Beyond Blue

Amen to reader Nora, who wrote this on my “Depression or Life?” post:

Just the idea of dieting for so long makes me want to eat chocolate. I have never liked vegetables and making myself eat them is like pulling teeth. All this gives my depression so much grist for the mill.

I thought of you and all my diet experiments today at the pool.
I usually try to be discreet, but lately (as I’ve become a little self-conscious about my body given the whole “Are you pregnant?” episode), I’ve been (pretty obviously) looking up and down this woman, Jill, with a figure better than Barbie’s. She struts around the pool in her bronze teeny-weeny bikini, a matching shade to her flawless skin, with that athletic-toned crease running down the side of her thigh where cellulite is usually found on women.
The other day I finally sat her husband down for a chat, since I knew that I wouldn’t get the truth out of her (the equivalent of coughing up the number of your most reliable or cheapest sitter.)
“Okay, Hank,” I said, “What exactly does she do to look that way?”
“She works incredibly hard at it,” he explained. “First of all, she lives at the gym–she’s a physical trainer, you know. And there are weeks where all she eats are fruits and vegetables. For lunch she’ll have an apple and some almonds.”
“Honey roasted or chocolate-covered?”
Now I’m willing to work at my body a little–I try to work out almost every day for at least an hour. But I’m not going to stop living so that I can look like Angelina Jolie. I like my food too much. My brain operates much like my daughter’s. The first thing Katherine says some mornings upon popping the binky out of her mouth is “What’s for dessert, Mom?”
Everything–and especially a nice physique–comes at a cost. And you have to figure out how much, exactly, you are willing to pay.
I’ve tried many diet strategies or philosophies.

Learn to Love the Carrot
There are those who claim that, since our brain is mostly plastic, we can redesign the neural passageways to communicate whatever message we want. If someone dangles a carrot in front of our eyes, chanting the words, “you shall love the carrot . . . this orange vegetable is delicious . . . You are craving carrots . . . yum . . . more carrots,” eventually we will love carrots (without ranch dressing).
If I continue to buy carrots, I will eventually eat carrots! I reasoned, implementing the tricks of positive psychology touted by psychologists like Martin Seligman (“Authentic Happiness“) toward my diet.
I’d like to show Dr. Seligman my fridge. It contains five mammoth bags of baby carrots in sealed (unopened) bags.
“Hey, Sweetie,” Eric yelled to me yesterday from the kitchen, his head in the fridge, “a hiatus on the carrots, please! These no more real estate in here!”
For me, a carrot tastes like a carrot, even if I am visualizing a candied carrot as I eat it. Only when I smother the rabbit food with lots of butter and salt does it taste good, and communicates to my brain “more, please.”
French Women Don’t Get Fat
Actually, they do. I lived in France for a year, and saw plenty. They just cover it up better than us Americans with their Burberry scarves and black attire. And the skinnies don’t get fat because they don’t eat. Have you ever been to an elegant French restaurant? You leave hungry. And that’s after the cheese tray has gone by.
Besides, this approach explained in Mireille Guiliano’s bestselling book “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” doesn’t work for a recovering alcoholic or a parent. And especially not for a former drunk and mother of two spirited preschoolers, because it requires that you sit down to eat. (Doesn’t happy very often . . . “I want milk!” “My milk spilled!” “I want new milk!” “I want the Cinderella cup!” “I have to go poop. Can you wipe me?”). And according to Mireille, champagne and romance are two key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle.
“The sound of corks popping truly is music to my ears,” says the longtime spokesperson of Champagne Veuve Clicquot. I usually squeeze my sobriety chip or medal of St. Therese when I hear that pop because most often it signals that I’m in for a night of drunken behavior and have just been assigned the job of safety patrol, making sure the drunks stay off the road.
I think Frenchie has had too much champagne if she thinks this is really going to fly in an American house where people under four feet tall reside. Skip the fine wine and champagne, and we’re left with bread, chocolate, and romance. Chocolate and bread I can do. Quite well, in fact. Romance . . . I get there maybe once a year, for our wedding anniversary dinner.
Eat Every Three Hours
I truly loved the sound of this diet. By eating smaller meals more often, you speed up your metabolism, helping out your body’s digestive system.
But I don’t need to explain what happened here, do I? I began eating like seven rather large, well-balanced meals. Maybe it takes your body some time to adjust to the quantity and schedule, but I was packing on a few LBs (my two least favorite consonants) with each week of this experiment, and finally had to abort the process.
Eat Dessert First
“Life is uncertain, eat dessert first,” goes the Italian proverb. It’s a philosophy that helps me from taking everything–especially diets and legs with “cottage cheese” (as some people who shall remain nameless say)–too seriously. As a mantra, it encourages me to stretch my tense shoulders and neck, roll up my pants so I can walk barefooted on the imaginary sand or real grass, and take a seat on a lawn chair in the sun next to a bowl of frozen Hershey dark chocolate and almond bars.
I haven’t been able to curb my appetite or live on carrots. I’m not willing to give up my dessert–frozen dark chocolate, Kit Kats, or Twix bars–and decaf at night. After a long, stressful day, they beckon me with their sweetness: “Come to me, Child. Let Mama hold you. Now sit down and tell me all about it.”
And unfortunately I’m not one of those people (I hate them) with an exceptionally fast metabolism.
There were three times in my life I could eat whatever I wanted without having to work out like Lance Armstrong to burn it off: breastfeeding (all the calories went to my boobs . . . a truly happy time for me), training for a marathon (that was painful), and the two years of my depression–when I’d shake all the time, which was like nonstop crunches (I had six-pack abs. It was great … except for the breathing-in-a-paper-bag-and-constantly-crying part.)
So, in order to keep from resembling Lucy the Cow, I function (eat) by a simple “consume/expend” equation. For all the calories I’m not willing to give up (the Twix bars) I bust my butt in the pool, or on my bike, or when I run. Since my chocolate intake has increased as of late, so have my workouts. (Actually I think I’m presently at maximum capacity, as I don’t have any more time to add to the work outs), so I better get a grasp on this little chocolate addiction I have going on. But this system has worked fairly well to alleviate the guilt I sometime feel as I sit down with my comforter each evening with a cup of Starbucks decaf.
So it’s kind of a warped system. But it’s the best I can think of so far. If a breastfeeding machine arrives on the market–one that transforms excess calories into a nicely rounded chest (packaged with a size D bra), I’ll gladly trade in my equation for that technologically advanced friend.

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