Top 12 Things I have learned about diets in the past 30 years

Top 12 Things I have learned about diets in the past 30 years

I have waved the white flag on dieting.  Here is what I have learned the past 30 years of having a dysfunctional relationship with food and distorted body-image.

  1. Diets are designed to fail from the minute you start them. This is true because any sort of restrictive eating plan is not sustainable for life. Being on a diet should not supersede being an active participant in dinner parties, graduations, weddings, baby showers, visiting friends, travel, vacations, restaurants, or birthday parties. Food is an integral part of living and being a human being. We need it to survive. I can’t quit food like someone quits smoking, so I need to find a way to eat well and live at the same time.
  2. My eating plan is to enjoy life. Taking off the “eating training wheels” is scary, but I am not planning on becoming a glutton.
  3. I don’t “cheat.” When someone has a “cheat day” or “cheat meal” I internally cringe. If I eat something indulgent, then I’m eating something indulgent. It’s not as though the food has taken on qualities of being “bad” and seducing me into having an affair. I am not bad for eating something less healthy (or a “fun food”). I am human.
  4. Food is just food. Food is not meant to be personified. We talk about comfort food, but it’s kind of bonkers to rely on an inanimate object, which I consume, to help me deal with my emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I totally eat my feelings from time to time (especially right before my period) because it feels good. But then I remember it’s just food. Snacking on chips or a chocolate bar is not going to solve the problems I still need to face. Once my spoon hits the bottom of my ice cream bowl my problems are still waiting for me. It’s just food, not the solution to my angst or hormones.
  5. Working out does not equal weight loss. Eating well gets results. I’m all for cardiovascular conditioning, muscle tone, strength, feeling fit physically and mentally but I’m doing the math. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so 10 pounds = 35,000 calories. If I burn about 300 calories in an hour session (sweating with heartrate at “peak fat burning performance”), 10 pounds would translate to almost 117 hours or about 5 days of nonstop treadmill time. Nope, not gonna live on a treadmill to lose 10 pounds!
  6. If I want to be within normal body mass index (BMI), it’s easier to eat well and untangle my food dysfunction than sweat it out at the gym. Also, I’m always hungry after a gym workout, so this is a viscous and defeatist cycle.
  7. I move my body for fitness and feeling healthy, not weight loss. Losing weight may be a happy side effect of working out (more like a coincidence), but I genuinely enjoy riding my bike outside (not a spin class), walking in my neighborhood or taking a hike, and doing yoga because it feels good. Feeling good is the #1 reason I move my body. This is easier said than done though. It has taken me a long time to “consciously uncouple” (oh Gwyneth) exercise from weight loss.
  8. I wish I could eat like my kids do; I wish I could start my eating journey all over again. My kids savor their food and truly listen to their bodies to feel satisfied. They eat according to how their stomach feels (an excellent biofeedback mechanism we are all born with). Once they feel satisfied (NOT FULL), they stop. I do not force them to finish their meals because they don’t need to be a part of the clean plate club.  This would introduce the wrong eating message altogether: “finish it although you are not hungry for it.” Instead, I save their plate for when they are hungry later.
  9. I’m relearning how to eat as I should have from infancy. At some point, like many of us, I stopped listening to my natural hunger cues. As a youngster, I would see something chocolatey and delicious and I would eat the whole thing in one sitting, whether I was hungry or not. I knew if I didn’t finish it all then, it would get eaten by someone else. At some point I stopped really tasting the food. I was just going through the motions of hand to mouth, bite, chew and swallow. So engrained in my mind was the fear of not having it later, I hid my treats like it was prison contraband.
  10. My kids eat dessert, but stop eating sweets and treats when they feel satisfied. It took one of my daughters nearly a week to eat a doughnut (my husband ate the last bit and my daughter asked where her doughnut was the following week because she wanted to finish it). Seriously.
  11. Weight Watchers taught me about nutrition, but it’s not a plan I can do for life. Weight Watchers is another form of counting calories and self-imposed restriction (ahem diet). On Weight Watchers, my life revolved around weigh-in day. The mental anguish and emotional roller coaster I went on every week was intolerable. What I ate changed according to how close or how far away from weigh-in day I was. I have 6 days until I step on the scale? Yes, I’ll have a piece of cake (20 points). Weigh-in day tomorrow? Nope, pass the fruit (0 points). Did I even ask myself if I was actually hungry? It encourages warped thinking and I wanted off the roller coaster. Yet, I give total credit to Weight Watchers for giving me the healthy food habits and foundation to recognize what’s a healthier option and how to cook with flavor without just adding butter and cheese.
  12. I have read Intuitive Eating more than once, and I’ve listened to the sound recording. IT. JUST. MAKES. SENSE. My kids are intuitive eaters, which means they listen to what their bodies want, eat when they are hungry and stop when they are sated. It’s how we’re all born, but something has gone array. Listening to your body seems like a wacky concept. Instead, we perennially look to outside sources to tell us what to put into our mouths. Who’s wacky now? After so many years of telling my inner voice to keep quiet and just eat the raw veggies, it is a leap of faith to trust myself. Listen to what your body is actually telling you. I have reconnected with my basic feelings of hunger and satisfaction. It is novel, but also the most basic instinct straight out of the womb (the first thing a baby does is nurse). Who else can you count on to tell you how you feel, if not you?
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