I’m grouchy. I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with food since October 3, 2012. So far, I can give you a list of things that taste a LOT better than slimming down feels. That list can be alphabetical (comes in six volumes). Or ,it can be by date I decided not to eat it anymore, and be on four, tear-stained pages. Some of the pages may have a tiny bite out of them. I was hungry.
What I learned quickly is that I am addicted to sugar. I love sugar. It’s yummy. My blood glucose levels do not like sugar. It also makes me cranky, sweaty, shaky, confused, unable to speak clearly and sleepy. But that does not mean I love it less. Certainly not.
So the only decision for me was to quit eating it and everything that came with added sugar. Which, if you start to read labels is everything. Canned fruits, sure, I get it. But canned vegetables? Ketchup? Bread? Peanut Butter? Yes, and not as the last ingredient, either. There are some foods that convert to sugar quickly too–wine, beer and vodka, do, too. So no more of those. Ever.
The short list of never again food: ice cream, donuts, cookies, chocolate less than 80 percent dark, pancakes, french fries, rice, pasta, breads, crackers, chips. Mashed, baked, and new potatoes. Muffins, cupcakes, cake, pie, cobblers, jams, preserves, jellies–the list is long and contains every single thing I love to eat, from apple pie to zabaglione. And while I’m giving up sweet stuff, no artificial sweeteners, not even “natural” ones, because they all have either sugar alcohols (which fight with my GI tract) or they make me crave sugar worse than before.
Lucky for me, Cooking Man got behind my need to change the relationship with food and helped me by cooking meals that were delicious and low in carbs. Alas, when he asks me what I’d like for dinner, I am still likely to say, “A chicken. Stuffed with eclairs. And a side of fries.” Sigh. Sometimes I say, “I’d take back the 40 pounds I’ve lost for three perfect tamales. I know that’s not true. But it sometimes feels like it.
My biggest shock was what people said when they noticed I was losing weight. They mean well, I know that. But they say things that are not helpful. So if you have a friend who is dieting for any reason at all, here are some things you might want to reconsider and alternatives that you can safely say.
1. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? Great. I lost X + 10 pounds in the last year and kept it off. ” Losing weight is not a competitive sport. It is not helpful to turn your friend’s weight loss into your winning number. There seems to be some magic number in our recent popular culture, a number between 50 and 90 pounds that makes the effort heroic, and if you’ve done less, it needs to be pointed out. Trust me, I know exactly how much I’ve lost.
Instead, say: “How are you feeling?” Some weight loss comes from difficult diseases and people don’t want to talk about it. Please let them not talk about it. Telling them they look wonderful when they are very sick does not make them feel happy to be sick.
2. Don’t say: “You have to treat yourself some time. That will help you keep going.” It’s not true. If I “treat” myself to a bowl of ice cream I’ll end up in the emergency room. Sugar addiction is a tough as tobacco addiction. You have to stay away from it all, or the next day I’ll be found slumped at the table with an empty bag of Oreos and crumbs scattered around my body.
Instead, say: “That must be hard. I’m proud of you.” Re-tooling your meals is hard. Being acknowledged for doing the work feels wonderful and makes me want to keep doing it. Particularly is there is no added advice given.
3. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? You must have a lot more to go.” I own a mirror and a scale. I know I have a lot to go. One of the very hardest thing about having lost 40 pounds is that it is not enough and I have to lose more. Please don’t make that “more” seem unlikely.
Instead, say: “That’s great. How are you feeling?” Then comment on the improvements.
4. Don’t say, EVER: “So you are off sugar? That’s not as bad as being gluten-free. That’s what I’m doing, and it’s really hard. You shouldn’t be eating gluten, either. Gluten is in more things than sugar.” Every diet is hard for the person doing it. Don’t compare. Don’t offer advice. Not one tiny bit, unless the dieter specifically asks you for advice. If they ask for advice, double check. Your hearing may be faulty. Do not suggest they try green smoothies, or the Paleo diet or vegan food. Do not recommend tests for thyroid problems or tell them horror stories about your diet or someone you know, or made up because you like drama. We don’t want to hear it. Really.
Instead, say: “How are you managing it?” And listen. Listening is excellent, as it will tell you how much your friends wants to reveal. Go with that.
5. Don’t say, “Have you tried X. . .?” or “You should go to my doctor, he has this great diet. . . ” or “What you are doing won’t last, so. . . “ In other words, unless you are a doctor and I’m in your office, do not give me medical advice. Because someone, somewhere is going to believe you, take your advice, and it will be harmful because she quit doing what her doctor advised and followed your well-meaning and very harmful fix-it tip.
Instead say, “How can I support you in this?” Maybe your friend wants to talk, maybe not. Listen. Don’t fix. If you listen, you’ll hear what you need to hear.
Bonus. Don’t ask “What’s your secret?” There is no secret to weight loss. It takes an enormous amount of self control, and for most people it means taking in fewer calories than we expend. Maybe with medical intervention. And not everyone wants to talk about their medical intervention. Worse, if we had aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas who endlessly bored us with the organ recitals and every ache and pain, we have taken a vow not to do that. Don’t lead us into temptation. Please. And if you ask, and we answer, listen. To it all. Then say, “You are brave. This must be so hard for you.” Say it like you mean it. Then turn the conversation to a nicer topic. Which is never about your illness, weight loss or tragedy.
—Quinn McDonald is still changing the way she eats. Don’t offer to bake her a cake. She’s weak.