Monday, January 9, 2012

The Doug Diet: Part 2

All my adult life I refused to diet. Hated everything about it. I never wanted to think of food, our life-giving sustenance, as something I had to battle. I loathed the idea of treating Nature’s bounty as a mathematical problem. I got tired of hearing that suddenly X was going to kill you, only to find out a few years later that it was Y that was bad and X was actually good. I remained loyal to the carbohydrates who had served me faithfully for so many years and stubbornly refused to learn about trans-fats and anti-oxidants and the other nutritional mumbo-jumbo. I disdained our cultural obsession with weight and my anti-Puritan streak resisted the idea of denying myself culinary pleasure.

And so I went merrily on my way accepting whatever food appeared (except red meat and most fish, including tuna, that would have me selling my mother’s name to terrorists if they threatened to make me eat a mouthful). I happily shopped the ice cream aisle of Trader Joes (Coffee Blast!), saw no reason to resist the chocolate bar at the check-out counter, had granola (still home-made) and milk and banana for breakfast, grabbed crackers or treats at the school’s kitchen counter to fortify myself for my next class and decided not to join the Pastry Resistance League at our snack-provided staff meetings.
And while I was thumbing my nose at the notion of diet and culinary discipline, the numbers on the scale kept creeping up. As a public figure, I tried to hide it by never tucking in my shirt and privately tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid mirrors. But in my heart of hearts, I secretly envied members of my peer group who never had gained or suddenly lost weight, starting looking at men’s bellies as much as women’s bottoms (for a different reason.) Buying new pants was a torture and finally had to admit that the clothing companies had not inflated pants waist sizes. So every once in a while, I made some half-hearted attempts to do something.

“Exercise, that’s the key!” some people told me. But after two weeks of biking, swimming and hiking every day in Michigan and nary a pound dropped, I concluded, as any reasonable person would, “Science works for other people, but not for me.” So I gleefully ate as I always had and tried to justify it all philosophically, as we humans tend to do. “I’ll show them!” I thought as I enjoyed every bite of dubious (but delicious) foods. “Life’s too short not to treat yourself to chocolate.” Etc. Meanwhile, the numbers kept creeping up. Hiding the scale helped, but looking at photos did not.

So finally this Fall, the scale hit a number that alarmed me, a photo depressed me and I heard a program on the radio about eating well. So I had a long hard talk with myself and suggested to said self to try something different. And so I embarked on the Doug diet.

In my stubbornly independent way, I was determined to make it all up myself without a single calorie counted. First step was eating oatmeal every morning for breakfast with a few raisins (no milk, butter or brown sugar) and a half glass of orange juice. Second was to eat smaller portions and not have seconds. Third was to snack on apples and carrots instead of chocolate or chips. And finally, to eat more vegetables and whole grains. I never vowed to stop eating sugar, white bread, white rice, lots of cheese, etc., but found myself naturally eating much less of all of that. Though I had some hungry moments, mostly I found that my appetite changed and instead of the battle with craving, I simply lost the burning desire for these richer foods. It felt good not to be driven by appetite and still enjoy—indeed, savor more—everything I was eating.

But then came the crowning moment. Three weeks later, I ventured on to the scale and lo and behold! I had lost a few pounds. Science works! Encouragement from the numbers! Motivation to keep going—which I didn’t wholly need (see above), but it helped! And they dropped and dropped until, some 15 pounds lighter, I arrived at the weight on my driver’s license. Eating better, eating less, enjoying more and finally able to tuck in my shirt without shame. Sweet!

One thing that helped was having time off from school and yes, biking a lot didn’t hurt either. But the real test was how would this hold up traveling? Many fewer choices—kale is hardly the snack of choice at the airport! And how would it hold up at school, back in the workplace with the intensity of schedule I have? Not to mention the holidays, with treat after treat thrust at you from all sides. I know no one is sitting at the edge of their chair for the answer, but just to complete the thought— it has held up. So far.
So I feel a little pride that it all happened without joining a club or buying a book or following someone else’s diet regime— just good common sense. If I had to summarize the “Doug diet,” I’d have to credit Michael Pollan’s brilliant summary—“Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” (“Food” meaning things with less than five ingredients that you can pronounce.)

Meanwhile, all these years that I imagined “if only I weighed ten pounds less.” What was I hoping for? That people would love me more? Respect me more? Admire me more? I can report with conviction that none of the above has happened. Indeed, most people didn’t notice and fewer cared to comment. I’m just happy to be eating better, feeling a bit lighter in my body, consuming less, tasting more and all of that is its own reward. No need to expect anything else, trumpet it out (beyond this posting), try to capture it and package it and sell it (though I admit that “the Doug diet” is kind of catchy).

After all the calories consumed sitting and writing this, it’s time to crunch a carrot.
Bon apetit!

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