Until the age of six or seven I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family was actually worried about it. Then, all of a sudden, I became a fat boy. I've been battling the scale ever since.
As an adolescent and teenager I followed specific diets from books. Sometimes I counted calories and often I went on high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. The latter existed before the widespread fad of the asinine, and I suspect life-threatening, Atkins diet. They were known by names like "The Air Force Diet" and "The Drinking Man's Diet." As a fourteen-year-old my idea of a diet was gorging on Genoa salami and provolone without bread. I wasn't usually successful.
My most successful diet was in 1987, when I lost 35 pounds in 3 months. How did I do it? By eating very little, avoiding high-calorie items, and stuffing myself with lots of vegetable fiber. I ate enough steamed broccoli to last a lifetime. The diet was tough going, but I discovered a survival mechanism that worked for me: sniffing. In fact, I told people I was on the sniffing diet. Across the street from my office was a sausage guy. At lunch I'd eat a bunch of vegetables at my desk, then I'd go out and loiter by the sausage cart, sniffing Italian sausages and onions. It was surprisingly satisfying. I'd grab food sniffs wherever I could during the day. Indian restaurants are often pretty generous when it comes to offering their aromas to the street. The sense of smell is, of course, a major factor in taste, so why shouldn't a sniff provide satisfaction? Sure it's only partial, but I was glad for what I could get and still stay on my diet. Many people wouldn't be able to do it, I know. A sniff would send them over the precipice and they'd have to eat the sausage. Many would then call the diet a failure and return to a full-time occupation of pigging out. Well, I figure it all boils down to what you really want more--to lose weight or to give in to this particular form of gratification. I figure anybody without a bona fide eating disorder should be able to stick to a diet if they really want to lose weight. When I lost those 35 pounds I was over thirty, so I was old enough to realize that three months wasn't such a long time; I'd be able to eat what I loved in due time. Then I was able to keep the weight off for a couple of years with a month-on/month-off plan. I decided that in alternating months I'd either keep to a fairly austere diet or eat anything I wanted. In the eating months it's impossible, if you don't have an eating disorder, to eat enough to negate the dieting months, and in the dieting months the light at the end of the tunnel was never too far away. A funny thing happened. Ever since I was a fat kid I could never eat certain foods, say ice cream, without a certain twinge of guilt. Well now, in the anything-goes months, I could eat anything I wanted and feel no guilt. It was incredibly liberating. Unfortunately, the alternating month routine somehow got lost in the shuffle.
Otherwise I've followed a similar dieting pattern ever since, though not as extreme, and I usually manage to drop 10 pounds in a month or two. It does get more challenging with age, more so for women, I understand. This time I'm aiming for 15 pounds by Christmas. If I don't drop 15 pounds by Christmas I'll stay on the diet until I do. If I lose 15 pounds before Christmas, tough on me, I still stay on the diet until Christmas. I'll let you know how I do.
I never follow any official or fad diet; I mainly cut out or cut back severely on certain food categories, resulting in a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-calorie diet without any counting involved, though I estimate I'm consuming less than 1,500 calories a day. Generally I start the day with a bowl of cereal, with Almond Breeze, which I prefer to milk anyway. That's my major starch of the day. I don't eat bread, pasta, rice, etc. I don't eat sweets or desserts when I'm dieting, which isn't much of a problem for me since those aren't among my major weaknesses. I rarely consume dairy products, so avoiding them isn't a problem. I avoid fried foods and fatty meats. I've been eating lots of fish, grilled chicken (no skin), and a tiresome amount of sliced turkey breast (plain, smoked, and pastrami-seasoned). I've also discovered Hebrew National 97% fat-free hot dogs (sans buns, of course). They taste surprisingly like the real thing, but are 45 calories each compared to 150 for regular hot dogs, three for the caloric price of one. I eat them with sauerkraut and green peppercorn Dijon mustard. I'm not usually a between-meals snacker, but since I'm eating smaller meals I snack on fresh fruit a couple of times a day. That also helps to keep cravings for more malignant sweets at bay. Pickles also make a great snack. I avoid certain classes of restaurant altogether, especially Indian and Latin American, where it would be difficult to find items that would fit within my limitations. When I do go out it tends to be to Japanese, Vietnamese or Middle Eastern places, where it's easy to get grilled foods or salads.
The secrets to sticking to a diet are fairly simple, for me, at least. It's pretty much common sense stuff, the kind of advice dietitians and nutritionists have been dishing out for years. I have to be ready to make the commitment and I have to really want to lose the weight enough to deny myself a panoply of culinary pleasures, temporarily. And realizing that it's only temporary, that I'll be able to gnaw on pork fat again in a couple of months, is essential (though I'm not sure the dietitians would recommend this attitude). Eating smaller meals is also essential, as is the realization that not being "full" isn't the same as being hungry. Not owning a scale helps. I can't obsessively weigh myself and possibly get discouraged by the numbers. Weight loss doesn't always follow a steady trajectory, so ultimately it's really about how you feel and how your clothes fit (better and better, thank you). Finally, the very pursuit and challenge of weight loss has to provide enough satisfaction and pleasure to allow one to put those more sublime pleasures on the back burner. Temporarily.