Friday, April 9, 2010

An essay

Results Not Typical

The first time I went on a diet, I was in the seventh grade. I remember being in the locker room at school, talking with my friends. I think the gist of the diet was to eat dry toast and drink lots of water. Some of the other girls were incredulous. “You’re on a diet? You don’t need to be on a diet!!” I thought they were just being nice, although I did appreciate the compliment. I don’t think that particular diet lasted long, but it was the first diet in an almost 30 year (and counting) relationship with the diet and fitness industries.

When I was in the ninth grade, my stepmother joined Weight Watchers. I decided to follow along without actually joining. It worked. I lost nine pounds. But, of course, I gained it all back once I stopped tracking my food. Eventually, I joined Weight Watchers myself, twice. I also did the online version, twice. I tried counting points without actually joining, way more than twice.
Next up was the Cabbage Soup Diet. You know, the one where you eat nothing but cabbage soup and one or two very specific foods per day for a week. I think I lasted until the day I was supposed to eat nothing but cabbage soup and bananas. I hate bananas.

It was all downhill after that. In addition to Weight Watchers and the Cabbage Soup diet, I’ve also tried Atkins, South Beach, Body for Life, the Mayo Clinic Diet, the G.I. Diet and Spark People to name, uh, a few.

In fact, I once calculated that I’ve probably spent in the neighbourhood of ten thousand dollars on trying to lose weight. That sounds crazy, I know. But when you consider that over the course of the past 30 years I’ve purchased books, magazines, videos, treadmills (yes, that’s supposed to be plural), free weights, gym memberships, personal training sessions and memberships to various weight loss groups…well, it adds up.

Have a look at your local bookstore shelves. There is a diet for everyone! They’re written by everyone from doctors to self proclaimed skinny bitches. They promise that if you follow their rules to the letter, and only if you follow the rules to the letter, you will lose weight and be happy. As if being fat and being happy were mutually exclusive. Even the fast food industry is hopping on the bandwagon. Ever heard of a little chain called Subway and their average Joe spokesperson named Jared? Every diet has a face. Jenny, Florine and Tony are everywhere. They develop diets and exercise equipment. They write autobiographies and cook books. They merchandise the hell out of themselves and put their names on everything from t-shirts to stuffed animals. Work out videos are developed for whatever the new exercise craze happens to be. I’ve seen salsa workouts, belly dancing workouts, step workouts, boxing workouts, 10 minute workouts, 30 day workouts, and now there’s Wii. Using your Nintendo console, you can play Wii Fit, My Fitness Coach, Wii Sports, Outdoor Challenge, and Cardio Challenge. I bought most of these, too.

I’d tried everything. And then, one day, I realized that none of it was working. I was still fat. So I decided to try the opposite approach. I stopped dieting. I was referred to an eating disorders clinic and started counselling with a dietitian and a social worker. They applauded me for my decision to eschew diets. I was free! I could eat whatever I wanted, when I wanted it! Well, provided it was healthy. And provided I monitored the portion sizes. And…wait, wouldn’t this be considered dieting? I was confused. I made it to half a dozen sessions, didn’t lose any weight, and never went back. I decided that I could do the ‘not dieting’ thing on my own. I promptly gained another 20 pounds.

The diet and fitness industries are billion dollar industries. And while I’m not enough of a conspiracy theorist to think that there are people in a back room at Jenny Craig working on ways to make us think that they want people to lose weight, when really they’re trying to keep them fat, I do think that these industries have a vested interest in people staying fat. If nobody was overweight, what would they do then? That’s not to say that I blame the diet and fitness industries for the obesity epidemic. I don’t. It’s not their fault and they can hardly be blamed for capitalizing on it. So whose fault is it? That question brings me right back to the diet books. For every diet book that’s out there, there’s a theory as to why obesity is so prevalent today. Some of the theories that I’ve seen include, we eat too much processed foods, we eat too much sugar, we’ve strayed too far from the diet of our ancestors, we don’t obtain all of our food within a hundred miles of our homes, we don’t eat the right combination of foods for our blood type, we don’t eat the right combination of foods period. There are a hundred more books on the shelves that each give their own reason why you’re fat. Who is right?

There’s a website out there that might shed some light on things. It’s called This is Why You’re Fat. Ironically, they’ve also turned that into a book. Although I doubt it’s one you’d find in the diet section of your local bookstore. It shows some of the creations that can be found in homes, and even in some restaurants, in North America. It features dishes called Year of the Triple Bypass, which is described as a “burger filled with Chinese BBQ pork between two pork buns” and the Fat Elvis, “a deep fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich sprinkled with powdered sugar”. Then there’s my personal favourite. A little something called the Fat Bitch. Does it even matter what’s in that one? Okay, so those dishes are extreme and they aren’t really the reason I’m fat. But obviously, my diet choices leave something to be desired.
As I get older, I’m getting closer and closer to the truth, I think. Or should I say, I’m less and less able to live in denial. The reality is this. In order to lose weight, people need to eat less and move more. Calories in needs to be less than calories out. That’s it folks, that’s the big secret. That is what every single one of those diets out there ultimately advocates. Whether you’re reducing calories by limiting carbohydrates or whether you’re reducing them by limiting fat is secondary. The point is, you’re reducing calories. The trick then, is not to pick the one diet that works, but to pick a diet you can stick to. Or take bits and pieces from each of them and develop your own plan. Be flexible! If you’re a pasta lover then perhaps a low carbohydrate diet is not for you. If you don’t like to keep track of the food you’re eating you might not want to join a weight loss program that tells you to keep a food diary. Also, remember that there’s no point in striving for the unattainable. People come in all shapes and size and there’s a good chance that you won’t ever be 5’ 10” and a size 2. Especially if your raw materials consist of a 5’ 4” frame and genes that tend toward the stocky side. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is to realize that even the most committed dieter (and even the thinnest thin person!) will occasionally stray from the plan they’ve chosen. You can react to a detour by getting back on track or you can react by giving up and throwing in the towel. The choice is yours.

I’m no expert, unless years of research and personal experience count for something, but I think more focus needs to be placed on getting back to basics. Eat your vegetables. Have an apple a day. Drink your milk. Have your treats too, but make sure they’re just that, treats. Work hard. Play hard. These things will make you healthier and happier. This is what I’m going to try. And who knows, if it works, maybe I’ll write a book!

1 comment:

Julie said...

WELL SAID. This is what we need to teach our children, our teenagers, and our communities. I applaud your determination and voice in helping educate others.