What Good are Diets?

Most people have probably seen Anne Lamott’s New Year’s article about NOT going on a diet. It starts like this:

I know you are planning to start a diet on Thursday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, ” Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

I agree with what she is saying. But what caught my attention was the long “comment conversation” between a woman who was having success on her diet and disagreeing with Anne, and many other people who wanted to try to explain to her what Anne really meant.

All this led me to ponder–what good are diets, anyway? Well, I think they can be useful, depending on what your intention is going into it. If you go into a diet just to “get the weight off,” well, we all know how that ends up. I still remember a sentinel moment early on, when I started Weight Watchers eleven years ago. I was going to Weight Watchers with a friend. We were “working the program,” counting points like crazy. And we had enough points to go out for a light lunch. As we paid for our lunch, I stared longingly at the huge brownie at the check out counter. My friend said, “Don’t worry. Pretty soon we’ll be able to have one of those with our lunch.” I didn’t reply, but I thought to myself, “Oh, no. Never again will that happen. I have to change the way I am eating forever.” And pretty much, that is the truth. At least about brownies 🙂

But if you go into a diet “program” with an inquisitive, even slightly open mind, there is a lot you can learn. Some of the things you can learn can help you to have a healthier future life. New food choices, new ways of handling stress, the healthy benefits of exercise. Practicing all of these things during a diet program, trying new things you weren’t willing to try before–the things that work can become a new way of life for you.

Here’s some of the things I’ve changed in response to “diets” I’ve done:

  • I realized that I ate in response to anxiety. Just recognizing that has helped me to choose to NOT eat when something makes me anxious.
  • I’ve tried new foods, things that I would NEVER try before. Some of those things are my new favorite go-to foods.
  • My diet is MUCH less meat-centric. I still know the value of having a fair amount of protein in my diet, but there are plenty of days that I just skip the meat.
  • Sugar–its not my mortal enemy, but its not my bestie anymore. I know when to hold ’em.
  • I know that super restriction does not work for me. The temptation is always there. But I can reflect and know that it does not work in the long run.
  • Whole foods. Now those are my friends. And you know that thing about shopping the perimeter of the store that every new dieter learns? Who knew–I still am surprised sometimes when I realize that that is ALWAYS the way that I shop.
  • Regular exercise is a given. Its just a huge part of my life. That is very different than how I lived before.

All of these things I learned and practiced until they became ingrained while I was “on a diet.” So a diet can do a lot of good, if you are using it to learn and grow and change. A diet’s a waste of time if you just want to “get the weight off” and go back to your usual way of eating and moving through this life.


14 thoughts on “What Good are Diets?

  1. One thing we talk about all the time in my WW meetings is that we aren’t trying to “lose weight”. Because what is the natural tendency to do when you lose something? You try to find it again! So we aren’t “losing” weight, we’re “getting rid of it”. Just another way to think about things!

    It’s not an easy journey, and there aren’t any quick fixes, no shortcuts. It’s work, darn it, and requires lifestyle change. I don’t beat myself up if I slip a little, or gain on holidays or a special occasion. I won’t deprive myself there (though I try to moderate) when other people are involved … regardless of what ANYONE says, food IS love. Period. We have been taught from early childhood that we show and share love with beautiful food. But it’s all about balance, and a healthy attitude. I know that I will falter along the way. That I need to make changes that I can live with forever. And deprivation is NOT part of my plan, but being flexible and accepting my own weakness is. Believe it or not, that helps a lot with motivation and willpower. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say!

    For me, it’s not just about being healthier, and it’s definitely not about the number on the scale. It’s about feeling good about myself, and Lord knows I have a long way to go in that department! I just trust that when I get to where I’m going, I’ll be able to deal with it all and not rebound again, which is what I usually do. This time around, I’m going in with open eyes, knowing that the maintenance is even harder than the weight loss. It only took me (how many decades??) to realize this. I am almost 40 pounds down now, 30 to go. Then the work really starts. 😉 Hats off to Debby for helping to encourage us!

    • “Slipping,” “faltering,” those are part of a real whole life too. That’s another thing that was really really hard for me to learn. Congrats on your successful new lifestyle.

  2. Hmm .. my reply did not post. And dang it, my previous try was scintillating and insightful with just the right touch of humor, I swear. LOL. Hope my re-try doesn’t cause a dupe.

    You have some wonderful “learnings” there Debby, thank you.

    I believe that in diets (life?) what works for one person may not work for another. I don’t diet anymore. To ME, dieting means restricting, eliminating certain foods, counting calories. That occasionally brought short-term loss. Then, as Anne Lamont’s therapist alluded to, I would gain back 1.5 to 2 times the pounds lost. Yeah, hard to label that as success. I do think effort must be made to figure out what works for you. Then more effort made to adopt and adapt those learnings and make them a sustainable part of life. I’ve had way more success in the last 3 years than I did in the previous decades. Health, mindfulness, behavior change, big picture thinking, eating meals that are healthIER and danged YUMMY. This is where I focus my effort now. Am I where I want to be? Nope, but I’m 50 lbs lighter and confident this is a better approach than dieting. For ME.

    • You brought up another point that I hadn’t thought of. How each person DEFINES diet definitely has an impact on whether they are of any benefit or not.

      “Healthier and danged yummy”–I know! who would’ve thunk?

      Congrats on your 50 pounds. And another thing I sometimes think about–most likely if we were like the average person, we would have gained 5-10 pounds a year. So its really like you’ve lost 80 pounds :))

  3. AMEN, Debby! While I don’t think you have to completely cut out certain foods forever, you absolutely cannot go back to the way you used to eat…that’s how we got there in the first place! I recently saw, somewhere (internet/TV/movie??) where a woman cut a banana in half and her grandmother asked why – the woman said because she was dieting, and her grandmother said something like “oh honey, you didn’t get fat from bananas” – SO TRUE.

    • LOL, that’s funny. Its another thing I’ve been trying lately. If I want another dessert, I’ll try having a piece of fruit. Sometimes it works….

  4. Great post and so happy to read this. Diets have gotten themselves a very bad rep and I wholeheartedly agree with you that the difference lies in our intention. I want to become an intuitive eater and I am learning to get there with the help of dieting methods. I call it Intuitive Dieting. I use calorie counting to control my portions and help me lose weight, while Intuitive Eating principles inform the types of foods I eat in accordance with my body’s hunger cues. Like you, my goal is to make lasting changes for a healthier lifestyle 🙂

    • Lately I’ve been trying to relax a bit about the calorie counting. But I know the calorie count of almost everything I eat, and so its almost intuitive that I will add up what I’ve eaten during the day to reassure myself.

  5. I don’t believe in cutting foods out permanently, but I do find that those foods can tend to creep in a little more over time. Like all of the sudden it’s more than once a week or I will bring a food into the house that normally was only to be eaten outside the house. You just have to be vigilent all the time.

  6. I have to be honest: I checked out the WW website this weekend because I constantly saw a commercial about their “new” program. But while I was looking at it I said to myself: no you are not going on a “diet” again. It doesn’t work for you.

    Back in the days when I first followed WW (and lost weight succesfully) I certainly have learned a lot about food and good choices which I am still using today. That’s why I believe that if you haver never been on a diet and have bad eating habits, it can help you to eat differently and healthy.

    But in the end it is indeed all about making choices. And no way I will never eat a brownie in my life again but not that often which reminds me I saw a recipe for a healthy brownie last week. A healthy brownie? Give me a break, I’d rather have half of an unhealthy one and enjoy it. Some foods shouldn’t be adjusted and then called healthy. It’s an insult to the brownie LOL

    • LOLOL. How do you really feel about brownies, Fran?

      I used to make and eat a LOT of brownies. I had a recipe called World’s Best Brownies. Maybe I’ve had my lifetime allotment. If I want something decadent, brownies aren’t the first thing that comes to mind anymore. Weird, huh?

      I haven’t looked at WW for years. Pretty sure I’d never go back. Mostly because I think I know everything they have to teach.

      • I have the same about WW. Nothing new to learn.

        Actually I don’t eat brownies that much. I haven’t made any last year if I think about it. I do like them a lot though. Note to self: bake brownies in 2016. It’s just that if I bake something if it’s a brownie or a muffin, I want to use the real stuff (real butter, real sugar).

  7. I’m mad my reader didn’t show me this until today – boo! Lots of good points in this post.

    I can admit that every single “diet” I ever did taught me one thing or another, whether it was about the food and nutrition or about myself. On of my most recent learnings is that my middle-aged body and metabolism is not going to respond the way my 30-year or 40-year old ones did. Therefore I have spent quite a bit of time over the last year evaluating things. Knowing what and when to fold ’em is one of the things I’m working on.

  8. I love the changes you’ve made. Sometimes it’s the “Simple” stuff that adds up to make a big difference. Like just cutting out soda, or adding a walking, something. Instead of doing radical diets…just making small changes. That’s what has worked for me!

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