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FITNESS | KATHY SMITH

Diet Fads Are Just so Much Hot Air

July 27, 1998|KATHY SMITH

You may remember, from back in the early 1980s, something called the Beverly Hills Diet. Its founder, Judy Mazel, became a favorite guest of the talk shows and wrote a bestselling book that described her "revolutionary" eating program on which a participant might, for example, eat nothing but mangoes for three days, then follow with two days of carrots, etc.

Like all wildly popular fad diets, this one had its 15 minutes of fame (maybe even 20) and sank, unlamented, into the dustbin of history . . . only to be replaced by something equally exotic and preposterous. Today, I'm sorry to say, thousands of people are spending big money to lose weight by learning how to breathe like classically trained dancers (since dancers are thin and dancers breathe, therefore . . . well, you get the idea).

What I find absolutely amazing is that the more outlandish these "diets" are--and the more farfetched their claims--the more likely they are to gain devotees. And yet, when I counsel people that the best way to get into the shape they want is to combine reasonable exercise with a healthy diet that incorporates all the major food groups, they often look at me as if I were from Pluto. They would rather believe the improbable than the mundane.

I, too, like to dream. But when I decide that I really want a dream to become real, I don't look for the magic escalator hidden in the stars to take me there. I chart a course and begin the journey, no matter how long or hard, with a single step. After that, I keep putting one foot in front of the other until I arrive. It's simple, and it works for me in everything from education to exercise to business.

In fact, it works for most people in most areas of life. They see something they desire and, if it's at all realistic and they want it bad enough, they go after it. Where simple common sense and logic break down, and magical thinking begins, is in the world of physical beauty and weight loss. And I think I know why.

There is undeniable power in sex appeal. No one can fail to be impressed by all the attention and riches lavished on the beautiful people who dominate our movies and television and magazines. By virtue of their beauty, they seem to have it all, including happiness. It's only natural to want that for ourselves.

*

But though the majority of us will never come close to looking like Michelle Pfeiffer or Brad Pitt, the impossible dream is very seductive. And the lure of the dream is stronger than our sense of reason. We want it, and we want it tomorrow, if not today!

And so, of course, we choose a diet that's just as unrealistic to achieve our dream. Because of that, we fail. Guaranteed. Either we injure our health while following the diet, making the accomplishment of weight loss a hollow victory, or we balloon back to and beyond our previous weight once we stop dieting.

There is a better way: thinking of improved health as an end in itself.

My experience with hundreds of women and men says that setting a goal of achieving a healthy body, as opposed to a dream body, will bring us closer to the attainment of our dream. By eating right and enjoying plenty of activities with the objective of feeling better, we do lose the weight. And we keep it off. We're more alert, more energetic, more vital. We're actually healthier.

It's health, not beauty, that allows us to appreciate the sound of the waves lapping the shore, the birds singing in the pine forests and our children's laughter. Why? Because our healthy bodies can run on the beach, hike on the mountain trails and play with our kids.

Health, not beauty, enables us to take advantage of all the opportunities that life offers and experience all the miracles inherent in being alive.

Health is beautiful. Unfortunately, the quest for beauty isn't always healthful.

Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith

* Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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