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Letting go of the D word

Posted in Health, and Women's issues

3249036871_f6c64c6da2_zLast week I had lunch with one of my best friends, who happens to be a chef, and about a decade younger than me.

“I have been trying to eat better” she mentions.

As we kept on talking about her ideas towards better nutrition, I noticed the word “diet” was not part of the conversation.

If you are like me, or any of the millions of women born in a part of the world where having to think about your next meal only entails picking a restaurant or opening the pantry, you must have dieted at some point in your life. Or most of your life. Even I, who have never had a weight problem,  have been on diets, to achieve that elusive perfection that seems so important, for too long a chunk of our lives. I have a friend who is semi-obsessed about the size of her – very normal – legs. Another who fusses over her belly. Both are very attractive women.  I am not judging and I am not condemning. We are victims and culprits of the time we grew up in, where the glorification of thin and perfect has reached its zenith.

Maybe the solution is we all start airbrushing our photos. Isn’t there an app for that?

But I have noticed that, as we get older, and we start to let go of the ambition to ever model for Sports Illustrated, we start having a different type of conversation with ourselves. A much healthier one.

When my dining companion mentioned she wanted to eat better, she wasn’t talking about changing the shape of her body. She just felt a need to be healthier.

Whether sparked by our doctors, menacing looking at our cholesterol and sugar index, or just because we organically come to the realization that ice-cream before bedtime or pizza three times a day doesn’t make us feel good, or our tolerance to certain foods  shifts, the conversation is centered not so much on fad diets, but on an eating plan, a strategy we can abide by the rest of our lives.

It is widely accepted that eating a more plant-based diet is good for our bodies and good for our planet, but becoming full on vegans is a tough choice and an impossible proposition for most (unless you live in Los Angeles or Brooklyn where it’s mighty hip). I, for one, at one point in my life vegetarian for 17 straight years, cannot conceive of a life without eggs or prosciutto, and I imagine we all have our guilty “animal” pleasure.

Personally, I found an eating plan that works for my lifestyle and, above all, makes me feel good: I cut down on carbs and sugar, I eat very little meat (maybe once a week and never beef), some fish, and my dinners three or four times a week are nothing more than oatmeal with fruit or a bowl of cereal with almond milk (sofagirl, please stop laughing now). I still enjoy pizza, or pasta or a slice of cake whenever I feel like it but they are not the norm. I wouldn’t peddle my regimen to anyone else but it works for me. I also like to cook so preparing a lot of vegetables or grains to last me for a few days is not a chore.

But, if you are still looking for an alternative to your current staple diet, may I suggest you take a look at Mark Bittman’s latest book, Vegan before 6?

vb6

Mark Bittman,  for those who don’t know him, writes about food for the New York Times and has a big influence on the food culture in this country. His book “How to Cook Everything” has been my perennial gift to all those who complain they don’t know how to cook or don’t have time. Through his long-running Minimalist column, Mr. Bittman taught millions how to cook delicious meals, using a few ingredients and a minimal time commitment – we don’t all need to be Ferran Adria’ but we all need to start cooking more.

Recently, Mr. Bittman stopped in Los Angeles on his book tour and I had the pleasure of seeing him being interviewed by chef Evan Kleinmann. The genesis of “Vegan before 6” had to do with “the conversation”, in this case the one Mr. Bittman had with his doctor who pointed out the usual cholesterol and sugar values suspects falling towards the wrong side of the scale. Mr. Bittman, believing that a modification in his eating habits could reverse the course of his health, set out to find a plan that would work for him.

His eating strategy (I am loath to call it a diet), is based on consuming exclusively vegan food at breakfast and lunch and then to unleash our inner omnivore for dinner. By following this simple plan, he was able to shed 30 pounds in 12 weeks with not much effort, and to recalibrate his overall health. The book, written in a conversational tone, helps out with dozens of easy and, most likely, delicious recipes.

388837181_e770d211c3Diets don’t often work because, even if we have the willpower to follow them for a certain amount of time, we tend to revert, slowly but surely, to our old habits once we let go of them. Establishing an eating routine that can, by and large, be followed for the rest of our lives makes more sense. And that doesn’t mean that, if we decide to be vegan for part of the day, we can’t add a splash of milk to  our coffee (there is something about milk fat and coffee together that no nut or grain derived milk can ever aspire to match), or eat a piece of fish at lunch if the restaurant we are in doesn’t offer anything better than steamed vegetables as a vegan alternative.

It all goes back to knowing how food affects our body and finding strategies that work for our health. Strangely enough, a body we are comfortable with most often ensues. If only I had come to that conclusion 20 years ago and spared myself mountains of Special K with non-fat milk. And Sports Illustrated never even called!

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14 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    You make me think I should really get organised on food. It’s been a while I believe I should do something but I’m so lazy.
    Sofagirl might have stopped laughing but I have not darling. Nonetheless I might agree with you that that’s exactly what works for you, so it’s a good choice.

    June 20, 2013
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  2. I have been reading “This is Why You Are Fat” by Jackie Warner. Even though I am not fat, I am reading it because I want to be healthier and feel better. It talks about how the food you eat affects the many different hormones in your body and how that affects how you feel and your overall health. I am going to check out VB6 too!

    June 4, 2013
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    • That sounds interesting. I am also very interested in how food affects our system, although I understand we are all different and what I easily tolerate might be harder on someone else but there are guidelines that are useful to know, especially as we get older. Thanks for the tip.

      June 4, 2013
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  3. Jen
    Jen

    On the one hand, I totally agree. I think too many people associate diet with a big D, as in “I am so fat, I need to Diet.” But I have been using the word diet to describe my eating habits for over a decade and so it no longer carries that kind of meaning for me. Maybe once someone get’s their head on straight and starts eating right, then words go back to the regular meaning? Anyway, I agree with your main point and also kind of like the word “strategy” as well.

    June 4, 2013
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    • I also associate diet with staple nutrition, which was always the primary meaning and I was a bit hesitant to let the word just carry the “trying to get thin” connotation. But how often do we hear people saying “I am on a diet”. I hope the next generation of women will do a better job of self-acceptance and will finally let go of the super imposed images of what is beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      June 4, 2013
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  4. I have never dieted and never intend to. I’m with you, a little bit of what you fancy does you good! The book sounds interesting though as I think that’s a way of eating I could stick to – at least when on my own. Unfortunately it’s harder when you’re feeding a family and at least two of them have an almost medieval passion for red meat!

    June 4, 2013
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    • If it makes you feel better, your average meat is much better than the average US meat. European laws are much more stringent when it comes to the injection of antibiotics and hormones, two of the main reasons I eat very little meat and only if I bought it and was able to ascertain where it comes from. As I write this, I can hear how snobbish it all sounds when half the people around the world would be happy for any meat scraps. But if we are to focus on healthy eating in the Western world, I would much rather have a steak in Great Britain than in LA. In order to get my family to eat more greens and grains, I go to great length to disguise ingredients so they won’t question them!

      June 4, 2013
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  5. This is just the perfect post for the morning after my very bad idea of thai take away: thirsty and nauseous the whole night and with a migraine now. Must be allergic to some conservant in thai or chinese food, it happens all the time! (and after a while I forget, and do it all over again). I was looking for a detox program and your book sounds perfect as a start!

    June 4, 2013
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    • If you want a good cleanse book, I have been using Dr. Frank Lipman’s for a few years. It’s called Revive (original title was Spent but I guess it had a negative connotation and they changed it). I do it once a year just to clean my system – slowly you take away all those foods that are harder on your system and then you reintroduce them. I think it’s easier than juicing and all that extreme stuff. By the end you will have eliminated meat, wheat, gluten, sugar and coffee. Coffee is always the hardest for me. And I will confess, I haven’t done it yet this year. But check it out. Available on Amazon

      June 4, 2013
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      • Just bought it on my kindle! Thx!!

        June 5, 2013
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  6. I couldn’t agree more with this post! I’m noticing a shift in focus from dieting/being thin towards eating plans and being healthy — a shift for which I’m immensely grateful. You hit the nail on the head: if we could all focus on eating to be well instead of eating to be skinny, we’d all be a lot happier. 🙂 Thank you for writing this!

    June 4, 2013
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  7. Janet Rörschåch
    Janet Rörschåch

    I just saw VB6 today and am looking forward to getting it and giving it a good read through. Remarkable man. I heartily agree about changing our inner dialog. Thanks for posting!

    June 4, 2013
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  8. Great post. I’m a big fan of Bittman because he thinks about food so intelligently. And we love “How to Cook Everything” too! A great kitchen resource.

    June 4, 2013
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