The following 1000 words in a nutshell: Diets don’t work! You will never achieve lifelong weight loss by following a diet. Boom.
I learned this the hard way. I was a very skinny kid who ruined my naturally thin state through dieting. A late bloomer, I was under 100 lbs until 11th grade. I was a ballet dancer and started restricting food mostly because that’s what dancers were expected to do back then. Puberty hit at 16, 17 and I began to fill out a bit. I was still a slender 110 lbs but at the same height I thought I should get back to that prepubescent weight, thus the horrid diet cycle began. Restrict calories until you can’t take it anymore then have a blow out binge. Repeat.
This continued through college and my 20’s and even into my 30’s. I was always on the cycle of getting really excited about a diet, you name it, Atkins, Cabbage Soup diet, going vegan or the Master Cleanse. I’d buy the book, make lists, get organized, do a big grocery shop of all the foods I was allowed to eat swinging ridiculously from bacon, hamburger meat, butter and heavy cream to sprouts and tempeh then just lemon juice for 10 days!
For the first week I’d be pumped. I’d see a difference, lose a few pounds, feel good about myself and get compliments. Then by week two or three I’d get bored, grouchy and itchy to eat something I wasn’t allowed and I’d fall hard off the diet wagon into a vat of cookie dough and ice cream. I’d gain all the lost weight back and go into a hole for a couple weeks until I could pull myself out, dust myself off, get a new book, a new list, new approved groceries. I started dieting at about 110 lbs, I’d get below that, achieve the goal but then fall off the wagon, gain the weight back and then some to 115, then 120. Repeat, repeat, repeat until I hit an all time high of 145 lbs when I was 28 years old!
In 2010 in preparation for my wedding day, I was desperately trying to get to my goal weight of 125. I was going hard core Atkins. Zero carbs. I’d follow the diet perfectly but then have a wedding shower, bridesmaid luncheon and bachelorette party and fall off the wagon. By the skin of my teeth I got to 126 but with all the pre-wedding partying in Mexico I got married at close to 130. Oh well, I was still so happy.
When I got pregnant the next year I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, whatever satisfied me. I thought “I’m going to get fat anyway so why not just let myself be free and happy?” Sometimes it would be cold apples I craved, other times it would be Taco Bell. I didn’t judge. I gained a normal 30-ish pounds. After baby Shepard came out I kept eating whatever I wanted while breastfeeding, justifying that I needed extra fat to keep up with the demand of all day, all night feedings. I intended to get back on the diet train as soon as I could.
Then something miraculous happened. The thirty or so pounds I had gained disappeared, plus some to an easy, naturally slim weight and has stayed there ever since. I repeated the same cycle during my second pregnancy, only eating what I wanted. I gained about thirty again and after Pippa was born my weight naturally floated down. I was just as surprised as you are. I went to my doctor thinking I had some sort of thyroid problem making me thin. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened.
1) I was finally eating intuitively again – like I did when I was a skinny kid. I learned I’m actually a pretty moderate eater. If you take the power away from food by knowing there is nothing off limits, no forbidden foods. See what happens. If you truly give yourself permission to eat whatever you really want – a pile of donuts or that vat of cookie dough. You may do it for a few days. You’ll feel gross and eventually your body will tell you it wants broccoli. I’m serious. Try it.
2) My top priority became making myself happy. That may sound very selfish but I believe the opposite. All parts of the Renshaw ecosystem work better if I am well rested, well fed, balanced and content. My kids are still number one but my own needs are right up there at the top and I don’t feel bad saying so.
See, if I’m happy I don’t need to use food to soothe myself. I don’t eat because I hate my job or who I’m dating or my circumstances. It’s taken a long time but I am happy in my life. It’s obviously not perfect but that is A Okay. I always wanted to have a family. I now have the home life and work life I always dreamed of and that is reflected in my weight. I take a nap every day. I walk my kids to school. I bike to work and I love my work. All of this adds up to not needing food to make me happy.
It’s been five years and I am now a die hard anti-dieter. I know dieting only breeds deprivation, self doubt and misery leading to binge behavior and ultimately weight gain. Yes, you will lose a few pounds but one slip up would send me into a bag of chips and a dozen donuts. It’s crazy. I don’t even like donuts! I never behave that way anymore because I know I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.
Now I eat food that deeply satisfies me. You’ll never catch me with anything skim, reduced or fat-free. I haven’t eaten so much fat in the form of butter, half and half, even heavy cream since I was a little kid. I used to hover between 135-140lbs (my highest weight being 145) and now without doing a thing I’m between 115-120. Fat does not make you fat! Now I don’t have a wagon to fall off. I eat what I want. Being slim is not about food.
Here’s 5 Tips to Staying Slim:
1. Really listen to what your body is telling you. Let your body get hungry! Often you will want vegetables – I swear!
2. Cook more! Let yourself eat whatever you want, even junk food as long as you cook it yourself from scratch. Like Michael Pollen writes “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The most important part being “Eat food,” real food. Rid your home of the processed stuff.
3. Eat Fat for Godsakes! You’ll feel fuller longer. And c’mon, no one actually likes skim milk or fat free cheese.
4. Be a mover and shaker. Walk to the grocery store, take the stairs whenever you can, sweep leaves in the yard, leave the car in the driveway! Weave movement into your day, all day long.
*5. Make yourself happy in your life. Are you satisfied in your career, relationships, creative pursuits, your home? Deal with all that and your ideal weight will follow. Staying slim is not about food. As humans we are so lucky to have so many delicious food options. Food should be something to look forward to, to tarry and delight in. Life’s too short to be on a diet.
Read on in the next post about the book The Thin Woman’s Brain by Dilia Suriel. It really got me thinking!