Monday, January 14, 2008

Dieting and ADD go together like drinking and driving

A new year has begun, which means that diet ballyhoo has reacquainted itself with the collective American conscience. You can't watch TV, read a newspaper or magazine, or even ride a bus without being reminded of the fact that January's arrived and it's time to shed all of the poundage gained over the last few indulgent months. And if you're me, you can't go to work without being reminded that willpower's in the house. Nothing exemplified this better today than seeing a colleague who once played football in school microwave an incredibly small bowl of vegetable soup for his lunch.

I want to lose weight, too. But I believe that dieting with ADD is a losing proposition. By dieting, I mean a fixed time period of counting calories/fat grams/protein servings/restricting the types of food that you eat.

And I say that because I know it first hand. I'm a three time Weight Watchers flunkie. Here's why dieting doesn't work:
  • ADDers like to start things. Meaning, it's difficult for us to stick with a diet for the long haul. In addition to Weight Watchers, I've tried a number of other diets over the years. I immediately get excited about them and those first five pounds seem to melt away. And that's great if five pounds are all that you have to lose. Once the weight loss gets smaller week to week, it's easy to lose interest. Which leads us to...

  • ADDers are highly creative. As a result, it's easy for folks with ADD to think of brilliant and clever ways to skirt our diets. When I attempted Weight Watchers' "Core Plan," which lets you eat unlimited amounts of certain foods and spend your "points" on other, nonbasic, foods, I figured out a number of ways to eat more without dipping into the "points." Often, these schemes involved sneaking canned pumpkin into fat free pudding. After a while, the diet becomes a game that you want to win. If your weight loss stalls, then why not win at outwitting the diet?

  • ADDers like flexibility. No question, diets such as Weight Watchers allow you to adjust your eating so that you can fit in a special meal or other treat. But then your birthday or anniversary arrives, and you celebrate it at a non-chain restaurant that doesn't have the "point" totals for its meals or calorie counts available on the Internets. And then what happens? You feel guilty for enjoying a delicious meal because your weigh-in day's looming around the corner. Which brings us to...

  • ADDers despise failure. OK, so does everybody else. But in my experience, and probably in the experiences of other folks with ADD, hearing that you yet again gained an ounce or didn't lose any weight over a week is an express train to feeling crappy. Especially when you feel like you really did try to do everything right over the week.

This last bullet really hits home for me. On my third foray into Weight Watchers, I joined at the same time as a woman named M. Both of us had 35 pounds to lose. M. lost all of her pounds within 3 months. I remained a Weight Watchers member for about 10 months, and only lost about 10 or 15 pounds. Every week at the meeting, the leader lauded M. as a role model for success. In return, M. always sang the praises of Weight Watchers.

Over time, M. and the leader's mutual admiration society negatively affected my progress. Because I didn't lose weight as quickly as M., I felt discouraged. And I gained weight during my last few weeks as a member. After a while, the leader questioned whether I accurately counted my "points". Indeed, I did accurately count all my "points". However, I was now consuming far too many "points". I now ate to rebel. And I knew something had to change when I manage to lock myself out of my hotel room on a work trip to Oklahoma during a frantic raid of the vending machine down the hall.

When I returned home, I started therapy and quit Weight Watchers. A few months later, I received my ADD diagnosis.

Since then, I've generally maintained the same weight. However, this weight maintenance represents a maintenance of a 40 pound weight loss that slowly happened over time. As I wrote above, I still have more weight that I want to lose. I try not to obsess about it, but I know that I still do from time to time. And for me, I know what it takes to lose weight:

  • Get enough rest. There's enough research out there that shows the effect of diminished sleep on weight gain. But I don't need the New England Journal of Medicine to prove it to me. When I don't get enough sleep for a day or two, my belly sticks out the next day. When I don't get enough sleep for a week, the scale climbs. And it doesn't help that I compensate for rest with caffeine and sugar.

  • Roughage, baby! The five fruits and vegetables our government recommends that we eat daily really represents a minimum. All of those antioxidants do a body good. And you're less likely to snarf a party sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos with a belly full of produce.

  • Stay on the move. Modern society's made it easy for us to be lazy. We jockey for close parking spaces and email colleagues down the hall rather than get out of our chairs. On most days, I'd rather do a thousand other things than exercise. But when I get myself to the gym for a workout, I feel so much better afterward! And now, there's even more proof about why that good feeling is especially beneficial to folks with ADD.

  • Eat something real. Weight Watchers messed me up good when it comes to eating real food. An ocean full of the pumpkin/pudding concoction cited above can't compare to the deliciousness of a serving of the pie made with the Libby's pumpkin recipe. And newsflash for you, Weight Watchers: mixing diet A&W and skim milk fails to approximate a root beer float. I've learned that I'm satisfied when I eat real, actual food, rather than some edible fabrication.

The key for me will be following my own advice. Readers, I shall keep you updated!

1 comment:

SFGal said...

Love this post! I too have trouble dieting with my ADD. I start diets all the time but never follow through. It's really hard!