When I learn that family, friends, or passing acquaintances are trying to lose weight, I know I am about to be educated, again. I involuntarily receive all kinds of information about foods I eat and don’t eat. Information such as calorie counts, amount of fat, and grams of carbohydrates. Fiber and gluten are also brought to my attention. Everything — on my plate, in my refrigerator, at the grocery store — suddenly develops a dietary sub-text. This is very helpful because, being I am rarely on a diet, I forget that the light cream I put in my coffee has four times the fat of 2% reduced-fat milk, and that packaged gravy mixes have practically no calories (because they are made from unpronounceable chemicals). Sometimes, I am treated to a new recipe for a low-cal, low-fat but tasty entree or dessert, often using low-cal, low-fat, tasty ingredients I don’t have in my pantry.
Other people’s diets also make me wonder about myself, if I am being inattentive or blasé about my own food choices. I eat for pleasure. I like food that looks good, smells good, and tastes good. Colorful food with interesting textures and rich flavor — like silky mangoes and avocados, crisp vegetables, al dente pasta, crusty bread, salted nuts, roasted meats. When I read a package label, I skip the “Nutrition Facts” rap sheet and just look for words I recognize as real food. I am delighted with the peanut butter I recently bought. It has only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. I eat it often although 75% of the calories come from fat.
But, the strangest thing that happens when other people diet is I gain weight! I am not aware of any scientific studies about this phenomenon and I do not know if it is common. I do know it happens to me. If someone says, this bowl of cereal has only 100 calories, it’s like my same bowl of cereal now has 100 more. As they lose 5, 7, 10 pounds, I think I find some of it. My butt looks bigger, my pants feel tighter. It might just be my imagination but, more likely, this hyper-focus on food makes me hungry and I wind up eating more. I recognize this possibility. As I watch my friend unwrap her half-sandwich on skinny bread with a lonely slice of turkey, one tsp. of reduced-fat mayo, and a few lettuce leaves, I think I’ll order the bacon cheeseburger with guacamole. I don’t even feel guilty. Just fat and blasé.