CELEBRITY diets are a dime a dozen, and most of them only work if you're rich.
To meet my own weight loss goals, I turned to a constant source of inspiration: my cat, Dottie.
Dottie was chronically underweight growing up, but over the last two years, she's put on some extra pounds (who hasn't?).
Now, she needs to lose a little bit of weight to stay healthy.
As her roommate/sister/mom/benefactor, it's my job to facilitate that change.
To correct my overcorrection, I've made some tweaks to her diet, but the aspect that's left her most reluctant is The Bowl.
Twice a day, Dottie eats a perfectly-portioned serving of weight control food from her Petstages Slow Feeder Bowl, $8.99.
The grooves in the bowl keep her from eating too fast. Instead of gobbling, Dottie can only grab a few pieces of food at a time.
She hates it so, so much.
Thanks to an elaborate system of Command strips, hot glue, and a placemat, Dottie no longer flips the bowl upside-down the moment I leave the room.
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But before I anchored the whole setup in place, I would regularly find the slow feeder dish had been dragged through the apartment.
It seemed wrong to force Dottie into a diet protocol, especially when I hadn't tried it myself.
I have a modest weight loss goal of my own, which is "don't outgrow my favorite pair of fancy jeans."
Since my grocery store started carrying an exciting new popcorn brand, it was all going to come down to portion control.
So, I bought a slow feeder bowl identical to Dottie's.
After all, eating from a special bowl isn't as wild as some celebrity diets.
A cat bowl sounded better than guzzling saltwater or wearing a futuristic mask or the hassle and risk of prescription medications.
When the bowl arrived, I gave it a thorough rinse in my kitchen sink, then set it out next to my granola in anticipation of breakfast.
I never skip breakfast, and I usually alternate between granola and milk or yogurt and cereal. Variety is the spice of life!
For my first day on the Dottie diet, I poured granola and milk into the bowl, pleased with the patterns made by the fun "maze."
Uh, all plates should include an activity, I thought. Dottie only hates this because she's never aged out of restaurant kids' meals.
That enthusiasm lasted until I actually began eating. I could only spoon a few flakes of granola at a time.
Getting the stray pecans and cranberries onto my spoon was difficult; getting milk into my spoon was impossible.
I ended up drinking the milk out of the bowl, as nature intended, and scraping my wet granola to the edges of the dish.
Eating breakfast took four times as long as normal, and there was still a lot of food stuck to the interior ridges of the bowl.
"This never happens to you," I said out loud to Dottie, who watched me eat with grim disinterest.
I hoped my next meal would be better, and it was! Macaroni and cheese is spearable – fork food was much easier to navigate.
The following morning, I decided to give yogurt a try. But I made an adjustment to my typical recipe.
Instead of yogurt and cereal, I went with just yogurt. Something told me that keeping it simple was the right move.
Sure enough, yogurt on its own was a struggle. I could only eat about two-thirds of my portion with my spoon.
I tried licking the remainder out face-first, like Dottie, but when that was a bust, I scraped some out with my fingers and left the rest behind.
Throughout the week, breakfast was hard. One day, in a hurry, I settled on a protein shake instead.
I didn't have time to spend chasing a single corn flake around a labyrinth.
Other meals were hit or miss. My friends gently tease me for my tendency towards "gruel-like" foods.
Most of my weeknight meals are comprised of soup, a protein, some vegetables, and grits, rice, or quinoa.
My homemade gruels are easy, fast, mindless meals, but they're the antithesis of what a "slow feeder" bowl is all about.
Desperate for a change, I popped my bowl into a plastic bag and hit the road.
At a local cafe, I ordered a delicious salad stacked with avocados, bacon, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese.
Once it arrived at my table, I dutifully decanted the salad into my slow-feeder, tossing the dressing in as I went.
It took a while for anyone to notice me hiding behind my iced coffee, but after a few raised eyebrows from one server, he stopped by.
Pointing at a sign above the bar, he reiterated the restaurant's rule out loud: "No outside food," he told me.
After some confused back-and-forth, I effectively explained that I brought the bowl in empty.
If it was against their policies, I would happily ditch it – even though my salad, which I ate slowly and steadily, was easier to eat my standard mush.
He held a quick, private conference with someone in the kitchen. I ate salad as fast as I could while no one was looking.
When my server returned, he begrudgingly allowed me and my bowl to stay, as long as I didn't rinse it out in the bathroom sink.
He was not as thrilled by my brilliant Ziploc bag solution as I'd hoped, but we maintained peace (and he liked me more after I tipped).
Back at home, I was running troublingly low on easy-to-eat foods.
My final full meal in the bowl was a mixture of leftovers, frozen veggies, and…a multigrain rice and quinoa mix.
The slow feeder holds up to three-quarters of a cup of "wet or dry food," but it wouldn't hold my full portion of the grain bowl.
That's fine, though. Even that tiny serving took me a full thirty minutes to eat, and I didn't come close to getting all the food from the bowl.
As I ate, I thought, I guess this is why they say difficult things are grueling, absolutely furious with my own wordplay.
Mealtimes were miserable, but there was one area where the slow feeder really excelled.
Snacks! This bowl is so great for snacks. Pecans, popcorn, M&Ms (mini or regular), trail mix – all of them belong in this bowl.
It's perfect for portion control, a vital boundary for me, since I can and will eat a family-size bag of popcorn in one sitting.
And the maze inside the bowl keeps you from mindlessly shoving every last crumb into your face, even during movie night.
At the end of the week, Dottie and I had a weigh-in to see where we stood.
She lost 0.4 pounds, right on target with her healthy weight loss plan.
I lost half that amount – 0.2 pounds – which might be more impressive if I weren't eight times her size.
The weight loss wasn't worth the struggle, and I probably burned those 0.2 pounds with the sheer force of my hanger by the middle of dinner.
But my bowl will be staying in the cupboard for nights when I want a mindful snack portion.
Used that way, I think it can be a sustainable, healthy habit.
Though the slow-feeder bowl isn't a miracle weight loss trick for people, I understand why Dottie is so frustrated by it.
I'll reward her with some tasty (low-calorie) treats, and go back to my regular tableware for meals.
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As far as niche diets go, though, I could be worse off – I'd rather share Dottie's dishes than her food.
If that celebrity diet ever hits the headlines, it'll be time for me to retire.
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