I’m currently reading my 150th diet book. You’d recognize some of the titles if you’ve ever searched “weight loss” on Amazon. Some of the diet books deal with your head: self-acceptance is the key to shedding the pounds. Learn to love your folds of fat and your love will help melt them. Hate yourself and you’ll stay a size 20 forever! Yes, it’s that simple. Never mind the issues that made you unhappy with yourself in the first place. Just love yourself, dammit! Here, try some affirmations.
Other books are prescriptive: eat this, not that. “Eat what I tell you to, when I tell you to,” write the diet gurus, “and you’ll be thin and perfect. Look at me, I lost 80 pounds and I have the body of an Adonis, as you can tell by this picture of me. Don’t I look great?”
Pit book against book and it’s easy to see that the advice is contradictory, confusing, wacky, and probably in many instances just plain wrong.
After a while, each diet book feels like the one before: the person shovelling advice thinks they know it all. Nobody in the world knows the slimming process better than they do, except the people they stole their information from.
The current book that I’m reading is, I learned by the end of the second paragraph, a rehash of a bestseller. Lucky me, that bestseller is about $20 more expensive. Some of the advice makes sense. My mother told me about the dangers of bagels, and I’m already convinced I need to eat less of them. Same with bread. I know that I can’t stop at two slices, and I always had a gut feeling bread was to blame for my gut. I didn’t need to buy a book to tell me that. Though to be honest, it does help to see your own beliefs reinforced by someone else.
Along with reinforcing stuff that I already knew, though, comes a whole whack of every writer’s own personal issues that only mess me about.
“Mangoes have a high glycemic level! Stay away from mangoes! They’ll spike your blood sugar and that’s so terrible! Same with bananas! Bananas are no good. Same with carrots. Keep away from carrots!” This alarmed me, because I love mangoes, carrots are good for late-night snacks, and bananas help make smoothies smooth. In the midst of despair over losing three of my favourite fruits and vegetables, I had an aha moment and asked myself, “Bonnie, was it mangoes, carrots and bananas that inflated your waistline?”
Of course not! I’ll tell you what did it, besides the bread and the bagels. It was the usual suspects: insecurity and fear about work, friends, money, life, and the future. Brownies, cakes and cookies cure fear. Everyone knows that.
Then there was my escape from fear and insecurity into fatigue. Evenings slumped in front of the TV. There’s always something to watch, even where there’s nothing to watch (if you have cable). TV goes better with food. Don’t ask me why, it just does.
There was also my preference for the quick and easy (peanut butter and jam) over the painstaking preparation of a proper meal, involving chopping and dicing and measuring ingredients and stirring a pot on the stove.
Let’s not forget my habit of not caring about what I’m eating, as long as it doesn’t come from animals.
Now, after having read all those diet books, I realize that the only person who knows how to lose the weight is the person who piled it on in the first place: me!
I could have saved a lot of money. But it’s so seductive to run to someone else for answers. That’s why I did it 150 times.
Yet all along, all I had to do was look within myself to examine the sources of pain that lead me to reach for comfort in slice after slice of bread, not to mention pizza, fries, brownies, pancakes and buns.
How could any diet guru know of my exhaustive yet fruitless plans to find a new hobby to replace the one that’s grown stale? How could any diet guru know of my addiction to social media and my hours glued to a computer monitor, shuffling between sites where I communicate with people I wouldn’t recognize in person?
How could any diet guru know about my rickety relationships and challenges at work? How could any diet guru know anything about why I made food my drug?
Analyzing my collection of useless weight loss literature has led me to take action, though nothing written about in the literature. I already knew what I need to do from reading the newspaper, watching the news, reading the fashion magazines, reading this blog. The article on vegetarian sports nutrition gave me a lot of good information, for free. Weight loss can be relatively straightforward. Changing habits that are no longer productive is the really hard part.
I’m going to start with my getting-home-from-work routine. Instead of losing myself in Facebook or Pinterest, coffee in hand, I’ll get a glass of water and just sit quietly. I’ll lose myself in my breath. When I’m ready to come out of silence, I’ll make supper. I will take four or five ingredients and mix them up in a pan. You don’t need to be a chef to make an awesome stir-fry.
I’ll eat slowly, with the TV off. When I’m done I’ll clean the dishes and turn the TV on. I’ll watch whatever shows I want to watch, but I’ll have my trainers on. Eventually those expensive shoes will speak to me. Together we’ll decide how we’re going to move. Maybe we’ll go for a walk. Maybe we’ll do a DVD. Maybe we’ll turn up the stereo and dance. Only the cat is watching, and he loves me unconditionally, no matter how awkwardly I dance or attempt to do yoga.
When all’s said and done, maybe all those weight loss books weren’t a waste of time and money after all. They’ve led me to trust in myself and my own wisdom. Because what I’ve really learned from all those books is that I don’t trust self-appointed and self-aggrandizing experts. And that, of all the diet gurus in the world, the best one for me, is me.
Bonnie Shulman is a writer and editor working in Toronto. She earned her Master of Arts degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. You can follow her on Twitter at @veganbonnie.