Ah yes, the chocolate rebound. I know ye well.
Every person who has ever been overweight understands exactly what Beyonce is talking about. The story goes something like this: You deprive yourself of all the foods you love while you’re on a diet. You struggle mightily, flexing your willpower muscles to the max, and when you finally reach your goal weight after weeks/months/years of sacrifice, you reward yourself for your accomplishment by doing what? Indulging in, even gorging on, all the foods that made you heavy in the first place!
If this seems like a sad state of affairs, fear not! The women’s mags are on it! From Woman’s Day to Woman’s World, the same advice abounds for all those serial dieters out there: to keep the lost pounds lost for good, find a reward other than food. Feeling tempted to stuff your pie hole with, well, pie? No! Take a bubble bath instead! Now, I like bubble baths. They can be quite soothing. But let’s be brutally honest. In the face of a giant, crumbly, chocolate chip cookie, a bubble bath is the proverbial ninety-pound weakling. It’s not a fair contest. Not even close.
The other approach recommended by the magazines is this: don’t give up your favorite foods, just have a lower-fat, lower-calorie version. Yes, you can have a big gooey cheeseburger, IF you substitute healthy fare for all of the high-calorie ingredients. Say ground turkey or a Portobello mushroom instead of beef. Maybe salsa to replace the ketchup. A multi-grain sandwich thin instead of a big, sesame-seed-laden hamburger bun. This is sound advice, but only up to a point. It’s one thing to substitute something more healthful for a really calorie-dense ingredient, say mustard instead of mayo, but if you go really hog-wild with this concept, eventually the end result ceases to be a cheeseburger. And then you get to experience the most profound irony in diet hell, where you consume a poor facsimile of something you love only to find that it is so unsatisfying that it makes you crave the real thing even more.
The real challenge of the chocolate rebound is not one of willpower or calorie creativity, but of transcending our culture’s identification of food with reward. I believe this one concept is a key reason why so many of us regain after a large weight loss. If you lose weight and want to keep it off permanently, it’s been my experience that you have to completely disconnect food from the concept of reward. It’s not a task for the faint of heart, and to be honest, it’s also something I have yet to master.
While I don’t have the perfect solution to this dilemma, I have found some work-arounds. I’ve taught myself to crave salads and sometimes when I need a food reward, I make a salad “parfait” with layers of colorful vegetables. I’ve also found that sprinkling a little cinnamon on just about any food increases its satisfaction level significantly. And I really do love steamed green beans in a vinaigrette dressing. One step at a time, I guess. I hold onto the hope that perhaps someday, just being healthy and feeling good will be reward enough.