I love food so much, you guys. Worse, I don’t even have a sophisticated palate. I’m the person who goes to the county fair strictly so I can make out with a Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich on a stick. I snack on gas station snacks that other people usually only eat during a road trip: Slim Jims, FunYuns Flamin’ Hots, those smushy, orange circus peanut things. It’s embarrassing. Even more embarrassing are all the diets I’ve tried so I could lose the weight I eventually gained from eating like a 10-year-old.
However, after failing a dozen diets, I’ve finally made peace with the fact that diets and I aren’t compatible, and I’ve decided to do the “not eating crap and getting off the couch” method from now on. I’ve also decided to change short-term goals, like fitting into a bikini, into long-term ones, like keeping my body healthy so I can get around without needing a motorized scooter when I’m 65.
But before I turn my back on restrictive eating forever, I wanted to give a shout out to all the fad diets I’ve tried and pay respects to the delicious food that caused their demise.
1. Slim Fast
I never really followed a strict diet until after I met my husband in college. When we first started dating, I thought he was way out of my league. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t a complete troll, but I wasn’t nearly as fit as my Navy husband was. Driven by the fear of looking like an Oompa Loompa walking next to him, I went on my very first diet ever: Slim Fast. I would have a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch and a sensible dinner, which at the time, I thought meant ordering the Whopper Jr. instead of a regular Whopper. It sounded so easy!
My roommate decided to do it with me, which was a big mistake, because if you’ve ever tried Slim Fast, you know that it gives you serious gas. We faithfully chugged can after can of Slim Fast and turned the room into a giant Dutch oven for about two weeks.
After two weeks, I had already lost 10 pounds, partly because of the diet but mostly because I was 20 and my metabolism was still on top of its game back then. Even though the shakes tasted like chocolate-flavored sadness, I was gung-ho to start week three. Maybe the cappuccino flavored shakes would taste better! (They didn’t.) We went out to grab more Slim Fast shakes at the grocery store, and unfortunately, made the mistake of parking next to a local pizza place with its door wide open. The smell of freshly made pizza hit our noses as soon as we got out of the car.
We then made the mistake of deciding to have our “sensible dinner” early (2 p.m.) and just drink our lunch shake that evening. It sounded like a great plan at the time, especially since it meant we would stuff our faces with yummy pizza now, rather than later. At around 8:30 p.m., after having our “dinner” of baby poo in a can (cappuccino-flavored Slim Fast should be illegal), the growling of our stomachs began to match the intensity of our farts. Around 9 p.m., we went to a Panda Express, where my Slim Fast diet was pronounced dead at the scene.
I remember everyone being on this diet in the late ’90s, including my boss, who was one of the first ones to jump on the Atkins bandwagon. A few weeks later, she excitedly told to me that her Bongo jeans from high school fit her again. She twirled around to show me the acid-wash extravaganza that were her pants. They were snug, but they did fit, and she did look a whole lot thinner. I was intrigued and wanted to hear more about her diet. This was my first full-time job after college, and I had gained a few pounds because the four-pack of powdered donuts pleaded with me to rescue them from the vending machine every morning. My boss told me that she lost weight eating things like bacon, steak, cheese and eggs, and I remember stopping her mid-sentence, like Girl, hush. You had me at bacon.
I was on Atkins on and off for about a month. I would slip every once in a while and devour a carb-heavy treat, but I had no problems going right back on the diet where bacon would welcome me back with warm, crispy opens arms every time. It was a great couple weeks, until I met a foe that even bacon couldn’t beat.
It happened while my husband was having knee surgery. I was planning on reading a book and having some coffee at the Starbucks while I waited for his surgery to be over. Unfortunately, to get to the Starbucks, I had to walk past a McDonald’s. I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t notice it was even there until I almost bumped into a huge sign that was advertising McDonald’s latest promotion: “Come on in and get a bucket of fries for just 5 dollars!”
I’ll give you a second to reread what I just wrote.
A bucket. OF FRIES.
And not just regular fries. A bucket of McDonald’s fries, which we all know are delicious slivers of potato crack. Needless to say, coffee and Atkins were forgotten as I strapped a bucket of fries to my face like a feedbag. #RIPATKINS
After having my first child and realizing that television shows have been lying to me for years about babies (What do you mean, you can’t just put a baby down to go sleep and walk away!?), I was busier than ever before, and my eating habits suffered for it. My daughter was really colicky when she was young and would scream bloody murder if I wasn’t carrying her and doing lunges around the living room. For a few months, I had to do a lot of things with just one hand, including eating. I’d grab a sugary granola bar here, a handful of crackers there, one or two microwaved corn dogs for lunch. I knew it was bad and decided to fork over a little dough to have NutriSystem delivered to my house. Pre-made meals, snacks and dessert! Finally, a diet that was speaking my language.
NutriSystem fit perfectly with my lifestyle at the time and did the job I needed it to do, which was to provide me fast, easy meals that weren’t complete crap. But eventually, my daughter grew out of her colicky phase, I had both hands to cook with, and my food options opened up again. Now, I had a choice between eating a real, fresh-off-the grill hamburger or NutriSystem’s tiny pre-packaged hamburgers. You can probably guess that the pre-packaged hamburgers were dead on arrival after I fired that grill up.
4. Dukan Diet
I was 34 years old and my post-baby weight after my second child was still camping out on my ass and face almost a year later, and it wasn’t cute. That was about the time I read something on Facebook about the Dukan Diet from a friend who had lost a ton of weight on it. I did more research and discovered that it was a diet that was designed to reset my metabolism to the calorie-burning machine it used to be before I screwed it up with years of quick-fix juice cleanses and wacky cookie diets. It also had a long-term plan that sounded like something I could stick to for life and not just for a month or two.
Much to my surprise, the Dukan Diet worked! I lost 20 pounds in just a few months, and my husband lost 40, because he’s a guy, and of course, he lost 10 of those pounds in a day. Whatever. The diet was easy to maintain since the longer you stayed on it, the more you things you could eat. I thought I had finally found a diet I could stick to for life.
And then we went on vacation.
At the time, we were living in the Midwest, and it was our first vacation back to San Diego, where we had lived for almost 15 years. We missed it a lot, especially the authentic Mexican food that basically ruined all other Mexican food in its wake (as far as we were concerned, Mexican food did not exist in the Midwest). The fatal punch that caused my Dukan Diet to buckle was done by a giant plate of carne asada fries covered with sour cream and fresh spicy salsa. Any chance of the diet recovering was totally eliminated when we went to visit family in Los Angeles, and the all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant put my Dukan Diet out of its misery once and for all.
I’m not under any illusions that a healthy lifestyle is easy to maintain. Birthday parties, holidays and pizza joints with open doors will give me plenty of opportunity to kill a two-week streak of steamed veggies, grilled chicken and rice. But let’s face it, those things are way better to go back to than a sad shake in a can.