Americans are really crazy about diets. Eight weeks is probably the average desperation phase. You realize about eight weeks before your high school reunion that you haven’t lost the 20 pounds you swore you would when the invitation first arrived. You realize about eight weeks before your daughter’s wedding (or your own) that the stress of the preparations has caused you to gain five pounds. You realize in the spring that summer’s right around the corner and you’re nowhere near ready to be seen in shorts, let alone a bathing suit. Now you’ve entered the desperation stage, where you’re willing to try anything, suspend any level of belief, and attempt the latest diet gimmick, no matter how incredible the claims may be.
Allow me to be unequivocal – diets don’t work. They may produce some results in the short term, but they have no staying power in the long term. What does work is changing your habits and lifestyle choices slowly over time. The only way to do this is to face up to your fears, including the mentality of “I have to lose weight right now or the world as I know it will end!” and start making healthy choices about food.
Changing unhealthy eating patterns is a little like making the Titanic change course. Course changing needs to be done slowly over time with great consistency and concentration. It also, by definition, means you’re heading out in a new direction. If you turn the Titanic, you have to want to change course. Most of us, however, don’t want to change course. What we’d really like is a short diversion. These short diversions are called diets, and they come in a few different forms:
The “if a little is good, a lot is better” approach to dieting. For instance, if one grapefruit is good for dieting, then many grapefruits a day should be great for dieting. The “if a little is good, a lot is better” diet fails to incorporate a key concept in healthy eating: moderation. Even good foods need to be eating in moderation, or you will end up dealing with the next diet diversion.
The “safe foods” approach to dieting. “Safe foods” are foods people choose to eat because they believe the food is going to help them lose weight because it won’t cause them to gain weight. Safe foods are not chosen on a rational basis. An anorexic model who died in 2007 decided that lettuce was a safe food. Why did she consider it safe? She considered losing weight to be safe for her career goals; gaining weight was unsafe. Was eating lettuce leaves really “safe” for her? No. In losing weight, she lost her life. The safe foods approach neglects to take into account another key concept in healthy eating: variety. God designed your body to function best when fed a wide variety of foods.
The “better life through pharmaceuticals” approach to dieting. These are the diets that come in pill form, and their ads make liberal use of the words miracle and amazing results. They melt fat or let you eat what you want and still lose weight. This approach to dieting neglects a key component in healthy eating: consistency. A healthy weight is a product of a consistent lifestyle, one in which you regularly choose not to consume more fuel than you burn in activity.
The “self-flagellation” approach to dieting. Self-flagellation was the 13th and 14th century practice of beating yourself with whips as penance for sin. It was a form of beating (literally) God to the punch. In other words, if I hurt myself for the bad I’ve maybe God will consider it enough and not punish me further. Self-flagellation diets surface on Monday right after a weekend of caloric excess. It’s the “I’ll start my diet on Monday” philosophy. Self-flagellation diets are meant to get immediate, obvious results. They are, in essence, self-imposed starvation or near starvation. For instance, eating less than half of the calories needed each day to maintain your weight.
The “suspension of reality” approach to dieting. If you’re like most people, you probably can’t afford to hire a personal chef to prepare all your meals to make sure you’re eating the foods you should in the appropriate quantities. However, there are several popular diets available that offer a shadow of this. For a fee, you can sign up for these diet plans, which aren’t expensive in and of themselves. The real money is made through the purchase of requisite meals. I call these diet plans the “suspension of reality” approach because having other people prepare your food every day isn’t something that can be sustained.
Bottom line: Instead of driving yourself crazy with dieting, keep it simple and focus on key concepts of healthy living:
When you feed your body the way it was created to be nourished, there are blessings to be realized. You can’t experience them if you never risk changing your habits. Trust God and risk change.