Several months ago an acquaintance, who is considerably overweight and by her own admission an emotional overeater, asked me for a copy of our book, The Serotonin Power Diet. I sent her the book but did not have a chance to see how she was doing on the diet as we live in different cities. Yesterday I bumped into her at a regional meeting and it was obvious that her weight had not changed. She started talking about her husband’s medical problems and after a few minutes, I gently asked her about her own health and weight. “I have to admit that I did not finish reading your book,” she told me. “Losing weight is really hard for me because I just can’t stop craving carbohydrates when all I eat for dinner is fish or chicken and some salad.”
Once she told me this, I knew that she had not opened the book at all because anyone who does will be immediately confronted with the importance of eating healthy carbohydrates, without protein, for dinner. I quickly told her about how our meals and snacks increase serotonin and how this would take away her cravings and emotional overeating. Nonetheless, she kept moving the conversation away from her need to lose weight to her husband’s obesity.
“Peggy” (not her real name), I said, “You both have to lose weight. You are at least 100 pounds overweight and your husband’s weight loss won’t make you healthier. E-mail me when you get back home and I will help you.”
Then the meeting break was over and we parted.
Talking about dieting rather than doing it is something I encounter frequently. When I am asked what I do I mumble something about weight-loss counseling and writing diet books. If the questioner is overweight, the response is usually, “Yes, I could lose a few pounds myself.” The last time this occurred, at a buffet reception, the questioner, who was trying to avoid me, was last seen with a plate piled high with pastries.
Committing to a diet, especially one that may take months because of the amount of weight that has to be lost, is very hard do. The most obvious reasons:
1. Dieting takes time. Food preparation, meal planning and exercise all use up time that may be in short supply because of a difficult and overcommitted schedule.
2. Diets may have failed in the past and no one likes to contemplate future failures.
3. Diets usually forbid the foods that are eaten to ease stress.
4. Diets mean deprivation and when life has few pleasures, it is hard to give up eating the foods one loves.
5. Diets mean paying attention to one’s own needs and this is hard when other peoples’ needs seem to take precedence.
But even more basic than these reasons is the feeling of being overwhelmed by how much has to be lost and how long it will take. It seems impossible to the would-be dieter that the weight-loss goal will ever be reached. But as I explained to Peggy later in my e-mail, even if she lost only two pounds a month, that was two pounds less than she weighed the previous month. And, I went on, if she stuck with it, eventually the healthier life that she was practicing would become a habit and hopefully a habit for her husband and children as well. I told her that our diet emphasized rather than forbid eating when stressed and that the foods eaten under such circumstances were designed to increase her ability to cope. Because she was so heavy, I also suggested that she start with the men’s meal plan; otherwise she might be hungry. Finally. I directed her to read the suggestions on fitting exercise into an extremely busy schedule.
But she was still ambivalent. While she wanted to lose weight somehow there was always an excuse for putting if off. Then I asked her this critical question:
“What would you do if it were really important for you to lose weight?”
I didn’t have to point out the obvious. Her husband was not in good health, she had two small children and a financially important job and her own health was a stake. The next e-mail from her told me that she had read the book, started the diet and already lost a couple of pounds.