I recently read an article in the New York Times from their health columnist, Jane Brody, who divulged her “secrets to lasting weight loss.” As a young woman, she was forty pounds overweight and tried various diets, only to regain every pound she lost. Eventually she decided to give up dieting, thinking, if she was going to be fat, she might as well be happy. To her surprise, she ended up losing the excess weight when she wasn’t focused on dieting.
Today, Jane has maintained that weight loss for almost 50 years. Her secrets for maintenance are: “I read nutrition labels before I buy anything in a package, I practice portion control, and I exercise and weigh myself every day to stay within a two-pound range appropriate for my height.” She goes on to say how she eats everything in moderation and tries to keep in mind the approximate calorie count for what she’s eating.
We can definitely learn something from her experience. But her conclusions and “secrets” are a bit pat, and probably unhelpful to those of us who struggle with major food issues. The best thing to take from her advice is that ultimately giving up dieting can be the most positive decision, especially for people who struggle with bingeing after periods of self-imposed deprivation. The dieting-bingeing cycle just might be the most common problem for those of us with food issues and the only way out of it is to stop dieting. That can be a frustrating thought when you are unhappy with your weight, but getting out of the vicious cycle of rapidly losing and gaining is better for your physical and emotional well-being. Eventually, you hopefully reach a place where you lose extra weight slowly or at least maintain, but your life isn’t controlled by dieting anymore.
Her other points—about reading labels, monitoring her weight, and being conscious of how much she is eating—are all sound, common sense advice. Still, it sounds a bit like “dieting”, just in a more relaxed way, which is fine for most people with normal to mildly problematic relationships with food. But for people with moderate or major food issues, I wonder if it isn’t just the same as the path we’ve tried to go down so many times before. Weighing ourselves every day and mentally calculating calories would just reinforce our obsession with food and weight. And truthfully, some of us aren’t able to stop at one graham cracker for a dessert like Jane, no matter how sensible that may be. For many of us, the work required to live a healthier life is a lot more difficult than downloading a chart listing the calories of common foods—and that’s ok too.
photo by Med Coolman on flickr