Lee Randall: The only solution is to bin the solutions
I DON'T know about you, but for me, a diet is precipitated by acute anguish. Full-length mirrors are reliable catalysts, as are formal events requiring a dressy frock – I usually feel too fat to justify a purchase, and then insult piles onto injury when I haul out the old stalwarts only to discover that they don't fit either.
Photographs are another tried and tested torture device. I hate pictures almost as much as I dislike hearing the sound of my recorded voice, and can count on two hands the snaps of my adult self that give pleasure. One peek is usually enough to send me diving beneath a duvet.
And what does a person like me do when confronted with the results of prolonged overeating? I eat.
Doesn't that go without saying? Despite therapy, despite education, it's my default response to any emotional upset. (Or pleasure – we shall return to this some day.)
On top of these emotional drivers, I rationalise that I have to eat because starvation slows the metabolism. I have to eat because certain foods – spicy ones, so there's always an excuse for a curry – actually kickstart the metabolism. I have to eat or I'll die. Yes, I actually tell myself this stuff and what's worse, I buy it.
I've mentioned Weight Watchers and totting up calories and carbohydrates in my youth. Others carried copies of Nancy Drew, while I clutched those wee calorie counters found near the grocery checkout – small enough to slip into a pocket, unobtrusive enough to whip out at McDonald's, and inevitably decorated with a tape measure or scales.
My mother was a fan of the Dr Stillman Diet – basically an early Atkins. She ate steak and only steak three times a day, drank gallons of water, and spent all the hours between meals peeing and complaining. But it worked.
As does Atkins, which I've tried. Unfortunately, these diets rely on such precarious chemistry that the minute you disrupt ketosis, the weight comes back with enough speed to knock you out cold.
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) worked best. Identical to AA, but about food, it meant meetings, sponsors, racking up days of "abstinence" (defined as sticking to your meal plan), and delivering one's self to a higher power. A lifelong atheist, I named the group as my higher power, though to this day I can recite both the Lord's and the serenity prayer in my sleep. You might say they Keep! Coming! Back!
In those days – spring 1977 – we lived by "the grey sheet", which detailed what we could and could not eat. The plan was balanced and nutritious; every food group was represented over three meals a day. You weighed, you measured. And for a month I called my sponsor at 6:30 every morning, working my way through the 12 steps.
Most compelling was OA's central notion that we compulsive overeaters are not horrible weaklings suffering a shortage of willpower, but addicts who are helpless to control the substance that plagues us. The trouble is that, unlike alcohol or narcotics, food is something we can't eliminate entirely – not if we plan to carry on breathing. I always felt that made things that bit harder.
Aged 17, I lost about 64lbs, and thanks to youth, good living and the occasional demented diet, kept it mostly off for about 20 years. There were lapses, trust me, and each one found me as insane as ever. It wasn't enough to get the weight off – it had to happen immediately, because in my head I was a slim, fabulous person.
Thus my recourse to meal-replacement shakes (and chewing gum, to give my jaws something to do), the Fit For Life diet (unlimited fruit), dieter's tea (which brought morning diarrhoea); a raw juice fast, and spells of shunning dairy or wheat.
Not so much a yo-yo dieter, then, as a pinball wizard, careening from "solution" to "solution" to blast those 15lbs.
All the while I knew perfectly well that nothing succeeds so well as regular, healthy, measured meals.
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