In My Own Write: Who put the 'die' in dieting?

It's sad, but true - millions of people never really enjoy their food.

November 4, 2008 18:35
In My Own Write: Who put the 'die' in dieting?

med diet 88. (photo credit: )


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A colleague of mine favors the term "low-hanging fruit" to describe a benefit gained at little cost or effort. I used to think it applied, very aptly, to the act of eating - for what could be easier than opening one's mouth and shoveling the food in? A small child can do it; and, in fact, nearly all of them do. And, oh, the tastes, textures and aromas of a cunningly conceived, well-prepared meal - now smooth, now crispy or crunchy, by turns savory and sweet. For sheer, uncomplicated pleasure, eating's hard to beat. For some of us, that is. But for many others, every bite is a potential trap, its jaws waiting to snap shut on the undisciplined or unwary. For them, eating is synonymous with self-denial, anxiety and, often, despair. Talk to them, and you'll hear that they're always "on" or "off" a diet. They spend their lives yo-yoing between these two states, either resentful that they can't eat "what everyone else is having," or bingeing and suffering guilt over "breaking their diet" yet again. Apart from the proven health risks of this feast-or-famine seesawing, the sad thing is that these folks - millions of otherwise normal people like you and me - never really get to enjoy their food. I'M NOT talking about people who must, on doctor's orders, avoid this or monitor their intake of that in order to stay healthy, or even alive; nor those who are slowly shedding excess weight via a sensible eating plan. My beef is with the eternal, foolish optimists who believe that a "miracle" diet will do it. It won't, not sustainably. But that doesn't stop these true believers. When one fad proves a failure, they move onto the next. "Japan has long been home to a nation that enthusiastically embraces faddish health fixes," wrote Danielle Demetriou in a September 29 report in Britain's Daily Telegraph. "Last year sales of natto (fermented soybeans)... boomed following media hype surrounding its apparent virtues as a weight loss food. After dieters across the country emptied supermarket shelves of natto, scientists later disproved the claims, stating that it would not help consumers lose weight." The same report noted a craze that began in March 2008 with the publication of the "Morning Banana Diet," in which "the soaring popularity" of the banana resulted in Japanese sales rising by as much as 70 percent in one week, leading to a scarcity of the fruit. CAN people become addicted to the concept of dieting - meaning they are no longer able to live any other way? I believe they can. And sometimes they get desperate. "My mother told me that it's when you feel those hunger pangs that you're actually losing weight," I heard a woman say. Yet the opposite may be true: Many experts hold that acute hunger drives the body into "starvation mode," in which it clings for dear life to its fat stores. I once invited a journalist working temporarily at the Post for Shabbat lunch, and it turned out to be an uncomfortable experience. To be fair, she hadn't been enthusiastic, warning me that she was "on a strict diet." Perhaps I should have taken the hint and allowed her to decline the invitation. I didn't, and in the event she proved reluctant to eat at all, not even a few spoonfuls of gazpacho. It tightened the atmosphere. The climax came when - to a general sigh of relief - she put a couple of lettuce leaves onto her plate. Relief turned to amazement when she opened her handbag, took out a miniature scale and weighed the lettuce. THE Western world is already addicted to the singleminded pursuit of youthfulness and beauty - particularly in women - of which thinness is deemed an inseparable part. And since most people aren't programmed to be as slender as the fashion dictates, they must diet until they conform. With large swathes of the world genuinely starving, isn't it ironic that millions in the countries of (still) plenty should choose to imitate their plight? It's a schizophrenic scene, with, on the one hand, food companies tempting us with calorific goodies every time we open a newspaper or magazine or turn on the TV; while, on the other hand, diet-product manufacturers do their best, via those same channels, to make us feel inadequate and rush out to pay for the bodily perfection only they can supply. And where the media leads, the social networking sites follow, brazenly. "Muffin top!" screamed an ad at a member of one network, showing a woman in a tight pair of jeans with a roll of flab hanging over the waistband. These sites tailor their ads to subscribers' profiles, and this member had entered her status as "Engaged," rendering her juicy prey for the peddlers of diet pills and potions. WHEN God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden, He didn't say: "Behold, I have given you the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Cucumber Diet, the 7-Day, 14-Day, Six-Week, Three-Month, You-Name-It Diet - to you shall it be for food." He was far, far wiser than that (see Genesis, chapter 1). From the very beginning, variety was the spice of life. Or, as the British like to put it: "A little bit of what you fancy does you good." Forbidden fruit, as Eve learned to her cost, is irresistible. And this is partly why trendy diets fail. By excluding the whole wondrous array of things out there to eat - including, yes, chocolate and whatever else makes your taste buds tingle; by sentencing the dieter to a savagely curtailed menu, they doom him or her to a sort of culinary apartheid. Imagine if no food was forbidden, ever. Surely the frenzied "must-have-it-now" of the serial dieter would fade away; for one could always decide to have that ice-cream later, tomorrow, or not at all. The psychological straight-jacket would be gone. In an experiment with babies who could already sit in a high-chair and pick up food, researchers filled their trays with things that were good for them, like bits of fruit and vegetable, together with less-healthy snacks. Over a period of time, they found, the babies didn't just go for the snacks, but tended to balance their choices. ANOTHER reason why "wonder" diets don't work is the day you go "back to normal." Most yo-yo dieters, having no better tools and however noble their intentions, fall back into the eating pattern that made them overweight in the first place. Often they gain additional weight over and above what they had before. Oy! Clearly, this is not the way to a trimmer body. Instead of a losing scenario - losing money, health and hope, that is, not flab - desperate dieters need a winning one. And it exists, though no magic is involved. In the long run, the only way to lose excess weight, and keep it off, is to shed it gradually by adopting a healthy, varied lifetime eating pattern which includes controlled quantities of the things one most enjoys and stresses regular exercise - at least 45 minutes a day. Even walking is fine. In my Short Order column, which I wrote for this newspaper, emphasizing healthy eating, I once described how shocked a colleague was to discover me in a fast-food joint enjoying a hamburger and french fries. "It's a good thing your readers can't see you," he half-joked. "An occasional burger won't affect anybody too much," I told him. "It's what you eat day in, day out - that's what makes the difference." THOSE who crave a slimmer self need to throw out the miracle diets and make an appointment with an expert dietician. It will be their first step to an existence in which food is no longer a fear-inducing temptress, but a normal, joyful part of life. If it were up to me, I'd ban those four words "I'm on a diet" from common usage. Quite simply, they don't do anyone any good.

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