Dieting is almost unavoidable when you’ve reached a certain age in life. Following the slowdown in our metabolism, the usual food that we eat takes longer to burn off and the excess calories are usually stored up in our bodies as fat.
Most diets feature a form of curtailment or limitation on certain types of food. It’s no fat, no carbohydrates, no meat, no sugar, no gluten, and the like. I’ve tried a number of the more popular diets such as Atkins, Mediterranean, South Beach, Dukan, and even those faddish Blood Type, Alkaline, Cabbage, Grape, and Trophology (food combining) diets. Don’t ask me if they worked, but Dukan was the best in terms of weight loss (although you have to regularly check with your doctor on its impact on your liver).
The one in vogue now, the Paleolithic diet says that you cannot eat anything that wasn’t available during the time of the cavemen—thus nothing from modern agriculture, but you can eat all the steak that you want.
The problem with restricted diets is that they are difficult to implement unless you have an iron will, or an in-house private chef-dietician who will do all the healthy cooking for you. It is hard to keep track of all the food that you can and cannot eat, and eventually you find that the curbs on your eating are becoming a big bore.
Sure, it can be done, and I personally know a lot of people who have successfully reduced their body weight from dieting alone. Just recently, we met a friend who slimmed down after turning full vegan. The challenge for him is obtaining all the nutrients needed for optimum functioning without leaving the strict parameters defined by a vegan diet.
Protein and essential amino acids are the most difficult to obtain in a vegetarian diet although with the advances in nutritional research we now know that we can get protein from non-meat sources including vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Still, it’s a full-time endeavor, this keeping to a diet, whether it is for health, lifestyle, or religious reasons. My vegan and vegetarian friends have to shop at markets almost everyday because fruits and vegetables don’t keep too long, and then there’s all the time and effort required for cooking and preparation.
Because we all know it’s easier to fry a pork chop than prepare a salad with multiple vegetables and other ingredients, right? It’s definitely a chore and bravo to vegans and vegetarians for being able to do this.
We all want to be healthy, but there must be a simpler way of doing it. No counting of calories, measuring portions, or extreme food curbs (“just one bite, please!”), or just no choice on the matter.
The best and most uncomplicated guideline that I’ve read comes from Michael Pollan in his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto wherein he declares, in the first line of his introduction, the essence of his teaching:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Just seven words but they perfectly encapsulate my desire for a diet that will not deny human needs and desires. At the same time, this appears to foster a healthier attitude towards eating.
Pollan explains his philosophy further: “Eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you, though it might be better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products.”
So, “mostly plants.” This brings me to the subject of vegetarianism, of which I had dallied with concurrent with my yoga-loving phase. Indeed, I lost a lot of excess poundage after limiting my food intake to vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts. I did not eat any kind of meat (or anything that has a “mother,” as my vegan friend put it, or has “eyes or mouth.”)
Occasionally, especially when I felt “low,” I cheated with eggs and seafood but I reasoned out that I was still part of the family as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, who is also an occasional pescetarian.
But on the whole the vegetarian limitations were driving me crazy. I kept thinking of Nigella Lawson and her assertion that there’s no good food or bad food, and her well-documented distaste for perpetual dieters.
“I think that it’s misinterpreted always to mean that I believe in absolute untrammeled gluttony. I don’t. No one feels good if they overeat non-stop but I do think that you shouldn’t be frightened of food—as if it’s always something that’s got to be feared, not enjoyed,” she told the Telegraph in an interview.
She added, “So I think there’s something in me that feels life has to be seized and food is part of that. I feel that appetites are transferable—an appetite for life has to translate into an appetite for food as well. If you restrain your hunger for food I think it slightly detaches you from life.”
Indeed, I felt that while I was losing weight from my dieting I was also losing a life spark.
Once, I threw a dinner party for friends featuring all vegetarian dishes. I don’t know if my friends were just being kind by not saying anything contrary, but I personally felt it was one of the saddest parties I had ever thrown.
As Gabriel Garcia Marquez said in one of his great books: “He soon acquired the forlorn look that one sees in vegetarians.” Touche.
I admire vegetarians who can stick with the plan, and all other strict dieters out there, but for now I think I’m better off and happier just following Pollan’s eating guideline of “mostly plants” and a “little meat”.