It’s crazy to think this, let alone write it, but 2022 will be my first full year without a diet since the 1980s.
When I look at pictures of young me, I see a strong, healthy girl with a great little figure.
But in spite of that, societal and family messages told me there was nothing more important than being thin. Specifically, they urged that I should try hard to be thinner.
I internalized those messages and so, like many others, I dieted.
Over and over again, from before age 15 to after age 50, I dieted in an attempt to be thinner.
For my entire adult life, until the age of 51, I was either on a diet, planning my next diet or hating myself for not being on a diet.
For years, I punished my body for wanting to eat. I thought I was weak-willed. I starved, limited and restricted myself – and I bullied myself whenever I failed.
And fail I did, because our bodies don’t want to diet; they want to eat! Food is fuel and survival, plus so much more. Food is love, comfort, familiarity and adventure.
The sadder I felt about not being a successful dieter and not being thinner, the more I wanted to eat.
The more weight I lost on a diet, the more I hated myself when I inevitably gained it all back afterward. And even after losing weight and getting thinner, I would almost always still feel fat.
This insane yo-yo cycle continued for more than 35 years. THIRTY FIVE YEARS!
Diet culture is the very definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
I am an intelligent and educated woman, but I spent 35+ years on the infuriating hamster wheel that is diet culture. Imagine all the time, energy and resources I wasted. I never needed even one diet, let alone more than three decades of them!
But let’s face it – all diets are ultimately the same. They all involve restricting food intake in order to lose weight. They all result in the body feeling as if it is starving and working desperately to get that weight back on again – usually resulting in us ending up heavier than we were at the start.
Right now, I’m sure someone is thinking “oh but she hasn’t tried X, Y or Z which isn’t a diet, it’s far better” and the answer to that is likely yes, I have (trust me – I’ve tried them all) and also that yes, X, Y and Z are still diets even if they say they are not.
The newest iteration of diet culture is to deny it’s a diet at all. Call it a lifestyle, functional wellness or whatever you like – but know that it’s still a diet. It’s still designed to restrict your eating and get you to lose weight. And your body does not want that!
I’m so glad I stopped fighting my body.
My last diet was a second attempt at the Optifast liquid diet made famous by Oprah in the 1980s. It’s still around and still being touted as a miracle weight loss program by “nutrition centers” around the US. It involves an extremely low-calorie diet of nutritional shakes and close medical supervision.
The Optifast diet just felt wrong to me. Oh sure, it “worked” and I lost weight, but the whole time it felt like I was doing something really bad to my body. There’s a reason they have to check your urine, heart and blood each week that you’re on Optifast. It’s because you’re harming your body by restricting food intake and calories that much. It felt wrong because it WAS wrong!
Looking back, it’s crazy to me that I felt desperate enough about losing weight that I was willing to literally starve myself.
Not only was I potentially hurting myself with that insane diet, I was also psychologically impacting my impressionable pre-teen child. During both of my Optifast diets, Xage asked me repeatedly, “Mommy, why are you doing this, it doesn’t seem healthy” and “Mommy, please won’t you go back to eating regular food again? You’ll be happier!”
That’s what finally woke me up and made me realize that there has to be a better way. I started reading about the anti-diet movement. I researched and read as much as I could to counteract the ever-present, lifelong societal push to diet and lose weight.
Finally, in the midst of the crazy year that was 2021, I decided to opt out of diet culture, listen to and learn from my body, and enjoy delicious food without guilt or regret. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
One of my greatest fears was that I’d ultimately end up gaining weight, getting fatter or treating my body poorly. On the contrary, my body feels better than it ever has. I eat beautiful dark green salads packed with veggies, and I eat burgers and fries. I eat fresh fruits and I eat chocolate.
I don’t limit or restrict myself. I eat whatever I want. I eat what makes my body, mind and spirit feel good. I simply do not worry about anything except what sounds good and what my body might need or want in the moment. No matter what.
Do you want to hear the craziest thing? It definitely took some time, but eventually, my brain and body started to chill out about food.
I had always been obsessive and compulsive about food and treats because of the constant restrictions I placed on myself. Once I let myself have it all, my cravings completely changed. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them cravings anymore – I’ll just get a feeling that I want a salad today, or I want something sweet, or I’d really like something protein-heavy like a steak.
I haven’t dieted or restricted my eating in any way since early 2021, other than when I had to fast for a colonoscopy. And as far as I can tell, I haven’t gained weight. I say that because I’m wearing the same clothes and when I buy clothes, I buy the same size as I have for the past couple of years (other than when I was restrictively dieting and “shrank” myself temporarily).
I don’t, however, weigh myself anymore because obsessively weighing myself was an insidious tool of diet culture so I’ve opted out of scales, too.
Here’s the thing. We know that mental health is health – meaning it’s just as important as our physical health. Dieting isn’t healthy, either for our minds or our bodies, because it causes eating disorders and because it causes weight to yoyo, ultimately resulting in weight gain, muscle loss, frustration and more.
So ultimately, I have helped both my mental health and my physical health by opting out of diets and diet culture. It’s a win-win. It took me an awfully long time to figure this out, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that it might be helpful.
I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if I had opted out of diet culture in my 20s instead of my 50s.
Are you still participating in diet culture, or have you decided to kick it to the curb? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or over on Instagram or Facebook.