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Talking about diets

When I posted about the compliments I received at the dentist’s office, I mentioned that I don’t like talking about my diet and the reasons probably justified their own entry. This actually translates to “Hey, why don’t I like talking about diets? I better stall by saying I’ll put it in another entry.” I’m a deceptive little minx, aren’t I? Oh, the tricks we writers play!

So I put on my thinking cap and sat in the corner and pondered this topic for awhile and here’s what I came up with. (Actually, I don’t have a thinking cap, though I did crochet a kitty cat hat once, and I’ve never sat in the corner. This is another one of those writer’s tricks a.k.a. lies.)

Usually when someone asks about my diet they are doing it as small talk. Within this context the reply is expected to be brief. However, to really explain everything I’ve done to change my diet would take hours (or hundreds of blog entries) and I really doubt the dental hygienist wanted to sign up for PastaQueen’s Intro to Dieting 101 lecture course. So I typically end up abbreviating the basic things I’ve been doing or just stress the most important things in an all too simplistic manner.

I hate this! This is exactly what the media usually does when they report on health stories. They simplify studies, dumb things down, or jump to broad conclusions based on data from a specific sample set. I always bitch about these types of articles and I hate it when I become a human speakerbox for the same sort of oversimplification. Losing weight wasn’t easy. I hate sounding like one of those jerks who says “Oh, just eat less and move more. It’s so simple!” Simple does not mean easy. If you want to become a millionaire, you should start a successful business. It’s simple. Why aren’t we all millionaires? Because running a successful business is also hard. Same goes for dieting.

In contrast to this, a friend of mine visited me last month who is overweight herself. She was genuinely interested in knowing what I had done to lose all my weight. We ended up talking for at least an hour about the principles I had been following. This was great! I got to go in-depth about what I’d been doing. She understood there was no quick fix or secret. I didn’t try to push the South Beach diet on her, though she did pick up a copy for $2.00 when we visited the half-price bookstore. I didn’t mind talking about my diet in this case because it was a full discussion about nutrition and health and not a quick interchange between mouth rinses. Now spit!

The other reason I dislike talking about diets is that if you’re talking about a diet there is the implication that you should be on one. Now, I used to weigh 372 pounds, so obviously I needed to be on a diet. However, there are lots of thin women out there who will harp incessantly about their diets, what they’re eating, and how guilty they feel about consuming something delicious. I suppose you could argue that they are thin because they are watching what they eat. I would counter-argue that just because you’re watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to talk about it constantly. I don’t want food monitoring to become an obsession that dominates my life. I believe you should eat healthy so you can live longer. Eating healthy shouldn’t become your life.

When I hear people talking about their diets and how they shouldn’t have that last piece of cake, I also hear a subtext of “I’m not thin enough and if I’m not thin enough I’m not good enough.” In this context diet talk partly becomes self-bashing. I don’t want to play that game. If I talk about my diet, I want it to be as an honest discussion about nutrition, not as a backhanded way to whine about how fat I am.

Talking about dieting and fat actually seems to have lots of layers of complexity. I’ve been reading a book called Fat: An anthropology of an obsession, and by reading I mean looking at it on my end table and thinking “Oh, I really need to read the rest of that” and then setting my Diet A&W Root Beer on top of it. One of the essays I have read, “Talk” by Fanny Ambjörnsson, was about high school girls in Sweden. (Tangent: “Fanny” just sounds like a fat girl’s name, doesn’t it?) Fanny observed that they frequently talked about how fat they were, what diet they were on and how much they exercised. She noticed this was a bonding activity, a way to belong to the group. “Because the girls expect others to share similar concerns about their bodies, the experience of worrying about fat is normalized; it is something you face because you’re a girl. Expressing dissatisfaction with one’s body becomes, in this sense, an important way of performing one’s identity as a girl.”

There were some conceits though. A girl could refer to herself as fat, but if she called anyone else in the group fat she would be in danger of being excluded. Also, the thinner girls felt free to talk about how fat they felt, but if an actual fat girl chimed in it would usually be met with silence. This was because being fat was an “‘absent presence’…present as talk only to the extent that it doesn’t actually materialize on people’s bodies. Maintaining this balance – keeping fat both present in talk and absent on your body – makes all the difference between being seen as a successful girl or as a total social failure.”

Maybe as someone who’s been fat most of my life I’ve been socialized not to talk about my fat and diets. I suppose this might also explain why sometimes you can be out with a thin friend and they’ll whine about how fat they feel. Typically I just want to bitch slap someone who does that to me. You’re fat? Is your jean size bigger than your age? But maybe such friends are simply so used to complaining about their bodies to friends that by whining about it to you it’s a sign that they’re including you in their group.

By the way, I don’t mean this entry to discourage anyone who wants to ask me questions about dieting and exercise. Feel free to let your fingers tap dance across the keys and e-mail me if you have a hankering. But, if you’re just trying to make small talk in the grocery line about the latest diets, you’re probably going to get a glazed over look from me that matches any Krispy Kreme donut.

*The link for the word “diets” in this post is a sponsored link.

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17 Comments

Patty • October 3, 2006 at 12:13 pm

I always hate when I was w/ thin friends, usually just when I was younger say, “My butt looks so big in these pants” or “I’m so fat” when they were stick thin and I had the 20 extra pounds. I would just call them on it, and say “you know you aren’t!” Now, lately I also dislike when people notice I’m losing and say “how did you do it” or “what diet are you on”. Like it’s a few word answer. It’s so much more than that, like examining my bad habits, changing them, learn new things about emotional eating, and really changing my lifestyle from eating to exercise and everything else in between. I’m so sick of the media with the “lose 30 lbs. in 30 days with this diet”. There is no miracle cure.

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Nita • October 3, 2006 at 12:50 pm

I hate the way that the only shorthand in this society for “making a healthier body by implementing better choices with respect to nutrition and exercise” is “lose weight”.

I don’t care really about how much I weigh. I care about clothing that’s in a normal size range. The flab I have in strange places. Being able to move quickly. The fact that my body is a startling 33% or so of fat instead of muscle, bone, and guts.

Of course, given all of the above, I track my weight. Of course I track my weight. It’s easy to track. It’s something others track. It’s an indicator of what’s going on with those choices.

But if I reach a point where everything else improves, but my weight stays the same, I refuse to cry.

And please track me down and beat me over the head with this statement, if necessary.

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Amy • October 3, 2006 at 1:33 pm

I’m thin, but I’m a retired fat girl who has been maintaining about 15 years. Which, probably just makes me a thin girl, but took me almost ten years to stop thinking of myself of a fat person. Maybe I’m just very slow to transition, but there are some things that I will probably always remain sensitive to.

I feel really awkward on the rare occasions that I ever mention cake (or any high-calorie food), but like you said, it’s a part of (thin) female culture, and a way to belong.

However, for me, the subtext is never, “I’m not thin enough and if I’m not thin enough I’m not good enough.” For me, the subtext is, “I like myself the way I am, and I want to stay this way.” Cake doesn’t just stop people from losing weight, it also causes people to gain weight.

From experience, I know what all the fat girls are thinking, so I usually keep my mouth shut.

I think it’s a silly thing to go on about, anyway. How we choose to consume food is a personal decision, and there’s no reason to advertise it (unless, of course, someone is really interested and wants dietary advice, like you said).

The reasons you stated for why you don’t like discussing your diet are the same reasons that I usually don’t ask people about their diets. I just compliment them on how great they look, and if they offer more information, then they offer it.

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Marla • October 3, 2006 at 5:30 pm

I LOATHE talking about dieting or weight loss unless it’s a serious discussion, as you had with your friend. I have always detested the diet-talk so many women indulge in, and the constant related self-hate.

The other day I was in line at the drug store, and the woman in front of me turned around and said to me, gesturing at the candy bar display, “I could eat two of those right now!” And I said “Go ahead.”

You should have seen the look on her face! I mean, what was her point? Was I supposed to say “Don’t do that you fat cow,” or “Gee I wish I could eat two candy bars but I’m FAT so I’m not allowed.”?? I don’t even understand the purpose of conversation like that.

I never did bond well with other girls/women; I never seemed to do the “feminine” stuff right. I suppose this is another one of those things…

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Farah • October 3, 2006 at 6:25 pm

I really enjoy your writing, first.

Second, in conversing about over-simplifying diets and how hard it is….I totally agree. I think that is just one more thing that makes it hard for people embarking on a weight-loss venture, all those ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. Like the person melted from one picture to the other in a second. Those two pictures don’t embody the struggles, the back-tracking, the times when that person wanted to quit (assuming they’re normal and it wasn’t a ‘cakewalk’, pun intended). I’ve come to almost resent before and after pictures for this very reason. It isn’t as simple as 2 pictures taken at your physical worst and 1 taken as you are just starting on the road to maintenance, which is just as hard (I understand, because I’m not there yet).

On the other hand, I do have a question for you, and I’m not sure how to word it. Two of the things I’m struggling with the most right now are related, yet separate. One is just wanting to chew on something……does that ever go away? Eating is my emotional stabilizer; I know this but it doesn’t make it any easier when it is mid-afternoon, I’m frustrated with my work, and automatically head to the kitchen for something to chew on. Gum? I can only chew so much!

The second thing is kind of like that….did you have the problem of eating something literally before you’ve registered that you’re eating it? I actually had a nightmare about that last night….that I had eaten a whole bunch of stuff without really paying mental attention and then realizing I’d ruined my way-of-eating for the day (I’ve given up on diets). I’m trying to be conscious of everything I eat, and that I’m *choosing* to eat it, but I just wondered if you had that same problem and how you handled it. I don’t care how long the answer is.

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v'ron • October 3, 2006 at 8:47 pm

the oversimplification analogy to “being a millionaire.” Reminds me of the Steve Marting bit where he goes “You can be a millionaire, and never pay taxes. That’s right. You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes. How? First, get a million dollars. Then, don’t pay any taxes!” And when the IRS comes knocking on the door, you say “I forgot!” And when they don’t accept that, you say ” Excuuuuuuuuuuuuusseeee me!”

That’s just how i want to answer people when they ask me what I’m doing. I just want to say, “I’m eating less and moving more. WhatEVER.”

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Jan Bridge • October 3, 2006 at 10:35 pm

Farah ( and others) . . .need to chew on something? Try vegetables! 1/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce = 10 calories and LOTS of crunch. Use it as a base for a salad, at tomato, onion, and cucumber and the calorie count is up to 35. I sprinkle mine with kosher salt and then shake on white balsamic vinegar!!!

Wash, stem, and trim about a pound of fresh green beans. Steam until bright green – then dump into a bath of ice water. Bag the beans about a dozen to a ziplock and keep in your frig. . . a dozen beans = 20 callories. Again I sprinkle mine with kosher salt and munch like pretzels

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Jay • October 4, 2006 at 1:39 am

pastaqueen,

I have nothing to contribute to this conversation, but I have to say that I LOVE reading your blog posts. Being a skinny white boy, who has recently put on an extra 20 pounds or so (but have been putting of dieting for some time now) I have never even glimpsed inside the world of a fat girl. Keep on doing what you’re doing.

Jay

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Matrishka • October 4, 2006 at 8:40 am

One of the reasons why I’ve told no one about my blog is this: if people know, they’ll always ask “how are you doing on this ‘diet thing’ of yours?”

Diet thing. Like it is learning to play the piano, or a hobby like bungy jumping.

And that always adds even more pressure on myself ~~~ and trust me, I put enough on myself.

Also, I haven’t told anyone I’m “dieting.” Why you ask (I heard you)? Because I’m not perfect. And getting healthy means you can’t have cake. Period. I disagree. If I want cake, I’m going to eat cake. And I don’t want anyone to say to me, “Are you supposed to be eating that cake? Do you think it’s a good idea to eat that if you’re on a diet?”

I can eat cake. I just can’t eat the WHOLE cake!

When I get to my own goals, then, MAYBE then I’ll be able to say, “Well, if you want to know, really take the time to understand what I’ve done, then here, here’s my blog address.”

I used to beat myself up every time I would sit down at dinner in a restaurant and order a regular meal. A healthy, regular meal. I felt that because I was overweight that it offended people if I ate anything at all. I may not be saying this right. It’s almost as though if you are overweight you aren’t entitled to eat, period.

Because then you are just validating “their” opinion that “see, this is why she’s overweight, she eats.” Nevermind it’s fish with steamed vegetables. Just the fact that I eat at all was not allowed.

I hope I said that right.

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Jan Bridge • October 4, 2006 at 3:41 pm

All: PQ’s comments concerning the socialization of young girls/women vis-a-vis FATare most interesting. My’guess’ here is that those of us who were deemed FAT as children/teens had VERY different socialization experiences than did those of us who were deemed ‘normal’ or ‘thin’ as children/teens.

But the question for each of us who were once FAT, and now are working to achieve a lower weight body – and to live in in – is: How do I relate to being ‘normal weight’ or ‘not-FAT’? There is a book that has been recommended to me – title: Passing for Thin – that I am told addresses the challenges

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Laura • October 4, 2006 at 3:59 pm

It’s a good book–and the author’s currently working on another book about the psychology of weight relapses.

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Sandy • October 4, 2006 at 8:04 pm

WOW you are right on it in this post! I have only just discovered your blog, wish I had ages ago. I have lost 90 pounds and live in a small town and I am so over “the how did you do it?” questions. I have found too that they actually don’t really want the true answer, they want a one or two sentence quick fix solution!

I have now resorted to saying, if you really want to know, give me 30 minutes of your time and I can go through it with you! I have even had a few takers! And I now feel far less annoyed :)

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kc • October 5, 2006 at 4:12 am

Wow. Your post is really making sense in a lot of ways. Thanks.

I personally hate the “Wow, you’ve lost weight! How’d you do it?” question because it reminds me that others are keeping tabs (or at least noticing) my weight loss. And if they can notice my weight loss, then they also noticed my weight gain. And… well, I would really like to forget the fact that I’m fat.

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Nanette • October 6, 2006 at 12:24 pm

I’ve noticed that some people–and they don’t have to be close friends, just people you say “hi” to at work–once you’ve exchanged a few words about your diet will appoint themselves diet coaches or, even worse, diet cops. These people feel free to ask (well, more like demand) progress reports, comment on what I’m about to stick in my mouth, or even have the affrontery to comment on my weight loss to others and try to draw them into the lets-keep-an-eye-on-Nanette brigade. That’s why I don’t say a thing to anyone but two close friends anymore about my weight loss. If anyone else asks if I’ve lost weight, I just say, “No, but I notice you’ve lost a few pounds.”

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elizabeth • May 11, 2008 at 4:20 pm

i like the statement about normal size clothes not how much you weigh i need help and just found out about this website via the today show……i need some correspondence and motivation i know i am addicted to carbs because it tastes good is quick and easy help me start something thanks :)

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Karen • May 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

As an overweight woman I always ask people what they are doing to lose weight. It’s because I’m hoping someone has finally found an easy, fun, pleasant way to do the most tedious, unpleasant thing in the world – for me, anyway.

Usually the answer is some new fad diet, but sometimes it’s the tried and true eating less and moving more.

My sister thinks that adult exercise equipment should be large scale childrens’ playground equipment. Children always seem so happy whirling and jumping and climbing and swinging on playground contraptions and adults in a gym never seem happy, much less excited to be counting reps on the weight machines. There is a fortune to be made for someone who will develop playground equipment for adults.

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Chris • August 9, 2008 at 3:13 am

I was wondering where you get your recipes? Do you care to share any of them? How did you begin the process of finding what to cook? I have tried some pretty awful recipes. Thanks for sharing. Chris

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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