Want to gain weight, get angry, frustrate yourself, and mess up your metabolism potentially forever? Go on a diet. As many of my readers know, I grew up overweight. I weighed in at higher than 160 pounds in 4th grade. I remember this clearly because I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled (at an ungodly young age) and I lied to the dentist about how much I weighed so my dad wouldn’t know. This caused him to not use enough numbing medicine and I began to feel all of the cutting, pulling and tearing midway through the surgery. I will admit, as much as that sucked, I was still glad my dad didn’t know how much I weighed because even by age nine I was fully aware of the stigma associated with being the “fat” girl in my school.
My doctor at the time told my mom that I needed to go on a diet and put me on The Peanut Butter Diet. Seriously. No joke. Peanut Butter. I had ton’s of peanut butter for each meal. I remember being seven and trying to measure out a tablespoon of peanut butter into a little plastic spoon. That’s hard as you know if you have ever tried to do it. It’s also a really small amount of peanut butter and it leads you to want to suck the remaining smears of leftover peanut butter off the spoon if any clings on. Sure, this doesn’t lead to food cravings and feelings of deprivation. This is how food obsessions are born. My little girl self was dutiful. I measured, logged, counted calories and tracked everything I ate. I didn’t like the fact that my parents needed to order “pretty & plump” size clothing for me. It was humiliating. At the time, this was the early seventies, I just wanted to be able to get my clothes at Sears like everyone else. If you have ever been overweight, you understand that to buy clothes “off the rack” is highly desirable when you haven’t been able to do so in the past. Stores didn’t use to have attractive, cool, fashionable clothes for larger women like they do now. I ended up hating peanut butter for about 10 years. And I gained weight once I cried and told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore.
Next I went on Weight Watchers with my mom (who used to have those delicious Dexatrim chocolate caramels under her bathroom sink when I was growing up) by around the time I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Dieting as a young girl makes you bitter. You watch your friends (who at the time had ruler shaped bodies and no curves whatsoever) eat whatever they want from chips to cookies to soda, while you are eating carrot sticks, celery stalks and dry bread. Nothing makes you feel worse than being so obviously flawed at a young age that you need to eat different foods then your peers. If it wasn’t already obvious that you were overweight and “not like everyone else” (which by the way it already was) then you certainly didn’t fit in when you pulled out your little veggie packets during recess. I didn’t lose any weight during this diet either and had to hear my grandmother ask me each time she saw me at the holidays, “How is your diet dear?”. My diet? What I wanted to say was, “It sucks Grandma, and the minute you turn around I’m going to sneak into that candy jar and eat as much as I can hold in my mouth before you walk back in the room.” But of course I am a nice polite little girl (back then) who doesn’t speak to her grandmother like that. I did however learn how to steal candy from her jar when she wasn’t looking in my very own “silent lid removing” skilled way. That’s how my diet was. Dieting just made food my obsessive enemy. A feared necessary evil that I apparently was unable to control. I mean look at me, the evidence was right there. And yet, I was persistent in my quest to lose weight…and would be for 35 years.
The point of my historical dieting memoir is that I have been on just about every diet that has come out since back in the seventies. I am here to tell you that what I have learned in my history of eating: only protein, no carbs, fat free, low fat, SouthBeach, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystems, liquids only, fasting, and bordering on anorexic deprivation – is diets do NOT work for me. They only make me fatter. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to make myself eat “this” or “that” particular food and stop considering foods as “bad” or “good” that my weight was able to stabilize. Granted, I am still in no way a small woman, but I am able to take the power away from my obsession with food that dieting only encouraged. I have finally been able to let my dieting goblin go and not have food rule my every thought, action and feeling about myself. As a woman who can tell you it used to be easier for me to not eat at all then to eat healthy, I have found freedom.
When you are taught at a very young age that you are not “allowed” (internalized as “good enough”) to eat ______________ (insert any delicious off limit food a young girl wants), you really mess up your relationship with food from the get go. Food is not understood to be energy for your body to utilize in order to be fit, strong, and healthy. Food becomes public enemy number one. The surest way I know to make an individual obsessed with and yearn for a particular food is to make it off-limits. When food is off-limits it becomes ALL POWERFUL. All you think about. Dieting by its very definition is, “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” That is the definition for the verb form of the word and I assure you for anyone who knows what it takes to diet, it is definitely an “action” word verb, not a (person, place, thing) type noun. Love the term “special kinds of food” by the way…. I think food should just be food. Not special, or bad, or holiday themed. Food is fuel…delicious, nutritious, scrumptious fuel.
I work with my clients who are interested in losing weight by following a very simple principle….and for those of you who work with me on this, you know I am always insisting you call your meal planning a “lifestyle change” and not a “diet”. There is more to this phrase than simple semantics. A diet implies deprivation by it’s very definition and if you want to successfully implement a healthier eating method in your life, you need to make sure you can follow whatever you roll out with yourself for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously. Forever. Because if you take something away that you love from your daily food intake in order to lose weight, you need to never eat it again for your weight to stay off. It makes more sense to try and incorporate balance and smaller portion of foods that you love on a daily basis so you can maintain whatever changes you have made long-term.
This is pretty simple actually. If you take a bunch of foods away from what you like to eat and lose weight, you are creating a new pattern for your body to follow of eating. This is the principle of a diet. As long as you diet in this way forever, you can maintain the weight loss, but if you cannot keep yourself following whatever plan you put yourself on that is causing you to lose weight, you will inevitably gain the weight back. Add to that the new brain science that is being discovered around our bodies desire to fight weight loss at all costs by changing our hormones, brain chemicals, and metabolism when our body goes into starvation mode or caloric deficit. Your body does not know you are overweight and fights any weight loss you try to achieve as a means of saving its’ life. Our bodies are super machines. To lose weight in the caveman days meant sure death and your body has not yet changed it’s thinking in this regard. It does not realize we have fast food and processed super connivence items at every street corner. Evolution did not get the memo.
So what works if you are looking to eat healthier and be fit? Moderation, mindful eating, balance, and exercise. Moderate your overall calorie intake. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite your put in your mouth and balance out foods by eating a diet full of rich colors and grains that are as close to the earth as you can (i.e. not processed). Exercise. Do this by finding your way to an exercise program you can maintain because you enjoy it. Eat foods you enjoy fueling your body with (mindfully and slowly) and then…and this is really important…accept the body you end up with as a result. If you are eating healthy wholesome foods most of the time and exercising in a way you enjoy, you can give yourself permission to let go of what you think you are supposed to look like and instead celebrate your best self as you are. Stress kills. Tearing yourself up all the time because you aren’t as thin as you want, or because you ate that brownie at the pot luck, is just going to make your life miserable. A miserable life is a life that is no fun. Life is hard enough without having to move through it without accepting and loving yourself as you are. You are so much more than your looks, your body, and the size of clothes you wear. Let go of your materialistic expectation and just do your best. Live fully and with pleasure.