Dieters are a funny breed, and by many criteria could be classified as insane. Gleefully participate in self-inflicted suffering? Check. Restrict entire categories of edible, nutritious, and tasty food? Check. Do the same thing over and over again and expect different results? Check. Throw in a couple of face tattoos and straitjackets, and we'll be ready for the asylum.
Amazingly, there are very few of us who do not belong to the dieter tribe. Dieting, and specifically chronic dieting (bouncing back and forth between various diets, food philosophies, and, ahem, body sizes), is a popular hobby in the 21st century. A combination of supersizing and unrealistic beauty standards has forced most of us to question the way we eat and look, and the dieting industry has been more than happy to offer us thousands of weight-loss solutions every year. Bless their hearts.
I would say it is unfortunate that their pills, programs, and bonus DVDs haven't really worked out, but now that I'm a foodist, I see the failure of the dieting industry to make us thinner or healthier as one of the luckiest mess-ups of our generation. Just imagine if it worked. How horrible would it be if, in order to look and feel amazing, you had to deprive yourself of foods you love for the rest of your life, skipping birthday cake and Michelin-rated restaurants, just so you can feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror? Seriously, screw that. It isn't necessary, even if you did have the willpower to pull it off (and you probably don't). There is a better way, and all it takes is thinking about food, health, and weight loss not like a dieter, but like a foodist.
If you've tried any weight-loss program in the past, you probably know from experience that dieters almost never eat food. Sure, dieters eat protein, fat, carbs (though they may try not to), calories, calcium, and omega-3s, but to them food is just a vehicle to ingest essential nutrients, not the ultimate reason for eating. I know this because I was a chronic dieter for most of my life, and over almost two decades I've tried nearly every weight-loss strategy under the sun.
My dieting adventure started unintentionally. One sunny morning in sixth grade I walked into the kitchen to find my mother making what looked like a milkshake. Thinking I might have won the breakfast lottery, I enthusiastically inquired what it was. She explained that it was indeed a chocolate shake, but it was for a new diet that was supposed to help her lose weight. My 11-year-old translation: We can have chocolate milkshakes for breakfast and not worry about getting fat. My mom agreed to share, and breakfast was never the same again.
Over the next few years I went from SlimFast every morning to a diet almost completely free of fat (remember the 1990s?). By the time I got to college, it was nothing but meat, eggs, and cottage cheese according to Dr. Atkins. From there I moved to the South Beach Diet and started running marathons to burn extra calories. In other words, I was the perfect example of what Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and real-food hero, aptly describes as our "national eating disorder." I embraced every new diet as if it had the potential to solve all my problems, following every ridiculous rule without question or exception.
In retrospect, the most interesting part is not that I tried all these diets (clearly I was not alone in my efforts), but that I was good at them. I was very thin (i.e., "successful") on my low-fat regimen in high school -- I was a ballerina and definitely looked the part. After I stopped dancing and put some weight back on, I had no trouble abandoning bread, rice, and potatoes for several years while I got back down to size 0 on the Atkins diet. I gladly woke up at 5:00 a.m. for two-hour workouts every weekday and clocked three-hour-long runs every Sunday for marathon training during my first few years of graduate school.
Though my successes may have been fleeting, a weak will has never been the reason. The problem wasn't me. The problem was that starving yourself of energy, nutrients, and pleasure is not the most effective way to attain -- let alone maintain -- the body you want. It is also no way to live your life.
Chronic dieters believe that success comes from sacrifice. If only we could deprive ourselves a little more, punish our bodies even harder, then we could finally look amazing and, of course, be happy. But as someone who has tortured herself in every way imaginable, I can guarantee you that this path does not lead to happiness. Why? Because it turns life into a constant struggle. You never really win if you're dieting. When you are constantly depriving yourself, happiness is always just out of reach. So even if you could confidently identify the best, most effective restrictive diet, why should this be your goal? Shouldn't there be more to life than constantly denying yourself the things you enjoy? Now you're thinking like a foodist.
Ten Simple Ways to Eat Less Without Noticing:
1. Use smaller plates. Regardless of the actual quantity of food, a full plate sends the signal that you're eating a full meal, and a partially empty plate looks like a skimpy meal. Using smaller plates and filling them up is a proven way to eat less without noticing.
2. Serve yourself 20 percent less. The mindless margin is about 20 percent of any given meal. In other words, you can eat 80 percent of the food you'd normally eat and probably not notice it as less, so long as no one points it out to you. You could also eat 20 percent more -- not a bad idea if you're scooping vegetables. If you have those smaller plates mentioned above, serving yourself a little less should be just as satisfying.
3. Use taller glasses. Just as less food looks like more food on a smaller plate, height makes things look larger than width does, even when the volumes are the same. You can cut down on your liquid calories by choosing taller glasses rather than shorter, fatter ones.
4. Eat protein for breakfast. People love to hype eating breakfast as a miracle weight-loss cure, but only breakfasts high in protein have been proven to suppress appetite and reduce subsequent eating throughout the day. Skip the waffles and head to the omelet station instead.
5. Eat three meals a day. People often say that eating many small meals is better than eating three bigger ones throughout the day, but the data tell us otherwise. Though skipping meals can make controlling your appetite more difficult, eating more than three meals a day has not been shown to have any benefit and may even be worse for appetite control. Eat when you're supposed to and you shouldn't need any extra food.
6. Keep snacks out of sight or out of the building. Study after study has shown that people eat a lot more when food is visible rather than put away where it can't be seen, even if they know it is there. Research has also demonstrated that the harder food is to get to, even if the extra effort is just removing a lid or walking to the cabinet, the less likely you are to eat it. The extra work forces you to question the value of your action, and this gives you the opportunity to talk yourself out of a decision you may regret later.
To avoid extra snacking, keep tempting foods out of sight or, better yet, out of the house. On the flip side, keep healthy foods prominently displayed and easy to reach.
7. Chew thoroughly. Once you start paying more attention to eating speed, you may be horrified to observe that most people don't chew. If you're one of those who chew the minimum number of times before swallowing or shoveling in another forkful, chances are you're eating substantially more at every meal than your thoroughly chewing peers. Slow down, chew each bite (counting your chews can help develop the habit), and watch as you fill up faster on fewer calories.
8. Don't eat from the package. Your stomach can't count. When you can't see how much you're eating, you're more than a little likely to lose track and consume double or even triple the amount you'd eat if you took the time to serve yourself a proper portion. Use a plate, a bowl, or even a napkin. Just make sure you get a good visual of everything you're going to eat before taking your first bite.
9. Don't eat in front of the TV. For the vast majority of us, distracted eating is overeating. The end of a show or movie is another powerful cue signifying that a meal is over, so parking in front of the TV with your plate for a Battlestar Galactica marathon is probably not the best idea. With the invention of DVR, there's no reason you can't take 30 minutes to sit down and have a proper meal before enjoying your shows.
10. Don't pay attention to health claims. But wait, isn't healthy food supposed to be better for you? In theory, yes. But truly healthy food -- vegetables, fruits, and other unprocessed foods -- rarely have labels at all. Instead, foods with health claims tend to be processed junk repackaged as better-for-you alternatives.
Even worse, research from Cornell scientist Brian Wansink's lab has shown that people drastically underestimate the number of calories in foods with visible health claims on the packaging. People also tend to eat more food overall as a result of this miscalculation. He refers to this effect as the "health halo," and it's a recipe for packing on the pounds. For real health, stick to humble foods without labels.
Excerpted from FOODIST: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting by Darya Pino Rose. Copyright © 2013 by Darya Pino Rose. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.
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