A few days ago, my husband and I were walking back from the farmer’s market lugging plastic bags full of corn and tomatoes. It was hot, dinner was still a few hours away, and we had all those ears of corn to shuck. Then I saw her. She was thin, almost wiry, carrying her own bags of farmer produce but one hand held a large soft serve chocolate ice-cream cone that she must have bought from the ice-cream truck parked near the food stalls. My mouth watering and stomach grumbling, I watched her take a large bite of the ice cream and smile. I would have smiled also had I just taken a bite. But then what she did astonished me. She walked over to a nearby trashcan and, with a napkin, dislodged most of the remaining ice cream into the can so that only a tiny bit remained barely visible above the rim of the cone. “Did you see that?” I asked my husband. “She threw away most of the ice cream!”
“No wonder she is thin,” he replied. “I couldn’t have done that. “ “Me neither,” I said, thinking that as hot and hungry as I was, the ice cream would have been inhaled by the time I walked home.
Indeed, how many of us practice what weight-loss professionals are forever suggesting: eat only half of what is served to you in a restaurant. If you want a fattening treat, take a few bites and throw the rest away. Don’t allow a micro drop of fat or sugar or salt to cross your lips even by accident. Never, ever, eat anything dipped in batter and fried. If you are at birthday party, eat a rice cake (bring it with you) rather than birthday cake. Don’t skip meals. Make sure breakfast consists of more than a cup of coffee and piece of toast. Don’t eat after 9PM. Avoid drinking more than one glass of wine and don’t do that too often. If you want to snack, eat fruit, fat-free yogurt or oven-roasted kale. Oh, and exercise as much as possible.
Many people are able to summon the compulsive discipline, and motivated aspects of themselves when they are determined to lose weight. “Set a goal and stick to it!” people are always advising the obese. Then you WILL lose weight. To be sure, we can do this whether it is going on a five-day cleanse, eating nothing but grapefruit and broiled salmon for a month, or living on a 500-calorie beverage that contains all the nutrients we need to stay alive until we lose 75 pounds. Years ago Oprah Winfrey did this and lost an enormous amount of weight, appearing on one of her shows dragging, in a wagon, bags full of the same amount of fat she had lost.
But then the diet is over. And as the professionals tell us, we now must practice discipline and rigor to KEEP OFF the weight. And sometimes, some people actually do. I have a friend who lost more than 70 pounds before she got married many years ago and has never deviated more than 2 or 3 pounds from her goal weight. If she finds herself weighing more than that, she races to her nearest Weight Watcher meeting. A life member, she goes back on a diet and loses those two or three pounds before they turn into 10 or 15. The woman who dumped most of her ice cream into the trash can may be another example of someone who took to heart the advice of eating a tiny amount of a treat and disposing of the rest. But as a neighbor who is always going on and off diets told me, “Who can live like that?”
Maybe we were not intended to live like that. Is it not unrealistic to expect that we humans should eat like machines, consuming the precise number of calories in relation to the precise amount of calories we use up? After all, we are not fitted out with a car-like fuel gauge, with the need for fuel, i.e. calories computed before and after we eat.
Obviously eating too many calories, meal after meal, day after day, will rather quickly elevate our weight to unhealthy levels with all the attendant health risks associated with obesity. But on the other hand, once we attain the weight we want, we should be able to feast occasionally on entire ice-cream cones, or a plate of fried clams during a once-in-the-summer trip to a clam shack, or a Sunday morning chocolate croissant from a French bakery. The key word is occasionally.
Exercise, the other factor keeping us at the weight we want to be should be a regular part of our daily activities. But this doesn’t mean going to the gym every day or walking around the block ten times or doing 200 push ups daily. It means being cognizant of how and when our bodies are moving so that we do not mimic a 200-year-old tortoise in the amount of energy we expend in physical activity. However, having an occasional lazy day is something that ought to be built into the post-diet exercise regimen as well. Once your body is accustomed to regular physical activity, it will want to get moving again after an afternoon lying in the sun watching dandelions turn to fluff or catching up with all your recorded television shows over a weekend.
Even our pre-civilization ancestors rested after chasing a wooly mammoth for three days and feasting on it until nothing was left but the wool. So if you find yourself hot and hungry on a sunny late summer afternoon, and a soft serve ice-cream cone crosses your path, indulge yourself. Just don’t do it too often.