I’ve been a ‘dieter’ for as long as I can remember. I think my unhealthy relationship with food started in my mid-teens when I started to become aware of how thin my favourite pop stars and tv/movie stars were. I certainly didn’t have a problem with my weight back then but that was when my unhealthy relationship with body image, food and diet started.
When I left home to move in with my boyfriend in my late teens I wasn’t much in to cooking and neither was he so we lived on a diet of mainly takeaway – pizzas and burgers mostly with the occasional kebab or Chinese thrown in for good measure. The thing is I was so happy and contented that I didn’t even notice the pounds piling on to start with but by the time we got married two years later I was a size 14 and very conscious of how big I was compared to that skinny size eight 15 year old who thought she was fat.
After our honeymoon I joined my first weight loss club – Slimming World – with my Mum who was already a member and so began a 20+ year obsession with losing weight. Back then, in my early 20’s losing weight was actually easy. I still remember my first weigh in – I lost 5lbs and I felt a sense of pride and achievement that would continue every time I got on the scales and had lost weight, compared to a sense of shame and disappointment that I would feel every time I got on the scales and had gained weight. After a few months at that Slimming World club I easily lost a couple of stone and could fit back in to size 10 jeans so I stopped going. It didn’t even occur to me that my weight loss at that point was temporary. When I stopped going to the Slimming World class I stopped eating the Slimming World way and of course within a few months I had regained all of the weight I had lost plus a bit more, so off I went again to a different Slimming World class to lose the weight again.
Throughout my twenties and early thirties losing and regaining weight was just something I did. I was an emotional eater and would seek comfort in food if I was sad, angry, procrastinating, or even just bored. I was either on a diet, needing to go on a diet, or worrying about when I would need to go on a diet again. I mainly alternated between Slimming World and Weight Watchers, although I had the most success with Weight Watchers over the years. When I would stop a weight loss class – when I had reached a weight I was happy with – I would slowly stop eating the way that club encouraged but over the years I realised that would mean the weight would go back on, and always with a few more pounds, so I would start to eat less and less and deprive myself of foods I enjoyed, or even ban whole food groups altogether. At one point in my thirties I found I could keep the weight off if I consumed laxatives after every evening meal. Looking back that was a real low point and something I’m not proud of, but it’s more common than you would think. I’ve spoken to several women over the last couple of years who did the same – either to lose weight, or help them maintain a weight loss.
You see the thing is, although Slimming World, Weight Watchers, SlimFast, Atkins and most other diets work if you want to lose weight what none of them addresses is why you gained the weight in the first place and none of them teaches you to have a healthy relationship with food. It simply isn’t in their interest to do that – you are worth far more money to them as a yoyo dieter, never mind the damage that is doing to your physical and mental health.
I just want to take a moment at this point to say that if you are reading this and identifying with my story because you are currently stuck in the constant cycle of yoyo dieting, don’t beat yourself up. You aren’t doing anything wrong – in fact you are strong, determined and awesome for keeping on trying – you’re just stuck in a broken system, created by the diet industry to make money. But there is a way out I promise you. Please keep reading.
So what happened to me then?
Well, as I got in to my late thirties I started to find it harder to lose weight. I remember re-joining Slimming World for the umpteenth time when I was 37 or 38 and only losing half a pound in my first week. It was still a loss, sure, but I’d deprived myself of everything I wanted that week and instead of feeling the sense of pride and achievement that I had once felt at losing weight I felt only disappointment and despair. I knew I needed to get off of this dieting merry-go-round, but I didn’t know how and I actually stayed stuck on it at that point for another couple of years before I started to see a way clear.
The idea first came to me because of what I thought was a ridiculous article in the news about the amount of sugar and calories in coffee. Not just regular coffee – but lattes, cappuccinos and the frozen drinks that you get in Starbucks, Costa and the like. There was this sort of outrage in this article that these drinks contained so much sugar and so many calories, but I just thought to myself ‘how silly, that’s obvious.’
What was interesting though was when I spoke to friends and family about it, to them it wasn’t obvious. They were drinks – drinks didn’t really contain that many calories did they?
That was when I realised my years of dieting and food obsession hadn’t been all for nothing and I had actually learnt quite a lot. I started thinking then about what I needed to do to learn more so that I could break the cycle of yoyo dieting and get to a point of being happy with who I was without needing to go on a diet. I spoke to my husband about it and decided to take a course on nutrition. I thought that by educating myself on what my body needs it might help me live a life that was free of diets.
I passed my Level 3 Nutrition Advisor course with a distinction and got that same sense of pride and achievement that I used to get by stepping on the scales and losing weight, but as I had completed the course whilst working full time I mainly studied in the evenings on weekends and I had used food, mainly sugar, to keep me awake and get me through it and I was now bigger than I had ever been!
I used my new found skills with nutrition to create a healthy eating plan which I was very careful not to label as a diet. My ultimate goal at that time was still to lose weight, but my focus was on eating a healthy and balanced diet. The weight certainly didn’t come off quickly, but it did come off and the sense of achievement at doing that by myself was greater than at any time in the past losing weight at a weight loss class because I felt that I had lost weight without going on a diet.
So if this were a Hollywood movie then the credits would roll now right? I had achieved my goal, my dream. I had dropped the dieting yoyo and lost weight in a healthy sustained way without going on a diet, so I was cured.
Was I cured?
Nope – hold the credits, I’m not done yet!
You see years and years of dieting culture doesn’t leave you that easily, even if you educate yourself on how to eat healthily. There is still a pressure to be thin – even if it is a self-imposed pressure! So I lost the weight and felt great, but then the fear started to creep in. How long would it be before I regained the weight again? Should I throw away my fat clothes or would I need them in a few months? I fell back in to old habits – I would skip meals to help keep the weight off, tell myself high fat, sugary foods were the devil and ban myself from eating them, or punish myself by not eating dinner if I did indulge. The sad thing is that when you start to treat your body this way it goes in to self-preservation mode. It doesn’t know when its next lot of calories are coming so it holds on to everything you eat.
I regained the weight. Again!
I was at diet rock bottom when I read something about mindful eating that caught my attention. I started researching the subject and then trying to incorporate mindful eating in to my life.
If you don’t know what mindful eating is then let me help you out with that because if you’ve read this far and have a story that is anything like mine then you need to know this!
Mindful eating is NOT a diet. Mindful eating is an approach that focuses on your awareness of the food. Using mindfulness helps you to acknowledge and manage your emotions and physical sensations and reach a state of awareness to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating.
For me mindful eating means making time to eat (not eating on the run), it means eating more slowly so that my brain has a chance to tell my stomach it’s had enough, it means giving myself permission to leave food on my plate when I’ve had enough, it means enjoying food, enjoying eating and being full present while I do so.
Using my nutrition knowledge and new found understanding of mindful eating I started losing weight again but I felt different this time. I felt like I had discovered something new with mindful eating and I was on a mission to learn everything I could about it. In my research I started coming across the term ‘intuitive eating’. At first I just thought intuitive eating was just another term for mindful eating and I was already becoming confident and knowledgeable about what that was, but then when I actually looked up the term ‘intuitive eating’ I discovered a whole new world. The anti-diet approach, body acceptance, self-love, gentle nutrition. I had started to get there on my own, but when I finally found and read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche – the original intuitive eating pros – it joined all the dots for me.
You could roll the credits now, but please don’t. You see I am still on my journey. I’m still learning, still mastering the skills of intuitive eating. Some days I do great and other days I am tempted to skip breakfast because I ate pizza for dinner – and that’s okay. I will get there in my own time, and for the first time in my adult life I am confident of that and happy about it!
So that is my journey to diet enlightenment. I’ve been talking about writing it down for ages as I’m sure there must be other people on a similar path that it could help. Ultimately everyone has to get there on their own, but I hope if you’ve made it to here that my story might help you get there a bit quicker than I did and that maybe you won’t spend twenty years unhappy with who you are and that you can’t lose weight or keep it off.
I’m surprised at how cathartic the process of telling my story has been. It is personal and private and I didn’t feel ready to do it until now, but now that I’ve started I’ll try and write some more over the next few weeks about my journey with intuitive eating and how I now know I am finally free from dieting for good.
Thank you for reading.