Yes! I’m on a diet.

The concept of a diet is so misconstrued that it’s now synonymous to not eating at all.

Her sky-high pointy shoes caught my attention.

“How can you walk in those?” I wordlessly wondered while watching her amble towards the front exit of the bus as we neared the next stop.

She teetered with the uneven sinuous undulation of the pavement; clutching a tote in one hand and typing on her mobile device with the other.

Her fashionable clothes, shimmery makeup, and ornate nail-art did nothing to conceal sunken eyes, parched skin, and a gaunt physique. To me she was reminiscent of another woman, who I once had a conversation with at the gym. This lady inquired about my routine; to which I carefully replied with a simplistic breakdown – a mix of swimming, spinning, strength training and yoga to supplement my running. After complimenting on my physique, she then asks, “You’re always on a diet aren’t you?”

I thought hard on how to answer that question. What did she mean? Aren’t ALL people on a diet?

It’s a sad reality, I’m afraid. The concept of a diet is so misconstrued that it’s now synonymous to not eating at all.

Praying Skeleton

Making matters more contemptible is how scrawny, rawboned figures are glorified over almost every known form of visual media – even here in Taiwan. This skewed paradigm of body image bothers me greatly; especially as it negatively impacts women. As the pressure of looking socially acceptable amasses, many turn to quick fixes – “miracle” drinks, slimming pills, willful starvation and worse, wiggly fingers down the throat. Don’t they know that advertising, television, and magazine companies have an array of technological tricks at their disposal to mask imperfections which in turn enable them to sell myth?

A prime example of how influential media could be is the influx of magic potions strategically sold as good-for-digestion teas. Piqued by curiosity as to why a great number of people come out of 7-11 carrying them, I purchased one particularly popular bottle. Its taste has pushed my resolve to never drink it again. I later learned, through some research and by deciphering the product label, that it pegs its marketing on the claim that it contains catechins and inulin. Catechins (1,2) are flavonoids found in raw apples, apricots, nectarines, pears and plums with skin, blackberries, red raspberries, cranberries, cherries, broad beans and even chocolate. Inulin(3,4), on the other hand, naturally occurs in onions, garlic, chicory root, asparagus and leeks. Why then will I sacrifice my taste buds and appetitive gusto if I am able to get the same nutrients by eating tasty whole foods?

It’s boggling that many people spend a tremendous amount of time fretting over how they look or how others perceive them but don’t stop to consider what one’s body requires for nourishment. Food is the body’s fuel. Simply cutting out on food is a surefire way to gradual physical degradation – a blatant refusal to respect your body and its needs altogether. No amount of fancy, processed edible substances can compensate for the nutrients that are already available to us through proper, well-balanced and reasonable meals.

I feel the lanky lady on the bus and the inquisitive woman at the gym don’t quite see the big picture. The former fails to understand that health emanates from within; the latter fails to recognize that health is not superficial. We need to cultivate the idea, especially among those who are prone to being misguided, that well-being is a holistic venture which involves mind, body, and spirit. If you’re not happy with who you are at this point, what makes you think that you’ll be completely satisfied when you’ve achieved your weight goal? Will the praise you unwittingly aspire to get just because you are a size 0 fill the void of self-esteem? If one feels uncomfortable about his/her weight and endeavors to lose some of it, there are safer ways to do this. These methods involve educated choices, expert consultation, and a consistently active lifestyle.

Am I on a diet? Yes. I’m on a diet based on fruits, vegetables, lean meats and seafood, healthy oils and whole grains rounded-off by athletic activity for my body; books, intelligent conversations, creative pursuits and diverse experiences for my mind and spirit. How about you, what diet are you on?

Online Sources:
(1) http://flavo.vtt.fi/catechins.htm
(2) http://www.livestrong.com/article/478075-foods-high-in-catechins/
(3) http://www.prebiotic.ca/inulin.html
(4) http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/bitstream/10113/34692/1/IND22042520.pdf

Side Note: Credit for the idea of the picture goes to a caricature on deviantart.com which I saw some time ago. I lost the link to it but when I do find it, I’ll put it here. Here it is.

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15 thoughts on “Yes! I’m on a diet.

  1. This is a WONDERFUL post: well written, well illustrated, backed up by fact, and beautifully written. With your permission I would like to repost this to my FB page? You are so correct about the superficiality of weight loss for the sake of weight loss and the hypocrisy of substituting fake food for real food.

    My “diet” is sometimes undermined by who I spend time with. I may have a good plan, in theory, but the presence of someone who is prone to believing he needs 3 big meals a day and succumbing to the emotional desire for “big food” and following a bunch of bad choices with a “diet of the month” (or in his case = year) program tends to derail my own plan. But, since retirement what works for me is two meals a day plus an afternoon snack. I try to eat only “real food” (as few additives and as fresh from the source as possible) and more salads, veggies, and fruits than pastas, potatos, and meats. I have my weaknesses, but if I stick with my plan, I can offset a treat by good choices for the rest of the day. And excercise is critical. I tend to spend too much time at the computer since I retired. I have to actively work on replacing the excercise that I used to get simply by going to a physical job every day,

    I could stand to lose 10 or 15 pounds, but I’m not going to fret over those pounds. I know how to get rid of them, if I get serious about it.Your excercise regime would do it for me in a heart beat!

    • Hi Linda,

      It is an honor all on its own that you even consider sharing this piece. You may pass it on. Your view on health is generally reasonable in my opinion. I, too, have rest days when I eat what I crave for – typically ice cream or frozen yogurt and just prop my feet up. Please do consult your doctor or a professional dietitian should you have any questions about what to eat. My personal method is to ask both my training partner and my friend who is a doctor plus reading about what I want to know. I don’t have a degree in health sciences but I do think that the general knowledge about health is available to all of us through the internet, books, etc.

  2. You’ve got some great advice. People think they can do something temporarily and then go back to old habits. They’ve got to realize that health and a reasonable body weight must be achieved by lifetime choices and habits.

  3. There’s so much wisdom in this post, Nel, and it’s written with such clarity and reason. And the cartoon made me laugh. Keep the great work!

    • Thanks Charles. :)

      I think your cartoons (I checked out Ron Leishman’s work) may also have inspired the idea of that. So I tried matching it to something I was working on at that time. Glad you liked it.

      • There’s a website called iclipart.com that has a lot of Ron’s work and a ton of other stuff, too. The annual subscription is pretty reasonably priced. And Ron has his own website, which I guess you’ve seen.

        I meant to say, “Keep up the great work!”

  4. Interesting post…I hadn’t thought about the definition of the word diet before but while reading it occurred to me that the traditional definition of the word is simply “what one eats.” However these days it’s come to mean “eating in a prescribed way for the purpose of losing weight.”
    I think many people don’t diet for health, they diet in pursuit of beauty, and are unfortunately willing to sacrifice some degree of health to gain it. It sounds like you’re quite grounded in your body and comfortable with it. Great post!

    • Exactly what I’m thinking. Diet (according to dictionary.com) comes from the Greek word diaita, originally “way of life, regimen, dwelling.” I think one of my teachers taught me this in the context of redundant phrases (i.e. tuition fee – tuition is already a fee). It came back to me during those moments I mentioned above. It makes me upset when I see rail-thin women or when people ask if I’m cutting back on eating. I’ve honestly had image issues before but I’m lucky I’m surrounded by people who pursue health in a clean and honest way. They’ve taught me there are no quick fixes. It’s important that people get the right idea about living a healthy lifestyle because the body really does respond to what you do to it.

  5. This was a great post. I really enjoyed reading. Coming from an Asian family I can relate to what you say about the superficiality of weight loss. And I also dislike the fact that skinny = healthy and beautiful. I know I can stand to loss some weight… But I really dislike it when my family comments about my weight! Especially since most of them never work out! Although I am heavier… I’m more active and fitter than them! And don’t get me start on how many times they recommended I talk diet supplements or drink diet teas. Anyways, I really liked this post. Thanks for your insights.

    • I saw your workout routine and I believe you are on the right track. I hope you never feel discouraged about what everybody else around you says. From personal experience, it’s good to have someone who pulls you out of the rut but to recognize that at the end of the day, you only answer to yourself. Stay happy with what you do. Great job on your races, by the way. I envy your finishing a half marathon.

      And thank you for dropping by, Thao. :)

      Oh, and I’m Asian too. :)

  6. This is such a wonderfully written post!! I completely agree with your idea of what the word ‘diet’ has come to mean in society today, and I also concur with your attitude towards whole beauty and health being more than just a “size”.

    I’m one of those people that struggles with weight – for various reasons – and most of my struggles stemmed from print media, advertising, etc… However, even though I know in my head that the idea of beauty that they perpetuate is not actually healthy, I am surrounded by people who consider that type of woman ideal. It’s difficult, sometimes, to keep in mind that I don’t have to be a slave to weight-loss plans to achieve the unachievable especially since I want to feel accepted.

    I fear that until we learn to appreciate all shapes and sizes and glorify health as something other than size, this idea will take a long time to catch on. The Dove ads that use many women from different ages, cultures and sizes are a good start, but when it comes to media we have a long way to go. You wrote that we need to ‘cultivate’ the idea that health is holistic and involves mind, body and spirit…. That is exactly what we need – I couldn’t have said it better myself. : )

    Thank you for a wonderful read!

    • Welcome, findfocus. :)
      Media indeed tends to highlight waif-like figures as the “ideal” figure; dismissing that fact that we each have a different combination of genes – varying colors, bone structures, and builds. As you said, in-depth (in my opinion, real) beauty is not superficial and not everybody realizes this, unfortunately.

      I’m glad you had a wonderful time reading this. I’m most grateful for your time and kind words. :)

  7. Nel, what a beautiful post that every woman needs to read! It has been 2 years for me of recovering from the incessant, “I need to lose weight” mentality, and all I can say is that I am the happiest I have ever been. Despite the fact that what I eat looks a little different than most since I cannot eat dairy, gluten and tend to lean towards vegetarianism, my diet these days consists of an actual healthy relationship with food. One where I don’t feel guilt anymore over what I eat and one where I eat more fruits and veggies than I ever have in my life. Oh, and the best part? When I look in the mirror, I hear only positive affirmations told to myself and I actually LIKE what I see. *That* makes all the difference!
    xoxo!! Love your writing.

    • Hi Cara! I’m so glad that you describe your relationship with food as “healthy”. Indeed, it should be; food is meant to nourish and to be enjoyed. I know, based from your blog, that your choices are well-informed (i.e. you are aware that you can’t eat gluten and dairy) and this is something to be emulated (i.e. finding out which foods gives you unfavorable reactions). Most people have options and opportunities to eat well it’s just that we are made to believe that the act of eating (food consumption) is going to inevitably make one fat and ugly.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :) Much appreciated.

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