It starts out with a simple declaration: “I really need to eat better. And I could shed a few pounds. It’s for my health.” So you join a weight loss group. You don’t really think of it as a diet because diets don’t work, everybody knows this. You’re just going to eat healthier and lose weight.
You measure and weigh out portions with the fancy food scale you bought and the measuring spoons that tell you exactly what one portion of everything is. At first this is easy and kind of fun, like a game. You’re a little bit hungry, but it tells you that your new
diet eating plan is working, or at least that’s what someone in your weight loss group told you. You do frequently think about cookies and cupcakes, a lot more than you used to, but you’re not going to have any because this is for your health. Also, they don’t fit into your eating plan.
You love walking, so that becomes your main source of exercise. You walk almost every day and you love it.
You lose a few pounds pretty quickly and you think that all the weighing and measuring and avoiding of butter was worth it. People constantly tell you how great you look now that you’ve lost weight. That feels pretty good! Luckily, you barely hear the insult in the compliment.
After a few weeks, you have your first trip out to a restaurant with friends. You’ve been avoiding this for a while but you miss your friends and eating out. You scan the menu for something you can eat without breaking your
diet new way of eating, but there is nothing. You heard about how restaurants will prepare food to your specifications if you ask. “Can I have a plain, skinless grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables without any butter or oil?” The meal arrives and you are elated at how easy it was to ask and get what you wanted requested. Then you eye your friends’ meals and your mouth starts to water a little bit. However, you are also proud of how good you are being, and you revel in a mild sense of moral superiority at your eating austerity. You don’t even have a bite of the dessert your friends split. It looks delicious.
Soon you have lost several pounds. Somewhere along the way you decide on a number. What you have lost is great but you have not yet reached the number. You have reliably lost a little bit each week with your
diet sensible eating that you think getting to the number will be easy. But then a funny thing happens. The number on the scale stops going down. For weeks. “You’re just on a plateau,” says the kindly weight loss counselor. “It happens to everyone. Just keep at it.”
Clearly things must change. You cut your portions down a bit more. Walking for exercise, you decide, is just not cutting it, so you join a gym and start moving very fast on cardio machines. You don’t like being inside instead of outside and you dread the sweaty, exhaustive pace, but hey, this is for your health.
A few weeks after you’ve made these
restrictions changes, the scale breaks free and drops a pound. “Congratulations!” the lady says as she takes your weekly payment.
Even more diet changes: you switch to a very high fiber cereal that tastes like gravel and gives you painful gas cramps every afternoon. You eat massive quantities of low fat microwave popcorn (the kind you heard gives people who produce it “popcorn lung”) throughout the day to keep the now-constant gnawing hunger at bay. You make large quantities of steamed vegetables and low-fat, low-carb vegetable soup that you don’t want to eat after it’s made – but you do. Even with all those vegetables to fill you up, you are still hungry before you go to bed. You suck on a sugar free candy to fool the pangs away.
You lose a few more pounds but the scale stalls again. You have stopped eating out altogether – you can’t stand looking at others’ meals, can’t deal with the wonderful aromas of the foods you are afraid to eat. You’ve bought new clothes for your slimmer body but have nowhere to wear them because social outings usually involve food or drink, and right now you can’t have too much of either of those. It’s just not worth messing up all that work you’ve done on your
One day, you get tired of eating the same 10 safe foods and go out with friends. “What the hell!” you think, and order steak and mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables. You think you deserve this because you’ve been good, but the fact is that you cannot stop yourself from eating the entire plate, well past your point of fullness. Even though your stomach hurts, you order dessert and eat it all yourself. You are not sure what came over you to make you eat that much.
You feel ashamed of your binge and determine to get back on the wagon. You do at first, but that meal opened the flood gates. You think of food 24 hours a day. You simultaneously lust for and fear your next meal. You double down on your exercise and diet (yes, yes, it’s a diet, you know it and can no longer deny this to yourself), but the number on the scale starts to move up a little anyway.
You hate everything you are doing to maintain this weight loss. You hate the gym and feeling like you have to go. You are so bored of your monotonous diet and also the lack of taste, and you are so so hungry. You dream of cheesecake one night and wake up in despair. You are not sure this is for your health anymore.
You keep gaining weight, even though you never really stopped dieting and exercising. So you start eating everything and anything you want. You know this is worse than how you ate before you dieted but you need to fill yourself, fill up the hollow feeling. You quit exercising, including walking, you haven’t done that in forever anyway and all the joy has gone out of it for you. Nobody compliments you on your weight gain.
When all is said and done, you have gained back all your weight plus a few more pounds. You don’t know that this is your body’s way of saving your life from another famine like the one it thinks you just went through. You also don’t know, yet, that you will go through this many more times, trying a different diet (Zone, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Volumetrics, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem) each time, all with the same results. And in the end you’ll have gained an extra 40 (or 50, or 60, or 100) pounds and you will think it is all your fault.
Someday you will find out that there is another way. It’s a way to learn how to be healthy but without worrying about your weight. A way to live without fighting your body. You will find that revolutionary. Will you choose it?
*This is a composite of many different diet experiences…including mine.
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Welcome to food freedom! Dare to Not Diet LLC is owned by Glenys Oyston, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. It's time to feel good about eating, your body, and your health.