When I think of dieting, it reminds me of that old W.C. Fields remark, “Quitting smoking was the easiest thing to do, and the proof is I’ve done so over a thousand times.” Dieting is of a similar genre. I feel like I have always been on (or off) one kind of diet or another. The fact is that if we wanted to invoke our intelligence, we would always be on a diet.
America has finally taken stock and is now coming to grips with the obesity scourge affecting our country. Way too many people are just plain overweight. Okay, I’ll say it—they are too fat.
I have found that eating without considering what and how much has a similar momentum to limiting your intake and dieting seriously. That is, if you are on a roll (deli roll, chocolate roll, and so on), just eating everything you see, that sustains a kind of devil-may-care attitude and a weight-gaining momentum. On the other hand, if you can manage a few days of discipline, not grabbing at every type of food within your line of sight and just keeping your mouth closed (not a bad idea for a variety of additional reasons), that too can set you on new direction—a good and healthy direction. And it can go on this way for weeks sometimes. That is until the next wedding, or until Shabbos or yom tov arrives.
I have a good friend who, over the last year, lost over 90 pounds. Prior to his weight loss, he had both diabetes and gout. Both are now gone, as are the medications he has been on all these years.
When we met a few weeks ago, I was jumping from diet to diet, mostly playing head games with myself and trying to invoke an internal discipline combined with some good old-fashioned willpower. In other words, I was trying to limit my food intake in order to accomplish two things. The first was not to gain weight. The second was, if possible, to lose five or so pounds.
But dieting is not only an extreme mental challenge, it is also quite a slippery slope. One moment you are on and then a moment later you are off of whatever it is you were allegedly on.
My friend who lost the 90 pounds was on the Dukan Diet. I did a little research and found that Dr. Dukan has put together quite a sophisticated system and has enjoyed some significant success. So while I was considering Dr. Dukan, I was also considering Dr. Bo’s, Weight Watchers, Dr. Atkins, the 5 Towns Diet, and Kosher Diet Delivery just to name a few.
Even after all these years of dieting, I really know very little about the science of these diets. But I do know that the people who study these things have come up with systematic plans that allow you to eat certain food combinations, feel satisfied, and drop some pounds. I don’t know if that would work for me, because I find that eating well usually just leads to more eating.
My sense is that people who are very heavy are not happy or satisfied and would love to change. Let me revise that: they would like to lose weight but they really do not want to change anything. I was just thinking the other day as I entered my third week on Dukan that just as we have to take stock of our actions, our thoughts, the things we do, and how we treat people, so too we have to make an accounting of what we consume on a daily basis.
There seems to be, however, a certain disconnect that allows us to delude ourselves about what we ingest, accompanied by a strong denial once the food is ingested and out of sight that it has anything to do with us.
That the best-tasting foods around are the worst things you can eat should not come as a shock to anyone. That is just the nature of this world that G‑d created.
I was reading an article a few weeks ago about the fundamentals of chassidic philosophy and came away with a clearer understanding of why we are presented with challenges and obstacles that can very often lead us astray on a multiplicity of levels. In other words, why if only good and positive things flow from G‑dliness are we so often in life confronted with difficult choices and sometimes end up making the wrong and perhaps even sinful or damaging choice?
As I understood the piece, these situations come our way as a gift, not unlike all the good that we are granted from Above. “How are bad or difficult things a gift?” you may be wondering. Well, they give us the opportunity not to indulge or commit the error, and making that choice elevates us and brings us closer to G‑d.
What does this have to do with dieting? Just a few days ago I was at a vort where only pastries and desserts were served. That’s when it occurred to me that those beautifully decorated and great-tasting chocolate cakes were not there to be eaten. They were there within my reach precisely so that I could summon the strength not to reach out and taste them—okay, or to eat one or two generous slices. Did that choice bring me closer to G‑d? Maybe.
I cannot pick apart and scrutinize all the dieting formulas out there. Lately I’ve been encountering people having success with Dr. Bo. The good thing about that diet is that it teaches regimentation and discipline. The best thing about it is that you have to report to an office every week or two, and get up on a scale and account for your status and how you arrived at that point.
Years ago, I had a lot of success with Weight Watchers. The truth is that I did not follow the diet that strictly but simply managed to limit my food intake. The key was that every Friday morning at about 9 a.m. I would stand in this center in Valley Stream with a bunch of strangers who were ostensibly there for the identical reason. We were there to slip off our shoes, get up on a scale, and look into the eyes of a stranger on the other side of the counter who would tell you the difference in your weight between last week and this week. Believe me, the last thing you wanted to hear was that you had gained three pounds.
So it’s a constant struggle that requires a great deal of willpower and the focus to keep your eye on the prize—to feel better, look better, and have your clothing fit you the way it should.
Of course there are natural obstacles built into the lifestyle that most of us lead. For example, the first week on Dukan I attended two weddings. At these events I pictured my old self just shoveling in whatever my heart desired without giving it much thought. Without going into the intricacies of this diet, this first week was an all-protein week. That means only fish, meat, or poultry. And luckily at these functions there was plenty to choose from. I’m not going to say that I was able to avoid the other stuff entirely, but I did make a concerted effort.
But it’s about more than weddings. The odd thing is that while in my home most of us are perpetually diet-conscious, for some reason when yom tov or Shabbos arrives it all goes flying out the nearest window. Challahs are magnificently baked, there are side dishes and roasts, and especially over Shavuos (though we started Dukan afterwards) there were cheesecakes and cheese blintzes flying all over the place.
But this time we are determined not to be victims of that slippery slope. This “down two pounds then up three” has to be controlled. I was with my friend who lost the 90 pounds on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago and I asked him what he ate the day before, on Shabbos. He said that he ate a delicious cucumber. I can see thinking about ice cream or cholent or kugel in that context, but a cucumber? I thought it was odd, even extreme, but also inspiring.
Essentially, he not only made himself thin, he made himself healthy and liberated himself from being a slave to aches and pains and medications (and he quit smoking).
For me the key is getting on the scale not once a week like at Weight Watchers, but every morning. You can live in denial all day long if you desire, but the scale (a good digital scale) does not lie—it tells the brutal truth. If you haven’t weighed yourself in months, my advice is to just do it tomorrow morning and deal with it. Be mindful of your food intake and get on the scale again the next morning. And if you are down two or three ounces that’s great—you are on the way. v
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