Sometimes, "deprivation" is a state of mind

An irking aspect of conventional wisdom around weight loss, peddled foremostly by many dietitians, is that deprivation doesn’t work, so moderation is the only path that can succeed.

I have some sympathy with the notion, I suppose — I don’t like to be deprived if what’s dear to me, either. But I reject the premise.

That’s because I, who have been maintaining a 155-pound loss for more than 20 years, do not feel deprived around food. Let me repeat:  I eat pretty well, and in the days when I worked evenings on the Boston Globe’s night copy desk, I would often hear from my colleagues that they wished they were eating what I had, instead of whatever burger they’d just gulped from the company cafeteria. Other times, friends have asked, "Are you going to eat all that"?

That doesn’t mean I don’t ever wish I had more food, or could eat onion rings, or popcorn, or a few other dishes. But c’mon, I’m a food addict; or course I’m going to have thoughts like that. But I don’t usually feel deprived, either for selection, or volume, after a meal. And though you’ll have to make your own judgement on this, I contend that the reason I don’t is not merely ingrained freakishness.

For prospective dieters who fear deprivation, I blame expectation that comes not only from biology but from culture. As you know, I’ve given up flour and refined sugar, and it wasn’t easy at first. But once my body had, say, a month to dry out, I had far less biochemical craving for those substances, making it easier to live without them.

Cultural influence, meanwhile, is just ferocious: I can rid my body of the reminders of this stuff, but I cannot keep them from my surroundings, both because of what everyone else is eating and what every electronic and print ad and publication is promoting at every turn. If you don’t think the messaging bombardment is working on you, perhaps you should ask the corporations who are spending billions per year betting that it is.

I eat lots of foods today that I never thought I would. At a recent gathering in which the facilitator’s introduction technique was to ask everyone to cite their favorite veggie, I said parsnips, which I couldn’t even have identified, say, 15 years ago; now, I’m their publicist.

Roasted almost-any-veg is delicious; for lunch today I had roasted celery root, as the result of someone else’s answer at that recent gathering. If you’re grimacing right now, tell me the last time you tried it. And if you haven’t, you don’t know.

I eat starches and proteins, too, at every meal, but I’ve noticed that I eat my vegetables first usually, not out of nutritional altruism but pure greed. They just taste great. The partial explanation for this is that once I removed the steady stream of refined sugar from my diet — not table sugar but the stuff slipped into salad dressing, ketchup, lunch meats, cereals, and just about everything else — I was able to again taste veggies’ natural sweetness.

Again, if you haven’t pulled the IV sugar drip from your diet, you don’t know the experience. Well, you do, though in a different way. The “usual” chocolate cake might have lost its wow factor since they started making deep-dish super-double chocolate chocolate-chip cake. It’s as sweet as it used to be, but it doesn’t seem like it anymore.

If I’d been guaranteed all the benefits I’ve gotten from the alterations in my diet — healthier, happier, more even-keeled, not to mention thinner — I’d have been willing to accept far more deprivation than has resulted.

But I haven’t had to.


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