People go on diets so that they don’t have to change their eating habits. That’s why people join gyms, too

Bannerman Castle, NY

If you use a news aggregator these days–as many of us do–you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the stream of articles about how to eat for optimum health and/or to lose weight approaches flood-levels and shows no sign of abating. When there can be articles titled, “Top Ten Trending Diets of 2018,” and “Best Diets of 2018,” you know that there’s something going on in the world of human nutrition, and it’s not likely to be very good for you.

A quick search of the phrase “history of dieting” returns scads of articles dedicated to impressing readers with the ridiculous extremes to which humans have been willing to go to lose weight (for fun, this one and this). Taken together with the articles reporting on (or just promoting?) the hottest diets of the last year, they reinforce the idea that diets are a normal and even necessary facet of human life (here’s one from the beginning of 2018, and one from the end). If the articles are to be believed (and why not? they’re just reporting the facts of history, right?), people have been struggling with obesity for hundreds or even thousands of years, concocting myriad schemes for the restriction of particular foods (for example, no foods containing leptins; no nightshades; no meat; no plants), addition of particular foods (e.g., grapefruit; pineapple; turmeric; coconut oil; avocado; quinoa; etc., ad nauseum–literally), restriction or addition of food types (no carbs; all carbs; no fat; all fat; no protein; all protein), restriction of calories, restriction of times consumed (within an eight-hour window; not within four hours of bedtime; not for several hours after waking; very soon after waking; in one meal; in tiny snack-size meals every few hours, etc.), and specifications as to activities performed or not (raw; cooked; fermented).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve tried my share of diets. Although I’ve never been too heavy, I’ve also not been what you’d call skinny, and between one notion and another of what an idea female body must look like, I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking that I needed to do something different than whatever I was doing at the moment so that I could finally, someday, measure up (or down, more likely). Way back when I was in high school, I went on the Hilton Head Diet for a while. It worked–for a few minutes. I dropped weight. Later, I picked it (the weight, of course) up again, not just at the gym, but also on my thighs. Through the intervening years, I’ve played racquetball, gone vegetarian, done aerobics, lifted weights, gone vegan, taken up running, tried Atkins, taken up Bikram for a few grueling years, embraced the Mediterranean diet, tried Barre, flirted with intermittent fasting. I’ve drawn the line at substituting smoothies for chewable food, and I will not flip a tire for fitness, but it’s fair to say I’ve given the quest for the holy grail of health and fitness the old college try.

And after scrolling endlessly through the articles, year after year, weighing the newest-minted experts’ advice against the just-breaking news of the latest betrayal, something we trusted (low-fat!) now consigned to the trash-heap of fitness trends, the place where silver bullets lodge, impotent, and panaceas shrivel, oddly like coconut husks–what now? Is there any way to stop clicking? What, if any, wisdom can we glean from it all?

Here’s what I’ve come to: all this searching for a diet, a plan, a routine, a powder, a schedule–it was all premised on the hope that just doing a pre-packaged something for a short time would solve whatever the problem was, and afterward, I could get back to something I thought of as normal. The not-a-diet plan. The you-don’t-have-to-do-this-terrible-workout-forever routine. And that’s the problem. Nothing that’s not permanent will make us healthier, lighter, longer-lived. When it comes to health, all there is is the long game. There are plenty of incidentals–picking up a cold here and there, giving yourself tendonitis doing something unavoidable or something you love even though it hurts; there are plenty of things we can’t really control. But in the realm of “what’s good for us,” the best answer, it seems to me, is what we can do every day, in every season, for the long haul.

And that’s why diets feel like an overhaul without really changing us. That’s why the gym membership, if we trail off after a few weeks or months, seems like progress but isn’t really. What will help us the most is what sticks, whatever that is.

Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Brown. All rights reserved.