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How to Begin a Diet

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Generally, you know you need to diet before hearing it from your doctor. Some signs are obvious - a ballooning gut, increasingly tight clothes, and the inability to climb a flight of stairs without sounding like both partners in an X-rated movie. Yet people are resourceful at disguising the obvious, from themselves as well as others.

Even scales are no hindrance to self-deception. It's amazing to listen to people who have been math and science phobic all their lives, become physicists and engineers when it comes to measuring their weight. "I don't trust my scale because""

"It's on a carpet. The floor sags. Our house is built on soft clay. It's so delicate that it's affected by the tidal pull of the moon. It doesn't account for variations in gravity due to General Relativity."

At this rate, you might as well ask some carnival low-life to guess your weight. He may be wrong, but at least you'll get a stuffed animal.

There is, however, a day of reckoning when all the techniques of self-delusion falter - the yearly physical. You may be able to fool yourself, but without clothes, it's unlikely you can slip your bulk unnoticed past your doctor. He or she might be kind or blunt, sensitive or cruel, but rest assured your weight will be discussed. Size-wise, the jig is up.

Bowing to the inevitable, one would think that the next logical step is to start dieting. One would be delusional.

It is a rare person who walks out of the Doctor's office and onto a weight-loss program. For most of us, the transition requires weeks of research followed by a cabinet-level decision-making process, and then a series of arcane rituals more elaborate than the coronation of a British Monarch.

The first part of the process seems straightforward you have to figure out what diet to use. For the neophyte, this is a process based on practical considerations. He will look through the available literature, discuss the options with his doctor and family, and make a choice. Most of us look back at this stage with fond if distant memories.

For those of us who have been down this road more often than a long haul trucker, the angst generated by this decision would put Hamlet to shame. In fact, it's too bad dieting wasn't bigger deal in Elizabethan times; it could have inspired a great tragedy.

"Whether "tis nobler to suffer the base deprivations of Ornish, or to follow Atkins and fore'er forsake carbs"carbs, aye there's the rub."

So, how to proceed? First, you consider all the methods you've tried before. This is an eerily similar process to revisiting past romances. It's impossible to look back in total honesty, since the facts have faded with time and memories are distorted by bitterness and regret. You are confronted by feelings and failings you would just as soon leave buried. It didn't work out and yet"

Was it "her" or "me?" That is, was the ultimate failure due to some inherent weakness in the plan or some inherent weakness in you? During one diet, you gave up when only a few pounds from your goal and binged your way back quickly. It sounds like you were the cad, but maybe the system led to unreal expectations. Another time, you lost the weight easily, kept it off for a while but regained it over time. Perhaps the relationship became too confining or you were commitment-phobic. The spark was there for a while though; maybe you could rekindle the passion.

In general, it's wiser to start fresh with a new program. The less emotional baggage you drag along with your physical baggage, the better.

But at least we have some personal basis for judgment with the routines that have failed us; finding a new diet is often a trek through the rain forest armed with a spoon. Unless you hold a degree in nutrition, it's often hard to tell the real from the bunk, the sincere and informed practitioners from the hucksters and charlatans. And although we are loath to admit it, we are all susceptible to the promise of quick results with minimal effort and discomfort.

As an example of the sheer weirdness that confronts the potential dieter, let us examine one of the more interesting hooks of recent years; the appeal to the eating habits of our prehistoric forebears, Og and Jane Doe.

"From that time [700,000 years ago] until the beginnings of agriculture (about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago), man lived on a diet composed predominantly of meat of one sort or another...The fossil remains tell us that in preagricultural times, human health was excellent. People were lean, tall...[and had] little evidence of disease.

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Jeff Brawer is a writer and television editor in the Boston area who has worked in broadcast, medical, and industrial TV for over 25 years. He has been dealing with weight issues for over 50 years and ranting about them for an eternity.
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