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Good Food, Bad Food


"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.

I know what you're thinking. I receive hundreds of letters every week from people who have read my books and tell me that they just don't believe me. One person was so disgusted with my suggestions that she gave my book to her dog as a chew toy. But this same person wrote me a letter a few months later and said: "After my dog, Chili Pepper, ate your book, I realized that I might have over­reacted to the idea of trusting myself. I bought another copy and decided that for one week only, I would follow your advice and stop dieting, eat what my body wanted when I was hungry, and stop when I'd had enough. An amazing thing happened: For the first time in my adult life, I turned down cake for dessert. I realized I was satisfied and that if I ate the cake, I would feel sick. When I told myself I could have it if I really wanted it, I could actually figure out if I wanted it — and the answer was no. Without the threat of impending restriction and doom, I found that I could trust what I wanted."

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