The Antidepressant Diet

The connection between carbohydrates, serotonin, and antidepressant weight gain

What Would You Eat For Your Final, Pre-Diet Meal?

Your Post Holiday Diet Awaits You. What's Your Indulgence?

I’d recently read a newspaper article detailing the last hours of a man executed in Florida for the deaths of nine people in l986. In details more likely to be found in a crime novel, the paper reported what the inmate ate for his last meal with friends and family members. I read the news item twice and wondered at his choice for dessert. Pumpkin pie? Yet I was then hooked, and began to ponder what I would chose for my last meal? Assuming that I was in good enough health to enjoy it (unlikely, were it my last meal), would I go with the comforting familiar, the most exotic, or the blandest? Would I try to prolong it as long as possible if death were waiting for me? Would indigestion be the last pain I experienced?

These admittedly macabre thoughts gave way to thinking of what people eat as their final meal before they begin a diet. Many about-to-be dieters indulge themselves at this meal before starting on weeks, or perhaps even months of food deprivation.

I started asking my weight-loss clients about this topic and here are some of their responses for a perfect, final, pre-dieting meal:

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“I eat all the junk food in the house so there won’t be any to tempt me when I am on my diet.”

“My favorite last meal is a Sunday buffet with a sweet table.”

“I pour through recipes to find some that are full of cream, butter, eggs, bacon and cheese. “

“There is a French restaurant with wickedly expensive food. But since I am going to be eating only broiled fish and lettuce leaves for several weeks, I feel I can afford to be extravagant.”

“Who wants to eat a real meal? I get a gigantic ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce and gobs of whipped cream.”

These responses and mindsets beg the question, does the final, pre-diet meal make dieting easier? Would feeling stuffed with one’s favorite foods reduce the dismay of being on lemon juice cleanses, raw vegetable juice diets or eating only foods consumed during the Stone Age? Does the menu of that final meal turn into fantasies of what will be eaten as the first post-diet meal? Does anticipation of that meal keep people on their diets? “I can’t wait until I lose 20 pounds and start eating whatever I want,” is the mantra of a friend who loses and gains weight every year.

But unlike the death row inmate, we don’t have to regard our final pre-diet meal as a final repast, or suffer the deprivations of a diet just so we can justify eating the same meal in celebration of the end of the diet. On the contrary, the best weight-loss plans should allow the dieter, while on the diet, to eat small amounts of some, if not all, of the foods that are so desired and craved.

Some will say that they will never allow a morsel of tempting foods to pass their lips while on a diet because they are afraid they will binge and thus gain, rather than lose, weight. But if that is the case, how do they expect to keep the lost weight off once the discipline, the weekly weigh-ins, charts and pre-packaged, calorically appropriate meals are no longer part of their lives?

The test of any weight-loss regimen is how seamlessly it can transition into a permanent way of eating. This is why, of course, the faddish diets du jour are worthless. How can one transition into sensible post-diet eating from a cleanse, a juice diet, or a totally carbohydrate–free regimen? It is very difficult and often fails.

In order to set oneself up for success, perhaps they should view a diet as a time when everyone can test themselves to see whether they are able to control their eating of highly desirable foods, i.e. the same foods that might be part of their final pre-diet meal. If they have problems doing this—and they may—the diet program should help them figure out how to stop their overeating. Being on a diet is often like learning to drive with an instructor by your side who has his foot on the brake. If you make a mistake, say skid on ice, someone is there to tell you how to correct it. You wouldn’t wait until you have a brand new car to learn how to drive on ice. Why would you wait until you have your brand new thinner body to see if you can eat the fattening foods you love without jeopardizing your weight?

Obviously there are some foods that are so bad for your health (fried butter, fried cheese) you shouldn’t eat them regardless of your weight. (Perhaps these ought to be saved for your final, final meal). And some foods should not be daily staples but saved for treats, special occasions or a really fine restaurant. After all, none of us can make butter cream frosting or mayonnaise-drenched potato salad the main components of our daily food intake without suffering the consequences of vitamin deficiency along with weight gain.

Take heart, however, because when you have succeeded in learning how to eat what you like and keep your weight stable, the delights of the hypothetical “final” meal can be enjoyed often and not delayed until your final moments. As my husband’s Aunt Fanny used to say, “Eat and be well.”

Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., is the co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet and the founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility.

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