Do you ever panic about being ‘on a diet’?  I’ve struggled with being overweight since I was a teenager but for a long time, when I went ‘on a diet’ I was that worried about being hungry that I often ate more than I would have done had I not been attempting to calorie-count.
There is something about having to restrict food intake, for whatever reason, that makes many people nervous.  It’s one thing to be attempting to lose weight by reducing your calories.  It’s another to also be, for example, gluten-intolerant, or lactose-intolerant, on a reduced sugar diet due to diabetes, or (as I am), benzoate intolerant.
It is too easy to get hung up about food.  It’s not like other things we take into our bodies – alcohol  for example – if a particular drink isn’t good for us, or we are allergic to it, then it is relatively simple, severe alcoholism aside, to give it up.  It’s the same with common medicines – if, for example, we are allergic to penicillin, we don’t consider ourselves deprived when we cannot have it – all we need to remember to do is remind the doctor whenever we present at the surgery with an infection.
Food, however, is not like alcohol, or medicines and drugs, or asthma-inducing pet allergies, or smoking.  It is very clear that we cannot just give up eating if it doesn’t agree with us and those who do stop eating, for whatever reason, usually end up very ill indeed.  No matter what, we still have to eat.  Which brings me back to my initial question, to diet or not to diet?
If you look at it from one perspective, we all of us have a diet – we all of us are on a diet.  Whether your diet is lettuce, tuna and ryebread or chicken nuggets, mayonaise and chips, it doesn’t matter – we make choices about the food we consume and in making those choices we devise a diet for ourselves, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  The only time that ‘dieting’ begins to cause a problem is when we recognise the need to make our choices from a different range of foods than we are used to.
I am benzoate intolerant.  There are 50+ common foodstuffs that I cannot eat for fear of triggering ulcerations, open sores and swellings all over my mouth as well as a whole host of other unpleasant symptoms.
Recently, just last Friday actually, my GP said he wanted me to have some fasting blood tests to check for diabetes – which begged the question, how many of my staple foods would I have to reduce my intake of, if I was suddenly found to have type 2 diabetes?
In the past I had been tested to find out if I was coeliac – I wasn’t, thank goodness, but if I had been, there would be all the gluten-containing foods that would have to be taken off my menu.
And there are yet more foods that I can have but don’t due to price or local availability or that I choose not to eat due to their low nutritional value or high calorific content – both of which are incompatible with my current goals of losing weight.
Easily, so easily, depending on health, on diagnoses, on finances and on other factors, the 50+ foods on the ‘avoid’ list could easily grow to become 70+ or 100+.  And I imagine most people, when faced with such a prospect, would have at the very least a momentary panic as to what foods remained in the ‘safe’ list, and if their diet could not only be nutritionally balanced but also interesting and palatable.
Yes, it’s possible to go through life eating a handful of buckwheat crackers, a banana and a pear for breakfast, potato and leek soup for lunch and grilled chicken, lettuce and cucumber for supper every day, but meals would become so boring that eating would become a necessary evil rather than a source of nutrition, relaxation and enjoyment.  I like eating.  I like good food shared with good company.  I don’t want mealtimes ever to be something I dread.
I, like the vast majority of people, have a diet I can live with…. and if it has to be reduced further, I will learn to live within it’s bounds again.  To diet or not to diet?  Do any of us have any choice.
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