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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dieting for Life - What's in a Name?

Hi All

Well, the news is out, here is the headline: Dieting Does Not Work! The scientists are sure of it. It mystifies me that research dollars needed to be spent to discover that. All they needed to do was ask me.

Part of the problem is the definition of that word: "dieting". It's fascinating how a word can change in meaning. A diet used to be just the description of what you eat. You can see the gradual change in the progression of Webster's definitions:
a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b : habitual nourishment
c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight

Dieting as described in "a" or "b", to regularly or habitually consume food and drink, obviously does work or we'd all starve to death. So in that sense the sensational headline is wrong. But slowly we've come to think of dieting as definition "d" and eating "sparingly" doesn't work because it is unnatural for the human animal to do that as a way of life forever.

I think "way of eating" is a better term for how I intend to eat for the rest of my life, not just to achieve a short-term goal. I think I first saw it used by Bernstein in his book on diabetes. I slowly changed my way of eating continuously since diagnosis; first to lose weight, then to minimise BG spikes, then to ensure that I was getting the best nutrition possible without gaining back the weight or jeopardising blood glucose control.

But to be sustainable, the way of eating has to not only satisfy nutritional needs but our other social and psychological needs: to be able to eat in company comfortably; to be able to munch absently on something while we think; to have "comfort food" occasionally without guilt. The only way to achieve that is to train oneself over time to the point where we like what is appropriate for our needs and no longer crave what is inappropriate. That does not happen overnight and may never happen for some - but, in my opinion, it is the only way to change a way of eating permanently.

I'm only part of the way there myself. But it's amazing what I learnt to like, and dislike, once I accepted that my life does depend on it. Just as an example, I now look on something like mud-cake in the same way that someone with a sea-food allergy would look on lobster. Not that I think it's bad food - just bad for me. So I no longer want it and I don't feel deprived at all. As Jennifer puts it - it's not that I can't have it, it's that I don't want it.

Mind games? Maybe; but possibly life-saving mind-games if you can learn to play them over time.

Cheers, Alan

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