Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday rant - Diet Schmiet

If you haven't jumped on at least one diet bandwagon in your life (especially if you're a woman), then you're definitely a rare species. I grew up straddling one household where tv dinners and Big Stuff Oreos (whatever happened to those?) were the norm and another household where anything with fat was totally anathema. Later, it turned into one house with four square meals and the other with no fat but pasta every night for dinner. So I wouldn't necessarily say I had a cohesive eating style growing up. In fact, I had rather a split personality with food, enhanced by afternoon rendez-vous with pepperidge farms cookies.

When I got the college, I had no idea how to cook. I started with things like rice pilaf (and let me tell you, a dinner of only rice pilaf and then working out the next day is just an invitation for crashing) and frozen stir frys (stir fries?). I went through Atkins, which can be greatly effective (my father lost a ton of weight with it) but isn't necessarily manageable long term.

My current thinking? I hate diets. Not that anyone likes them. I mean, how could you like a diet, which is inherently a system which tells you what you can't eat? I think all in all, it's a fairly losing proposition in the long run. Yes, people lose a bunch of weight, but more often then not, it packs right back on, and then some. And it's because so many of these diets seem to focus on the quick fix, and don't teach you how to eat for life. Seriously, can you imagine eating cabbage soup every day for the rest of your life? The primal diet seems at first to be more manageable, since there are a range of foods you can eat - it's mostly meat and veggies, with carbs and dairy being no-nos. Atkins too has had a lot of popular press with its no-carb diet. Then there are all the different organizations where you have to buy the food directly from them (frozen-dinner style), and they don't teach you how to make it yourself. But the defining feature of the diets is that there are foods (often many many foods) which you aren't supposed to eat, and when people do, it's with a sense that they're failing their diet, which can sometime derail their whole diet for the day ("hey, as long as I'm eating badly today, I might's well add on another pint of ice cream or three more cookies and call this day a wash, right?"). I'd rather focus on the positive.

Then I read The New Glucose Revolution. It discusses the glycemic impact of certain foods (what the food does to your blood sugar, and therefore how long you feel full and how much nutrition you get). It's kind of like a loose South Beach Diet without the crazy restrictive level 1. And it doesn't say you can't have certain foods. Now, as much as I'd like to eat cake and cookies and ice cream all the time, that's not what it says either. Basically, the rule of thumb is "everything in moderation." We have a culture of going to excess in this country (entrees at restaurants could give you the same number of calories as your entire normal day), with huge plates of food and eating until the plate is clean, rather than listening to the signals our stomachs are giving us. I'm just as guilty of that as the next person. But basically, eating low glycemic index foods (cutting back on (but not totally cutting out) refined carbs like white bread and rice, and eating foods low in saturated fat. And unlike the old low-fat diets, adding important healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Basically, I eat about 80% of my meals from food I've cooked, and I normally stick to protein, lots of veggies, and whole or multi-grain carbs (quinoa, semolina pasta, multi-grain bread, couscous), with a touch of dairy in there. Then when I go out to eat, I don't worry about what I get so much - I enjoy it, even if it happens to be fried or creamy or whatever. Because when I tell myself that I can't have a cookie, when I do I end up eating three. But if I just have the cookie in the first place, I'll have one (or two, or yes three, but whatever, I exercise). I also don't like all the chemicals they put in food, so I stay away from canned stuff like soup, or tv dinners (which fill me up for maybe an hour), or other preprepared foods. I'll just cook a lot on Sundays, put a bunch of stuff in my freezer for home cooked frozen dinners, and it all works out.

But the thing is, what many people completely forget, is that there is no Holy Grail of dieting. Maybe you don't have time to cook at all, or you can't even boil water, or you're on a restricted budget, or you don't have all the freezer space I do. Maybe you're a vegetarian or vegan or have celiac disease. Then the way I eat isn't right for you. And that's ok. Just because it works for me doesn't mean it'll work for you. And that's what I feel that people forget. They see some cool new diet, decide to try it, don't get results, and give up on the whole idea of dieting. Try approach "dieting" like dating. You go out with someone a couple times, but you're not likely to meet your life partner the first time out, right? So you date around, then eventually find the right fit for you. Because "dieting" has a short-term connotation, since so many diets are unsustainable. Think about finding a diet that's an entire way of life. So make small changes (drink water instead of soda, sorbet instead of ice cream, etc) rather than upending your whole system of habits, and you're more likely to stick with it in the long run.

And don't forget about exercise. Not my focus of this post, but just as important (if not more so).

What's your "diet," and does it work for you? What's the craziest diet you tried?


JavaChick said...

See, I would have said that diet is more important than exercise. Working out has not made a difference in my weight, though I certainly see other benefits.

I am mainly a calorie counter. I can cook (my Mom is an excellent cook and my sisters and I learned while we were quite young). So I do try to cook healthy meals at home, though Husband and I are both quite picky in different ways so it can get tricky. Mostly I eat home cooked meals, when I do eat out I tend to get what I want but stop eating when I'm full.

The only actual diet plan that I've tried is a brief stint with South Beach because Husband was willing to try that. BUT, in order to accommodate both our picky tastes, I felt like I was spending all of my time in the kitchen and my husband found he wasn't feeling well so that didn't last. The only positive is that it did help him to see what a difference giving up soft drinks can make (I'd been trying to convince him), and it pretty much broke him of the habit of drinking that stuff every day.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Javachick, I think it would be much harder to try to work out a diet that works for two people. I live alone, so I can pretty much cook and eat whatever I want whenever I want. I don't really try to count calories (I did for a while, but then just got fed up with trying to break down everything I cooked. is a good site for that though.

I think everyone has a different balance food and exercise. It's important to do both (and for exercise, to do weight lifting as well as cardio, since the lifting builds the muscle that will help boost your metabolism, and the cardio will help cardiovascular and respiratory health as well as burning calories). For me, since I exercise so much (I'm a fitness instructor), my diet can be more fluid, a bit less strict. But for someone who doesn't have the schedule I do, more careful attention to the diet might be more important. I do remember a personal trainer once telling me that diet was 80% of your physique. I've noticed weight changes (up and down) with both changes in diet and changes in exercise, so I think I'm sensitive to either.

That said, some people just have an easier time of it than others. From when I was a teenager up until I was about 26, I had a terrible time losing weight and keeping fit, though in my case it was more due to laziness. I know there are many people who do so much and just don't get results. It's hard, and all I can say is keep trying!

JavaChick said...

I have used fitday off & on for 7 years now; I'm trying out thedailyplate right now, mainly because it seems to have such a large database of food entries. I love fitday for it's simplicity, but it's database is limited and I don't always have the nutritional info to enter.

I work full time. I used to go to the gym during lunch hours, but switched jobs and had to give that up. I work out at home now, aiming for 6 days a week. I do weights and cardio, and try to sneak in yoga and pilates when I can because I enjoy them. But I think it's hard to make up for all that time sitting behind a desk.

Yes, the eating thing is a challenge when trying to please 2 people. Lunches are easier - I cook and freeze single servings (usually something vegetarian) to take to work. Dinners are tougher, but I try.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I should try the Daily Plate. I stopped using FitDay because its database was so limited, I couldn't find some basic stuff in there.

Lunch is definitely a good meal to bring in to work with you - at least where I work, there aren't really that many healthy options around here (there might be a couple, but you know it's the unhealthy stuff that's what really calls to me when I go...).

I sit at a desk all day too, but I get up frequently. Instead of filling water and going to the bathroom and getting a snack all at once, I take three separate trips. I also go chat with coworkers. So I'm up from my desk a lot during the day. I normally sit at my desk to eat lunch (I'm addicted to Facebook games), but sometimes I make myself get up and go for a walk.

That's awesome that you sometimes do yoga and pilates! I really should, because I need to elongate my muscles. But that's usually the first exercise to fall by the wayside.

JavaChick said...

My office is rather miniscule. There really isn't anywhere to go and I can chat with co-workers from my seat. I do try to get out once during the day for a short walk. Otherwise I would go a bit nuts. :)

I don't do yoga and pilates as often as I like - it is a challenge to fit in everything, but I like doing them enough that I do try to fit it in from time to time.

Mark Sisson said...

You bring up some valid points. I'd argue that my Primal Blueprint is more of a lifestyle than a "diet." No point counting involved, though I'll admit it certainly is more restrictive when it comes to grains and sugars than most people are used to. But I wholeheartedly agree with stretching outside the bounds in moderation. I enjoy beer and even chocolate (usually socially), I just try to keep my vices sensible.

Also, I do the same thing in regards to cooking on Sunday for the whole week. I usually spend about an hour preparing all the ingredients for my lunch salads. Then the rest of the week I just toss my ingredients into a tupperwear bowl (keeping the dressing separate) and I'm good to go.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Mark, that's a great idea! I usually bring all the salad fixings in to work with me and cut them up before I make the salad, but this usually takes a good 15 minutes out of my lunch time. If I cut them up in advance and just brought them in tupperware, it would save so much time!

Crabby McSlacker said...

I think your eating approach makes a lot of sense!

I don't do a "diet," but try to keep junk food to a minimum and eat lots of veggies and whole grains and lean protein. (I also have lots of low and nonfat too, since I like it and have no issues digesting it).

And I exercise pretty religiously--it really does seem to rev up my metabolism, particularly the strength training (yuck) and the intervals (double yuck).

Charlotte said...

I didn't know how to cook when i went to college either! And I want to eat like you - all moderate and stuff - but I've been eating disordered the *majority* of my life. I feel like I wouldn't know moderate if it bit me on the butt. So I seek out diets to tell me what to eat and not eat and stuff. But I really really WANT to just be able to listen to my body. But would it betray me?

And when did you start a new blog??? I missed the memo! No matter, you're in my RSS aggregator now baby;)

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Charlotte, I just started the blog about a week ago, after a great experience with some kale :) I had another blog, but never wrote in it, and I figured if it was about food, I'd actually write! It also helps that I make myself write a post before I read your blog or Crabby's in the morning. And because I want to read your blogs, I make myself post! :)

I'm reading a book now for my exercise certification renewal on nutrition - Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Walter C. Willett. I've only read a couple chapters so far, but it seems like a pretty balanced point of view - he doesn't like low-fat diets (lowers HDL), or low-carb diets, or low-glucose diets (too hard to remember what's good and bad apparently). I haven't gotten to the part of "this is a good way to eat" but I think his moral is basically to eat in moderation and try to eat whole foods with some natural fats, protein and whole grains.

My body has been known to totally betray me. When it tells me I want ice cream and cookies all the time, certainly. So I think it's a fine balance of listening to your body and imposing your will on your body. Basically, treat your body like a child - tell it what to do with your brain but make it feel loved with your heart.