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My "No Diet" Diet


WebMD Feature from "Marie Claire" Magazine

By Yael Kohen
Marie Claire magazine logo
What would happen if you stopped dieting? If you ate the steak — and the frites — because you wanted them? Yael Kohen discovered that eating what you want isn't as easy as you think.

It was the diet to end all diets. About a year ago — 15 years after my first diet — I decided to break my perpetual need-to-shed-pounds lifestyle to do something radical: eat what I wanted, when I wanted. Call it the "no diet" diet. It's the hardest thing I ever did.

See, the first time I went on a diet, I was 12. I was hardly plump, but there was no hiding my two stomach rolls in the black Betsey Johnson spaghetti-strap dress I bought for my bat mitzvah. And on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where I grew up, dieting is as much a rite of passage as your first period.

Through my teens and into my 20s, I went on and off a variety of diets, from Weight Watchers to Atkins to Cabbage Soup, until finally seeing a nutritionist I couldn't afford who had me eat four meals a day and diligently record each morsel in a journal. I hit the treadmill because it supposedly burned more calories than the bike. All this, and I was never really fat. Two years out of college, I was just 3 pounds shy of fitting into the Citizens of Humanity jeans I deliberately bought one size too small. But those 3 damn pounds wouldn't come off.

Oh, I tried. I ate salads and fruit, skinless chicken and broccoli. I craved the pancakes but ordered egg whites and learned to drink my vodka on the rocks. Except, of course, for all those times I didn't. The problem is, I love food: the smell, the taste, the experience of sitting down to a three-hour dinner with a bottle of cabernet and close friends. I love Italian peasant bread dipped in olive oil and a little sea salt; I love braised lamb shank over roasted fingerling potatoes; and I love, love molten chocolate cake. So when I say I tried, I really did, following all those meals with calorie restriction and exercise, questioning whether the gourmet food had been worth it.

Until one day, several years into this crime-and-punishment back-and-forth, I heard a very skinny friend call herself fat. If she could think she was fat, I wondered when, if ever, I would be satisfied with the way I looked.

That's when I said to hell with it and resolved to live guilt-free and eat what I wanted, when I wanted. I'd seen other people do it, and they were trim. But still, I knew I would need guidelines so I wouldn't revert to my deprivation ways — or gain weight.

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