Food, not famine, now and forever
By Marina Wolf
OK, NOT REALLY. Not until May 6. But I just wanted to give everyone enough time to round up some bathroom scales and a sledgehammer with a comfortable grip.
No pressure. It’s a new holiday, so there are still lots of no-diet traditions left to be invented. I’ve heard of assertive sorts having picnics on the lawns in front of weight-loss centers. A few years ago I myself slipped anti-diet bookmarks into all the diet books at my local bookstore and library. That was the most activism I’d done in a long time, but as a writer who is interested in how food affects our lives, I am also concerned with the opposite: how lack of food affects our lives.
Whether hunger is voluntary or externally imposed, the effects are the same: the mind becomes less efficient, while the body suppresses its metabolism to make more efficient use of a perceived food shortage. Chronic dieters tend to worsen these effects by yo-yo dieting–on again, off again–with the end result being a permanently messed-up metabolism and a fuzzy brain.
Is my scientific language confusing you? Well, then let me appeal to you under the quality of life defense: Diets suck. (I’m talking anything that makes you feel deprived, or that takes you below, say, 1,500 calories a day.) They suck the life out of you as easily as you suck up those chalky protein liquids. Diets are particularly bad for women, making them focus on low-fat cooking tips rather than the fight for equal pay or abortion rights, or anything else that women might want to get riled up about.
Hungry people do not make good social-change activists. They have other things on their mind.
So what would happen if we as a country stopped dieting, stopped angsting about what we ate? Well, if we were to get a little exercise and feed ourselves according to our new, healthy intuition about what we need, we’d probably all settle our weights somewhere and get on with life. Sure, a whole genre of women’s columns would be wiped out–hell, women’s magazines would be, like, eight-page booklets without all the diet tips–but I think we could live with the loss. In the absence of body-hating banality, we’d have to find new and more interesting conversations in the women’s locker rooms, but I have faith in our latent creativity.
That’s the dream. But here and now, what does a No-Diet Day look like? That depends on how diet-ful your life is right now. I always imagine it as starting the night before, on No-Diet Day Eve, future generations will call it, when we purge our refrigerators of anything with “low-fat” or “no-fat” on the label, and then went shopping with our taste buds in mind.
Breakfast on No-Diet Day morning might be in bed or sitting out on the patio with a steaming rich latte. You might try milk that is 1 percent higher than what you normally drink. You’d scrape a little bit of butter on your toast, instead of smearing it with a slick butter substitute. You’d eat until you were satisfied and ready to meet the day.
In a No-Diet Day world, the pre-lunch ritual would be a few short seconds with closed eyes and a smile, alone with your taste buds to figure out what you want. If your sweetheart packed your lunch, check inside: surprise! A cookie or a luscious pear with some Roquefort cheese, there where the bag of celery sticks usually is! For dinner, eat something good. Chew it slowly and savor the taste of quality food. Have some ice cream to round off the meal. It isn’t going to kill you. Really.
Whatever you do, don’t think about it too much. Don’t freak. Give it a try until the end of the day. Dieting, like smoking, is addictive. And we can stop, just one day at a time.
From the April 26-May 2, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.