Recently my husband was diagnosed with Adult Onset Diabetes. He has a genetic proclivity in his family, but I suspect that his being overweight is what pushed him over the top. About five years ago, his doctor had warned that he was pre-diabetic, and could either take drugs to ward it off, or lose weight. Win chose to go on a diet, lost 57 pounds, and was no longer at risk. We were very proud of ourselves, and vowed to keep up our habit of portion-control at meals and fast-walking for four miles each morning.
But Win then got arthritis in a hip, and it became too painful for him to keep up the fast-walks each morning. He gradually started putting on weight, and I did too as our exercise regime and diet eroded.
We recently found swimming as an aerobic exercise to match our former walks, and this plus a lifestyle change around food has us headed once more in the right direction. This is the first time we've been faced with having to change our eating habits for the rest of our lives, so we've been careful to call it a lifestyle change rather than the more transient "diet." And this seems to make all the difference.
Since March 1st, over 3 and a half months, Win's lost 20 pounds, and I've lost 12 and 1/2. This isn't as fast a drop as the more restrictive "diet" would be, but the more restrictive regime would have us feeling deprived and scheming to reward ourselves for every few lost pounds. It would have us yearning for off-limit foods, looking for situations when having a treat doesn't count. I know, I've been there. I've taken the ferry to a local island to buy a $5.00 Ben & Jerry's turtle sundae, which I then have to walk off while I'm waiting for the return ferry. This was just one of my time-consuming schemes to make the empty calories not seem to count in my years of dieting. And those years make up most of my adult life.
The diets never work. I'll get to my goal weight, then heave a subconscious sigh of relief and gradually drift back to my old ways of unlimited sugar, salt, fat, alcohol, and caffeine. All having me quickly back up to my usual 20 pounds over goal-weight, with no lasting change.
But thinking of food changes as permanent takes all this yoyoing between deprivation and reward out of the equation. It's amazing what your mind can't do when you simply say, "It's for a lifetime; otherwise, we'll be hobbling around on a bunch of medications, or worse." Without a focus on food, scheming or yearning for restricted foods or constantly feeling deprived, your mind moves on to other things. Such as the silky feel of the water when you're swimming laps; the comforting tingle of a hot shower when your laps are done for the day; the warm drive home to a good book with the heady scent of lilacs wafting in the window. It's amazing what other senses the mind throws up as reward when the focus is off food.
So that's what I've learned about diets; they fixate your mind on food and dwarf other sensual rewards. And you don't realize how they do this until you can get your mind off food for days at a time. My husband and I don't plan meals any more. We come home from work and forage in the refrigerator for fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. When this is all we keep, we don't have to make menus to make sure we avoid fats, sugar, etc. We've tried to keep the focus positive, on fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish, that we're eating instead of the red meats, butter, and breadstuffs that we're avoiding. So we're shopping more at farmstands for things in season, like fresh strawberries and salad greens. Sometimes we just come home and have a dinner of fresh string beans with a pat of butter and a cup of yogurt or some scrambled eggs for protein.
It's taken me till 65 to learn this. Sure, I've read it all before. But I've never HAD to try it, never been threatened by a major health crossroads like this one. And as long as we keep our focus on the long-haul - the rest of our lives - the pounds melting off seem incidental. They are not a trigger for reward: "Oh, now I can haev some Ben & Jerry's." They are just part of a lifetime practice, par for the course. And I want to keep it that way.