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Don’t Diet—Live It!

Don’t Diet—Live It!

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Americans are burned out from dieting, and I say it’s about time. Researchers at The NPD Group, which tracks Americans’ dieting habits, revealed that only 20 percent of American adults reported dieting in 2012, down from a peak of 31 percent in 1991. Only 23 percent of women claimed to be dieting—10 points down from a decade ago.

The very word “diet” has the echo of oppression. Years ago I decided life was too important to obsess over trying to look good in skinny jeans, so I redefined Years ago I decided life was too important to obsess over trying to look good in skinny jeans“diet” as a way to simply get healthier. This was a small stroke of genius, if I may say so myself. No more weighing protein on little scales. No more arbitrary deadlines to lose X amount of weight. After I made this decision, I felt ten pounds lighter already!

I confess, it took me years to slowly peel off a dozen pounds using my new mindset. Pathetic, you might say. Maybe, but my weight never seesawed up and down either. It just kept slowly dropping, as I dared to try things like tofu-vegetable stir-fry dinners and discovered to my shock that I liked them. Today I’m not fat and not slim, but I am at peace with my “huggable” proportions.

As a kid, I loved to eat more than I hated being pudgy. And I was not about to limit soft challah on Shabbat, those gooey brownies at the shul kiddush that I never got at home, and other highly caloric and delicious foods and treats plentifully available in Jewish life. Sometimes I claimed to be dieting but secretly bought cinnamon crumb donuts from the junior high cafeteria. I was jealous of friends who could eat whatever they wanted and not gain weight, like my friend Janet, whom I watched toss back four large doughnuts in a row without expanding one millimeter. The existence of Janet’s masterful metabolism might explain my youthful hesitancy to believe in a good and just G‑d.

During college, I realized that my favorite lunch of a double slice of thick-crust pizza with a frozen yogurt chaser was in direct conflict with my goal of attracting a man to marry. I hated jogging, but it beat swimming and the chlorinated water that always ended up in my nose, so I ran, loathing every Janet’s masterful metabolism might explain my youthful hesitancy to believe in a good and just G‑dminute of it. I cut back on the pizza and discovered fresh broccoli. Fortunately, I liked going green. Exercising more and eating less, I enjoyed the novel sensation of cinching a belt over a defined waistline.

I stayed motivated because eating healthier and exercising, even a little, made me feel better, and I was determined to avoid the health problems that were already beginning to plague my sedentary and overweight parents, still only in their 50s. I refused to get discouraged by my slow progress or by coworkers who said things like “I’d give blood, too, but I don’t weigh enough.”

With His infinite sense of humor, G‑d sent me a husband who was naturally slender and almost indifferent to food. On our first date he wouldn’t finish a single scoop of ice cream after dinner, claiming he was full. Wanting a relationship based on honesty and frankness, I demanded he hand it over. I finished it.

Marriage requires patience and forgiveness, and I have forgiven my husband for still fitting into his wedding suit after twenty-five years and for his unfathomable quirk of “forgetting to eat.” (I text him at work to remind him.) What choice do I have? His love and affection for me have never wavered, no matter if I wear a size 8 or 12.

Raising four kids who for years would only eat pasta, hot dogs, pizza and chicken nuggets—even with broccoli on the side—took its toll. When I realized that my waistline had gone MIA, I vowed to get back in shape. Wanting variety, I tried everything: boot camp fitness, belly dancing, boxing, barre-style Pilates, Bikram yoga, and even some things that didn’t start with the letter B. Ironies abound in the fitness industry, including gym instructors who shout, “Remember to breathe!” (do they think I’ll forget?) and yoga teachers who preach self-love but who correct you in front of everyone saying, “This isn’t an interpretive dance class.” There’s a lot to laugh about, and laughter burns calories. And here’s a tip for you health-food zealots out there: Friends don’t tell friends they have sworn off all white flour and sugar and feel better than ever.

Like Friends don’t tell friends they have sworn off all white flour and sugar and feel better than evereverything else worthwhile in life, getting and staying healthy takes work. But it’s not a zero-sum game. If you can’t exercise four times a week, exercise once or twice a week, and try to build up. You’ll feel better. And instead of looking in the mirror and frowning at a body that doesn’t match our shallow culture’s “ideal” figure, be thankful for all the miraculous things your body does for you every day. The Almighty knows that we human beings tend to focus more on what we don’t have, rather than on what we do have. Our morning blessings are a great opportunity to say “Thank You, G‑d” for some of the most basic things we would otherwise take for granted, like the ability to see, walk, move our arms and think. Starting my day with blessings and a connection to G‑d is also a reminder that what really counts is how I build my spiritual life—those are the muscles I need to keep toning!

I wasted decades obsessing about my weight, and am relieved to have lost that emotional flab. My own Jewish values taught me that G‑d gave me my body as a gift—even if I might quibble with the packaging—to use in building a purposeful life. I work to keep it healthy so that I can keep giving, creating, taking care of my family and living the full and rich life that Torah affords. Focusing “on high” in that way fosters a sense of inner beauty and strength that helps me “just say no” to a big mound of potatoes or that crumb doughnut at the office.

Judy Gruen’s latest award-winning book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. Read more of her work on her website.
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Lisa Providence, RI April 4, 2017

My own body was never "perfect," and it never will be.

There's a difference between living to eat and eating to live, and I developed obesity because I couldn't make that transition. Thankfully, I'm eating more healthy and doing my favorite exercises, but I still have a long way to go. Reply

Anonymous Atlanta June 23, 2014

I've dieted since I was 21 years old, and that was a long time ago. You are right, life is too short. I've decided it is more important to stay active mentally and physically than to obsess about my less than perfect body. Reply

Noa Israel June 13, 2014

Bravo!! thank you for this much needed article, especially coming from a Jewish perspective.
I hope this affects many people who feel motivated and send it to others, because dieting is just not worth it. Reply

Aviva Jerusalem June 12, 2014

Bravo! How wonderfully written and such a healthy approach to wellness and acceptance. I will share this with my clients (I am a personal trainer :) Reply

Kim Rogers South Africa June 11, 2014

Don't Diet - Live it! I loved this article. It is so real and down to earth. I points out the truth of life and the real reason for living - to keep God's laws and live our lives to the glory of God and in gratitude for the opportunity! Reply

nechama brooklyn June 10, 2014

Loved this article! Laughed all the way through, then went online and bought the book. Can't wait to read it. Reply

Dorothy R Bienen Wellington, FLA June 10, 2014

Enjoy yourself!! Such a great piece about you are what you eat!!!!

Enjoy your food and have what you need...we are so blessed with the bounty of delicious foods to enjoy.

Treat yourself kindly....and enjoy your food....as your body appreciates eating a rainbow everyday! Reply

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