I wonder sometimes if we've gone too far the other way hen we talk about dieting. In all our "diets don't work" talk, there's a sort of shame in saying you're going on a diet. I'm even a little scared of saying the word… it's so loaded with so many negative connotations, with fads and fables, with a set-up for failure.
But the truth is I could do with going on a diet. I'm reading The Bell Jar and Plath calls it reducing. I like that, "reducing". That's what I'm really doing; simply trying to eat less because I feel like I've been lately strapped to my desk, but eating more.
And I've resisted the idea of going on a diet, thinking, oh can't I just temper it gently, introduce some sensible moderation. It's not really cool any more to deprive yourself. I bet many of us diet in secret these days. The people who say no to desserts are considered party-poopers. Friends tell each other we deserve to shove treats in our cake holes instead of supporting each other's efforts or choices.
Some of this was articulated in the Orlando Gough piece I linked to last week. The want to be healthy, but conflicting want to enjoy all food (down with self-deprivation!)
"We want to be healthy, but we want to have fun. We’re keen on self-improvement, but we enjoy a bit of self-destruction on the side. We’ve got our calorie-counting apps, and presumably we’ll soon have chlorestorol-counting apps and hydrogenated-fat-counting apps, and at the same time we’re drinking too much gin. It may be that by some fluke this is leading to a beautifully balanced diet, and maybe, more probably, it’s not, but it’s definitely making us anxious."
It's got to be the same reason magazine interviews with celebrities often begin by telling us that the celeb in question shoves tasty morsels into her face throughout. Second helpings even! Oh, yes, let's order dessert! We don't really want to know what it takes to maintain that body. We don't want to think that it takes an extreme effort, especially from those whose bodies are lauded as being more "real" (though that's a bullshit thing to say too).
The idea that these people are not making a supreme effort is mostly a big lie and we know it. But we want to believe it can work that way, that we can have both. And some people can, maybe. But I cannot. That's one thing my body does not do.
My body does other things: Weight isn't only way to think about your body. I never catch the colds or flus when they're going around. I don't know why, but my body seems so strong in that way. I've only been on antibiotics only once in my entire life (as a precaution after my wisdom teeth came out). I'm grateful for my immune system. I also think it's mad and arbitrary luck, genetics, something I don't control...
So, there's some stuff my body is great at, that I love my body for. When I'm wishing I had one of those "can eat anything I want" metabolisms, I remind myself of all that my body already does so well. Wanting - and needing - to diet right now isn't about being at war with my body, or about self-hatred or self-punishment. It's about acknowledging that I'm off track in one area, that if I want to correct that, this is the reality of how I'll do it.
I started counting calories tonight. I can't remember the last time I really counted calories. It's sort of fun, to reduce all those complex messages and subtexts to the most straightforward arithmetic. Of course, not all calories are equal. And it's not that I really think it's just that simple. It's obviously not. When I overeat, it's not because I did the sums incorrectly, it's because something else is wrong.
At the same time, I also think we've become a bit hyperbolic about the emotional part. In many ways, that angle adds another layer of shame to weight gain. It's not perceived simply extra weight, it's now become some sort of psychological scar, a heart on sleeve ailment. I think we've gone a bit too far Oprahfying weight in that regard. It doesn't always mean something. Sometimes it just means I'm holed up and writing too much and skipping spinning. Sometimes, it just means I've been making repeated small, but unreflective, decisions about food.
And that's where I think the discipline and structure of a diet and exercise program is helpful. When my own intuitive sense of "too much" or "too little" is off-kilter, it quantifies and sets limits, establishes a framework for actively engaging with those decisions I've been making absent-mindedly. I'm not talking about following a fad, just setting some basic rules for myself, giving myself a structure to follow. I'm not talking about an extreme regime, just a commitment to a certain amount of exercise per day and week.
Mapping all of that out and acknowledging that's what it will take is just like budgeting and forecasting for your finances, rather than spending willy-nilly. This isn't about extremism, but structure and steps. I don't know why diet has become such a dirty word, but I'm going to say it: I'm on one.