Charlie Hills knows first hand that dieting is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. His new book, “Why Your Last Diet Failed You (And How This Book Won’t Help You On Your Next One),” chronicles the pounds he’s lost and gained over and over again for more than a decade and how he’s come to the conclusion that diets don’t work. There’s more to his epiphany, but I don’t want to give away the ending.
LYNN: I’ve written a lot of seemingly intelligent things that people quote back to me as having inspired them in some way. Often when I reread what it is I’ve written, I realize I haven’t fully embraced my own wisdom. Has this happened to you, and if so, how do you respond?
CHARLIE: Or, in other words, “Do you ever fail to practice what you preach?” The answer is, of course: of course. I doubt there’s ever been a preacher who didn’t at one time or another stray from the pulpit. Mindless eating? I tell people to be ever aware of their actions even as I disregard my own. Emotional eating? I recommend people channel their emotions elsewhere—but mostly as a distraction, so they won’t see me stealing their Cheez-Its.
LYNN: You wrote that until someone figures out their inside, they can’t change their outside. (See? I quoted you back to you.) You kept a lot of notes (and line charts) on your journeys up and down the scale. Were you actually journaling or were these notes scratched on napkins? What are your thoughts on journaling while losing weight or even contemplating losing weight?
CHARLIE: All of my notes reside in a spreadsheet. Essentially, I first scribble the notes on a napkin, scan the napkin, and then import the scanned image into Excel. If anyone would copies of my data, I can print out the spreadsheet, FedEx it to you, and then you can scan it into your own computer.
In all seriousness, I do keep everything in Excel. It has the following columns: Day, Date, Weight, Body Fat Percentage, and Notes. “Day” is a running count of how many days I’ve been dieting. Today that value was 6913. (That’s not a joke.) The “Notes” column has essentially served as my journal for nearly nineteen years. This is where I write anything from “Yet another day one” to “Ugh. What happened yesterday?”
I’d like to be able to say journaling is very important and is the secret to my success, except that I’ve been dieting for nineteen straight years now, so I’m probably not the guru you’ve been looking for.
LYNN: One of my favorite chapters is “Mixed Messages,” and in particular, your dissection of Honey Nut Cheerios (a food I, sadly, could eat an entire box of). Crabby McSlacker and I have written in our blogs recently about nutrition information being required of all restaurants, just like it’s listed on food products in the store. Given your belief “that the food industry isn’t primarily concerned with our health,” what are your thoughts on requiring restaurants to fess up with calorie, fat, carb, sodium, and other nutritional values?
CHARLIE: I think they should do it, but not because I believe it will help people make healthy eating choices. If anyone thinks disclosing this information is the solution to our collective obesity problem, consider the fact this is exactly what people believed when we added this same information to our grocery store items. “If people realize that there’s more fat, sodium, and calories in Doritos than baby carrots, they’ll never buy Doritos again!”
You don’t need a nutrition label on a menu to tell you the deep fat fried peanut butter and banana burrito is probably not in your best interest. The information might give some people reason to pause before ordering, but if you’re out, and you’re ready to celebrate, the last thing you want is the restaurant equivalent of your mommy telling you to eat your vegetables. In fact, it’s just as likely to make you rebel.
LYNN: But haven’t you read? Apparently customers’ eating habits have indeed changed since they started posting nutritional information.
CHARLIE: Well that’s good news—just as long as the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the other direction. The last thing we need is a world entirely devoid of decadence.
LYNN: Men “closet shop,” too?? Give us an idea of what your closet looks like. Do you have “skinny” jeans? Do you have *ahem* PMS jeans?
CHARLIE: When I left for college in 1984, my parents bought me two suits. They’re still hanging in my closet. In fact, I’m pretty sure every article of clothing I’ve acquired over the past twenty-five years is still in there. So yes, there are clothes for 150-pound Charlie and clothes for 240-pound Charlie. I’ve clung to my never-to-be-worn again skinny jeans as if they were spun from gold. And I still have my PMS jeans too. (You did mean “Pretty Massive Slacks,” didn’t you?)
LYNN: I can’t listen to the Will Smith’s song “Switch” without thinking of you. On page 207 you write: “How do you flip the ‘switch’ and make a real, permanent commitment to get where you want to be?” You said you had no idea, but I’m wondering if in the months since writing your book, if you’re more in tune with your switch. Your thoughts?
CHARLIE: I’m definitely in tune with it. But I still have no control over it. It’s the sad reality and anyone who thinks differently has the pesky problem of explaining why weight loss is so impossibly hard for the majority of people who attempt it. “Just say no,” is not a foolproof weight loss solution.
I will get it someday.
LYNN: As you know, I take weight maintenance very seriously. To the point of Xanax-necessary anxiety (not always, but there are days…). I’ve been up and down the scale, too. More often than I care remember. What will you do differently in maintenance this next and final time? (And I mean final because I really believe in you and what you’re doing.)
CHARLIE: Oddly enough, I agree with your “final” assessment. There’s something about this time around that feels different from all other times. I’m not losing weight quickly, but I’m losing it. I’m not following any specific plan, but I’ve still got a plan. I eat burgers, and pizza, and even desserts from time to time, and that’s what finally feels like success. For the first time ever, I’m not swimming against the current.
LYNN: Let’s anthromorphize food for a moment. I see myself as an artichoke. You have to peel away several (often tough) layers to get to my heart. If you were a food, what would you be? (And you can’t pick pizza.)
CHARLIE: But I want to pick pizza.
LYNN: You can’t.
CHARLIE: Why not?
LYNN: Because you’re just the interviewee. I make the rules.
CHARLIE: What if I don’t want to play by your rules?
LYNN: Then I just won’t publish this interview.
LYNN: So, are you ready to tell me what kind of food you would be?
LYNN: Final warning, Charlie…
CHARLIE: Okay. I’m a bag of Doritos.
LYNN: Thank you!
CHARLIE: Pizza flavored Doritos…
LYNN: And since I mentioned Will Smith….Which pop or rock star do you most closely identify with?
CHARLIE: Sometimes it’s Nigel Tufnel. Other times I’d say Alan Barrows.
LYNN: It was sobering to read your entry on poverty and the lack of food in our country while in contrast, the money we spend on diets, diet aids and surgery could easily keep everyone in this country fed. If your book makes a profit, you said you’d give it to people who “can’t get food.” Is there a specific food shelf or organization that addresses poverty and hunger concerns that you’d like to give a shout out to here?
CHARLIE: To be honest, I’ve struggled with finding the correct answer to this question for a while. It always came down to this: would I prefer to help a larger, more global-oriented cause or stay local? Every time I held this debate with myself, I’d always get caught up in the pros and cons of each. It took me a while, but what I finally realized is that neither course would solve all the world’s problems and either course would end up helping somebody.
To that end, I’ve always had a soft spot for World Hunger Year, an organization co-founded in 1975 by Harry Chapin. I believe they’ve found a best-of-both-worlds solution by “supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance.”
LYNN: Thanks for the interview, Charlie. You played nice, didn’t run with scissors…Now it’s time to cough up a book for one of my readers.
Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of “Why Your Last Diet Failed You (And How This Book Won’t Help You On Your Next One).” I will randomly draw a winner on Friday, April 24, at the conclusion of his book tour.
Catch Charlie on his book tour at:
Monday, April 13: Slim Shoppin (Book Review)
Tuesday, April 14: Peanut Butter Boy (Guest Post)
Wednesday, April 15: Roni’s Weigh (Reader Q & A)
Thursday, April 16: Lynn’s Weigh (Interview)
Friday, April 17: Pasta Queen (Interview)
Monday, April 20: Biggest Diabetic Loser (Book Review)
Tuesday, April 21: Ecstatic Days (Guest Post)
Wednesday, April 22: The Alcoholian (Guest Post)
Thursday, April 23: The Wonderful World of Wieners (Review & Interview)
Friday, April 24: Cranky Fitness (Guest Post)