Diets don’t work

Well, it’s that time again. Sugar cookies, eggnog, mashed potatoes, gravy, eggnog, homemade pastries, lots of snacks, eggnog ‘ you get the idea: The holiday eating frenzy is upon us.  How can one possibly lose weight, much less maintain it, under such circumstances? Isn’t there some sort of middle ground where we can still enjoy the holidays without having to agonize over every last bite (or sip)? Seems a shame to let Aunt Myrna’s divinity fudge go to waste.

My experience as a therapist has shown that a restrictive diet, full of rules and regulations, is not the way to lose and maintain weight. Why? Because, in and of itself, it’s a contradiction. To ‘diet’ clearly implies an attempt to follow a temporary formula to achieve a permanent goal. In other words, you suffer for a period of time in order to lose weight. But then what happens? Like the school child anxiously awaiting the 3 o’clock bell, most people courageously endure the latest fad diet, and then, when they just can’t take it any longer, it’s back to the goodies again. Despite all the ‘scientific’ hype over fat, no fat, carbs, no carbs, protein, no protein, ‘zones,’ no ‘zones,’ Americans are getting fatter in record numbers. Something isn’t working.

The problem with dieting is that it’s short-term. Well-intentioned dieters don’t think beyond the initial, temporary sacrifice. But as overeaters have discovered, losing weight isn’t nearly as hard as keeping it off. In fact, maintaining your new-found weight ends up being a lot more difficult than losing, because the positive reinforcement (‘Wow, Emma, you look great!’), and the fun of buying smaller clothes (what, exactly, does ‘portly’ REALLY mean?), slowly fade as dieters approach their goal.

Though it’s deceptively basic, the solution is simply to eat whatever amount is required to get your weight where you want it to be, and keep it there. Experiment by monitoring your weight, or waist size, as you eat smaller amounts over time. Control the portions and the weight will follow. Get moral support through family and friends, groups such as Weight Watchers or Curves, or spend some time talking to a good counselor or therapist. Add-in a little exercise, and you might even reach your goal faster.

Is it hard? Of course it is. Eating is necessary to life, and imparts powerful, pleasurable sensations. My clients tell me that the sense of loss and craving can often mimic withdrawal from certain drugs. For the ‘horizontally challenged,’ strolling the boardwalk, cruising Route 1 or walking down Garfield Avenue can be a distressing, saliva-generating experience. Why do you think they call it ‘comfort food!’

Dieting, with motivation, can often work in the short run. In the long run, though, it can never be a replacement for feeding your body no more fuel than what it needs to operate. There’s no short cut. You can’t starve yourself of carbs or fat, for example, and then, once you’ve lost a couple of pounds, revert to your old ways. If anything, you’ll blow up bigger than before. There are people (of whom I stand in awe), who can starve themselves indefinitely, but the credit doesn’t go to the diet; it goes to their singular, often obsessive determination.

A visitor to my website emailed, ‘As a fitness training professional, one of the first things I teach my clients is that one cannot ‘starve’ fat off of the body. It must be burned off through increased exercise and a decrease in food intake. Far too often I see people who starve themselves on a diet and get absolutely nowhere. Their metabolic rate slows down, and, because they neglect exercise, they end up either not being able to lose any more weight or actually putting it back on.’ So, moderate exercise is crucial. You’re living (or vacationing) in an exercise paradise, so give it a try.

Both psychologically and nutritionally, it’s best to continue eating a balanced combination of the kinds of food you like. Just reduce the portions. It’s not easy, but you can still enjoy life by eating the foods you crave, but in smaller amounts. And, if you can make it a habit, you can live with it long-term and, in the process, maintain ‘the new you.’

Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to experience life to its fullest, or take the chance of living a shorter life with more health problems?’ Some people overeat because, deep down, they’re not so sure they care about life. This is an emotional issue that no diet alone can ever begin to address.

The old adage, ‘the dose makes the poison’ is true. It’s not the food that kills you. It’s too much food. You and your love of life — not the latest fad diet — can work to achieve your target weight, once and for all. Now pass the eggnog, please.