I am on a diet. It seems to me I’ve been on a diet for most of my life, one way or the other. Actually, it seems to me a very large portion of the people I know are on diets – more or less constantly. One former boss has solved this by having one “lean month” a year, four weeks of salads that keep him on the right side of the overweight border throughout the rest of the year. Another male acquaintance does the power-bar thing, replacing one meal all weekdays with something that smells (and tastes) rather synthetic. Most women I know are either doing LCHF, or GI, or WW or … All these abbreviations make my head spin.
So, I am on a diet. It makes me depressed, grumpy and obsessive about food. Like a hawk I watch every morsel of that delicious (I assume) cookie my colleague is devouring. I hate him for eating it but drown this rather idiotic feeling in a swallow of water. I drink huge quantities of water – it’s supposed to dull your appetite. (It can also be fatal; recently a young woman expired after drinking too much water – like 6 litres – in connection with a “water poker” game.) As to the dulling of my appetite, I’m not entirely sure it works; yes, I’m up to my gullet in sloshing water, but I hear someone open the fridge and my stomach yowls at me that will I please stuff something NUTRITIOUS down my throat.
“I do,” I tell my stomach. “Today you’ve had an egg, some cottage cheese, a miniature tuna salad and half a chicken breast with greens – oh, and an apple. (I splurged. One whole apple…)
“I’m hungry,” my stomach says. No, it’s not my stomach, it’s my lesser me, complete with cocker spaniel eyes and hands clutching at her gut.
“Tough,” I say. My inner conscience nods and beams at the weaker me.
“It’s just for three more weeks,” she sort of flutes.
Three more weeks… My lesser self groans. So do I, wondering if maybe I should tell the family I’m off for a walk and detour by the closest convenience store for a little snack.
Being prone to the occasional moment of introspection, I can’t but be amused at how my dieting generally proceeds. The first few days I’m all gung-ho, weighing, measuring, lecturing my children about how healthy I am soon going to be, and of course I don’t have a problem with them eating ice cream, I’m made of stern stuff and will not succumb to such temptations.
“Huh,” snorts the eldest son, a veteran of far too many of these campaigns. But to do his bit he cleans out the cupboards, the fridge and the freezer, throwing away anything that contains as much as a whiff of chocolate. I don’t like him very much when he discovers my secret cache, ingeniously hidden behind the flour.
After a week or so, I am constantly hungry. My supportive family will tell me this is a passing stage, that soon enough my stomach will have shrunk in size, and thereby I will no longer crave as much food. My stomach howls with sarcastic laughter at this. To seek inspiration, I watch Biggest Looser, but for some strange reason that just makes me long for crunchy, sweet stuff. But I admire the contestants for their fortitude, even if they have it much easier than me – they don’t have a fridge stuffed with goodies the rest of the family are planning on consuming, do they?
“I am being ridiculous”, my inner conscience tells me rather sternly. (I imagine her as being somewhat prim, prone to wearing dark blue, court shoes and the odd little silk scarf)
“Totally agree”, my lesser self says , “let’s just stop all this dieting nonsense”. (My lesser self has a penchant for wildly coloured tunics and matching leggings, hair generally in a curly mess) My stomach gurgles happily.
“No way! It’s good for me,” my inner conscience says, and a mulish, unbecoming scowl settles on her otherwise so radiant face. Uh-oh; my lesser self scuttles away, my stomach sighs and I fetch myself a new glass of water.
On a more serious note, one can wonder what is the matter with us??? Why has something as basic as eating become such an issue?
Depending on who you ask, you get different answers; we exercise too little, we eat too many carbs, too much fat, too little fat, too much dairy, not enough nuts, too little fish, too much bread, too much cheese, too much chocolate … Also, in relative effort, food is way cheaper these days than it was a century or so ago – and there is so much of it! (For us, that is. Not for the unfortunate people that live in some parts of Africa or Asia.)
Picture the seventeenth century farmer. He has a couple of fields he grows barley and oats on, there are two cows, a sow and some suckling pigs, two apple trees, a small kitchen garden where mostly it’s cabbage, kale and onions, and a number of hens. He also has a wife, six children and one field hand to feed. Nothing is allowed to go to waste, and still every year around May or so, the family tightens their belts and look longingly at the growing crops because they’re constantly hungry. Eggs they have, milk they may have, but the grain stores are depleted, the last of the smoked pork was eaten two weeks ago, and there is only a couple of onions left in the root cellar. No overweight issues there, let me tell you.
At times I think there may be other reasons for this overeating; maybe the overall stress of life in the here and now is a bit too much at times, and so we dull that growing anxiety with a chocolate bar or two. In my deeper moments, I’m not all that sure modern life is good for us, because frankly the hours of the day are far too few versus what we cram into them. Today, at the distance of a decade or so, I shudder when I recall just how strenuous life was with several young children. Up in the morning, feed them, feed us, bundle the half-asleep darlings into snow overalls, lug them into the car, off to the daycare center, kiss them bye-bye, rush off to work, spend ten minutes in the loo rubbing at the yogurt stain you just discovered on your pants courtesy of a hugging child, work, meetings, work, oh my good it’s five o’clock, rush out, collect the kids, come home, undress the kids, find them something to eat before their blood sugar levels collapse, start cooking (of course my kids had home cooked food every day!), dinner, baths, bedtime stories and then finally … nope; up with the computer to catch up on work, accompanied by a cup of tea and a huge piece of chocolate – hey, I need some kind of silver lining too, right?
Even without kids, life is hectic. And in this day and age of internet and smart phones, we are now expected to respond IMMEDIATELY to job mails, to constantly be updated, to always be available. What if I don’t want to be? When did my portable computer and my mobile phone transform from being a promise of freedom to becoming an electronic handcuff, soldering me permanently to my professional life? So maybe it’s no wonder that we indulge in whatever it is that makes us cope. Too bad my hang-up is chocolate and not carrots…
After writing all of this I feel somewhat peckish. In the kitchen, my eldest son has parked himself at the table, and from the living room comes the sound of the TV.
“I’m going for a walk,” I call from the door. “I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
I’m on a diet. Again. And all I can think of is food, food, glorious food.