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Good Food, Bad Food


WebMD Commentary from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Geneen Roth
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
Dividing what you eat into "yes" and "no" lists is a perfect way to trigger a binge. Here's how to find out what your body really needs.

My friend Samantha and I were eating at a Caribbean restaurant when she told me the news: "I need to lose weight and I'm going on a diet," she declared. "Please don't roll your eyes or tell me this won't work."

Samantha has never been fat and she's never been an emotional eater. But she'd recently returned from traveling and had put on 20 pounds. It's always a little dicey when good friends of mine diet. They know that I don't believe in dieting and so the usual conversations about "how Mona lost weight" and what she did to shed the pounds and the latest version of the everything-but-white-food diet don't interest me. And although Samantha knew that I'd worked with tens of thousands of people who have failed miserably at dieting, she believed she was different.

"OK," I said, "I will do my best to keep my beliefs to myself."

The waitress offered us corn bread. Samantha said no thank you. The waitress offered us potatoes. Samantha said no thank you.

"So what can you eat on this diet?" I asked, eyeing the corn bread.

"Fruit, vegetables, protein — nothing white, nothing that you couldn't eat raw."

"Sounds doable," I said in a very bright and supportive manner.

Samantha continued: "No pasta, no ice cream, no alcohol."

Since she seemed so positive, so confident, so absolutely determined to diet, I kept my mouth shut by eating both pieces of corn bread. And since Samantha never had an issue with food before, I thought, Well OK, maybe I am too adamant about my belief that the fourth law of the universe is that for every diet there is an equal and opposite binge. (I actually have some scientific support for this: University of Toronto researcher Janet Polivy, Ph.D., has found that people who diet or are deprived of their favorite foods eventually respond by consuming excessive amounts of those foods.) But I was willing to concede that maybe dieting is only a prelude to overeating for people who use food to satisfy their emotional hunger. Maybe it's only true of people for whom food is love.

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?"

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