One Year of Not Dieting

In December, 2012, I made a New Year’s resolution to stop dieting. Forever. I’m proud to say that I have kept my resolution and for the first time in my adult life, I have gone a whole year without tracking a single Weight Watchers point. Why? Because dieting does not work for me.

Each time I committed to dieting I would lose weight and then, whenever I needed to focus my energy on other goals (like grad school) or went through a stressful time, I would gain it all back plus more for good measure. In addition to my personal experience, I have been reading a lot about the science of weight-loss and finding that it’s really not so simple as “calories in, calories out.” I could go into more depth about the research and what I believe, but that’s for another post. For now, I’ll share that it is my belief that thanks to dieting, I weigh much more than I would have had I just left my body alone.

Here are some reflections after a full year of not dieting:

Image1. Fat talk is everywhere. People who are concerned and self-conscious about their eating habits (read: most people) insist on ruining every meal you have together by exclaiming how unhealthy the food is or reassuring you that they never eat like this at home, etc. etc. At first it was hard to stop fat talking, but now – a year after breaking the habit – I find it profoundly annoying and intrusive because I’m still expected to join in. What I choose to eat at any given time is none of your business. I don’t need to justify or explain my choices to anyone, and I certainly don’t need to apologize for my choices.

My decision to stop dieting was, in some ways, a promise to stop judging myself every time I ate some food. But thanks to all the fat talk everywhere, I became hyper aware of how much everyone else is judging themselves or others based on the food they eat. If you are trying to retrain your brain not to associate these negative judgments with food, it’s really annoying to hear everyone else do it constantly. It starts to feel like everyone’s out to sabotage you – or at least your next meal.

2. Real food tastes amazing. Have you tried non-diet yogurt lately? Or coffee with milk and actual sugar? Holy crap. Turns out, food doesn’t have to taste like a chemical sundae. The other day I was eating a big, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie that was given to me at a work training. And believe it or not, I couldn’t even finish it. Can you remember a time when you were not able to finish a diet cookie? Those things are about as filling as a celery stick and they taste like cardboard. And even though they taste like cardboard, you end up eating the whole box anyway because you’re so hungry and it’s either the cookies or a salad, but you’re so goddamned sick of salads and your bowels are a wreck because Weight Watchers prizes foods high in fiber and apparently the secret to weight loss is pooping all the damned time. So basically, you’re sitting there, choking down cardboard cookies, mentally exhausted from decision fatigue over whether or not to eat the cookies, feeling like a total failure because you ate the cookies, and wondering if anything makes any goddamn sense in this world anymore.

Dieting! Huzzah!

3. I am finally learning how to cook. I was never that interested in learning to cook, and dieting made cooking really simple to avoid. After all, it is much easier to buy pre-made, processed foods with the nutrition facts and portion sizes clearly labeled than it is to cook a dish and figure out how many Weight Watchers points it is if you used 3 sprays of non-fat cooking spray and substitute non-fat greek yogurt for everything else that might possibly contain fat and my god how does this bland, sorry excuse for food add up to 16 points per serving when there are no goddamned calories in it?

You know what I did instead of cooking? I ate Lean Pockets. Lean Pockets. If anyone wants to know the deep, dark truth about how low dieting can bring you, just tell them “I know someone who actually ate Lean Pockets.” Now that I’m not dieting and focusing on other healthy goals (like not eating so many chemicals) I am learning to cook. So far this year, I have learned to cook African sweet potato peanut stew, chicken marbella, stuffed tomatoes, mini Greek-style meatloaves with arugula salad, brussel sprout breakfast hash, sweet potato spinach mac and cheese, black bean enchiladas, escarole and orzo soup with turkey meatballs, and more! And even though most of these dishes didn’t turn out perfect and I had to do a lot more cleaning up, every single one was better than a fucking Lean Pocket.

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Yep. I made this.

I’m beginning to be able to eat more intuitively. I used to be just like Louis CK.

the-meal-is-over-when-i-hate-myself

Party food was the worst; if there was a bowl of chips or tray of mini quiches in the room, those savory treats would just not leave me alone. I’d be thinking about how many I could have, and once I’d had those, how many more I could have, and when I could have them again. Now, I am much less obsessive about food at parties. I have some if I want some – and more importantly, I know that I can have them if I want them. Now, I can actually stop when I don’t want them anymore. I actually don’t want them sometimes! It doesn’t sounds like a big change, but it feels super different. It’s like I’ve been granted a restraining order and I am no longer being harassed by bowls of chips.

Of course, this is a slow and gradual process. I still overeat sometimes, by accident and also not by accident. Still, I have started to be more in tune with how food makes my body feel. I’ve realized and accepted the fact that certain foods make me feel bad and other foods make me feel good. That may sound obvious, but while dieting my stomach was always off (so much fiber, why???) and so I focused on ignoring my body’s signals, cravings, and reactions rather than listening to them. Until recently, I didn’t know that mozzarella cheese turned my stomach or that big servings of meat made me feel gross. I knew what full felt like, but I didn’t really know what “satisfied” felt like. I never felt satisfied when I was dieting because I was never satisfied. How can you feel satisfied when you’re eating weird, calorie-free versions of food instead of actual food? Now that I can recognize satisfied, and enjoy that feeling, it’s easier to stop.

5. I haven’t lost weight. Yet. I won’t lie. I was really hoping that after I stopped dieting, my body would revert back to whatever it “naturally” would have weighed. That didn’t happen. Let’s be real. After years of dieting, the initial freedom to eat all the things was so novel and exciting that I definitely ate all the things. Unsurprisingly, I gained a little bit. (I stopped weighing myself when I stopped dieting so I am blissfully ignorant of the numbers.) This part has been hard and disappointing. But after more reading and reflection and discussion with health professionals, I’ve been reassured that this takes time. Longer than one year. After all, I’m just beginning to eat intuitively. I’ve also started working on my relationship with exercise – something just as complicated as my relationship with food. It’s a process, and I’m still at the beginning of that process.

I do have hope that as I develop new, healthier relationships with food and exercise, my body will respond accordingly. In the meantime, I’m working on my body image. I’m learning to let go of the idea that being thin will make me happier or my life better. I am accepting the fact that I will never be a size 4, and exploring the possibilities of being happy, fit, and confident with my body as it is.

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After a year of not dieting, I am confident that I’ve made the right choice. I feel healthier in body, mind, and spirit. I’m excited to discover where another year of not dieting will take me. And most of all, I’m grateful to finally be in touch with my body.

As it happens, my body is exhausted and telling me to just post this already and go to sleep. And I’m going to listen to it.

*** Edit ***
I made these. Enjoy.

Weight Watchers 1

Weight Watchers 2

17 thoughts on “One Year of Not Dieting

  1. This post rang so true for me, it’s a little hard for me to believe that you didn’t hack my brain to write it. Except that I’ve been scared to totally swear off dieting or other eating plans. Thanks to your post – I’m gonna do it!

    • DO IT!

      It has been hard, and I certainly have moments of self-doubt. Basically every time I see a photo of myself I don’t like, my brain instantly jumps to “I need to start dieting” and then I have to talk myself out of it, again. It’s tough, but it helps to remember how crazy dieting makes you (e.g. the box of cardboard cookies example) and remind yourself how great it feels to NOT think about food 24/7. It’s nothing short of freedom.

      Good luck!

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  4. Your are a rock star. And the more comfortable you get with cooking, the more fun you’ll have with it. Isn’t real food amazing?! Listen to your own tastes; you hold so much wisdom in your own body.

  5. Hi! Just discovered your blog. Really loving the posts! This could be me writing this exact same story. Did Weight Watchers for years and lost weight, gained it back, lost again, gained back more. My happiness fluctuated based on what that damn scale said every week. I had a terrible relationship with food. I based my self worth on whether I could be “On Points” each week or not. If I was eating healthy I felt I was a good person, and the minute I put “bad food” in my mouth I was ashamed and felt lousy and worthless.

    I also drank alcohol to numb my shame around food and my weight. When I drank, for a few hours I didn’t care what I ate. I could for once enjoy a plate of nachos or french fries and really enjoy it without feeling hatred toward myself for failing at my goals. Until the next day, when I would feel worse than ever. This cycle continued for years. Drinking, weight gain, hatred, shame, weight loss, shame, hatred, drinking. It took me a long time to realize my weight was the problem.

    Two months ago I decided to stop giving a shit and worrying about what I ate all of the time. In the past I would try to eat the smallest amount at every meal. Now I eat larger meals, enough to feel satisfied but not full. I eat carbs and fruit and whole milk dairy. If I want to eat an ice cream bar, I eat it and I don’t feel like a failure afterwards. I am beginning to see food as food. Something to enjoy and not to torture myself with. I’ve also stopped drinking alcohol except for special occasions because I don’t need it to hide from my shame.

    And I stopped weighing myself. I may weight 160, I may weigh 140. But I refuse to let that number decide my worthiness.

    This shit is hard. It’s painful. Sometimes I catch myself criticizing my body when I look in the mirror, analyzing all its flaws. But it happens less and less. Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring others to free themselves from dieting and shame.

  6. This is a refreshing read! After years of complying with the food police a few weeks ago I decided to ban from my house the spreads (I don’t think they even qualify as margarine, how bad is that?) which are meant to reduce cholesterol absorption. I agree with you, real food is where its at. Entertaining and informative post, thank-you.

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  8. I just stumbled across your blog. I know this post is a year old, but it’s so inspiring to me! I think fat shaming does way more harm than good. I have just statted working on eating healthy without buying into the processed “health food” crap. It’s amazing finding people in the blogosphere who feel like I do! You are much further on your journey to self-acceptance than me, I hope some day I can be as confident and amazing as you!

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  10. Hi Leah,

    My merry-go-round, yo-yo dieting hindering my life for more than 25 years and I’m proud to say that non-existence died on October 31, 2014.

    So far my new life free of self persecution and ridicule, devoid of food scales and body scales, and bereft of low fat, no fat, no sugar, low salt, non-flavored cardboard food substitutes has been an absolute breath of fresh air – or perhaps I should say – a journey of gastronomy gourmet greatness.

    For the first time that I can remember, I am only eating three meals a day and I don’t know what I weigh and I don’t care.

    Thank you for sharing your story, I thought I was reading about myself.

    Clare

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