On Diets

Beware, this one’s got a lot of “quotation” marks.
I was perusing the magazine aisle at a store the other day, when I came across a headline that went something like, “You aren’t what you eat, you are when you eat – the revolutionary new diet!” Curious, I opened up the magazine and read about The 8-hour diet – a new way to lose weight by simply eating all your meals within an 8-hour window, followed by 16 hours of “fasting”. You can choose which 8 hours you’ll be eating to fit your schedule, but you can basically eat whatever you want (just don’t binge), and then watch the pounds melt away! My first thought? Ridiculous.
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Apparently there’s some science behind the effectiveness of intermittent fasting (as they call it), but I think anybody with a University education knows that the “science” touted in popular media can be drastically different from the actual science that was done and published in a journal – and even then, good research doesn’t come without its limitations and criticisms.
I don’t like diets, and reading that article really emphasized why I have a problem with it. I don’t like them not because “they haven’t worked for me”, or because I want to be convinced by mind-blowing research – I have a problem with the whole concept of diets in general, all because it mostly revolves (and capitalizes on) the need to “lose weight” or “be buff”. With diets, we’re following a set of restrictive rules (sometimes cutting out whole food groups) for a finite end goal. You start thinking that things like confidence, being attractive, being successful, will only come about until you’ve reached the finish line. But what happens after? What happens after you’ve lost the ten pounds or after you’ve become a living Greek god? Diets don’t want to make you keep going once you’ve attained what you wanted – can you imagine not eating cheese for the rest of your life, or being ninety and the only thing you’ve chronicled about your life was the fact that you had an apple and a glass of 1% milk for breakfast for the last fifty years?! Or turning down a great meal because, “sorry, it’s not within my 8-hour window, I’m still fasting.”
And whatever happened to having a positive relationship with food? Whenever I decide to go on a “diet” or “eating plan” I start hating food. I don’t want to hate food! I don’t want to pout at lettuce or swear at Cheetos. Food should be enjoyed. It should be savoured. Healthy food can be made to taste delicious, and you shouldn’t have to want to flog yourself if you give in to chocolate now and then. And I certainly don’t want to feel guilty that I finished all of my food at a restaurant when I’m out with my friends!
Another thing: diets fundamentally, are a product. They are meant to be sold. Which is why the emphasis is so much on how diets will change you “look” and how “fast” you can get there, as opposed to how you feel or the benefits it will give you in the long run, and with little regard to how it can be implemented (and sustained) in your daily life. Whenever has a headline read, “Go on this diet, so you won’t have chronic pain later!” or “better to splurge a bit on organics now, otherwise you might have some serious medical bills in 10 years!” or “make these small changes, and you’ll notice the effects when you’re OLD!”? It becomes more about the quick fix and instant gratification, when it really should be about maintaining a healthy lifestyle that will yield positive mental and physical benefits throughout your life (even though it may not be so obvious at the first).
Lastly, I have a problem with diets because, honestly, we don’t need them. The fact of the matter is, all diets work to some degree and that’s because when you break it down, they all have a common theme: eat lots of vegetables, exercise regularly, and don’t eat like a glutton. They all have different rules and methods in going about it, but in the end, everyone knows what needs to be done if one wants to lose weight, and a diet book isn’t really going to give much more.
And as much as I don’t like diets, I still believe there is a smidgen of truth behind them, and that sometimes, they can be good resources to further expand one’s knowledge of food and eating well (when approached with some critical thinking). But whether or not they work is ultimately dependent on the person. The Atkins diet or The 8-hour diet isn’t going to change obesity rates; it’s people themselves that are going to have to change it, and I think it needs to start with a shift in thinking, a shift away from “diet thinking” and its superficial aspects, to a more holistic, balanced view on health and eating food that’s more positive, sustainable, and enjoyable.

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