I spent the majority of my adult life dieting and thinking I had to be thinner to be worthy.
I equated skinny with being liked and accepted by others.
I believed that-
Men liked thinner women.
Women liked being friends with pretty, small women.
I'd get a job if I fit the mold.
All of these beliefs (and many more) came from what society has told us is acceptable. BUT WHY?
Why can't any body be acceptable?
Why can't women be friends with all versions of bodies?
Why can't I get a good job in any body size?
Why does body shape and size dictate so much about a person?
It's because society has attached so much shame to being in a larger body that it's become appalling to the public when they see someone in a larger body. Yet corporations and industries continue to fuel the very things that have made people 'overweight' in the first place.
Call me crazy but it sounds like the money hungry industries are working to keep us in a continual loop of
overeating crap food that causes weight gain,
that causes self-hatred,
that leads to dieting,
that leads to deprivation,
that leads to restriction,
that causes unhappiness,
which causes mental fatigue and burn out,
which leads to us feeling like failures, giving up and overeating crap food AGAIN to give us a dopamine hit that only lasts for mere moments before we realize we are stuck in the yo-yo diet loop from hell.
I'm exhausting just typing that.
I've been down the extreme diet road and I'm not just saying that to sound intense. I struggled with bulimia/binge eating disorder for roughly 6 years in my 20s. I can recall so many sleepless nights from extreme bloating, tears from stuffing my face with food I told myself I wasn't allowed to have, telling myself tomorrow would be a better day and that I would 'start my diet' tomorrow. I was almost sent to a treatment center but I refused to go. I was able to recover when I finally moved out of my parents house and found sanctuary in my own space where I could control things better because that's what I needed at that time.
Once I was recovered for over a year, I decided to compete in bodybuilding in the bikini division. I was already small so I didn't think I'd need to lose too much more weight, but I was naïve to think that.
I dropped so much weight which was necessary for the sport but completely unhealthy for my body.
I was tired all the time,
I couldn't think straight,
my emotions were all over the place,
I was hungry all the time,
I couldn't sleep but I also didn't want to get out of bed,
my hair was thinning,
my nails were brittle,
everything was heavy to carry,
my sex drive and my cycle was gone,
and my relationships suffered.
Everything I just described is what happens during starvation; and that's what dieting is, extreme or not. It's slow and controlled (ish) starvation. You're essentially working against your body's metabolic defenses which are in place to keep you in a safe, well-fed state in order to avoid famine.
Dieting causes your metabolism to down-regulate to adapt to the lower energy intake and higher energy demand, which is actually a really good thing but doesn't make dieting or weight loss easy for you. This is why a lot of people who have been chronic dieters are shocked when they can't lose weight because they're already eating next to nothing... But the topic of metabolism adaptation and reverse dieting I'll save for another time...
Back to my dieting story...
I had to recover from competing . There were two ways to do this-
slow and controlled reverse dieting or quick and out of control.
My body told me it needed to gain fat QUICK because unlike popular opinions about body fat, it's actually essential for maintaining a healthy, functioning body and restoring everything I had lost (especially a lost menstrual cycle).
So, I ate food and I did overeat frequently.
And I gained all my weight back plus 20 pounds and I was miserable in MY body.
My body didn't know when it was hungry or when it was full; it didn't know how to tell me to stop eating or when it should start eating; my hormones were a mess and I felt so disconnected from my body and my intuition.
It was so hard going from one extreme to the other in a matter of months.
DISCLAIMER: I am fully aware that I was by no means in a marginalized body as a result of my weight gain but it was uncomfortable for ME especially gaining 40+ pounds in roughly 4 months. So, this is my personal experience and not meant to be compared to someone else's. ... My body was scared and it was trying to recover and get itself in a safe place again. It was scared of famine , it was worried I was going to starve again.
So, it did the only thing it could to protect me and get me back to a safe place where it could function like a female body is supposed to, and that was weight gain. I stayed 'stuck' in this position for over a year. My hormones took so long to regulate and my gut was wrecked from chronic dieting followed by a period of overeating.
I do not consider this a relapse into my eating disorder (ED) because this was something completely different. While it may have looked the same to an outsider, my body was begging for nutrients and vitality whereas back in my ED days it wasn't.
It took me about a year and half to two years to recover and that included: allowing my body to gain weight. lots of rest. less time in the gym. low intensity cardio and lifting. sometimes weeks without any workouts and only walking. a complete gut detox with an integrative health practitioner. prioritizing sleep and nutrient dense, low inflammatory foods. absolutely no attempts to diet or lose weight. switched to natural skincare and make up products (hello Beauty By Earth) eliminated gluten and dairy for the most part. Recovery from dieting DOES NOT happen in a few weeks or a few months. Depending on how long you've been yo-yo dieting or if you need recovery from competing like I did, it can take more than a year, sometimes double the time you spent dieting. But eventually... My body started leveling out and finding it's new safe place.
Now, I get it, many people don't go on such a severe and extreme diet as I did for competitive bodybuilding but many people DO diet, and some can experience similar issues depending on how long and how hard the diet it. My question is, why do people diet? Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the quickest response to that question is, to lose weight and look better. The problem with that response is that it's orchestrated by diet culture and societies obsession with the thin ideal. Can you imagine what your life would be like and how healthy you'd look if you NEVER DIETED EVER IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE?! honestly, it's insane to think about. People are usually excited at first then miserable trying to get down to a body weight and/or shape that doesn't work for them AND It doesn't work for them because their body isn't meant or designed to be that way. So as soon as the diet is over, as soon as you've mentally had enough, the body works to restore itself to it's most functional and most optimal place. This usually means weight-regain and a pissed-off you. This is the definition of yo-yo dieting and it's not healthy for your mind or your body. It messes with optimal hormone production, it alters your hunger and fullness signals, and it makes you think you're broken.
Is there a way to diet in a healthy way?
I know people in the anti-diet space will say NO and that its unethical to utilize diets for weight loss as there is plenty of research showing that diets don't work and the rebound/weight-regain/weight cycling is more harmful than the diet itself.
But I think this argument only considers mainstream diets like Keto, Atkins/low-carb, Beachbody, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc. and fails to consider and account for the benefits of reverse dieting, restoring metabolic resiliency, and what nutrition education can do for body re-composition and physique goals under the guidance of a nutrition professional who can monitor individual risk for developing disordered eating. As a Registered Dietitian, I utilize Medical Nutrition Therapy with patients and with clients to help the body achieve nutritional stability and balance.
This is what I do with my clients and what I did with myself after all these years:
restore metabolic resiliency
help you achieve your wellness goals
provide nutrition education so you know how YOUR body works
ultimately teach you how to eat intuitively, how to listen to your body, how to find the right movement
So you can reach a body that works for you and not against you.
So you can attend all events without anxiety and have food freedom.
So you can be the best version of yourself and enjoy life rather than hide from it.