I am not a diet guru, the czar of calorie counting or a member of the binge police. I don’t have a cookbook, weight-reduction program or fad to peddle. In fact, I’d say “experts” who push a single, “one-size fits all” weight-loss approach are a few fries short of a happy meal or a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s disingenuous to think there is only one way to help the plump.
I’m a big fan of my own creation—the diet of distraction—but I’m the first to admit it may help some drop pounds and lead others over the pig-out cliff. Because we are all unique, a habit that fattens Jack Sprat may not faze his wife.
The diet of distraction is based on two premises: forget about food and throw yourself into an activity that will propel you away from your gluttonous routine. In order to succeed, you must not weigh your food, mark your calories on a chart, or look up codes in a tiny book. How many times have you blurted out, “Oh no, I’m not allowed to have any more number threes (miniature puddings) today?” Then, all you think about are miniature puddings.
To calorie count or diary-keep is to think about food, and this is a no-no when you’re committed to the diet of distraction. Thinking about food leads to obsessing over food. Obsessing over food, leads to temptation. Temptation leads to overeating and never escaping the dreaded see-saw.
I know a lot about see-saws as a former member of See-saws Anonymous. In my teens and early twenties, I could both lose weight and gain it back before a lemon torte defrosted. There were times when I fasted for 17 days with nothing but water—a feat I can no longer accomplish as an adult. Once, I refused to go out with a man for two months because I felt too fat. He thought I didn’t like him. Crazy men. Don’t they understand women at all?
Then there were those nights of extreme exercise. I would leave my childhood home at 10 pm and run to my high school and back in the dark—a 24-mile journey—carrying a rock for protection and hiding behind trees when I saw oncoming vehicles. You never know who’s a mass murderer. At 9:00 am the next morning, you’d find me limping up my driveway, convinced I was suddenly skinny.
As I got older, I left behind the playground and the see-saw. I discovered some interesting tendencies in myself. I found that I ate very little when I vacationed, when I moved to a new place and when I became immersed in an interesting project. Vacationing and moving were projects in themselves. I realized that my problem had less to do with overeating than it did over-thinking. The trick was mostly to forget about food and to stay busy.
Furthermore, the diet of distraction required me to grocery shop on a full stomach and to think very little about my purchases beyond making sure they were reasonably healthy. My rule was no meat products (including fish and chicken), no fried foods and no sweets. I did not plan meals ahead or coordinate how rice and squash might go with a salad. That would, of course, be thinking too much.
I found it advantageous to refrain from buying my favorite starches, knowing that if I liked something too much, I might be tempted to over-indulge. I never felt deprived, because my life was focused on projects, rather than food. When I dined at restaurants, I ate what I wanted, as long as it was vegetarian.
The tendency to overeat is one many of us have experienced. According to the Obesity Society, more than 64% of Americans are either overweight or obese. The U.S. Surgeon General blames obesity for 300,000 deaths every year, and 3.8 million Americans weigh over 300 pounds.
Health is fulfillment, not just what you put in your mouth. Health means using your brainpower to realize your personal calling rather than to calculate caloric intake or weigh a slice of bread. Health means putting energy towards the positive rather than obsessing over the negative.
You might want to try the diet of distraction. It’s (not) food for thought.
Published in The Simon magazine on January 19, 2007 and the Santa Monica Daily Press in January 2007 and in the Tolucan Times on February 7, 2007. Updated and republished in Medium on June 13, 2019