"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables." - Michael Pollan
One of my favorite hobbies is dieting.
Yes, I realize how weird that sounds. Let me rephrase it so it makes more sense: I get a kick out of researching new diets based on some fitness philosophy, following them for an indefinite period of time, and then getting distracted and eating cream cheese frosting out of the can.
As a little background knowledge, I gained about 30 lbs in college. (Not unusual.) Like most freshmen, I was used to having designated meal times, routine workouts due to high school sports, and humane portions of relatively healthy food served to me at home. The transition to college meant complete and utter FREEDOM, where I could have cake for breakfast 'cause I felt like it and pizza as a late night study snack and even VooDoo Donuts at 3:00am on Saturday night walking back from Jameson's. What I ate and when never seemed to concern me. That, combined with an erratic sleep schedule and a tight budget, caused me to be overweight for the first time in my life by the end of sophomore year.
Someone pointed out my weight gain that summer, which I actually hadn't noticed myself because it came so gradually, and I began to panic/problem-solve. I began trying to shed pounds by calorie-counting, which led me to basic realizations like, "Wow. I should really stop putting cheese on everything." I then tried exercising the only way I really knew how without a tattooed swim coach giving me workout sets and asking me where my "mojo" was that day, which was running. 2 or 3 times a week I would hit the track across the street from my summer apartment and jog for however long I could, all while non-committedly tracking my caloric intake.
It wasn't until this past year that I realized that my half-assed approach wasn't doing much for my ass. Then the floodgates opened. I became obsessed over what I was eating and when. It started with veganism (which I actually pulled off for 8 months), then progressed to other intense short-term diets I found through online research, including the Skinny Bitch Diet (this is an actual book and I grew to absolutely hate it--but that is a whole other post), Lauren Conrad's Bikini Bootcamp, the Self Drop-10 Plan, Blogilates' 90-Day Challenge, Dr. Oz's Detox Cleanse, and (now) the Paleo Diet.
Ultimately, what I discovered is that diets do not work. Or, at least they do not work for me. Is it because I am lazy and gluttonous? Maybe. But here's what's really wrong with dieting:
- Diets, by nature, are restrictive. However, just because you eat a food that fits the framework of your diet does NOT mean it is good for you. Perfect example: when I was vegan, I could technically load up on pasta and chocolate and still fit the requirements of the diet. And I often did because, when I was in a situation where the alternate choice was a meat product, that's what I had to choose.
- Food culture and the food industry itself makes it so difficult to know if a food is actually "healthy" because there are so many conflicting studies. I'd be eating or drinking something for years only to come across an article that claimed, "Nooooo, eating _____ will give you throat cancer!!!" There is an article or book about why not to eat something for literally every food item in existence. Well then which diet is the best? What am I supposed to eat?!!
- Dieting is impractical. On one of my diets, the girl has a protein pancake recipe that is actually really delicious, but it calls for half a banana. HALF A BANANA. What am I supposed to do with the other half of the banana? It's gonna get brown and gross. Why couldn't you just incorporate the whole banana into your recipe? Is the extra 30 calories really going kill us?
- It is not reasonable (or healthy, for that matter) to expect ourselves to eat a certain way all the time, in every circumstance. This mentality just sets us up for failure. A diet is not simply about willpower, it is about control--and that's really the appeal that diet creators try to push. "Control what you eat so you can control your weight and figure." Makes sense...right? But what if you don't get the results you want, what then? Anyone with half a brain understands that we actually have very little control over life in general. Try and control every aspect of your life to get the exact results that you want and call me in a few months from the mental hospital. The key is just to make the best out of our circumstances, to control what we can by making good decisions, but the rest is up to nature. We can do what we can to be healthy and active, but if we do not look like Kate Moss in the end, there is very little we can do to change that.
I have since lost the 30 lbs. I gained in college. A friend who I hadn't seen in a year or two said to me this week: "You've lost so much weight, haven't you?! How did you do it?" So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:
The Kat Diet!
- Drink a cup of lemon water in the morning to stimulate your metabolism. Do 100 crunches.
- Eat a fruit smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and lean chicken for dinner. Almonds for snacks.
- Go outside and run until you're tired. If you see someone you know out walking or driving on the road, run faster to impress them.
- You're running late. No lemon water, no crunches for you.
- Whatever is in the fridge at work will do for breakfast. Leftover chicken for lunch, almonds for snacks.
- Go to Bikram yoga. Work so hard that you tear your left hamstring, then throw up due to heat exhaustion.
- Go home, ice your leg, and eat everything in sight because you're ravenous.
- Okay, you really gotta get back on track today. Lemon water and crunches. Just 50 this time, don't wanna be late again.
- Half a banana for breakfast. Wait, this is stupid. Eat the whole dang banana.
- You're tired after work and your leg hurts. No yoga, go home. Say that you're gonna do pilates later but don't.
- Lemon water is starting to give you tongue numbness.
- Co-workers notice that you've been eating the same salad every day.
- Go to yoga. You don't throw up or tear any ligaments this time. Success!
- OMG, CAKE.
- Well, you ate cake for breakfast, so you might as well go all-out. Supreme pizza for lunch!
- High-intensity interval training as a workout. Tears pour down your cheeks as you sprint while remembering all the careless calories you consumed today. You go home and write "WHY CAN'T I BE PERFECT?" in your journal, then descend into a shame spiral.
- Stare at the remaining cake defiantly over your lemon water. "You do not control me. I will not eat you for breakfast."
- No time to workout! Harass a family member or roommate as exercise.
- You're at a party and there is delicious chips and salsa. Eat some, but not too much. Have a drink, too. Just one though.
- Your family makes fun of you for eating kale salad. Whatever. They're all fat.
- Squats. Lunges. Re-tear your hamstring.
- Eat some cream cheese frosting out of the can.
So, for those of you who have been wondering how I did it, that's how. I am not Beyoncé or Gwyneth Paltrow, but this is what worked for me: Moderation is key. Don't expect perfection. Do things that you like (i.e. doing yoga, eating kale) and you'll be successful. Don't torture yourself, it doesn't work. All these diets make it so complicated! It's really not.
If I was super hardcore like Lauren Conrad or Cassey Ho or Dr. Oz, I probably could've lost this weight faster, and I could probably be a bikini model. But you know what? I do not want to do that. I want to eat red velvet cupcakes. So there.