Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Breaking Free of Dieting

I'm going to rant here a bit. I may say some stuff that might challenge some people's beliefs. You don't HAVE to buy into my beliefs if you don't want to. But I want to at least present a different way of thinking to consider, a step outside the paradigm. Consider it and really think about it. If you think it's totally wrong then, okay! Maybe this is not for you, maybe this is only for me.

But I believe with all my heart that the cycle of yo-yo dieting, of losing and regaining weight plus a little bit more, of doing it over and over again through the years, of having to "graduate" to more and more radical diets/drugs/surgical interventions over time to try to lose that weight is tremendously destructive and unhealthy. For some people I think it becomes almost like an addiction. However, it's difficult for people to step back and see the emotional patterns of the dieting addiction, it's so ingrained. If you look and consider seriously and disregard, that's okay. But take some time and do some serious soul-searching and questioning first.

The diet/binge cycle is so poisonous to your soul. You feel crappy about yourself so you go diet. You feel great while you start, you feel really great when you lose, you get frustrated as the loss plateaus and won't budge, you get pissed and depressed as the weight loss ends and starts regaining, you feel deprived of all the foods you miss that everyone else can have, then at some point you end the diet and give up. Perhaps you binge on the forbidden foods, perhaps you don't. Either way, you feel crappy about yourself, you eventually regain lots of weight, you may give up exercising, you feel worse and worse about yourself, you "stuff" that feeling (either emotionally or sometimes, for some people, with food), you feel even worse. You blame everything on your weight, you feel so absolutely disgusted with yourself that you finally re-start the dieting thing again, only this time a more desperate or stringent form of dieting than before in hopes that THIS one will be the one to work-----and the cycle begins again.

The disgust with yourself and the shame and self-hatred is an integral part of the diet/binge cycle. It propels you into the next diet. The dieting yo-yo sometimes seems like another, looooooonger version of bulimia---binge and purge, binge and purge----only you are bingeing on dieting. Some people feel crappy about themselves and self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or gambling or food or whatever. Other people self-medicate with dieting. That may sound strange, but as I observe others over the years going through the yo-yo dieting cycle again and again, it really seems true.

The shame and self-loathing you may feel is an important part of that cycle. Chronic dieters get addicted to the tremendous high of the weight loss and new clothes and improved treatment from others etc. It can feel GREAT to have that high, just like with drugs......but there's always a price to be paid afterwards.

Strange as it sounds, I also think some people get addicted to the lows afterwards when it fails and your high comes crashing down. Chronic dieters love to commiserate about how awful they are, how disgusting their behaviors or bodies are, how horrible they are to stuff their emotional issues with food, how broken and disgusting their bodies are. The self-hate talk I hear in this stage is just so sad, so soul-crushing, so self-wallowing.

Chronic dieters eventually resort to more and more desperate ways to try and lose weight. They turn one by one to unhealthy diets, fasts, very low-calorie diets, drugs, even gut-rearranging surgery. They get bigger highs with more dramatic weight losses, and lower lows from dramatic regains. It's like an addict---forever looking for a better high, no matter what the lows are afterwards, no matter the toll the addiction takes on your body and your psyche. It's the ride that they need.

Break free of the cycle! You don't have to be tied to it forever. Step out of the drama. Empower yourself about learning to love your body, whatever size it is. The first step is to recognize the patterns that chronic dieting creates in your psyche and just how destructive (yet seductive) they are, and how much power they hold over your life. The self-loathing is a big part of it.

Step outside the box for a moment. Ask yourself how your diet highs and self-loathing lows are serving you. Surely they are reinforcing an important belief about yourself or you wouldn't keep putting yourself through that. Ask yourself if you still need to keep believing these things or if you are able to let that paradigm go, even just a little. You don't need to fix these things overnight; just starting to recognize the underlying fears that drive you to dieting helps.

Sometimes it's the fear of what happens if you were to give up dieting that keep us in that cycle of self-destructiveness. Are you afraid that if you stop dieting your weight will balloon out of control? Are you concerned that you would then eat all the "bad" foods out of control and gain a ton of weight? The hard truth is that as people let go of the dieting mindset, sometimes they do over-eat. But once they realize that all foods are available to them, forever, they no longer have to over-indulge because another diet/famine period isn't coming. In time, they will self-regulate their eating so that they can enjoy "treats" without overindulging, so that they can balance their eating without feeling so restricted or denied. In time, most people will normalize their attitudes and consumption of food, once they feel secure about food availability. Most people will be healthier in the long run by letting dieting go----but it can be a leap of faith to do so.

What about people with true eating disorders? Some fat people do have true eating disorders, usually either bulimia or a true binge eating disorder. The dieting mentality only serves to reinforce and worsen these behaviors over time. Dieting makes an eating disorder worse, not better.

However, breaking out of the dieting cycle won't necessarily cure these eating disorders either. Until the person does the internal emotional work of identifying and healing the difficult emotional issues behind true eating disorders, the behaviors won't disappear and food will continue to hold too much power over them. Eventually many of these people turn to extreme weight loss schemes like diet drugs, extreme exercise, very low-calorie diets, or weight loss surgery in a desperate attempt to once again self-medicate. But in the end, these often fail too, and much or all of the weight is gained back. The bottom line is that the root of a true eating disorder is emotional and until that problem is addressed, nothing else will fix the problem.

But many fat people do not have true eating disorders. They may not always eat perfectly, but many poor eating patterns are actually artifacts of the binge/diet mentality. Eliminate the dieting cycle, and slowly the poor eating patterns disappear because they are no longer needed. Also the dieter's need for strict nutritional perfection will diminish over time, so the emphasis moves away from self-flagellation over eating a "bad" food and towards an emphasis on overall eating patterns over time, emphasizing the big picture on health and making positive changes accordingly, rather than micro-managing every bite and obsessing about it.

The "Oh heck, I've blown my diet so I guess I'll have another doughnut" mentality is part of the illness of the dieting cycle. It's total nutrition perfection or total food anarchy. One is the opposite mirror of the other. You only gain freedom from it when you step out of the paradigm.

Stepping out of the dieting paradigm is finding the empowerment to be reasonably healthy in your habits without having to be rigidly perfect, it's finding the ability to love yourself and be healthy at your current size, it's letting your body self-regulate and find its own natural size, it's recognizing the body hatred that you've internalized from elsewhere and working to transform it, it's being willing to step out of the diet cycle and stop believing that having good things depends on losing weight. In short, it's reclaiming your sanity and reclaiming your health and reclaiming your LIFE.

For some people the transition to more healthful and conscious eating is relatively effortless, and for others it can take time and much conscious effort. It's okay for size acceptance to be a "work in progress." Dieting mentality behaviors are not acquired overnight and it can take time to normalize them. But it can happen. Take the little steps on the path towards freedom and you will get there.

Break free of the hypnotic power of self-loathing. Break free of the addictive power of the highs and lows of dieting. Consider stepping outside the limiting "my body is broken" paradigm. Choose health and choose sanity. Choose the Health At Every Size paradigm.

Whether or not your body stays forever at this size or self-regulates to some other size, SELF-LOVE STARTS NOW. Here, now, at THIS size....with all its perceived imperfections.

Empower yourself. Love your body, love yourself. Let yourself be healthy---healthy in a new way to your mind perhaps, but healthy nonetheless---both mentally and physically and emotionally.

There are other ways to live than the dieting mentality, if you choose to. Self-acceptance starts NOW. You can do it.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I think I just developed a TEEEENY BIT of a blog crush on you. This was freakin' AWESOME.

Mindy said...

Great post! I went through the diet cycle for about 20 years of my life. Last year I decided I had enough and I'm much happier for it.

It's not only about dieting, but also about getting rid of those "skinny" clothes (and "fat" clothes, for that matter), and wearing clothes that actually fit. It's amazing how much better you can feel about yourself when your clothes fit properly.

Unknown said...

so get what you are saying! friggingly awesome !

April D said...

Awesome post. It IS a vicious cycle. And based on some of the vile comments I see in my new blog's moderation queue now and then I do think some of the ones making them ARE still stuck in this the part where anyone who denies them the pleasures of diet-gloating is EVIL!

It is hard to self-love. You've worded the need for it very well though!

Unknown said...

great post! dieting, in my perspective, is always unhealthy because it tells people that if they are overweight they are unacceptable, and it feeds fear of certain foods.

Justbecauseitmakesmesmile said...

Very inspiring post. One sentence stands out for me: "Empower yourself about learning to love your body, whatever size it is."
I hope to be able to do this.
Funny thing is I DO genuinely like my fat body and I don't see fat as a problem.
The difficulty lies in living in our sizist society - that's where I struggle.

Ms K said...

I agree with you that yo-yo dieting is dangerous and addictive. But I don't think being fat and happy is the answer either...I remember being thin and how much more energy I had. I slept better at night. My knees and back didn't ache. I felt more like myself. My solution has been to SLOWLY lose weight with a very moderate diet. You get frustrated and want a quick fix and you go for a 1000 or a 1500 calorie diet with no treats thrown in- and you WILL fail. I let myself have a couple of pieces of chocolate every day. If I wanted chips, I got a single serve bag and I ate them. But if I wasn't craving anything in particular I ate as healthy as I could. I kept from 1800-1900 calories per day and I was not hungry. I lost 10 lbs in 2 months and for me that was a triumph. I have not gained it back.

Well-Rounded Mama said...

JustKatie, I'm glad you feel better. But you don't mention how LONG you've maintained this loss. It's not really long-term maintenance till you've kept it off for 5 years.

You do fall prey to the typical assumption that diets fail because fat people do the "crazy" diets, and if they just do the sane "lifestyle change" diets...a few less calories per day, no massive restrictions....that the results will be different.

But it's not any different for most of us. Maybe it was for you (we'll see) but most of us who are very fat have done both the crazy diets and the "lifestyle change/sane diets" approach, and NEITHER worked.

It's your body so you can choose to do what you want, but don't assume that your results are generalizable to everyone. For many of us, the "lifestyle change" thing doesn't work any better than the crazy diets for permanent weight loss....and still adds to unhealthy diet mentality.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog post after googling "breaking free from the diet mentality". I've imprisoned myself for long enough. Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you for this post. Tina xx

Unknown said...

I have not changed my habits or my diet as far as I know.
I am still learning about this ms thing and what approach to take.
People have been commenting on my weight loss as well.Skinny Fiber

Anonymous said...

Cried reading this. I have suffered this 'dieting' cycle for too long and its time I broke free and start living. I feel blessed to have stumbled upon your article.