I want to tell you my diet story to give you some context for why I am such a supporter of Health at Every Size®. I’ve met enough people now to know that my story, while not completely typical, is also not that unique among people who have lost or attempted to lose weight.
I walked into my first Weight Watchers meeting at age 22. I’d never officially dieted before, though occasionally I casually ate the way I thought a dieting person should, giving up or eating more of this food or that but never with much conviction. Now and again I’d furiously do leg lifts or aerobic workouts and once I did so many squats I strained my quads bad enough that I couldn’t sit or stand without help for a week. But I never really dieted officially and I had never lost any weight. I was a chubby girl, but at the time I definitely thought of myself as fat. Sometimes even too fat.
When I joined Weight Watchers, I didn’t have the greatest of diet habits, the origins of which I’ve discussed here. I overate often, I ate when I was bored or anxious or sad or happy, I ate large quantities of very rich food when I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t have a clue what hungry or satisfied meant in terms of eating. I was gaining weight and outgrowing all my clothes rapidly. Most importantly, there was a lot of turmoil in my life at the time: my mother was dying, I was unemployed, and I still felt utterly lost in adulthood two years after college. I kinda just needed something to make me feel better. Weight Watchers, I thought, could be the answer.
Within 6 months, I had lost 30 pounds nearly effortlessly. It had felt so easy. I know now my experience truly wasn’t typical of most dieters. I was eating better, that’s certain. For the first time in my life I was giving myself structured, regular meals, eating more vegetables, cooking for myself and not overeating to bursting after each meal. Basically, it was what we like to think of as “good nutrition.” On top of all that, I had found something in my life I felt I could control while everything else seemed to spin wildly out of control.
I believe now that I lost the weight so easily because I started out with such a dysfunctional, disordered way of overeating. I sometimes speculate that had I been given some basic nutrition guidelines, a few recipes and taught to eat intuitively, I might have lost weight anyway. It’s not a useful speculation now but one I engage in ruefully now and again. I kept the weight off for 8 years without too much work.
Here’s the problem: even though I developed some good nutrition habits, I also learned to be a dieter. I learned that restriction, no matter how easy, was what got me results. Even though I mostly ate foods I wanted to, I still felt guilty about many of them. Even as I hadn’t needed to diet very rigorously, I felt dieting was my way of life. I didn’t know I was one of the very few people who lose weight by dieting and are able to keep it off longer than 5 years so I became the biggest advocate of weight loss dieting I knew.
Eventually I decided that after 8 years of maintaining a steady weight without too much effort (but always with a diet mindset), it was time to finally lose “those last 10 pounds.” I had become, once again, dissatisfied with the way I looked, even though I looked exactly the way after my initial weight loss. Somehow, though, my body just wasn’t right. That’s what dieting teaches us: our bodies are wrong and they can be fixed by changing size. The action needed was obvious: more dieting. I was always good at losing weight, I thought. How should anything be different this time? I’ll just be really serious about it now.
Diet I did. I rejoined Weight Watchers. Here’s where my results do become typical. Within six months, my eating became extremely disordered as I pushed my body to new limits. I eventually developed binge-eating tendencies after such severe restriction. I simultaneously lusted after food and feared it. I became preoccupied with thoughts of food 24/7. I was unhappy all the time, with what I couldn’t eat and with my body’s resistance to losing a measly 10 pounds. Worst of all, I couldn’t maintain this “lifestyle” at all. I struggled for 3 years but eventually regained the 10 pounds and a lot more in the years to come.
My dieting started out easily and innocently. But dieting and the goal of weight loss makes what we are never enough. It makes food more than it needs to be. I wish I had known about HAES® and Intuitive Eating at age 22. My guess is that I would have lost some weight but most importantly I would have kept my self-esteem intact while still learning some good eating habits and self care. I would have learned that good nutrition is eating well AND enjoying food AND loving myself.
It’s okay because that’s how it is for me now. If you’ve struggled with diets like I have, I hope you know this is how it can be for you too.