Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence

198 pounds
I still have not answered the question, how is it possible to lose weight without dieting, and it's time for me to begin to address that question. (I say "begin" because it's going to take me a while to get through the many ways my non-dieting approach works, and today's post only covers one aspect of that approach.)

As I said in an earlier post called "What is a diet?" for me, dieting is something people do for a set period of time, something that has a definite beginning and end. And my main problem with dieting is that most diets ask us to deny ourselves the foods we crave (and even, often times, foods that are good for us), causing us to seek those foods with abandon once the diet is over and ultimately gain the weight back.

Instead of dieting, I believe that any changes we make to our "diet" must be both permanent and doable. For instance, it doesn't do anyone any good to say that they are going to cut dessert or carbohydrates because it's simply not realistic to give those things up forever. I remember one time hearing that Oprah gave up white foods—sugar, flour, etc.—in an attempt to lose weight. So that means that she didn't have any bread or sweets the whole time she was dieting??!!!!

That sounds like a recipe for disaster.

No, I do not believe in giving anything up. If you crave a brownie sundae, then you should have a brownie sundae. Or if you're like me and you would like to do nothing more than cozy up to a nice greasy cheeseburger, then you've got to do that too. But the key is doing it from time to time rather than ALL the time. I try to get a really big cheeseburger at least once a month, and I think that once a month is a good goal because it's both doable and not going to kill you.

The other thing that's important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you're going to want to do it again and again.

It's kind of like the things we weren't allowed to do as a kid—stay up late, go out on dates, drink, smoke, the works. The more we were told we couldn't do it, the more we were told it was bad for us, the more we wanted to do it. It's just human nature to crave what we can't have.

But don't get me wrong—it's not going to be easy to allow yourself to eat something as indulgent as a brownie sundae or a big greasy cheeseburger and feel good about yourself. Because I promise you—I promise!—that almost everyone you know will try to make you feel bad about it: your parents, your sister, your in-laws, your co-workers, everyone. (Okay, maybe those are just the people who try to make ME feel bad about it, but you get the idea.)

And why is this? It's because in our society, people are O B S E S S E D with diet and exercise. You would think that would be a good thing, but I'm not so sure. In truth, I believe that our problem with obesity in this country is the direct result of this obsession. That doesn't mean that fast food and processed foods aren't also major culprits that need to be addressed, but I do think that our cultural fascination with dieting and being thin—demonstrating by the anorexic-looking women in our movies and the runaway success of TV shows like The Biggest Loser—has an incredibly negative effect on our collective psyche: the more we obsess over every last morsel that goes in our mouths, the more we want to eat and the less healthy we become.

It's like the whole country is the most rebellious teenager to have ever lived: we tell that teenager that she's not allowed to eat cheeseburgers and brownies, so what's the first thing she's going to do after we go to sleep? Sneak out her bedroom window, drive her moped full-speed down to the local Dairy Queen, and order six greasy cheeseburgers and two brownie sundaes. With fries. And an extra large Oreo Blizzard.

And like that teenager, the whole country is giving into their cravings in a big way, late at night and in the dark, sneaking out the metaphorical window after midnight so no one else knows what we're doing. And then what does said teenager do when she goes to school the next day? Chomp on a celery stick and make fun of the kids who eat the cheeseburgers and Twinkies from the school snack bar. In other words, act like she is better than everyone else.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think our entire country is suffering from a severe case of dieting. As a people, we deny ourselves the foods we went, make a big show of the fact that we don't eat sweets or red meat or carbs, and then gorge ourselves on those same foods when no one is looking.

This is why I think people in other countries—countries where cheese and bread are a part of of every meal—don't have the same kind of obesity problem that we have in America. They don't have a problem because they don't pretend to deny themselves the foods they love. They don't obsess.

Ultimately, what I'm advocating is that we all start eating the foods we love—yes, in moderation, but also in public and without shame. If brownie sundaes are your thing, why not make it a monthly event? A special night that you really enjoy. Go to your favorite restaurant, invite your friends, and truly relish that ten-dollar pile of ice cream and chocolate.

And if you see me sitting at the next table holding a cheeseburger dripping with grease and mayo, please don't hesitate to say hello.

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