Today's New York Times features a column by Jane Brody, "My Diet Strategy? Controlled Indulgence" (registration required, I think). She explains that she manages her weight without fad diets, deprivation or guilt, and enjoys favored treats such as ice cream almost daily. Real ice cream: "Most are the slow-churned reduced-fat flavors, and some are frozen yogurt. But none are fat free or sugar free, which to me tastes ersatz." The control comes in with portion sizes: No more than a few tablespoons or the recommended half-cup serving. "And I made a rule for myself. If I start eating more than that half cup, all the ice cream has to go. Because I would rather have it around when I want it, I stick to the half cup."
Brody then goes on to explain her strategy for other dining occasions: review all the offerings at buffets and choose only the items you think you'll really want, limit dressings, don't bother with foods that don't taste all that good, favor salads and vegetables first before the more caloric dishes. But if something is truly delicious, she says, enjoy it--in moderation. She explains too how she and her husband managed to raise children with moderate appetites for sweets and snacks: Don't keep less-nutritious foods handy as a rule, but don't forbid them when they're available otherwise (such as at friends' houses), and allow regular treats. Making such foods rare but not forbidden made them less interesting, and made the whole family less prone to overindulgence.
"Deprivation feeds desire and can lead to overindulgence at the first opportunity," she notes. I think: Is it any wonder that Americans privilege overindulgence when the language of marketing is all about deprivation? Advertising succeeds when it convinces people that they need something they didn't know they needed. Need stems from lack or deprivation; it's much easier to sell a product by putting it forward as the solution to a problem than to say "This looks like fun, would you like some?" The answer to that may so easily be "No, thank you, not right now." But if you're suddenly threatened with a crisis, a need, a problem to be solved, you will more eagerly accept the solution. And our consumer society has learned well that solutions are found through consumption: A pill, a sports car, the single woman's diamond ring, all are offered as products that assuage a physical or emotional need.
Jane Brody knows she doesn't need the ice cream. But she likes it. So she enjoys it fully, while keeping in mind that if the numbers on the scale creep up she needs to cut back for a while. She doesn't need to replace it with an imitation to keep up a sense of deserved indulgence; substitutions are not satisfying, so she does without for a while, knowing that she is not saying "no" to an emotional desire but saying "yes" to health and enjoyment.
The food marketing culture tries to get us to buy by threatening us with "no," with deprivation. Scarcity mentality makes us grasping, anxious; we want to stock up, to hoard. We can counter this by saying "yes" to good taste, to real food. Blogger Shauna James Ahern, in her blog and her new book "Gluten-Free Girl," is one of the most inspiring people I've seen leading the charge to say yes to life. (Disclaimer: I went to college with Shauna but we haven't been in touch in years.) Shauna has celiac disease, but she doesn't like to focus on the idea of disease. She knows that wheat gluten makes her ill--nobody knows better than she does how ill--but rather than framing her condition as deprivation, she says yes to the immense number of other foods she can enjoy. And enjoy them she does, with her fullest vigor and being. No imitations, no "recipe clones," just savoring of real foods and their real flavors.
That's where salvation lies.