Tuesday, April 01, 2014

April Foolish: Diet extremes

NPR recently ran a story on the fat-free craze of the 90s that I blame for pushing me from someone struggling with her weight to someone who was genuinely fat.  I was at my heaviest at around 25, three years after Susan Powter's insane book came out.  This was the book that really recommended eating three or four bagels with jelly as a good alternative to eating one with cream cheese. Yes, one bagel with cream cheese is not exactly a healthy choice either, but it was definitely not better to have two or three instead.

I bought into this big-time. When it first came out, I was a runner trying to get those last stubborn 5-10 pounds off. Runner's World was suggesting that runners snack on fat-free pretzels and licorice twists as good fat-free refueling options.  I graduated from college and had a lot of other life changes around the same time, so ,I can't blame all the weight gain on this book and the crazy diet philosophy that went with it, but I do think that flipping to a diet composed of mostly white starchy carbs (after all, meat had fat in it) probably contributed to the fact that I was unhealthy, anemic, and struggled with injury after injury and a sinus infection that would not go away.  Plus, I was hungry all of the time.  This was back when the list of vegetables I liked included only: Potatoes, corn, carrots, tomatoes, celery, and lettuce, so I wasn't even balancing it out with fiber.

I had lots of people in my family who were always doing some variation of Atkins, and I can't recommend that diet extreme either, as they always were and continue to be fat.  They would confess to loving bread with the kind of shame I would expect from someone confessing to a deep-dark sexual perversion.  I think that someone who could actually stick to it might be able to make it work, but I have only one relative who managed to follow it successfully, and he is the most Type-A, obsessive-compulsive person I know.

I am waiting for the ALL protein diet to come into vogue.  It wouldn't last long, because humans will die if they eat only protein, but, given the history of diets, being crazily unhealthy wouldn't keep a diet from selling a lot of books and making the author rich.


  1. BWAH, ha, ha! I'm laughing because I, too, had a copy of Stop the Insanity!. I was in college at the time, and thinking about how I ate makes me want to facepalm. Half a can of cranberry sauce as a "healthy" snack? Two white bagels with fat-free cream cheese for dinner? Forget what happened on the scale; it's a miracle that I didn't collapse from malnutrition.

    My MIL still buys into the "fat is bad" mentality. Insists on buying reduced-fat peanut butter (which has the same calorie count as regular, more sugar, and is made with partially hydrogenated oil; I buy the hippie kind made from just peanuts and salt) and thinks that fat-free pretzels are a dandy snack. Now, I love pretzels, but I recognize them as empty, starchy calories and reserve them as "sometimes food." (My starchy, crunchy snack of choice is dry Cheerios, usually sprinkled with trail mix. Channeling my inner toddler here!)

    The truth about nutrition is nuanced, and we're still discovering some of those truths. My own goal is make my diet—and my eating habits and attitudes—as healthy as possible while maintaining some balance in my life. I'm a full-time working mom of a toddler; I just don't have the time or energy to make fitness my whole lifestyle. At the same time, I want to model good habits for my son, teach him to love healthy foods, and stay healthy and fit enough to keep up with him—to chase him and carry him around.

    1. The reduced-fat peanut butter is especially silly because the fat in peanuts has to be much healthier than the garbage it is replaced with. I'm striving for the "healthiest lifestyle I can enjoy" model.

      Dry Cheerios are pretty irresistible. At least springing them with trail mix ups the nutrition a bit.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07