Friday, February 12, 2010

Moderation Goes Both Ways

(I know you're tired of hearing this, but remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Before we get started, Yahoo recently posted a list of 7 bad habits that overweight people often have. These are just some simple things that make it harder for you weight-watchers, so I wanted to pass this link along. Maybe it'll help.

Now, down to business. I promised to teach you how to cheat on a diet and get away with it. Well, today is the day. And the key is moderation. I remarked a few days ago that "most of us get into trouble because we go overboard on the things we keep doing." I'm advocating small changes that are easier to keep doing, rather than big changes that you'll do for a while and then quit.

But moderation goes both ways. I also said, "and we go overboard on the things we change." A diet that is no fun is a diet that you won't stick to. We all have a tendency to do too much too soon when we start a self-improvement program of any sort. We are so excited! We may have failed before, but THIS time will be different! And after a while we get tired of it again, and soon it's more work to think about the program than it is to do it! This is especially true when it comes to food, because so many of us have "baggage" when it comes to food.

You know what I mean. Maybe food was a reward when you were growing up, so you associate food with acceptance. Maybe it was an escape from your problems. (I personally subscribe to a belief in the healing power of HUGE quantities of chocolate. I did say HUGE quantities, didn't I? Was I clear that I meant HUGE quantities?) Maybe you associate certain healthy foods with punishment, as in "You can't leave the table until you finish your peas!" All of these are common human experiences.

Let's face it -- we're not going to beat this problem by attacking it head-on. But we can beat it if we compromise. And that's where cheating comes in.

Example: My diet says I have been eating too many hamburgers. (Note: This is just a made-up example; I could NEVER eat too many hamburgers.) My immediate reaction might be to eliminate them from my diet completely. This approach is probably doomed to failure. If I like burgers enough that I'm eating too many, trying to get rid of them completely will be like trying to hold my breath for the rest of my life!

So I acknowledge that burgers are important to me, but I can't allow them to keep dominating my diet. I do this by elevating their position, rather than demeaning them. Possible solutions?

1) I will allow hamburgers once a week, and not feel guilty about it. I will eat better for a whole week, and the burger will be my reward for successfully doing so. Three meals a day is 21 a week; if I eat well 20 meals a week, one questionable meal probably isn't going to be a big deal, is it? And get this: I'm using the previous problem as a reward for staying on track! Not bad, huh?

2) I will cut my burger consumption in half and accept this for now. I actually got this idea from Graham Kerr, who used to be the Galloping Gourmet back in the '60s. Kerr and his wife had become Christians and felt that the overly-flamboyant lifestyle made it too difficult for them to follow their new faith. (He said that, at the height of his popularity, he didn't even choose his own toilet paper!) But the rich lifestyle had already taken its toll; his wife Treena had developed some serious health problems and he started searching for diet changes that would help her. The cooking style he developed, which he calls Minimax Cooking -- "minimize the fat, maximize the flavor" -- is built on accepting some basic truths about our relationship with food. Here's something he said on one of his shows (paraphrased, of course):
"It's no use trying to create a fat-free hamburger. You can't do it! It won't taste like the hamburgers you're used to, so you'll go back to the old ones. The thing to do is create something else -- not a hamburger, but something that, if you had a choice between it and the hamburger, you'd pick it half the time. Now you've made some real progress toward cutting the fat in your diet!"
Do you understand? Kerr is looking at your diet as a whole, not as one individual meal. He's looking to reduce the overall fat you're eating, not just the fat at one meal. Looked at this way, I'm looking at the big picture as much as possible. To put it in golf terms, one bad hole doesn't have to ruin the whole round.

3) Here's the real key (I think) to cheating. Once you understand what you're trying to do, you can make adjustments on the fly. If I know my friends want to go out for steak tonight, I don't panic; I just eat lighter and healthier during the day. If they spring it on me as a surprise, I just eat lighter and healthier the next day.

And those are the basics of cheating. Realize that one unhealthy meal probably won't kill you; the goal is to prevent a string of unhealthy meals. In time you may find that you prefer healthy food most of the time anyway!

And if you're interested in Graham Kerr's dietary approach, you can buy his books of course, but you can also find some of his recipes here if you'd like to try some. (And no, I don't get any kind of kickback if you do. I just think he has some useful ideas. When you've been the Galloping Gourmet, it doesn't make sense to cook bad-tasting food!)

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