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  • What I learned from this old-timey d*et book

    Thank you so much, everyone, for filling out the workshop survey. I'm reading your answers carefully, and will be answering all your questions and giving you a date by next week.

    Now then. If you've been hanging out with me for any length of time you know I hate the concept of dieting and hate the word "dieting" and I hate the diet industry. It follows I don't read a lot of diet books.

    (And if we haven’t been hanging out for a while, my definition of “diet” in the negative sense is: Eating significantly less than you need to run your body at a healthy weight. So, less food than you need to maintain your current weight, and less food than you need to maintain your body at your desired healthy weight. Too hungry, too often, putting your food decisions in someone else’s hands, putting your body in survival panic: that’s a diet. I’m not talking about diet in the sense of “what we eat.”)

    Anyway, Susan Estrich's Making the Case for Yourself. What a fun and useful read! (See important caveat below.) Truly surprising. And very available and affordable.

    As you may know, Estrich is a lawyer (first woman president of the Harvard Law Review, and other firsts). So the book takes the form of making a case, and it’s written in a very clear, no-frills style. (Love that; it’s very different from the typical self-help reliance on fluffy anecdotes, making everything so much longer than it needs to be.)

    IMPORTANT CAVEAT: I will offer this warning, should you get yourself a copy of this book: It is an antique. It has a diet, in the negative sense, in one of the later chapters. The diet focuses on minimizing fat intake and advocates the use of things like Splenda™. Just … don’t. There’s no need to even read that chapter.

    On the flip side, here are some bits I found worth noting, for your consideration:

    1. “The key to the success of my last diet was that I stuck to it. What changed most profoundly was my attitude. I trained myself to think differently. I cheated less.” 

    If we substitute the word “diet” for something like “new way of eating,” or whatever you prefer, the meat of the statement is: I made a permanent change. I reframed the project as something I chose rather than something imposed.

    2. Too busy to do what’s necessary to make change? Susan says there are three logical choices.

    • You can decide that change is important and make space for it.
    • You can decide that it’s not so important, and not make space for it.
    • Or you can decide that it’s really important, but not make space for it, stay stuck and feel terrible. Only this last choice is a problem.

    I would add: No matter what action you decide to take or not take, there's never an argument in favor of hating your body. Find a way to love yourself and your body no matter what. (HAES isn't a cure-all, but it might help here.)

    3. On self-care: “No one ever says they loved their father because he always put himself last… It’s not the road to sainthood, it’s the route to the refrigerator, self-hatred, and a less successful life.” Amen, sister.

    4. Cold fact: Some people are genetically disposed to weigh less even while eating more than the rest of us. Life's not fair! The good news: you can change the chemistry of your brain so that you want to eat differently.

    A GREAT way to change your brain chemistry? We all know the answer: it’s exercise. “Compared to changing your genes, it’s rather easy.” << Susan said it.

    5. Susan advocates for writing down (me too! ALL for writing stuff down) your reasons for wanting to lose weight (substitute eat different, be stronger, feel healthy, whatever you want). Her reason no. 1: vanity (!). She freely admits she’s not a perfect person, and I love that about her.

    6. On mindful eating: “The way you’re supposed to lose weight is not by going on a diet but … [to] stop seeing food as an enemy, listen to your body, feed it what it wants, and live happily ever after. I have bad news for you. Most of the time, we eat like we’re driving at the same time, whether we are or not. Everyone does this. It may well be harder to change than [your] weight.

    The Buddha couldn't have said it better. This is why guidelines will bring us to conscious eating - and a lower weight - faster than trying to be spontaneously mindful, meal after meal.

    7. On perseverance: “Studies suggest that people lose weight over time the same way we yo-yoers do - except they skip the up periods that cancel out all your efforts. The successes have as many plateaus as the failures, except they keep heading down, instead of continually losing the same ten pounds over and over.”

    Important, right?! In other words, fall down seven times, get up eight. When you eat something you said you weren’t going to, you don’t say “Screw it, all bets are off. It doesn’t matter now.” You say, "Okay. No beatings necessary. I have another chance to eat in a few hours. I will follow my guidelines then, and also UNTIL THEN. Starting now."

    8. Have a mantra. Don’t tell it to others; they don’t need to know. Change it when you’re tired of it. Mine: “The right to eat is mine, and I don’t defend it or justify it. To anyone.” I tell you because you might need to know. Feel free to swipe my mantra.

    9. Speaking of: “I had a simple rule: I discussed [my eating] with people on a 'need to know' basis. The waiter needs to know you want the sauce on the side.” Your boyfriend doesn’t

    10. Also: “It’s hard enough to lose weight in order to lose weight without loading a relationship on top of it.” In other words, don’t ever eat for anyone other than yourself.

    11. Have guidelines. Routines. Stock choices that you know work for you re: timing, quantity, quality, restaurants. Make yourself a simple system. (This is covered in the chapter Your Body, Your Rules. Lots of sanity here!)

    12. Finally, ask yourself: What would [Beyoncé] do with this body, if she were suddenly dropped into it? Would she care for it as you do? Would she hold it, carry it, walk it around the same way you do? Would she fuel it and exercise it the way you do? As a thought experiment, Susan suggests you try this out for three weeks.

    I do this substituting Natalie Portman - because I need someone short for my thought experiment. I ask myself What would Natalie Portman do with this body? Would she say, Nah. Too short to bother with! Better luck next body.

    Methinks she would not.

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