(Trigger Warning: this post could be triggering to those who have had experience with eating disorders.)
I hate year in review posts*. Mostly because if you’ve been reading a blog, you know what’s going on with the blogger. So, I’ve been trying to decide if I should write this post or not. Ultimately, I’m writing it on the off chance that my writing this post will help somebody else who’s struggling with their weight. Also, this is going to be a long post, and I’m sorry. I will try to break it up into chunks and highlight key things for you.
If you take anything away from this post, be sure it’s this:
Yes, if you have a short-term, temporary goal in mind — like a class reunion, or a swimsuit competition — then a diet might work. Unless you’re like me and have dieted your whole life, then the older you get, the less likely a diet will be successful. The key word to remember is temporary. You WILL gain any weight you lose while dieting back — if not all of it, then some of it or in many cases, more pounds than you originally had. Ask anybody whose dieted and hit their goal weight just how long they’ve stayed at that goal weight. So unless you plan on tracking points, calories, fat grams, etc. for your whole entire life, diets are not a great plan.
Why don’t diets work? It would take a whole series of posts to cover that, and we’ll get to that, but the short version is that they mess up your hunger cues, make you crave “forbidden foods” (things you otherwise wouldn’t crave), make you obsess over food, and they starve your body, which slows your metabolism, making it harder and harder to lose weight.
But you’ve heard this all before. I know I did. I thought I was done dieting, but it turned out that my entire life I’d been dieting, and that diet mentality is really hard to kick.
Think you’re not on a diet? Ask yourself these things:
- Do I track calories, fat grams, carbs, or anything else on a nutrition label so I stay within a “healthy” or “acceptable” range for my body for the day?
- Have I denied my hunger because I didn’t work out, just ate recently, or because there wasn’t something “acceptable” (according to your rules, not taste) to eat that was available?
- Are there foods that you won’t touch because they are “naughty”, “bad”, or “forbidden” (food allergies/sensitivities and food snobbery aside)?
- Do you have fat days? Or good / bad eating days?
- Have you worked out recently because you felt it was necessary based on your food intake?
- Food doesn’t taste good unless it’s “forbidden”.
- You have binges. And you’re always hungry.
- You seemingly have no control over your weight, no matter what you do.
- Working out is a chore.
- Most days you’re unhappy, and it’s due to your weight.
Before I talk about how I’m going to stop this nonsense, and start making peace with food, let’s recap my year in diet hell.
I signed up for WeightWatchers (WW) along with my boyfriend under the guise of wanting to understand the system so I could help him lose weight. In reality, I wanted to shed the 10 lbs I gained at the end of 2011 when I’d quit running, and started eating my feelings.
I had gained 5 lbs on WW, and attributed it to a flawed system (tangent: it does have flaws — free fruit, for starters — fructose turns into fat and we have no receptors to know when to stop eating fructose, unlike our fat, protein, and carb receptors, which is why a lot of binges are sweets and sugar-laden processed foods — but this is a different discussion for another day).
I got desperate with WW, and quit counting my exercise and started counting my fruit as points. My weight did not budge, but I did start to lose the “calories in/calories out” mentality — so at least that was nice. I did some nutrition counseling at Iowa State University with a student in our dietetics program, who introduced me to the idea of intuitive eating, but I wasn’t ready to give it a try.
I quit WW and gifted my subscription to my sister, after deciding that WW wasn’t for somebody who was already in their healthy weight range, and that the system is flawed — but I hadn’t realized that diets do not work. Plus, I had signed up for a new bootcamp that promised to shred my body back down to my “happy” weight.
I started Fitmixer Boot Camp, and was very hopeful. We had to track our calories and macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) — more complicated than what I had done in the past, which was sheer calorie counting. I deemed the calorie range they gave me as too much for me, so I asked them to reduce it down, again, and again, until I was left with 1200 calories — which I was SURE would be the key to my weight loss.
Two pounds down, two pounds up. Three pounds down, four pounds up. And on we go like that for the rest of boot camp, and through the rest of the year, though I was diligently tracking every single morsel of food that crossed my lips. This was my diet bottom. I started going to counseling, and my counselor brought up the idea of intuitive eating. And suggested I quit tracking. I couldn’t grasp that idea — if I wasn’t tracking, how will I know that I’d eaten enough protein to support my workouts? And won’t I just keep eating, and eating? I was not ready for this.
I stayed home sick one day with my recurring stomach issues, and I watched “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead“. In the movie, an Aussie goes on holiday to the US and does a 60-day juice fast, while meeting others who he convinces to try a 10-day juice fast. He lost more than 100 lbs, and recovered from his diet-related illnesses. What convinced me to try a juice reboot (as they call it) was woman at a healthy weight who tried it for 10 days, her migraines went away, and she felt better overall. I was intrigued by both the promise of weight loss and the idea that I could kick my GI issues if I juiced regularly.
At the same time, I picked up the book “Intuitive Eating” at the suggestion of my counselor. Had I not done this at the same time I did my 15-day juice reboot, diet mentality would have taken over and I would have found myself binging on solid foods at the end of each juice-only day, and I would have gained back any weight that I lost during the juice reboot within a very short amount of time.
But, I didn’t gain much of the weight back (1 lb of the 5 that I lost). And I’m not dieting anymore. About 7 days into the reboot, while reading Intuitive Eating, I gave myself permission to have one solid meal a day, consisting of whatever I wanted, since the book advised to give yourself permission to eat anything you want, and eat when you are hungry. I still wanted to juice most of my meals because I had more energy from juicing, and my stomach issues were non-existent. Though this was counteractive to the juicing-for-my-GI-system idea, kicking the diet mentality will probably help my GI system in the long run anyway, and it will help me live my life free from diets. I’m planning on doing a 5-10 day juice-only reboot in January after my first experiment.
I’ve been eating solid foods for about 2 weeks now, and juicing about 1 meal a day (usually breakfast) most days. I’ve focused on plant-based foods because I’ve noticed a difference in my energy level and with the way I feel. And I’m having fun finding new ways to enjoy vegetables that I otherwise would have ignored. But, it’s really hard to kick the diet mentality. I’m trying not to deny my hunger based on the last time that I ate, if I planned to or had worked out on a given day, or how many calories I’ve probably had that day. In fact, I just had my second breakfast while starting this post, only an hour after I ate my toast with peanut butter. And by eating this way, I’ve not gained any weight. In fact, I lost a half a pound since I really started focusing on eating when I’m hungry.
Coincidentally, I read “Sweet Poison” and “I Quit Sugar” about a week ago. Since then, I’ve started being conscious of how much sugar is in the food I eat. I’m trying to eliminate ALL fructose (yes, including fruit) from my diet until I’ve kicked my sugar addiction (about 8 weeks), and I’m not planning to introduce any of those sugary foods back into my system at the volume I’d been eating them. I’m going to try to stick to 6 teaspoons of fructose (20 g) a day (lactose and glucose are both digestible and are detected by your system). However, I’m not keeping a running tally of my sugar intake. I’m just avoiding foods that have sugar in them (in any form, including honey, and agave — which is actually 90% fructose), and limiting my fruit intake. Again, another discussion for another day, but I wanted to throw that out there because I am keeping track of something, but I’m not dieting — I’m focusing on limiting foods with fructose, just like I’m focusing on eating mostly plant based. To others, my plate of food probably looks like I’m on a crash diet, though it’s full to the brim with food that I enjoy, and I’m satisfied after every meal, and I’m not denying myself anything that I want to eat (aside from sugar, but I’m trying to break an addiction to that substance, which is not dieting).
Anyway, that was a really, really long post. Thanks for sticking with me! This is just an introduction to a discussion/book club that I would like to start very soon. Look for another Intuitive Eating post very soon. I’m also going to do a follow up on my experiment/decision to quit sugar. I’m also going to have a few guest posts by a registered dietitian and a nutrition biochemistry student in the near future.
I want to stress that I’m not perfect, and I’m nowhere near where I need to be with kicking the diet mentality. This is a process, and I’m just starting it.
Have you ever dieted? Or hit diet bottom?
*Shortly after I wrote this, my friend Amanda decided to do a year-in-review linkup and I decided, what the hell, I’ll link up, if for no other reason than the fact that I like her. 🙂