Don’t Be a Diet Bore

Dear Helena,
I've resolved to drop 25 pounds in 2012 by strictly limiting portion sizes and cutting out refined carbs, red meat, and sugar. The other day I went to lunch with a coworker. I ordered a salad, and she chose pasta, saying, "It's healthy." I tried to explain to her that refined flour is not healthy, and she exploded: "Nobody wants to hear any more about your diet!" I was totally humiliated. I'm just trying to talk about it a lot so that I keep myself honest. Is that so wrong?
—Slim by Spring

Dear Slim by Spring,
You should tell close family members or friends about your diet, says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Studies have shown that [other people's] support is linked to weight loss." But there's no need to tell your coworkers. They could even undermine you with offhand remarks like "Diets don't work" or "Don't high-protein diets give you bad breath?"

In fact, as a general rule, it's best not to mention your diet in conversation at all, because diet talk is intensely boring. Nobody wants to hear about the weight loss app you just discovered, what juicer model you recommend, or how a handful of almonds is a high-protein afternoon snack. Kudos for trying to slim down, but when you impose rules and restrictions on eating, you make food depressing for other people, when it should be a source of joy. Furthermore, if those other people are overweight or unhealthy, your diet talk will make them feel guilty for not being on a diet themselves.

Needless to say, you should never, ever question other people's dietary choices or imply that they should follow your example. Rachel McGough, a lawyer in Paris, recalls the time she went to a London gastropub with a dieting friend. "She took one look at the menu and said, 'We can't eat here. Everything's fried!' ... I didn't expect her to go for the battered pig's trotters, but she caused such a fuss it almost put me off my food."

Granted, when you are on a diet, it's hard to avoid talking about it, because dieting makes you obsessed with food. As you lose weight, your brain chemistry actually changes, making you want high-fat food more, and therefore think and talk about it more. In a 2010 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, mice that had lost weight showed an alteration in several hormones that govern stress and appetite, and when exposed to stress, the mice binged on fatty foods. In other words, dieting actually reprogrammed their brains to intensify their cravings for pizza and doughnuts.

What can you do to stop yourself from turning into a diet bore, or worse, a diet evangelist? First, says dietitian Crandall, don't get too hungry. Before you go to a social event, have a healthy snack. Second, avoid situations where you'll have to explain your food choices. Meet your friends for a hike instead of dinner. Rather than going to a gastropub where your friend will feel judged for eating crispy trotters, tell her you want to check out a new Vietnamese place (where you can fill up on nonfattening soup).

The only time you need to mention your diet is when you're explaining why you can't eat something that someone is offering you, be it cookies a colleague has brought in or dessert at a dinner party. Even then, there's no need to be specific, as this only invites follow-up questions. Crandall advises: "Maybe say that you're trying to be healthier ... as opposed to saying, 'I need to lose 15 pounds in the next 10 weeks.'"

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