Salad is not the only food.
Repeat after me: mini quiche is not the enemy.
Oh, January. A month of bitter cold and renewed infatuation with diet and weight loss. ‘Tis the season for magazines and TV shows and blogs and commercials to spout the same weight loss “secrets” over and over: repackaged, re-worded, but never new, and never effective. After flipping through a cliche-filled stack of January magazines, I was reminded — multiple times — of a few of these recurring “tips” that I’d like to permanently from our cultural lexicon. Here they are:
1. “Fill up on salad.”
Listen, salad is great, but if you’re eating it for the sole purpose of taking up stomach real estate that might otherwise go to mashed potatoes and filet mignon, you’re doing a huge disservice to salad, mashed potatoes, AND filet mignon. It’s one thing to have a salad because you want to. It’s quite another to force down a sub-par salad at an amazing restaurant as a preemptive strike against temptation.
If you’re at an amazing restaurant, eat the amazing food there! Enjoy it! Don’t limit yourself to one bite of expensive entree because you frantically forced down a pound of undressed salad before the bread basket showed up. Eat salad for its own sake. Eat it because you want to eat it, not because you’re trying NOT to eat something else.
2. “Fill up on water.”
Again, water is great. I love water. Water is important. Stay hydrated, y’all. BUT WATER IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO FOOD.
3. “Carry something in both hands at parties so you’re not tempted to grab an appetizer.”
I have two problems with this idea. One is that it’s absolutely absurd. Like, it’s tantamount to telling people, “Are you struggling with your weight? Next time you go to a party, wear mittens soaked with KY Jelly so your chubby fingers can’t pick up any fattening snacks!” My second problem is the same problem I have with most of these cliched tips: it is so utterly devoid of joy.
You’re going to a party where there are delicious things to eat, lovingly prepared and set out by the host for your enjoyment. And instead of enjoying any of these things, you force yourself to awkwardly carry around an empty water cup and a napkin so you can’t pick anything else up. Part of the fun of going to a party is tasting the food. If you were invited to a party, you are entitled to enjoy the food there, no matter your dress size. Repeat after me: mini quiche is not the enemy.
4. “Chew slowly.”
Chewing slowly is awesome when you’re doing it because you’re savoring your food, because you’re chewing something delicious and you’re mindfully enjoying it. Chewing slowly is not awesome when you’re gnashing a cooked carrot into mushy oblivion because you think it will help you eat less and lose weight.
5. “Give yourself a ‘cheat day.’”
I don’t even know where to start with this one, so I guess let’s start with all the harmful assumptions that inform the logic of a “cheat day”: that the act of eating can constitute “cheating.” That some foods are “bad” and some are “good.” That YOU are bad or good depending on how well you adhere to arbitrary diet rules and resist “cheating.”
If a diet you are following leaves you hungry, craving certain foods, and counting down to a “cheat day” to satisfy those cravings, it is not fulfilling or balanced or sustainable. It’s setting you up for failure. And it’s also propagating some pretty dangerous ideas about what it means to eat food, to enjoy food, and to reward and punish yourself accordingly.