A colleague recently gave a speech called Diets Don’t Work. He spoke about his own struggle with food, eating junk foods indiscriminately while in college without regard to consequences, and later, as he realized that he had gained an inordinate amount of weight, endeavored to try whatever diet was popular or interesting to shed those excess pounds. He related staying on the Atkins diet about a day and a half, and we all laughed knowingly. He continued to tell us of his efforts, and his discovery not too much later that the secret, if there is one, is not to diet, but enjoy whatever foods you like, but in moderation. He mentioned that he loves soda, and would drink three or four cans of it in one day, to the tune of about 800 empty calories. He realized that such empty calories did nothing for his weight, not to mention his health, and so began a journey of acknowledgment and recognition. With a bit of tweaking, he started diminishing his intake of sodas, or substituting water or tea. He learned that eating whole fruit was much more satisfying than merely drinking the soda. And thus began his journey of acquainting himself with favorite foods that he had eschewed and reintroducing sanity into his lifestyle.
My colleague is a young man, trim and handsome. It’s hard to believe that he once carried 25 extra pounds. But that’s so easy to do in our society, with the huge portions of fried simple carbohydrates and our sedentary lifestyles. And so, as I realized I had a like-minded friend in our midst, I introduced him to my writings on the subject. Moreover, such affinity also reignited whatever cooling embers I may have had lately about my own diet. Reenergized, renewed in my commitment, I have been busy chopping and cooking all kinds of salads, from a Moroccan carrot salad with raisins (one of my childhood favorites) to a simple salad of cherry tomatoes, radishes and olives. Bliss!
Look – it’s really quite simple. You decide what you want. You make the choice. In my case, I want to shed about 13 pounds. No biggie. But to get there, there are some things I must do. These are the steps that promote success, that support success, that will move the action in the direction I claim I want. So, what’s the “problem”? It’s called conflict. And it’s of my own making.
It’s popular to trumpet everywhere that diets don’t work. Well, of course, they don’t. Diets are not supposed to work – YOU are. And when you finally get that concept, then you discover that ALL diets work. What the public seems to want more than anything else is the so-called “softer, easier” diet – you know the one: The one that lets you eat – no, gorge – on all your favorite foods, and still maintain a body that would be the envy of Nicole Kidman! C’mon, admit it. You want to eat at the all-you-can-eat pizza place; participate in the eating contests at 4th of July barbecues; indulge in your cousin’s wedding cake; help celebrate your parents’ 50th anniversary – heck, your own 20th anniversary is coming up, and by golly, you are going to the Brazilian churrascaria! Ain’t nobody gonna tell me I can’t. Well, no one is.
Look, I’ve been there, done that. And embarrased to tell, I still do. I still want my cake and eat it, too (pardon the pun). Yep. I want that svelte, gorgeous, lithe body without doing the work. I convince myself that the likes of Nicole Kidman don’t have to diet because they’re so tall, they can eat anything they want. But look a bit closer, and you discover that they put in hard work – from Cher to Raquel Welch to Eva Longoria. In fact, those Hollywood people actually work at being beautiful. You know what that means? The gym every day for 5 hours; eating like a bird; and when socializing, holding a wine glass filled with water and smiling a lot. I may be exaggerating, but there is a lot of truth between the lines. Hollywood beauties count on their looks to earn a living, and therefore, work quite hard at it.
So, I can go to the nearest weight-loss clinic every week and get HCG shots for which I am charged a fortune, and deceive myself into thinking that if I pay good money, it’s going to motivate me to stick to it; and besides, HCG is supposed to melt the fat away automatically, right? Or, I could join Weight Watchers and get weighed in every week, and use the group as my motivator; I could read every book on weight control out there. Or, I could join a Twelve Step Program and depend on my higher power to give me that gorgeous body I’m looking for. But you know what? In the final analysis, it is still up to me.
Is there a softer, easier way to keep weight off? I doubt it. But the question is not whether there is an easier way to accomplish the goal. Rather, do I want the easy way, or the glorious way? If you pinned a gold medal on Michael Phelps simply for waking up in the morning, it would mean nothing to him. He would not enjoy it. No one would celebrate it. If you declared Tiger Woods the winner at the GPA without him playing a round of golf, how could that count toward his self-esteem? You see, to get the glory, you have to put in the effort. You can cry about how hard it is (to deprive yourself from your favorite foods; to sweat and suffer sore muscles; to skip the parties), or you can yield to a choice to get a healthier, more beautiful body. Make your choice, then yield to its requirements. In fact, once you do yield, you might discover quite a few benefits in the process itself. For instance, there are very few sensations more pleasurable than a cool shower after a round of exercise. Discover your own. Discover the glorious pride you feel when you step on the scale and it shows the results of your efforts. Relish that! Seek it. Choose glory.
I had relaxed my own rules for some time, and last night decided to indulge in some desserts. Mind you, I have avoided them assiduously for the past 15 years. Yes, 15 years! But last night, after dinner, I had some sugary desserts. Why? I had come to realize that keeping my resolve to stay away from flour and sugar did not need to become the next obsession. I was not going to have “abstinence” become my new master. So, I made a choice and indulged.
When I awoke this morning and recalled the dramatic deviation I had taken from my usual course, I realized that perhaps that was not the best course of action. Yes, I did not need to make avoidance of flour/sugar my new master, but nor did I need to beat myself up for sidestepping it. And whatever I indulged in last night did not represent the first time ever that I sidestepped my own rules: For some time now, I have been eating whole-grain products, chips and crackers, and items that no doubt contained some sugar, so certainly my sojourn last night did not represent a capitulation. But, I also know that I do not want to let this become the slippery slope that it could be. Indulging once in a blue moon is fine; leaving all your resolutions behind is not.
After all, sticking to those resolutions has been difficult at times; and that is precisely why I feel proud of the accomplishment.
I expect that folks have been reading, or will be reading, this blog at some point. I imagine that some may think that I am a fool-proof skinny who has never had to diet in her life; never struggles; never white knuckles it. Wrong!
In fact, over the past couple of years or so, I have experienced a rather bad time of it, in terms of cravings and difficulty sticking with my plan. And each time I “fail,” I berate myself, mock myself with negative self talk. And in so doing, I condemn myself to continuing the same experience. How? While it is true that I have had many so-called failures to stick to a proper, healthy diet, it is also true that I have had many successes, and it is indeed such successes that have prompted me to write my book, Diet Proof Your Life, which is the theme of this blog. You see, self-talk is extremely powerful, and what you say to yourself has an enormous impact on your subsequent beliefs and consequent behaviors. Self-talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, if I have failed (to stick to my diet) or if I succeed in it, all translates to self-talk. The issue, then, is which self-talk will you believe in? The one that puts you down as a “failure,” or the one that raises you and makes you feel proud and good about yourself, thereby propelling you to further gains?
This has become one of most often-used excuse for everything from overeating to goofing off. And I don’t want to hide behind that one. That said, there is one area of my diet/eating style that befuddles me: If I am successful in keeping my food/eating commitments for even a single day, I assume an attitude of “Gee, that was easy!” and conclude that since it was no big deal, I can do it again at anytime, and therefore can go ahead and indulge. That, of course, doesn’t help, because it produces the logical next feeling of guilt. There, I did it again! I’m no good, I can’t stick to it, it’s bigger than I am. I wrote the book on focusing on things other than food or eating; focusing on gratitudes; on friends and relationships; on hobbies and pastimes. And yet, here I am being “human.” I despise that excuse, because it is so final, so definitive: In effect, being human is all we can be. We will never be anything but human. Does that limit us? It shouldn’t. On the contrary – being human is an inspired, evolved existence, one that should propel us to be better than simple automatons in the way we conduct ourselves in relation to our environment, in the way we behave, in our choices. Indeed, as humans, we have choices that go beyond our baser instincts, therefore, being human elevates us, rather than condemns us to an existence of simply responding to our urges.