I get where you are right now because I have been in exactly the same place: Frustrated by diets that seem to work at first but only result in weight gain in the end; the constant cycle of deprivation, weight loss and bingeing; dissatisfaction with your body; waking up every day searching for the magic bullet that will help you shed pounds so you can really start living your life; constantly measuring yourself and your body against all those perfect women you encounter every day.
And I’m here to tell you that it is within your power to find health and happiness, while saying goodbye to diets for good.
From a young age, I dieted constantly. I was a chubby child and remember being 5 and needing to wear size 6x and the shame that came along with that realization. Well-meaning family members sought to protect me. Tab was a regular beverage and I learned to count calories and read food labels then too. But I rebelled against all the rules being imposed upon me. I became expert in trading my ‘diet food’ in the school cafeteria in exchange for cookies and candy.
Of course, knowing what I know now, I could have predicted what I would go through for the next 20+ years: food obsession, weight loss, certainty that lost weight would remain lost, weight regain, feelings of worthlessness and shame….. The list goes on and on.
I was a serious competitive swimmer in my youth. When I was 13, my coach became focused on weight and subjected our team to frequent weigh-ins. Even though this was more than 30 years ago, I can still remember stepping on a large mechanical scale in front of my team. I can’t remember the exact weight, but I knew that I was going to be officially a member of the ‘fat club’ before I even stepped on that scale.
My coach had mentioned many times that if I could just lose some weight that he was sure my times would drop dramatically. But I was a chronically dieting elite athlete and student who didn’t know how to make that happen. Severe diet restriction was certainly not possible while I was swimming 2-3 hours a day. Or so I thought. My coach declared that I should drink a couple cans of Ensure and eat one frozen diet dinner per day. And I did lose weight – quickly. And, in the end, I got down to about 95 pounds. But what they failed to tell me is though I received so many compliments and was in awe when I looked into the mirror, that I had also lost much of the muscle that gave me the strength to compete in swimming. I felt so weak that I could cry. Even though I swore I’d find a way to maintain this lower weight while competing and building up my muscle mass again, the weight slowly crept back up which made me feel even more shame.
I wish I could say that my obsession with dieting ended there, but it continued for another 20 years, even while I was pursuing my Master’s in Nutrition.
I tried nearly every diet out there, but each one became subsequently harder. I stayed on the plan for a shorter duration, lost less weight and regain occurred more quickly. I remember learning about Intuitive Eating when I was in school. It seemed like a novel idea but I really didn’t believe it was the solution for me. I was too obsessed with calculating calories and fat grams to even start to consider it. And while I had rejected fad diets by this time, I blamed my lack of willpower. I didn’t inherently trust my body and that it could tell me what it needed.
I had a wake up call when I was in graduate school and was beginning to think about a future pregnancy. I refined my diet to exclude artificial sweeteners, caffeine and started to eat what I wanted. I was sure that as soon as I started using real sugar, gasp, that I would gain weight, but that didn’t happen. My weight seemed to stabilize. Of course I still thought of this as temporary and fully intended to diet again to get rid of the baby weight once my baby was born.
I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, but it became crystal clear that I needed to treat my body and myself the same way I would treat my baby. I was in awe of what my body could do in creating life and I vowed to start to treat it with the respect it deserved. Out went diet foods. In came foods I loved and would make me whole again. Out went obsessive exercise and in came movement that gave me joy. I’d be lying if I said this journey was easy or fast. It took time, commitment and lots of steps backward and forward to get where I am today.
But I can honestly tell you that I don’t crave foods anymore, though I do enjoy eating a myriad of foods and eating out. And while I can remember with intense clarity many of the defining moments along my journey, I feel so far removed from the person I once was.
It is my mission to tell you that there is life after dieting, and it is a life full of delicious food, joy, self-nurturance, family, friends and hobbies. It is the life you were meant to live!