On Dieting

Sitting in the doctor’s surgery, my young and wallflowerish doc murmurs, as if just in passing, “Some of my patients with high cholesterol find that losing a little weight helps.”

The next day, as the results of my blood test come in, he’s grown a little braver, from a distance: “Recommend losing 30 pounds in three months,” he writes in the online form. Try saying that to my face, I growl at my screen.

Everyone knows what the first step of a new diet is: eat all the things in the fridge and cupboard that do not form part of our new healthy living lifestyle.

Perhaps it’s not a great sign that I’m still doing that a week later, separating three weak-looking cookies from their pack for a just-before-dinner snack. I stare at the three round sugar discs on the plate and wonder without irony how much exercise I need to do to lose the weight I’m about to gain.

One thing I learn in my new and possibly-doomed-to-failure health kick: making salads is good for my morale. I feel great chopping up the veg, roasting the chicken, mixing it all together in little daily servings for the week. I feel righteous. I feel like a good person. This is why really healthy people are so incredibly smug. I get it now. They really are better than us.

But, on the other hand, at least on my team we get cake.

In two weeks, according to my bathroom scales, which are approximate at best, I have lost three pounds. Suddenly I feel svelte, Olympian; this weight-loss thing is easy. That night, I have a couple of slices of pizza as a reward. I have earned this.

The long hours of heartburn-induced sleeplessness that follow are a justified and entirely deserved  punishment.

…And life goes on in much that way for a long time. I try lunchtime salads and then give up and just eat nuts and fruit like I’m a castaway. And then I snack as I make dinner…and just about get to the end of my evening meal before mentally checking if there’s any ice cream in the fridge.

This dieting thing is hard. But it’s not really dieting itself that’s hard; it’s the breaking of habits that have developed over 40-odd years. That’s what they should be developing pills for – not appetite suppression, not super-strong-pee-pills – but pills that can break bad habits. Do that and you’re talking epi-pen levels of profits.

Because all it takes is one not-great weekend and the fragile wall of my self-control comes tumbling down. Having to work all Saturday afternoon? Then I deserve to go out and feast! Sunday afternoon as well? Beer and pizza!

And a Monday feeling like a swollen whale washed up on a particularly judgmental beach.

It’s come to this: stronger actions are needed. I resolve to cut out all sugar – all cakes, all biscuits, puddings, desserts, sugary cereals, sugary sodas. “And your cocoa and your weekend mocha with the two pumps of raspberry?” my wife wonders.

Obviously not. I want to lengthen my life, I tell her, not hate my life.

And maybe that’s the problem: I’m doing too much negotiation with myself and not giving enough of the tough orders. But what if my problem is just over-indulgence? “Everything in moderation”, right? Even sugar. If I stop with the cakes, the pancakes, the ice-cream, then an occasional cocoa and a Sunday-morning Starbucks is my reward.

And if the weight doesn’t start heading downward, then I rethink and make more cuts. Now is not the time to be hasty…

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