A Virgin What?

I got an email today from a relative that had my eyes rolling so far back into my head that I saw my brain. (It was decked out in a boa and bowler hat.)

VirginI’ve started a new diet called The Virgin Diet and I’m feeling super! I’m drinking nutritious shakes and hope to lose weight and find out whether I have a food intolerance…cut out all dairy and gluten and some other foods…

She has struggled with her weight for most of her life, but doesn’t quite seem to ever keep it off for long. I’ve watched the yo-yo pattern and it frustrates me, but I’m past trying to give information that falls on deaf ears. I’ve done “diets” and they don’t work.

They don’t.

When someone says they are going on a diet, I equate it to going on a vacation. She get a guidebook (the latest diet book), watches a couple of travel shows (Oprah, Dr. Oz, some “expert” on the morning news), packs her bags (in this case, her grocery carts), and sets off full of vim and vigor. Bon voyage! This vacation (diet) going to fulfill every dream they desire.

But vacations don’t last forever. Neither do diets.

Ten or twenty pounds (or even less) into the diet, she starts to feel like something’s missing. The newness wears off. She plateaus. She sees a comfort food that isn’t on the list of “don’t eat this” and thinks: “Ok, just once.” Then the guilt seeps into her pores and the diet willpower collapses. And the next thing you know…. the diet is abandoned and any weight taken off arrives like the lost luggage on a later flight.  And you’re now suffering from the post-vacation doldrums. (Been there. Done that. Have the T-shirt.)

The term “diet” itself is part of the problem. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as:  “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”. It says nothing of what happens after one reduces it. For most people, a diet has a starting and a stopping point. “I’m going to diet and lose 20 pounds.” There’s nothing long-term about it. It’s all instant gratification. As a society, we’re totally into that.

Diets don’t work. Lifestyles do. What’s the difference? A lifestyle change is:

  • Making a conscious choice to eat the proper amounts for what you are trying to achieve (lose, maintain, or even gain) and not looking for the quick fix.
  • Making a decision to exercise to help with those proper amounts of nutritious sustenance. Hint: Exercise calories > intake calories. I know. Brilliant. And it’s math I can actually do!
  • Recognizing that sometimes it’s OK to eat something outside of what you’d consider to be proper and knowing that it doesn’t mean the end of your work.
  • Understanding that cutting out all dairy and gluten and potatoes and processed sugars and the like is not a sustainable way of life for most people. (Yes, I know that it can be done and that people have done it. Ever been to a restaurant or gone to a friend’s house and try to follow all those rules of a “forbidden foods list”? If there isn’t a medical reason for not eating them, you come off as a griping whiner. “I can’t eat that because I’m on a diiiiieeetttt….”. Smart hosts hand them a celery stick and a glass of water.)

Why do I feel this way? After my diagnosis, I was on a Diabetic Exchange Diet. It drove me crazy. Based on a caloric intake and slotting those calories into “meat”, “dairy”, “fruit”, “vegetables”, “bread”, and “fat” categories made mealtime not a lot of fun for anyone who followed it. (And calling it a diet made the whole thing worse in my head.) On birthdays or special occasions, I got to eat a whole 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream. Vanilla. Go crazy, kid.

Restricting something or forbidding something is a sure way to make it almost impossible to resist. It’s no wonder I chucked that whole “diet” out the window whenever I could as a teenager.

What changed? Carbohydrate counting as an adult. Part of the diabulimia issue for me was that “forbidden” food guilt. Carbohydrate counting made that a non-issue. Did I want a piece of cheesecake? Yes. Can I have it? Yes. I just needed to count the carbs and take the appropriate amount of insulin to cover it.

I’m no expert at carb counting. I used to carry a book in my purse and will occasionally pull out an app on my iPhone to check carbs in a fast food meal (which is sobering when you realize just how many carbs you are eating in a Big Mac… which I won’t eat anymore.). I read labels. I still screw up sometimes. I am human. So are you. (Unless you’re a robot.)

The Glycemic Index is also something that I’ve used when trying to not spike after a meal. I know that I react differently to white rice versus brown rice, even though I can create an equal amount of carbs for my insulin intake. Complex carbs are the way to go for me.

And there are times I overeat. Sure. Just not at every meal. And not an entire cheesecake. I’m a firm believer in “everything in moderation” (except for Diet Coke for which I need a 12 step program), and I’ve found that moderation is the key to my lifestyle. Not some “lose 7 pounds in 7 days!” diet, because… what happens after seven days?

There are some who have successfully maintained their weight loss through Weight Watchers. That for me, is not a diet, but an overall lifestyle program. I’m just knocking any “diet” that forces you to drink shakes for at least two meals a day or eat packaged meals that you have to buy. That’s not just a diet, it’s a diet that makes someone a whole lot of money on people who are looking for someone else to control their eating habits by restricting their food choices. And you know how I feel about that.

So, it won’t come as a surprise to me when I hear about a new diet she’s going to try after this one fails. Because… it’s a diet, not a lifestyle.

Do you agree with me? I’m curious how other diabetics feel about the “diet” concept? 


  1. Allison Nimlos

    I actual prefer the other definition of the die from Merriam-Webster: “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.” I think that people can adopt certain diets if they feel it really is best for them — gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, etc. Things that are hard-core and inflexible are not successful, but they usually aren’t meant to be (ala “lose 7 lbs in 7 days,” cabbage soup, etc.) Those are short-term diets for the purposes of weight loss. But you can have long-term diets too. I’d say most people on the “everything in moderation” diet. I honestly think that could be it’s own type. Personally, I follow a Paleo-influenced diet. Most of what I choose to consume is Paleo because I believe in the principles, but not everything. I regularly consume Paleo food, so I’d say that it’s my diet, but it’s not always my diet and I’m OK with that. I think one really needs to figure out what kind of diet they are looking for. Are they looking at something they will be able to sustain for a long time, or are they looking it as the short-term fix for weight loss? Just something to think about.

  2. StephenS

    Have to agree with you. The perfect diet works for you if it works. Everything else doesn’t help. Oh, and I did the exchange diet for a long time after diagnosis. And it was impossible, particularly if you were traveling, which I did a lot of in the mid-90s. Thanks

  3. Scott K. Johnson

    I agree, Christel. Though I’ve always struggled with my weight and have never found the right balance for me. Maybe it’s all of the Diet Coke … can I join you on that 12-step program? :-)

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