I recently proposed that we needed to come up with a word to describe someone who wasn’t fat, but wasn’t really thin either. While we’re revising the lexicon, I think we need to decide what the word “diet” is supposed to mean. Maybe we should just throw the word out completely and recycle the letters for use in other words. The word “diet” has so many connotations that using the word is like wielding a blunt object. It’s imprecise. It causes a lot of confusion. It makes me sound like I’m subsisting solely on tofu and rice cakes.
“Dieting” has a lot of negative baggage. If you’re on a diet it’s implied that someday you will go off a diet. It’s a temporary state of existence, like a month-to-month lease. Dieting implies another “d” word – deprivation. Dieters are accused of starving themselves and going hungry. It’s implied that if you break any of your diet’s multiple rules you are a very bad person indeed. Violators will have their knuckles rapped with their diet books and be sent to the corner to moan about what bad people they are as they suck their thumbs.
If that’s what you think diets are, then no wonder there are people who are anti-diet. All of the above behaviors are a pretty messed up way to live your life. I was always suspicious of diets because of all those connotations, which is one of the reasons I never went on one before.
I state on my “About” page that I follow the South Beach Diet. Maybe when people see that big D word they assume I fit into the category of people above. If I ever start taking on those behaviors, I give you all permission to tie me to a chair and force feed me cake. I’d prefer chocolate fudge cake if you’ve got it, but angel food cake is yummy too.
I do have guidelines that I follow when I make my food choices. I’ll always go for the slice of whole-wheat over the white bread. Sweet potatoes will beat normal potatoes in all my vegetable wrestling matches. I’m going to peel the skin off the chicken even if you call me a poultry scalper. But if I really, really want to eat something, I eat it. There is still a dried-up, sticky streak of mint chocolate shake residue on my car’s cup holder from my expedition to Steak N’ Shake a month ago. I haven’t cleaned it off yet because I’m lazy and I need to stick some more napkins in my map holder, but also because every time I see it I think “Damn, that was a goooood milkshake,” as if I am remembering the best sex of my life. I don’t regret the milkshake and if I ever get a big hankering for one again, I’ll go consume those 700 calories joyously.
I demand that I enjoy every single thing I eat. If I don’t, I say “Well, that was nasty. Let’s not stick that in our mouth again.” Recently someone asked me what I do when I’m hungry and I responded honestly, “I eat.” The idea that I’m starving myself or eating only raw Elmer’s paste is ridiculous. Paste tastes so much better when you add cinnamon and Splenda, duh.
Sometimes I still overeat. Last week I was lying in my bed after dinner with that sickly “Why did you eat the entire antelope?” feeling our cavemen ancestors must have had. I started to moan, “Geez, why did you have to eat all that….cauliflower?” This was completely ridiculous. I was guilting myself over cauliflower? Did I think tiny florets were going to spring up on my face like I had vegetable-induced herpes? I suppose that’s the biggest difference between my old way of life and my new lifestyle. These day’s I’m usually pigging out on little white vegetables that look like trees instead of entire pints of ice cream.
My way of eating and exercising has become natural part of my life. Planning what I eat is part of the regular maintenance required on my body, just like combing my hair, brushing my teeth, and showering. It’s just something I’ve got to do, less I be the crazy, smelly girl with fuzzy white teeth. It doesn’t mean I’m obsessed with dieting, not any more than I am obsessed with going to the bathroom because I have to pee 5 or 6 times a day.
I don’t want to say I’m on a diet, because this is a permanent change that leaves me satisfied and happy. I’m not suffering in any way because of it. The word “diet” makes it sound like I’m eating only protein shakes and vitamin pills. I also don’t want to say I’m not on a diet because I am following guidelines and actively managing what I eat. And I don’t live a life completely free of food guilt. There are still some days (like after an Easter binge) that I feel a bad about eating half a cake and I have to keep reminding myself to get over it already.
There are a lot of people like me out there. Wendy over at Pound refers to her lifestyle as “this thing I’m doing.” There was recently a survey that said less people were “on a diet”, and those who were dieting were “more likely to be on diets of their own making rather than following diets prescribed by physicians or by diet food marketers.”
I cracked open the aqua-marine cover of my South Beach Diet book last weekend to see how closely I was following the plan since it’d been about two years since I’d read the book. I discovered I have been eating the wrong kind of oatmeal, all the couscous I’ve been consuming hasn’t been Kosher, and that peas are starchy and I shouldn’t be raiding their pods so much.
Then I closed the book, put it back on the shelf and thought, “Well, that’s lovely,” and made some couscous and peas. What I’m doing seems to be working anyway. I don’t want to give up my Pine Nut couscous or my Baked Apple Instant Oatmeal. For the most part, I still am following the South Beach plan, but I’ve made my own modifications, picking out the parts I like best and rationalizing any indiscretions. It’s the buffet style approach, which is the same way many people approach religion. There are plenty of Catholics who use birth control despite what the pope might say. I guess I’m doing South Beach: PastaQueen Style.
Diet or anti-diet, I don’t even know what those words mean anymore. I’m just going to eat, drink and be merry. I’ll save a place at the table for you.