When I was dieting, I had little time for anything else but thoughts of food and exercise: what I could eat, what I couldn’t, when could I eat again, and what would fit into my days’ “points” allowance; when I would exercise, how I didn’t want to but had to, and how many calories I would burn on the stair-stepping machine (which I hated).
At the height of my dieting mania, when I was “acceptably” slim, I chose to pursue a career that I thought would support my dieting obsession: registered dietitian.
Imagine that – I chose a career that would help me diet. So not only would my personal time be filled with food preoccupation, so would my professional time. Looking back on this, I am astounded. When I was much younger, I had wanted to be other things: writer, fashion designer, even comedian (despite my intense performance anxiety). Where did that person go once on a diet?
It is only now that my dieting obsession is over that I occasionally wonder what I might have chosen for my mid-life career change other than dietitian. I still do love food and nutrition (no longer in an obsessive way) and I’m glad, ultimately, that this was the path I chose because I also love the clinical aspect of what I do, and thankfully the non-diet philosophy has given my practice so much meaning and substance. But imagine if I’d had more mental freedom in making this choice. But making a career choice during what was basically a mental health crisis is not how I wish that had gone down.
In the years that I became so restrictive with food, I had few hobbies. It’s not because I’m not an interesting person – I AM – but because planning all my meals and then fretting about how long I could withstand my hunger was first priority. I had a brief flirtation with pottery, and though I’ll never be any sort of visual artist, I wish I had continued on with it because it was truly the most meditative thing I have ever done while still creating something. Figuring out how to simultaneously eat food I liked while eating the fewest calories took first priority.
Anyway, once I stopped dieting, I had to spend some time figuring out how to eat again. It took me about five years to learn how to eat instinctively. Five years! So even after I stopped dieting, I still had to spend time learning how to not-diet. That part was better, because at least I learned how to make bagels and French baguettes and kimchi.
Once I was done learning to eat, I finally had time again. So I started writing this blog, and then I was asked to write by a magazine, and then I was asked to speak and I started to become an expert in my field of non-dieting. I took hula hoop classes and dance classes and learn to boogie board and travelled without worrying how I was going to stay on my diet. I ate dessert when I felt like it and got big swishy skirts I never would have worn even when I was thin because I worried they’d make me look fat. I started to really live in a way that I was afraid to do even when I was thin and never good enough. In between, I stopped dieting, and started living.
How much time is dieting and worrying about weight taking away from you? What creative or intellectual or fun or generous pursuits have you put aside because you had to think about food, or had to negotiate constant hunger and longing? What great or satisfying things would you do if you were freed from this diet prison?
Only you can answer that.