Can dieting ruin your health?

If that seems like an odd question, think about the emotional impact of always being on a diet. Very stressful. Often depressing.

“How to Diet Effectively” was the subject of Cindy Sherlock’s talk at the fourth session of The Greens Community Health Series. Ms. Sherlock, a dietitian at Norwalk Hospital, had a refreshing approach to food. Her main concern was clarifying the misinformation that all too often distresses people about their diets. She started with some basic principles, no matter what you eat. Effective dieting is about how you eat, not just what you eat.

• Eat slowly. It takes about 30 minutes for your brain to tell you that you’re full and you don’t need any more food. When you eat slowly, you’re satisfied sooner, with less food.

• Chew well. Savor each spoonful or forkful. You’ll need less food and your stomach will have less work to do. When food is deliberately chewed, a meal takes longer and you don’t need as much.

• Never buy another canned or bottled soda again. Each can of soda equals 10 teaspoons of sugar. Many sugar substitutes are actually chemicals you should stay away from.

• Become your own mealtime manager. Instead of trying to have a half-ounce of this and a quarter-ounce of that, put half as much as you usually do on your plate.

• Make some exercise part of every day. This includes walking, gardening, dancing, using the stairs instead of the elevator. And when the weather is bad, walk around in the supermarket several times and ignore 80% of the packages on the shelves.

Ms. Sherlock had test tubes filled with solid-looking white stuff. She was demonstrating the amount of saturated fat in hamburgers, steak, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. This is the raw material for heart problems as well as diabetes. There are diets that tell you to eat lots of fatty stuff because it is the fuel that burns calories. Not recommended. Olive oil doesn’t cause that buildup of arterial plaque. But quantities still have to be monitored. Ms. Sherlock quickly covered the sodium question. The healthy goal should be about 1,500 mg a day. A hot dog has 1,200 mg. Enough said.

One of the most interesting aspects of her talk was the concept of “readiness.” One of the reasons most diets can’t be sustained is because people are basically ambivalent about dieting in the first place. They may be enthusiastic for a while, but then they may become disappointed because they’re being so good and not changing their weight. The ultimate goal is to change your lifestyle, food style, and mind-set. Eventually, most people will actually begin to like fresh fruit better than candy, or enjoy lightly steamed vegetables more than mashed potatoes with gravy.

If you simply can’t imagine life without doughnuts, ice cream sundaes and apple pie, you’re not ready to change, not ready to enjoy the vitality and slimness you say you want. You’ve got to believe that someday, you’ll crave a crisp, crunchy apple more than a fudge cupcake.

The next session is May 16, “Osteo and Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Dinner is at 5:30, the presentation at 6. The Greens at Cannondale is at 435 Danbury Road. Please RSVP to 203-761-1191.