Many people who have, perhaps, never dieted to try to lose weight often think it’s merely a matter of “eat a little less, exercise a little more” and then the magic happens. I’m here to tell you that when it comes to weight loss efforts, nothing could be further from the truth. If simple lifestyle changes like eating more veggies, eating fewer fried foods, and moving some more produced viable weight loss results, no one would be fat, because making those changes is relatively easy. They can make us healthier but they generally don’t work to make us a whole lot thinner. Thus, dieting behavior ensues.
Some of the weight loss tips I was given during my time at Weight Watchers (the weight loss company most people consider “the sensible one”) are downright laughable when I think about them now. Although contemplating doing them again actually makes me want to cry, not laugh.
Here’s some of the diet advice I’ve encountered over the years:
- Eat your salad undressed, with dressing on the side, and then dip the tines of your fork ever so gingerly into the dressing before spearing a bite of salad. Honestly, even in my most diety of diet days, this seemed utterly ridiculous, both for the effort it took and results it produced. I happen to think the best thing (or at least the thing that makes it edible) about a salad is the dressing, so plunging into a naked salad with but a microdrop of dressing on the fork seems downright obscene. The whole time I dieted (most of my adult life) I avoided salads for this very reason – too much dressing would make me gain weight, too little would render it inedible. Healthy, right? When I order salads now and the server asks me if I want the salad dressed or dressing on the side, it’s such a comfort to be able to have my salad made as the chef intended it – fully dressed.
- Don’t use butter or oil on your vegetables; instead try a squeeze of lemon…on literally every vegetable you eat. Hey, guess what vegetables always dressed in lemon juice taste like? LEMON! I mostly skipped this one too by mostly just skipping vegetable sides altogether. If there was a vegetable incorporated into my entree, such as a stir-fry (and therefore coated in some sort of sauce or seasoning), I’d eat it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t touch a plain, steamed vegetable with a ten foot fork. There are a million awesome ways to cook veggies to make them more delicious to pickier palates: roasting, baking, sautéing, and yes, even steamed, but with a dollop of butter or drizzle of olive oil to really make them sing. Dietitian fun fact: many vegetables contain fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) which means having them with some fat makes the vitamins a whole lot more bioavailable to us. I like lemon as a seasoning – occasionally. But not to mask the flavor of my unfatted vegetables (yes I did just make that word up). By the way, if you have a hard time eating vegetables and squeezing lemon on them is the only way you can tolerate them, then I applaud you for your efforts, and it’s the way you want it. It’s when it’s not the way you want it that it becomes a problem.
- Eat “Zero Points” (aka fat free, low carb, low protein) soup to fill up before a meal. Anyone ever make a whole batch of this soup, recipe courtesy of Weight Watchers (basically vegetables boiled in broth), have one bowl, and then watch it go moldy in the fridge because while you didn’t have the heart to throw it out after all that effort, you also didn’t have the fortitude to force one more spoonful of this gruel down your throat? Yeah, I didn’t think it was just me. Notice no one eats this kind of soup while not on a diet? Know why? Because it tastes awful! I make amazing soups now. They often involve olive or canola oils (both rich in monounsaturated fats), butter, avocado (also rich in MUFA), cheese, meat and yes, vegetables. They are delicious, and while certainly not “zero points,” they are also not soul-crushing.
- Go to a restaurant, order a meal, and immediately have the server put half of it in a doggie bag. Okay, seriously? If ever there was a place I wanted to escape the grip of my dieting, it was at a restaurant. How sad I’d have been to see half of my lovely meal for which I’d “saved up” my calories all week then go directly into a doggie bag before I’d even had a single bite. And unless that bag was hermetically sealed, I know I’d be dipping into it before I even left the restaurant. I was so hungry back then that I wouldn’t leave one single scrap on the plate and usually over-stuffed myself, but by Thor’s hammer, I was not going to sacrifice my dinner to the Styrofoam container before its time. I don’t always finish my plate these days, either at home or eating out, and am happy to have leftovers, but that is always based on my fullness level, and it’s my choice, not someone else’s mandate, which really makes all the difference.
- The all-time weirdest: use spaghetti squash instead of actual spaghetti in any dish that calls for pasta. Two words: NOT PASTA. I did this once. The resulting fibrous strings coated with tomato sauce went right into the trash after one bite. I have a special hatred for one type of food pretending to be another in the name of calorie reduction. My friend had a similar experience with Shirataki noodles, which I have avoided rigorously ever since hearing her tale.
These weren’t ever a part of my diet, but I’ve gleaned them after a lifetime of listening to diet talk:
- Go Low-Carb. Ah, perhaps my biggest diet pet peeve. Even if it did work to produce long-term weight loss (and there is no evidence to show that it does), I’ve met tons of low-carbers who have lost weight and then gained it all back because they simply could not live with so few carbohydrates in their diet for very long. I’ve never heard anyone get excited about giving up carbs, though I’ve personally witnessed a few low-carbers get a little over-excited at the presentation of cupcakes at a birthday celebration and the contemplation of having a massive cheat moment. I am sorry for these folks because while man (and woman) certainly can’t live by bread alone, living without carbohydrates really sucks. I know many people who have tried some version of this diet, but very few people who have stuck with it long term. And in conversation, their alternating obsessions with not-eating-carbs and dying-to-eat-carbs is tiresome. If you’re going to do this, do us all a favor and stop talking about it.
- Eat a breakfast and lunch of [Special K, meal replacement shakes, fake food item] and then have a “sensible” dinner. I sure as hell do not want to eat anything twice a day, never mind the bland items on offer in these classic diets. I really enjoy the (perhaps unintentional) inference that while your dinner may be sensible, your breakfast and lunch sure weren’t. Is the concept here to bore you into thinness by making you sick of eating? I don’t think it would work for me; I’d be so off-the-rails with real-food cravings by dinnertime there would be a major diet fail daily. Sorry diet food companies, you’re not going to fool me into buying more of your product by making me eat it twice a day.
As one of the most ardent, “successful” dieters I knew, even I could not participate in a lot of this weirdness, opting instead to avoid healthy foods altogether to reduce calories (which is stupid in its own right). Most diet rules make eating completely unenjoyable, yet we are biologically geared to enjoy food. It makes no sense to deny our most basic instinct, but we do it every day when we diet. No wonder every diet ends up failing the dieter.
What are the most ridiculous diet tips you’ve heard or tried? Feel free to leave them in the comments section!