(NOTE: All characters in this blog and book are fictitious. )
I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. A physician came into counseling to get help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our first sessions that he was going on a chicken diet.
“A chicken diet?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think chicken is the perfect food, in lots of ways. If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, then I can lose some of this.” He grabbed a glob of excess fat around his belly. Although he could afford to lose a few pounds, Ben definitely was not obese. He looked as though he had once been athletic, and wore a crisp blue shirt that brought attention to his blue eyes. Crossing his legs, Ben placed a few stray strands of his dark hair behind his ear.
I asked if he was kidding or not. I had taken a number of nutrition classes in college, and this chicken and water diet did not sound balanced, especially for a physician. Maybe there was more to it.
“Nope. I’ve already done a lot of research on it, and I know I can get down to my goal in two months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace. I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the weight like a woman with PMS drops her boyfriends.” We both laughed.
“So you’ll have chicken shakes for breakfast, baked chicken nuggets for lunch, and a slab of chicken breast for dinner?” I smiled, thankful it was not me that would be on the chicken diet. I like chicken, but just can’t imagine eating it all by itself for even one day, let alone three months. Chocolate – sure. But chicken? Never.
Ben started to unknowingly pick up and set down his empty Starbucks cup repeatedly, so I could tell he was anxious. Even though he probably felt nervous because he had never been to counseling before, he seemed especially anxious talking about his magical chicken diet because he knew I would have questions. And of course he was right.
“It’s gonna be so great – I’ll drop that extra weight, and then I can wear cool, manly clothes. Then the women will be really into me.” He smiled and looked out the window as though he had found the answer to all of life’s problems. The Great Fix. The Magical Cure.
“So then you’ll have the perfect life, huh?” I asked. I had heard different versions of this magical thinking many times before. Countless women in their twenties and thirties – and sometimes women in their forties and fifties – told me that when they got “skinny,” they would start to buy cute clothes.
I usually asked them why they wouldn’t buy cute clothes until they were skinny, but they usually scrunched up their noses and thought it was absurd. In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word. They get so excited about their little pet word, their mouths automatically form into broad smiles when saying it.
Once they are “skinny,” their lives will suddenly become supremely enjoyable, but not one minute before. They realize cute clothes are available in larger sizes now, but they have no interest in spending money on them until they were – drum roll please – skinny.
The magical thinking never stops. Once they get skinny, they can get a fun wardrobe. Then guys will want to date them, and that will help them to get a boyfriend. Not just any boyfriend, but a perfect- or almost perfect boyfriend, which would open the golden door to the Perfect Life.
Once the door opened, they got the successful and cute boyfriend, then had the perfect wedding, and then bought a beautiful home. Finally they had children, and as long as they stay skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect. Because of course their marriages and children would be perfect!
Magical thinking comes in many different flavors: Once I get a college degree, life will be perfect. Or once I get married, life will be perfect. Or once I have a house or a larger house, life will be perfect.
Or a very popular version: Once I move to _______, life will be perfect. The interesting part of the last one is that if the person lives in the Pacific Northwest, they want to move to Hawaii or somewhere warm.
(Yet the same people would often complain like men with their wives at the mall if the weather got too hot in the summer for them.) If the person lives in Hawaii, he believes that moving to the Mainland will be the answer to life’s problems.
When I lived in southern California and people found out I was originally from Washington state, they often said, “Why would you ever leave such a beautiful state?”
Because of the popularity of the statement, “If I move to ______, life will be perfect (or much improved),” many 12-step recovery programs call it “the geographical cure” as a sarcastic joke. This kind of thinking is labeled as another type of “stinkin’ thinkin’ “.
Often people think that if they get their child or spouse to move to _____ to “get a fresh start,” they are going to be different and make better choices. But it almost never works because everywhere you go, there you are.
That means you will still have your personality, your likes, dislikes, and your style of relating (personality). We will continue to attract the same kinds of people for friends and romantic interests unless we change.
So once again I found myself talking to a man with a mission to change his whole world – this time through the chicken diet. That was definitely one I had not heard of. “Will you eat anything besides chicken, or just chicken?” I asked.
He bent his elbow, locked his hands, and placed them in back of his head, which often happens when men (and sometimes women) are feeling out of control. “Well, I’ll eat mostly chicken, and take a supplement liquid diet to get some more nutrients, with maybe a salad or piece of fruit once in a while.”
He began to lightly bounce his leg, which told me he was quite anxious. Ben felt uncomfortable talking about this because he probably was beginning to wonder if the chicken diet really would make his life a trip to Disneyland.
“I want to lose weight fast so I can lose it all before summer. Then I can get a gorgeous girlfriend and we can enjoy ourselves kayaking and hiking and stuff. I mean she has to be smart too and funny and all, but anyway then I can have an awesome summer.”
“Do you think people usually keep weight off when they lose it quickly on a diet?”
He laughed, but it was a nervous laugh and not a funny laugh. “Well, usually diets don’t work anyway. But research shows that the slower you lose weight, the longer you usually keep it off.”
We both laughed because we realized that he was about to contradict his own beliefs by going on a diet. And not just any diet – a chicken diet.
“So are you telling me that you don’t really believe in what you are about to do?” I asked.
He started to rub the part of the couch where his hand had been resting, which is another sign of anxiety.
“Yeah, I guess so.” He looked at the floor and then out the window.
“When did you first start to gain weight?” I asked. The all-important question that most naturopaths, physicians, and nutritionists never ask.
TO BE CONTINUED…