From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

No Pizza? No Problem!

Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into, but hard to get out of.

Author Unknown

About a year ago, I was leaving a tiki hut in the East Village of New York City (bet you didn’t know that NYC had tiki huts!) with two of my good (and very petite) friends when a random stranger shouted out, “Hey Blondie! You have a fat a**!”

Perhaps it was the two giant margaritas I had just imbibed, or maybe it was because this attack hit on the very core of a lifelong insecurity, but I immediately crumbled into a cocoon of tears.

My friends, of course, tried to console me, telling me he had meant “phat” not “fat” and that he was only a drunken stranger. But I had hit rock bottom, and I knew things, from that moment forth, had to change.

I was never “fat” per se, but I had been rather plump since I was a little girl. Blame it on growing up in a Jewish family with a very attentive grandma living across the street. Feeding was medicinal, and every day brought with it bagels, potatoes and an inordinate amount of sugar. After-school snacks of bialys or potato soup with some hot, fresh Jewish rye were the staple for me. I loved that time, and the food was a big part of it. “Eat! Eat!” To not eat would assuredly convince her that something was desperately wrong and cause endless concern. So I ate.

That night, as I sat there hating the phantom wino, the world and even myself, my friend gave me some good advice: Rather than indulging in yet another cycle of self-pity, do something about it. She had been seeing a nutritionist for years and was herself attempting the South Beach Diet. She recommended I give it a try.

In my mind, the South Beach Diet and other “low-carb” plans were all the same, and I was one of the masses who called them dangerous fads. I’d sit around with my friends, talking about how low-carb diets were dumb because as soon as you start eating “normal” again, you gain the weight back. I was sure South Beach wouldn’t work, and it would be just another crazy waste of time.

Being the adventurous soul that I am though, I gave it a try. Phase 1, as we people in the plan call it, is very low-carbohydrate: no bread, no pasta, no sugar, no fruit or starch of any kind. Alcohol is a total no-no as well. Lean meats are your friends, fatty beefs and cheeses aren’t.

But the overall plan is not low-carb, or even necessarily low-fat or low-calorie. It’s more a modified lifestyle that teaches you to eat the right carbs, the right fats and the right proteins—and make it a part of your permanent life plan rather than a crash course into fitting into those too-tight jeans.

As a sugar aficionado, those first few days were a bit intense for me. I felt like I was in a state of perpetual PMS. I wasn’t hungry; I ate my fill of egg whites and fresh veggies and grilled chicken—but what I was going through was hardcore sugar withdrawal. I’m a Sagittarius and thus possess a soul that demands instant gratification. And while my egg-white omelet with mozzarella and mushrooms was very satisfying, darn it, I was used to my morning bagel!

As those initial few days passed, I gradually grew less cranky. I ended up losing ten pounds, and an entire size, in the first two weeks.

The purpose of Phase 1 is a pseudo-detox; you are ridding your body of its addiction to sugar and simple carbs so that you can “retrain” it with the right ones later on. Once that hardcore phase is over, Phase 2 begins. During that phase, you gradually reintroduce your body to starches and fruits, very carefully and slowly, paying careful attention to what particular starches make your metabolism freak out. Refined sugars and starches are naughty now and always. Whole grains, oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes are all fine, and actually, pretty darn good for you if you don’t go crazy with them.

South Beach is meant to be a lifestyle, not a diet, so of course, treats will happen. If it’s your birthday, have the cake (a slice, not the entire sheet!), or indulge in a night of yummy Tex-Mex sometimes, as I do. The idea, though, is to not use those treats as a crutch. “Oh my God! I ate a brownie! It’s all over . . . I might as well give up.”

Over the course of about eight months, I lost fifty pounds and went from a size XL Misses to XS Juniors. I have more energy than I have ever had before, and I’ve learned to not only crave the good stuff but be repelled by that which is naughty. Do I cheat sometimes? Sure. It’s called living. But I don’t let food control me anymore. I’m too busy enjoying life on the Beach . . . which, every now and then, just might include a fresh, hot slice of seeded Jewish rye.

Aly Walansky

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