Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Don’t Believe in Diets and Why I’m on a Diet

I'm on a diet.  I don't believe in diets and I resent that I am on one.  I resent it thoroughly.
I have only been on two other diets in my life.  The first time was when I was a freshman in college.  My health professor informed us that he would give all students a skin fold test at the end of the semester and only those who measured as "slim " would get an A on that particular "assignment."  At the beginning of the semester, my measurement was not "slim " but "ideal." I agreed that my body mass was ideal and would have preferred to stay the same, but I was also an academic perfectionist and an ideal body mass was only worth a B grade. 

If I were in that same class today, I would be complaining to the dean, writing letters to the editor, maybe picketing.  Everything about the skin fold test grade was so twisted.  It rewarded underweight, unhealthy, anorexic people and reinforced their eating disorders.  It gave people with ideal body weights cause to develop eating disorders of their own, even if they were previously and correctly comfortable with their body weight. Even for obese students, who really did need to lose weight, the policy was damaging because it encouraged them to lose weight at an unhealthy rate in order to meet the semester-end deadline.

But I was more docile back then, and I really liked A 's, so I decided to accept the challenge to achieve less than ideal body mass. Sort of. I wasn't at all willing to starve myself, even for an A, so I only gave up all sweets and I exercised more often than usual.  At the end of the semester, my body mass was still ideal and I wished I had just eaten dessert when I wanted it.

My next diet was unintentional but more severe.  I was a missionary in a third world country and my stove started shooting flames.  With the stove out of service, I was limited to foods that did not require cooking.  Foods requiring refrigeration were also out because of the frequent power outages in the area.  (When the stove worked, we would buy fresh perishables every day for immediate cooking and consumption.)  So I ate tomato and green pepper sandwiches, without meat or cheese, every day, every meal, for 10 consecutive days.

When I wrote my usual weekly letter to my family, I must have seemed really hungry, because they called the mission president to protest my living conditions.  That happened to be day 11, the day my new stove arrived, so the mission president reassured them that it was all taken care of.  However, he was curious about what I had written to inspire such a reaction from my usually laid back parents.  He called me in and pointed out that he, himself, packed a sack lunch of sandwiches every day as he traveled across the mission area. I was duly ashamed of my weakness, until I related the conversation to other missionaries who pointed out that he ate nice sandwiches, with meat in them, and hot meals for breakfast and dinner. My shame immediately evaporated.

So those are my only two previous personal experiences with dieting.  I don’t believe in dieting and some health experts agree with me.  Those who espouse the "intuitive eating" philosophy argue that going on and off of diets only destroys your metabolism and causes you to forget how to eat rationally, resulting in even greater weight gain as soon as the diet ends. 

Regardless of whether they happen to be right or not, I like this kind of nutrition expert.  They are saying exactly what I want to hear.  "Enjoy your food! Don 't torture yourself with a diet!"

I do not like “serving size Nazi” nutrition experts.  The powers that be have created a nonsense unit called the “serving.”  From its name, it sounds like it would be the amount of food that you could dig out of a platter with a serving spoon—the amount you would actually put on your plate and eat.  Actually, a serving size is completely different for every possible food out there, but always much smaller than what any rational, hungry person would choose to eat.   Nutrition experts can do entire courses on serving sizes.  “A serving of bagel is about the size of a wedding ring,” they explain.  “And a serving of bread is the size of a crouton and a serving of grapes is the size of one piece of a grape after you cut it into thirds.”

Are these serving size descriptions accurate?  I don’t know.  I always tune out when someone starts talking about serving sizes.  The one thing I do notice is that the serving size Nazis usually forget to mention that you are allowed several of these pathetic servings during one meal.  I think they like to see people starve.

Before anyone becomes too scandalized and tattles on me to any of my coworkers at the health department about my flagrant disregard for portion control, I should mention that I do eat healthy food.  You know, skim milk or water instead of soda pop, turkey or chicken instead of red meat, wheat bread instead of white, lots of vegetables.  It’s just that since I do eat broccoli much more often than I eat brownies, I don’t bother to feel guilty when I eat brownies.  

Or rather, I used to eat brownies without feeling guilty.  Now I don’t eat them at all.  As I mentioned before, I am on a diet.  A real one.  The first real diet of my life.  I hate it.  But it is necessary.  I don’t believe in diets, except under special circumstances, but unfortunately, I am under special circumstances.  After three perfectly healthy previous pregnancies, my luck has run out and this time I have gestational diabetes. I have to be good and figure out correct portion sizes by measuring my food onto my plate with a measuring cup and mathematically choosing meals using the nutrition brochures at restaurants.  Everyone points out that the diabetic diet isn’t the worst diet in the world, and I agree, but I still dislike the diet even more than I dislike bleeding myself several times a day to check my blood sugar.  Poking yourself is generally acknowledged as torturous.  Eating is supposed to be fun but has become work for me.  

I am trying to develop a good attitude.  I work in public health, after all, and this is a great way to practice the stuff we preach about chronic disease management—but lucky me; I only have to do it for a few months instead of my whole life.  And won’t this experience help me to better empathize with the struggles of people who have real, long-term health problems?  If I could only stop whining about it, this could be a great learning experience. I would stop whining, if I could only become less hungry.

1 comment:

  1. You crack me up! I am so sorry you had to go on the diabetic diet. That stinks! Hang in there!