The Right, and Many Wrong, Ways to Diet

Diets are bullshit.

Clarification: the trendy fad diets that are marketed to people (consumers), their purported intention typically for the dieter to reap fast and substantial benefits for minimal effort, are bullshit.

I know, right, really going out on a limb with this one, aren’t I?

But this is a serious issue (in a relative sense) and one which has affected me personally. For much of my life, from late childhood to early adulthood, I was overweight. I was also severely depressed and dealing with my depression, abysmal self-image, and feelings of perpetual misery, by abusing drugs and alcohol.

When I was trying to lose weight, most of the methods I tried, the diets I experimented with, were not particularly helpful. Many were entirely unhelpful. Part of the problem was my lack of education on the subject. I had a skewed perception of health and wellness. My thinking, early on in my efforts, was basically: vegetables and protein, good; meat and fat, bad. This took me in several wrong directions.

Vegetarianism. Tried that for a while. Naturally, it appealed to me from an ethical standpoint, and I was under the misconception that eating animals resulted directly in fatness. So if I stopped eating meat, I’d lose weight. Not so much. I probably lost some muscle mass, but for the most part, a diet which leaned heavily on grains and dairy didn’t do much good.

Veganism. I took the next step from vegetarianism, cutting cheese, eggs, and almost every other gustatory pleasure. Subsisted mostly on nuts, vegetables, tofu, and whatever spices and sauces I could use to liven that shit up. Veganism sucks. It also didn’t do much for my physical well-being, mood or body mass index.

Anorexia. During this period, I broadened the palate of what I could eat somewhat, but limited the quantities and caloric value that I allowed myself to a minimal, potentially dangerous, level. When I did splurge, it was usually on large servings of carrots (as in whole bags of carrots as a meal; yes, my poop was orange), cabbage, fat-free turkey breast, and peanut butter. I ate ungodly amounts of peanut butter, often several jars/pounds over the course of a week. Peanut butter addiction is a real thing. Not quite heroin and cigarettes, but it’ll get a hold on you.

Bulimia. Anorexia’s sadder sibling. It can be embarrassing to openly discuss any of the disorders I’ve had, and in the past I would never have freely admitted to bulimic tendencies, but there you go. To those for whom the idea of sticking their own fingers into their throat and tickling the uvula and base of the tongue until triggering the gag reflex, and then triggering it again and again until you begin to vomit, and continue doing it until it seems you must’ve vomited all that you possibly can, is almost unthinkable, yes, it’s as unpleasant as it sounds, but easier than you might imagine. Cannot discourage Bulimia as a weight loss tool more vociferously. You’d be better off, and the experience somewhat less disgusting, if you worked laxatives and diuretics into your daily diet.

For a long time, I thought that I had struck gold with a high protein, low carb, low fat diet. I did lose weight, and built muscle, and stuck with it for a while, but this kind of diet puts a serious strain on the body. Despite what the grotesquely built and/or ripped amongst may say, we need healthy fats and carbohydrates to function optimally. While on that diet, I was jacked and super veiny, but I was also kind of edgy and stressed. And it fucked with my hormonal balance.

I’ve also tried diets which ran counter in principle to those I’d tried before, and what I thought I knew. In the wake of the protein-heavy diet, I reintroduced fat. A lot. I ate a lot of butter and meat. Didn’t gain weight, and actually felt quite good, but my cholesterol level was a little ridiculous.

Then there are all the diets that essentially tell you that you must limit your food intake to a particular kind of food or a single specific food. I love avocados. When possible, I eat at least one avocado a day. Avocados are the most magical of fruits and are gooey green delights. That said, a diet restricted to avocados is a stupid thing to do unless you happen to be stranded on an island bountiful with naught but avocado trees. The same goes (much more so) for smoothies. Having spent a great deal of time working in libraries, I am privy to the reading choices of different demographics of people. I cannot tell you how many overweight people check out smoothie-based dieting books. And I’ve wished every time that I could steer them clear of this farce. Smoothies are either delicious sugary treats full of sugary fruits, or they are sloppy brown abominations of pureed vegetables. The former will not result in healthy weight loss and the latter is gross. Neither is sustainable.

What you want from a diet is sustainability. Rather than dieting, the key to reshaping your body for the better is to fully adopt a diet. Not something that you’ll force yourself to stick to for a month or two to lose a few pounds before it makes you sick and you fall back on your old habits and regain the weight. Find a healthful diet that you can commit to, that will become your new habit, your new normal. Discipline and thoughtfulness are invaluable attributes, but denying yourself the foods that bring you joy will ultimately fail, and any regimen which precludes variety will drive you crazy.

If you are looking for a simple(ish) solution for sustained weight loss and long-term health, rather than adhering strictly to any of those you hear or read about which promise quick results, take small steps and make manageable changes. Cut out one detrimental food, or food group, from your regular diet. An easy one, that I wholeheartedly recommend, is sugar. Yes, I know, but you love sugar. Of course you do. Sugar is a drug. Literally. You might as well be stirring cocaine into your coffee. Cut it. You’ll be fiending for peach rings and orange Crush for a week or two, but afterward you’ll feel much better.

Ultimately, the most important principle to follow is satisfying what your body needs rather than what you immediately desire.

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