Oreos that was over four years old and unopened! Also, a virgin box of almond roca. Unopened and stale peanut brittle.

Amazing. If I'm not trying to discipline myself about food, I don't need the discipline.

Do you have any idea how wonderful it is to be free of food obsessions? To not be afraid of doughnuts and pecans and a slice of bread and butter? To take a couple of slices of my birthday cake home from Kathy and Richard's?

* The fact that it is this time doesn't seem to cause them to question whether or not diets work.
** And the list of forbidden foods was long. It seemed to include everything a person would ever want to eat, except produce.
*** And, boy, did I have rules!

Great minds travel the same roads sometimes. My friend Deja Pseub, over on Une d'un certain age has posted Finding myself through food today. It is well worth reading.


Deja Pseu said...

Funny, our trains of thought were on parallel tracks today!

J at said...

I keep our nuts in the freezer, so they won't go rancid. :) There's no hope for ice cream, though, but to throw it away when it's gross. Just like cheese, and salami. And donuts. (mmm...donuts...) Stale donuts are yucky, though.

So glad you've given up being crazy about food.

Anvilcloud said...

I think there are silly fad diets and sensible plans that help one to change one's ways. About four years ago, I followed the Dr Phil plan, and it worked well. I more or less kept my thinner self for almost three years because I had developed the frame of mind to eat better. When my environment changed, I regressed somewhat to old habits, and now have to lose almost as much -- but not quite. After four years, I am still ten pounds thinner than before and am working again at doing even better. I'm not following any plan just cutting back and eating sensibly.

Rain said...

what gets me about our country is the inability to recognize beauty in many shapes. Women who are anorexic are praised for their beautiful figures and some women who are quite lovely and yes, obese, are ridiculed. It's the same thing though about age. They admire women who are lineless but look plastic while they put down the natural aging women. I am not sure how this all began but I suspect advertising as it sells a lot of products to keep women trying to look young and skinny

Jelly-Filled said...

Yes, and even CAKE can mold! I never knew and was AMAZED when it happened in my house. :-)

Love this post!

Joy Des Jardins said...

I've learned the same lesson J. I always bought things in too big portions...and they almost always went bad somewhere down the line. Now with just me basically in the house...I buy much, much less. It just killed me to toss all that stuff out. Now it seems weird to even cook for a lot of people anymore. Live and learn....

Chancy said...

Great post and so true.

Anonymous said...

oh yes yes ! I don't think people belive me but I crave oranges, vegetables and all because I've allowed myself all the forbidden stuff.