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As someone who has suffered from a difficult relationship with food and body image for the last eighteen years, I devoured Sallie Tisdale’s “Mean Cuisine” [October 2000]. I, too, dislike the fact that so many of us are dieting, but I disagree that we shouldn’t have to “supervise” our eating. In modern society, we are no longer required to till the land ourselves or chase down a buffalo for meat. We can now eat however much we want. Isn’t it up to us to regulate our intake?
Because I don’t allow myself to eat everything I want all day long, I guess I am dieting by Tisdale’s definition, but I don’t see it that way. I do have to tell myself to stop after two pieces of pizza, even though I’m not full. I maintain a normal weight for my height by controlling my intake. Tisdale says, “Denial is what some women have come to desire most.” I don’t “desire denial.” I do desire a body that can take me hiking or scuba diving, a body that will give me longevity.
I think that the women who ordered dessert and took only a bite have a sane relationship with food. They are tasting the restaurant’s fare, but not filling their bodies with sugar and saturated fat. Maybe some of them wanted more, but I doubt any of them wanted to deny themselves.
I don’t believe that regulating how much we eat is dieting. The best way to eat is to notice what we want to eat and need to eat, and to stop when we’re satisfied. The research I describe defines exactly the opposite: an inability to regulate at all, caused partly by overregulating.
Many Americans now have no idea what their bodies desire or need in terms of food, and they commonly both over- and undereat. This has been shown dramatically in controlled experiments and is visible to all of us as we look at ourselves and each other: we are obese, we are anorexic, and we hate ourselves.
I think letting go of my obsessive dieting was the healthiest thing I’ve ever done. I did gain some weight, and remain about 15 percent above my “ideal” weight. I, too, am a hiker and a scuba diver. When I look at the pictures of myself thin, I see physical fragility, self-absorption, the smallness of it all.
Finally, if Englehardt could see the bony-legged, sunken-cheeked women with whom I had dinner — and especially the avid desire on their faces as they proudly resisted their rich desserts — she would recognize all the worst facets of dieting. It is a venal preoccupation indulged in by the prosperous. Really hungry people, needless to say, don’t throw away food. And really healthy people don’t make a point of doing so.