Another Year, Another Diet!
Every January I totally jump on the Latest Diet Craze! bandwagon along with every other moderately hungover and/or puffy person in America, and, though I don’t fall off said bandwagon 2 weeks in like the vast majority of desperate dieters with little to no impulse control, I typically come to the conclusion that the diet — erm – lifestyle change, is lacking in one way or another. Cases in point: in the wee months of 2011 my husband and I unsuccessfully fell victim to the unfortunate scam that was the Flat Belly Diet; early last year I became so disenchanted with the Women’s Health Diet that I all but swore off dumbbells and protein smoothies until a bout of Insanity-fueled whey and pushup stupor made me gain almost 10 pounds and I reluctantly came back to my defeatist diet of Edamame and hill sprints like a guilty dog with a tail between its legs.
Throughout the years I’ve boldly announced that I’d be shaking up my fitness routines, enthusiastically sharing my ambitious goals (running a
10K marathon, magically sculpting a 6-pack out of the donut factory that is my concealed but very real flabby midsection, sticking to 4 forms of exercise on rotation 6-7 days a week, adhering to a high protein to carb ratio, and, the least achievable goal of them all, drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day). And though I’ve made good progress overall (at least from becoming a fat fuck in college to present day), maintaining a relatively admirable baseline for health and fitness, I have yet to run that ultra long race, or get a 6 pack, or de-flabbify my arms, or permanently drop down to the 115-120 range. I know I’m far from fat and I know I’m far from unfit, but I also know that I could do far better.
Though I might be an over-achiever, I’m not a victim of dysmorphia who is incapable of recognizing one’s personal limitations or one’s successes. I’m a realist. I haven’t completely plateaued, and even though I seem to be stuck at the same unfavorable weight, I’m still never bigger than a size 4 on a fat day. I eat mostly plants. I can still do a split, a front handspring, a flying side kick, and a Salchow. I’m actually healthier now than I was in high school when I was ten pounds lighter, ten years younger, and captain of 2 varsity teams. But still, I know that I could do better. And I want to.
So I continue my hopefully not-quite-futile quest to getting a little firmer, a little faster, and a little stronger (and yeah, thinner and lighter). But I will never be an idiot about it. I know what happens when you over-train (injuries), when you under-eat (dizziness, to say the least), when you under-train (homeostasis), and when you over-eat (fat fuckville). I know the limitations of the Harris-Benedict equation, the negative calorie theory of thermogenesis, the 3500 calorie rule, where most foods place on the glycemic index, the volumetric approach to mindful pre-meal eating, and the vitamin content of most things that go in my mouth. Between reading current research and recalling basic shit from high school bio, I think that I navigate the whole “responsible nutrition” thing pretty well, and I won’t be caught dead buying Mega-T or Stackers or some extended liquid juice fast: all those approaches to weight loss and/or purported health maintenance are a complete crock of shit. They’re quick fixes, they’re dangerous, and they’re pricy, in both the pecuniary and existential sense. Unfortunately, gimmicky bullshit is not limited to the GNC aisle at Rite-Aid. It can be found in too many a book, blog, or health article (whether written by some paranoid whistle-blower who demands that you wear sunscreen to swim laps in an indoor pool or some asshat who has the audacity to promote his poorly substantiated research for personal gain in a mainstream magazine). Our couch potato culture makes us the perfect targets for this shit, too: we’re lazy, gullible fucks who would rather pay extra money for an easy miracle fix than be sensible, responsible, and controlled handlers of our own domains while setting and achieving long-term goals.
I’ve probably read close to 25 diet books and hundreds of articles on this stuff, and, other than the sensible, cookbook and lifestyle-based diet books that aren’t really diets (Mediterranean, Sonoma), the majority of them have turned out to be loads of bs, aka, not sustainable in the long-term. Other than ruling out entire food groups, which are, by the way, perfectly healthy (and coincidentally a must for a person who does not eat meat) the majority of diets out there include ludicrous feeding schedules, really stupid workouts with strangely inept illustrations, idiotic assumptions, unsubstantiated claims, completely baseless calorie and ratio suggestions, and painfully trite testimonials. By now, I’ve become a total diet skeptic. Nothing works (well, nothing works permanently) and most books (the concepts of which are often pimped by the same periodical in 2 consecutive months) contain principles that are diametrically opposed to each other.
“3 meals are better than 6″… “You HAVE to eat small meals and snacking is key!” … “No, snacking is horrible and unnecessary! Don’t overstimulate your adrenal glands with early morning feeding!” … “If you don’t eat a giant breakfast, you will become morbidly obese!” … ”Stay away from caffeine, it’s evil!” … ”No–no–coffee is your best friend when you’re dieting! It’s chock-full of antioxidants!” … “Fruit is great and full of amazing nutrients and vitamins and fiber, eat up!” … “Fruit is the root of all that is unholy and fructose will ruin your life!” … “I tell all my patients who are trying to lose weight to stay as far away from dairy as possible.” … “Studies show that people who ate dairy lost 8 more pounds a year than those who abstained.”
SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I honestly don’t know how the editors of Self, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, and Fitness don’t all come down with MPD or at least cirrhosis of the brain stem from all the contradictory bullshit they have the balls to report every month. Actually, I don’t even know how some of these people sleep at night knowing that they’re feeding paranoid health and fitness junkies conflicting and probably inaccurate, possibly dangerous information. Luckily, as consumers of pop culture and information in the digital age, we have the choice to read–and believe–whatever we want about what we feel is healthy. To each his own!
The only person whose work I’ve consistently taken seriously (and seen good results with) is Men’s Health EIC David Zinczenko. Now, his work might be kind of cheesy and not particularly original (and his books are BURSTING AT THE SPINE with virtually intolerable anecdotes), but for the most part, his stuff is well-researched, well-cited, logical, helpful, and, above all else, effective. His work caters to a wide demographic: the lazy fucks (Eat This, Not That!); the moderately healthy (The ABS DIET); the health-obsessed (Men’s Health); and now, everyone in-between, including people who are really sick of bullshit diets (The 8 Hour Diet). The common theme across all of his books is smart, balanced, quality eating. He promotes eating whole and wholesome foods, particularly those of the “power food” variety. He doesn’t explicitly rule out filthy processed garbage and simple carbs, but he states that unwholesome (fake, white, devoid of nutritional value) foods should be limited. He doesn’t demand daily exercise, but he highly recommends it. He emphasizes a healthy lifestyle over a strict (and restrictive, alienating) diet plan, urging people to set reasonable goals and to act reasonably. There are no asinine phases or stages or gimmicks in virtually any of his dietary suggestions. Most of the stuff he says just makes sense.
The principles of the ABS DIET are what I have generally adhered to for the last 3 years in my everyday life, though I have struggled to force myself to eat 6 meals a day, and sometimes making smoothies and waiting for an avocado to ripen is just a huge pain in the ass. But I do try to keep a large supply of power foods around (berries, lentils, avocado, eggs, spinach, apples, leafy greens, light dairy), and I obviously try to exercise as much as I can manage. Even with this smart and logical diet, however, there are way too many little odds and ends. I’m allergic to most nuts now. Berries are really fucking expensive. Until 2 weeks ago, we didn’t have a blender (it was lost in the move a few months back). TLDR version: I’ve been hoping for a curtailed version of the ABS DIET, preferably one with less force-fed meals and more freedom to eat whatever and whenever. So a couple of weeks ago, when I heard that Zinczenko was coming out with another diet book, I was all ears. When I read about what the book was supposedly propagating, I was floored. No compulsory breakfast? No mini-meals? No stupid bullshit snacking? No Sass water, processed cheese, or 300 calorie limitations? Fuck yeah!
I know that “8 hour diet” sounds like it belongs in the ranks of cheesy health trends of the 1990s, but it’s pretty awesome. Eat during an 8 hour window. Fast for 16. Half of that fast is done while you’re sleeping. When you ARE eating, you can eat whatever you want (sorta), but you ought to focus on eating, you guessed it, 8 power foods (which essentially come from the same shortlist of foods from the ABS DIET). And if you’re eating like shit (ie anything loaded with carbs), you should really offset the bad food choices with good ones (ie put extra broccoli on your slice of pizza). Best of all: you don’t have to eat breakfast at 7 am, or eat every 3 hours, or eat baby mini snacks or protein bars or any other stupid shit. Just be smart, and give your body a rest. What’s not to love?
Apparently, everything. This diet has caught a ton of flack. Critics claim that it encourages bad habits, like binge-eating, starving, skipping meals, and “eating whatever you want.” Seeing as how we live in a country where some imbecile can actually sue McDonald’s for serving piping hot coffee and failing to disclose that the coffee is piping hot, it’s understandable that someone would exploit their own stupidity vis-a-vis someone else’s earnestness and then go crying about how the ineffective, dangerous methods of the diet book made them fatter. I guess I can see where some [fucking idiot] would conclude that “eat whatever, whenever” literally means “from noon to 8 pm, feel free to gorge on EZ-cheez, Jimmy Dean sausages, Fritos, McRibs and bottles of Coke in copious amounts,” but the book, if you actually read it, clearly states that “eat whatever, whenever” pertains to eating normal [healthy, wholesome] food, and doing so until you’re full.
The book gives people a lot of options, which, I guess, can be misinterpreted in some unhealthy way, but someone who is serious about getting healthy shouldn’t try to read between the lines of a diet book to cheat the system. And the book really does try to be universally accessible to everyone. Exercise is recommended for 8 minutes in the morning (presumably to acquaint lethargic people with the concept of “taking a break from sitting on one’s ass”), but it is clearly encouraged for much longer than that. Sticking to the diet every day of the week is also not required, though at least 3 days a week are recommended. Cheating is not forbidden, either. If anything, I’d say that the book attempts to re-emphasize healthier perceptions of food consumption, exercise, and what we actually need versus what we’ve been told we need. It also says that it’s okay to stray from the protocol, and that flexibility is a must.
As far as skipping breakfast and the other concerns? I eat my breakfast (plain oatmeal, Greek yogurt and sliced apple, by the way, not some piglet delight from Dunkin’ Donuts) at around 12:30 PM. I nibble on my lunch from 1:30 to 3:30, and dinner comes whenever the fuck I feel like it as long as it’s within the 8 hour time frame. And you know what? I’m not hungry, tired, or stuffing my face with snacks like a capricious toddler/hungover college sophomore at any point during the day (the only time I’m super hungry is in the late morning). I’m eating normal food when I am hungry and then going to bed satiated but not stuffed, and waking up refreshed and sans food hangover. When I eat, I actually feel nourished, not overfed, and when I go out to exercise “in a fasted state,” I feel like a million bucks. And for once, I don’t feel guilty about not forcing myself to eat breakfast at 7 am “because that’s what nutritionists recommend.” I’m also drinking way more fluids (it gets me through the morning), and really limiting my diet soda consumption as a result. I literally have zero complaints about this way of eating.
I’ve been at it for almost 2 weeks now and I lost 2 inches off my waist in the first week, and a pound since last Monday (which is a huge feat for me since I lose pounds at a glacial pace). My face looks thinner, as does the Belly of Broken Bikini Dreams, and I’m generally feeling better than I was when I was forcing myself to eat all the time. This Intermittent Fasting lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it is really working for me so far, and I recommend it to anyone whose appetite doesn’t kick in til noon or who’s not a fan of snacking and mini-meals. I’ll make sure to post updates!