Wednesday 8 June 2011

When dieting works

A good friend of mine in Italy swears by dieting. For years, she has been successfully controlling her weight in the same way: about twice a year - usually in January and then again in July she puts herself on a controlled eating and exercising regime that lasts a month or so and she gets the results she wants. She's perfectly fine with this method and it causes her no great distress. Observing her over the years, I have come to the conclusion that, for some women, dieting really does work.

We often talk about our different approaches to weight-loss - I think we are mutually fascinated by each other's take on it. Sara's is quite straightforward: at certain times in the year, mainly Christmas and in deepest, darkest winter, she tends to sit around on the sofa eating too much and as a result she puts on a some weight. Her clothes feel tight and she feels sluggish and uncomfortable in her body. Her tried and tested solution is to cut down on sugar, refined carbs and processed foods and alcohol for a certain period whilst working out at the gym at least 3 times a week. Within 4 or 5 weeks, she has shed the extra pounds, has gone down a dress size and is back to 'feeling like herself', as she puts it.

When I ask her how she feels when she's on her diet and how she motivates herself to stick to it she says: "Well it is a little boring, I do sometimes crave chocolate and I don't always fancy going to the gym but I remind myself that it's not forever and that I really will feel better when I lose the weight. I know that I feel uncomfortable in a bikini if I'm feeling 'fat' and I hate the muffin top I get when I put my jeans on after all that eating at Christmas. It's no big deal, really. I've been doing it for years. It works."

"But don't you go off rails once you've reached your target weight. Don't you have the urge to make up for the deprivation and stuff yourself with all the stuff you haven't had for ages?" I ask. " I don't really see it as depriving myself - more like I'm doing myself a favour," she replies "in fact, I tend to carry on making healthier choices for a while after I've come off the diet. I find I eat less crap and move more. It's like it gets me going - until Christmas comes round again and then I just think, 'oh what the heck' and dive in!"

Several things strike me when I speak to Sara about her approach to weight management. The first one is that she has a relatively simple relationship with food. She likes it, she sometimes has too much of it but ultimately - food is just food. Although she's not what would commonly be defined as an 'intuitive eater' - she does tend to label foods as good and bad, she does manage her weight with deprivation - somehow, she has that 'take it or leave' attitude that is common to intuitive eaters. She doesn't have that tortured, out of control relationship that is common to so many Beyond Chocolaters. The other thing that stands out for me is how kind she is to herself. Sara views her dieting as something positive that she is doing for herself. As she puts it, she sees it as 'doing herself a favour'. On the flip side of that, I've never heard Sara berate herself for overeating or about her body. She'll say things like: "I really stuffed myself at Christmas, I practically lived on panettone! And look where it's all ended up!" as she grabs a roll of fat around her middle, "It's time for a little self restraint ladies. Salad bar and gym - here I come!" There's humour and kindness there - something which I rarely hear coming from Beyond Chocolate newbies.

So where is all this leading? Well nowhere special except to say that there will always be people who will diet successfully. People like Sara who don't understand what all the fuss is about and who really do live successfully by the 'east less, move more' mantra.

And then there will always be people like us. Women for whom chocolate has never been just a 'naughty indulgence' but the friend and the enemy. Women who feel guilty whatever they eat and ashamed by the way they look, whatever their size. Women who feel despair when they are on a diet...and despair when they come off it. Women who go on diet after diet after diet and just end up getting fatter and fatter and fatter. Women who feel out of control, weak and hopeless whenever they think about food. For these women, Sara's approach to weight-loss will never work. It will only make things worse. 

For us, dieting will never be the solution. It's not a simple equation. It's about working on our relationship with food and our bodies. It's about changing what, but also why and how we eat. It's about finding ways of dealing with life in ways that don't always involve food. It's about self esteem, it's about love, it's about patience and kindness and acceptance. It's about awareness. It's about not comparing ourselves with the 'happy' dieters like Sara and wondering why we can't do it that way. It's about support and community and talking with others who understand. It's taking one day at a time, taking one small action that brings us closer to a life Beyond Chocolate. 


  1. Good post here, some very good points. I agree with what you say in your final paragraph, I also feel that it is about understanding more about how your body works and how it reacts to different things, as then you can plan out your exercise and dieting regimes more effectively.

  2. I agree - good post but how annoying are those women like Sara?! It is a totally different relationship with food and their bodies, though and possibly she and her kind constitute a fourth 'type' of woman:
    Type 1: Serial dieters
    Type 2: Saras
    Type 3: Intuitive Eaters
    Type 4: Beyond Chocolaters
    We all have different ways of viewing ourselves and our eating and different ways of life - I know Type 1 is misguided and needs to be saved - the others are all doing something that works for them.
    Thank you for writing so objectively about what is essentially someone who's antithetical to Beyond Chocolate.

  3. That's really interesting - and definitely goes to show how different we all are (which still fits in with Beyond Chocolate's philosophy, even if Sara does 'diet' in a way).

    However I wonder what would happen if something changes in her life that prevents her from her grueling semi-yearly routine. I say this because I had a pretty good relationship with food growing up and into my 20s. Sure I sometimes overindulged a little, but I never thought it was a big deal and would just go to the gym a bit more or cut out desserts. But when I started suffering with pain in my neck and arms from RSI/posture problems and my physio made me stop all other exercise (because it would have made the pain worse) I slowly started to gain weight and was no longer able to control it in the same way anymore. This led to trying to 'sort out' the extra gain with dieting, something I had never done before. And it didn't go well. I didn't lose weight, I just got crazy about food. And actually gained weight! Which is why I've had to work to get back to having a normal relationship with food again. I'm lucky though because I didn't go too far off the rails before I realized what was happening (and found books and organizations like BC).

  4. Jake have you actually rad anything Beyond Chocolate stand for or did you just want to sell your diet product? FFS! We've had a gutful of diets here, jog on sweetheart and peddle your rubbish elsewhere!

  5. Jake mate, I think that you're lost. Your website is basically the utter opposite of everything BC represents. Do you not think it's a bit sinister to troll for business in a community of women who want to improve their relationship with food, not make it worse?

    I googled the company you obviously represent- did you think you were fooling anyone with your "review" site? I think anyone who has been on the internet for more than fifteen minutes could see through that one my friend. Google helpfully auto completed my search to add the word "scam" on to the end! How strange! Why would Google do that? Hmm.

    By the way, I stopped having a "regime" when I stopped dieting. You are selling a diet using a word most commonly associated with words like fascist or totalitarian. Interesting.

    Also, your diet is boring and middle of the road. Come on! Put the effort in! Tell me I can't eat brown foods or foods beginning with the letter B! Scam fad diets just aren't as interesting as they were in my day. Although I admire your spamming techniques, I think you've fallen behind on the actual meat of the diet plan. (Wait, am I allowed to eat meat?) Shame on you.

    Sending you a big greasy kiss Jake. You've brightened up my day.

  6. Ladies, ladies! Anyone who comments on these blogs is entitled to their own opinion - although I gather you were objecting to the link she posted, rather than to her comments, which were fair enough given the content of the blog. I can see that she is still stuck in 'diet mode', judging by the last sentence in her post. Remember, anyone is a potential convert for us too!


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