Daily Indulgences: Why I Won’t Settle for Pale Imitation Dieting

One of the first things that happens when I go on a diet is people start suggesting low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb, or generally pick-your-favorite-low recipes. “You’ve got to try my cherry pie with Splenda! You’ll never notice the difference!” (Yes, I will.) “These black bean brownies are delicious!” (I’m thinking of another word that begins with ‘d’ — rhymes with trusting.)

Cookies without flour. Cakes without fat. Chocolate without sugar. Oh my!

And all the while, I am forced to grit my teeth, put a smile on my face, and pretend that I was eating what I actually wanted. My body knows differently. My subconscious knows differently. Heck, my conscious usually knows differently. It doesn’t shake the craving.

Worse, this is exactly how yo-yo diets happen. I should know. I’m something of an expert in yo-yo dieting. It’s how I bounced up to my current weight in the first place. It’s the reason I am starting yet another diet.

Look, I rarely say it out loud because my thick figure doesn’t exactly exude nutritional credibility. But I do know nutrition. I can tell you roughly how many calories is in everything I eat. I know how to find calcium. Where the extra salt is hiding. I have read about low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar ideologies. I’ve kept journals. I’ve OBSESSED over journals.

But at the end of the day, I’m still significantly overweight. Why? Because half of dieting is psychology.

I cannot lose weight eating foods I hate. I can’t live that way. Oh, I could white-knuckle it for a while. Maybe that would be the way to go if I only had 10 pounds to lose. But I don’t. I have to live with my weight loss plan for a long time.

More than that, I have to live with my weight loss AFTER I reach a cozy weight. (And I’m telling you right now some people will still think I’m fat at the end of this — I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be comfortable and healthy.)

If I’ve just spent the past 6-12 months eating low-X foods when what I really want is the food that got me here in the first place, what do you suppose will happen after I lose the weight?

Times up! Those of you who guessed that I would gain it back and then some, go to the head of the class.

I’ve spent the past 9 months *not* dieting. Strangely enough, I didn’t gain any weight. Hmmm. Interesting. Because in all the years before that, striving to be as skinny as models in magazines, I steadily gained weight every year in an up and down pattern. I wonder if there’s something to that…

Something has clicked for me this time. I’ve got weight to lose and I’m going to do it, but I refuse to eat second-rate food in some vain hope that I’ll fool myself into thinking it’s what I really want. My problem isn’t what I eat. I KNOW what to eat. My problem is that I eat too much of it.

All of it.

I’ve eaten too much salad and soup before. My problem isn’t chocolate. That’s just something I happen to love. And something I mourn when I think I can’t have it to the point of insanity.

Fifty percent psychology, like I said. 🙂

I haven’t just been not dieting for the past nine months. I’ve done something else. I’ve taken a hard look at how I eat and when I eat and have realized that I eat too much and too often. I don’t want to be the person who eats all day long. I want to enjoy food, but I want to enjoy the rest of life too. (I refuse to choose between “eat to live” and “live to eat.”) And I want to be able to do this, not for a few months, not until I reach x pounds, but for the rest of my life.

I want to not be afraid of food or of my compulsive reaction to it. I want to not feel compelled to eat when I’m not hungry. Heck, I want to know what hungry really is! Somewhere over the years, I think I forgot how to tell. I’ve spent too much time counting and not enough time listening to my body.

I haven’t been entirely idle these past nine months. I’ve spent them convincing myself that I am allowed to eat. But also that maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to eat all day long.

“I am beautiful. I am strong. I do not need food all day long.” — That is my personal affirmation. I’ve said it daily for nine months.

Now that I’m on a diet again, I intend to eat. I intend to eat the foods that I love. I plan to give in to cravings (although I haven’t had them so far).

But I will not, now or in the future, eat an entire piece of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. There are about four servings in that single piece. And amazingly, when I split it with my family of four, I’ve had enough.

Loving food is about indulging it in. Enjoying it. Reveling in it. Eating it slowly and giving yourself over to the pleasure of each and every bite. Some foods even call for closed eyes and a bit of a moan while you let the varied tastes and textures explode over every inch of your tongue. If you can do that, you don’t need more than 1/3 of a piece of cheesecake. Done is done, after all of it or 1/3 of it. But one path is healthy and satisfying, whereas the other leaves you bursting from fullness, disappointed with your own weakness, and caught back in a trap of your own psychological making. If you’re looking to fill a void with that piece of cheesecake, it isn’t going to happen. If you want to enjoy the delicious food, you don’t need much of it.

Besides portion control, one other thing I intend to do is to plan meals around indulgences. Instead of having a cheeseburger and French Fries, I’ll have a cheeseburger and salad, with a piece of fruit for dessert. Or was it the fries that I really wanted? Hmmm…well then, how about a piece of juicy grilled chicken or fish with the fries on the side?

Pair high-calorie desserts with low-calorie dinners. High-calorie entrees with low-calorie sides (and vice versa). Do that, and you can eat whatever you want.

I was asked to come up with some diet-friendly recipes for my next “weight loss challenge” team meeting. I’m thinking it over carefully, because to me, a real diet-friendly recipe can’t be a pale imitation of something else. It must stand out in its own right.

In the meantime, here is my list of daily indulgences — things you can have almost every day and still stay true to a diet plan:

1 Lindt Truffle (about 75 calories) — Don’t forget to eat it slowly, and enjoy the varied sweetness and texture of the outer shell and the inner creme.

1 small piece of chocolate (usually about 50 calories each)

1 candy cane (about 50 calories) — takes a long time to finish, too! Great holiday treat. Plus, if you’re sucking on a candy cane for half an hour, you can’t eat as many cookies.

1 small piece of candy (calories vary depending upon type, but probably about 50)

1/2 cup ice cream (about 130-150 calories, depending upon variety) — This is the good stuff, mind you. It’s not light or low fat. (You save 20-50 calories and give up so much!) This is a good treat when you’ve just had chicken or fish. A bit over the top if you just had pizza.

1/2 cup sherbert (110 calories) — I love sherbert in its own right, and not as an imitation of ice cream. It does make the grocery list more often because it has fewer calories, but if I’m just looking for cold and sweet, this hits the spot! (If I’m looking for cold, sweet, and creamy, I do have to go with ice cream.)

1 homemade cookie (about 100 calories) — These do vary widely. Make sure you bake them at a reasonable size. But if you don’t make monster cookies, and you don’t have a dozen of them, most homemade cookies are about 100 calories each, butter and all! And they go great with a glass of milk. (Note: I don’t do store bought cookies. Lost my taste for them years ago. I also don’t think they’re as good for dieters due to artificial flavors and preservatives. These things can increase appetite. Diet cookies are some of the absolute worst.)

1 mug of hot cocoa (140 for the Land O Lakes I prefer, and it’s among the highest)

**Note: Thanks to exercise and a gradual approach to dieting, I allow myself 1300-1600 calories per day. Actually, I allow myself more than that if I’m really hungry. Less if I’m not. If you are dedicated to a 1200-calorie diet, any indulgence is going to be difficult. But after years of trying, I do not believe 1200-calorie diets work.

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