Nothing in this world makes a person more appreciative of the warm smell of a bakery early in the morning, the steaming scent of stir-fry wafting out the door of a Chinese restaurant, the delectable curves of bright, colorful apples, oranges and berries piled high in a fresh produce market than being on a diet. One would think the sheer effort of keeping a 1500-calorie-per-day commitment would burn the better part of that allowance. The only tried and true secret to losing weight -- eating sensibly and exercising regularly -- is so cruelly simple! And yet we search endlessly for the magical diet that will give us the key to instant weight loss. Often, we look for a diet talisman, some gimmicky instruction, perhaps a certain staple food or rigid daily schedule, that will keep morale up, making the diet a quest: I can do it! If I can just get that grapefruit/protein powder shake, I'll be home free!
This month's Drama Queen contestants know the trials of dieting, and they know the madness of diets gone wrong. We sorted through your stories and found that gimmicky diets gave people the most grief. Take, for instance, the cabbage soup diet made famous by Dolly Parton's testimonials. Six bowls a day of the stuff is prescribed, but it stunk up the kitchens of our readers and made them miserably gassy. Most common were the high-fat, high-protein, anti-starch diets. Somehow eating plates full of steak and sour cream melts pounds off some people, but it always ends up coming back to haunt you. Then there were the diets readers designed themselves -- cantaloupe and All-Bran? Baby food? Lite beer? What were you thinking? One reader and his brothers were drawn into their mother's dieting madness when they were helpless children, but it could have been worse: She insisted that the whole family eat apple pie for lunch each day. Several of you complained about the advice of diet industry programs and false ads, like the all-hardboiled egg diet one reader found in a British fashion magazine, only to find out later it was an April Fools' gag, so to speak.
As one entrant so eloquently put it: "In the diet industry, hope is very expensive. $800 only got me 10 weeks of it. Do you know what I could do at Nordstrom with that money?" We hope everyone who has been suckered into buying high-priced protein shakes or tortured with self-inflicted starvation feels vindicated by our three finalists' stories. Vote by April 9 for your favorite tale of deprivation. And remember, hope springs eternal when it comes from a balanced and healthy joy for life. A cookie is not going to kill you.
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ILLUSTRATION BY KATHERINE STREETER