Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Epiphany and the Lottery Ticket (Revisited)

Before I discovered hara hachi bu, and ran off on a tangent about 80% full and theoretical Septinas, I promised to talk about "the list," another simple concept rediscovered from a 1994 book titled Feeding on Dreams: Why America's Diet Industry Doesn't Work and What WILL Work for You, by Diane Epstein and Kathleen Thompson. The book itself takes to task the entire diet industry and how it is built on a for-profit model that doesn't work, at least in the long run, for people who want to lose weight, but, rather, works very well for companies that look to gain profits.

The authors offer some good suggestions for losing weight and keeping it off, but I was generally unimpressed until I hit the lottery ticket bookmark on page 138, and there it was, the answer I had been seeking (only I didn't know what I had been seeking until I actually saw it in print):

"List your ten favorite foods."

Then the authors had the cheek to suggest that I might actually be able to incorporate these foods into my diet, albeit on a limited basis. That what I choose to put into my body should be dictated by my preferences, not some one-size-fits-all diet program.

I was transported back to 1973, when I first embarked on a commercial weight loss program, Weight Watchers, actually. The modern WW version has come a long way in that choices are varied and that non-dieters could benefit from incorporating some of their suggestions into their ordinary lives, but, WOO! Those early days were draconian, indeed, filled with dictums and thou-shall-nots. Briefly,

1. You had to eat liver once a week, even if you despised it. To skip this instruction was tantamount to committing an unforgivable mortal sin, and the Weight Watchers' lecturer would certainly see right through your lie when she asked, "Did you eat your liver this week?" and you answered with a weak "yes."

2. You had to eat a lot of protein (at least 10 ounces a day) and little starch, a lousy rule to hand to someone who, just the week before, had fixed up an entire box of instant mashed potatoes, drizzled with a stick of melted butter, and ate until she could no longer move.

3. No dessert, except their commercial version of "ice milk," some awful, crystallized concoction, two flavors: vanilla and chocolate.

4. Only green leafy vegetables were allowed, and they had to be weighed precisely--to eat one leaf past the prescribed one cup would surely result in a five-pound weight gain for that week.

5. You had to eat three servings of fish per week--without fail. Fish, in those days, was pretty pathetic; it could usually be purchased in frozen oblongs or in cans. Fresh fish was a rarity and expensive. And even if I could have afforded fresh fish, I had no idea how to cook it as a tasty, low-fat dish. I had grown up in Iowa, where, long ago, fish had lost their fins, gained a coat of breading, and then "swam" in the deep-fryer.

6. Your three teaspoons of fat had to be spread on something, not to be used in cooking. Once, a member asked the lecturer if she could use "Pam," a then-new cooking spray, and the lecturer said, "Pam is a girl's name, and she's illegal."

Over 30 years ago, that quote still etched deep in my brain.

The point: diets, even the new updated diets with all their new (and often, tasty) convenience foods, are premised on deprivation.

And, now, here were two authors, people I have never met, telling me to develop my own list of of favorite foods, and, then, actually, offering me suggestions on how I could develop a life-long eating program that could be sustainable.

It was an important moment.

For this blog, the specifics of my personal list are unimportant, but, I must admit, I had difficulty narrowing it down to just 10 items. I'm somewhat picky, but I do like to eat, and lots of goodies kept trying to bump themselves up.

Still, when all was said and done, I wrote up my list.


I hadn't listed all junk food; some surprising healthy foods had bumped their way onto my list, such as sunflower seeds.

Last summer, I made an interesting discovery about sunflower seeds. Although I was still overeating, I noticed that just a small helping of sunflower seeds satisfied me, and I enjoyed them. Now they are a regular part of my diet, almost a daily treat, though I'm going to branch out and try substituting some almonds once in a while.

The important point here: these are my choices, not someone else's.

For me, that has made all the difference.

That is my epiphany.

Jennifer Semple Siegel

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