I kept nodding my head, since if I had said anything, it would have been: "Talk to me in a few weeks. Let's see how this project of weight loss by dieting fares."
A month passed before Samantha and I talked again.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"Fat and full."
"So," I said in a very neutral tone, "what are you eating these days?"
"Pasta for dinner and half a pint of ice cream every night for dessert."
"Oh," I said. "The all-white-food diet."
She said, "I wasn't obsessed with food before this, but now I am. I can't stop eating everything I wouldn't let myself eat while I was on the diet." Then she asked me to talk to her about dieting.
And here's what I said:
Diets are like those one-size-fits-all T-shirts that hang on some people and gape on others. They don't work, because each of us has different needs. Some people do well on a vegetarian diet, for example, while others can't get through the afternoon with only a salad or a beef burrito to sustain them. Some of us can handle sugar; for others, it's like a mad burst of energy followed swiftly by a vegetative coma. You need to know what your body, your particular life needs to sustain itself and to thrive.
If anyone tracked what I ate during a given day, they would probably come to the conclusion that I was on a diet. I avoid wheat, alcohol, and sugar (chocolate doesn't count). I eat mostly what Samantha ate on her diet: fruit, vegetables, protein. But there is no feeling of deprivation or guilt or force involved in my relationship with food. I am not frightened that, after one day of overeating, all hell will break loose and I will gain 50 pounds. If someone hands me a piece of chocolate cake and I feel like eating it, I will. If I want some potatoes, I'll have them. I don't count calories or fat grams, and I don't weigh myself. What, when, and how I eat come from an inner sense of what would feel good in my body at any given moment, of what kind of energy I need to get me through the day, of how I want to feel when I finish eating.