Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to offend or criticize anyone who is currently on a health and fitness endeavor. I have nothing but love for you, but this is my truth and I need to share it.
I’ve gone back and forth on how to approach this blog post. It’s been brewing for several weeks now, but the feelings I’ve attached to the subject matter have been fluctuating and I just don’t know what the best tactic is for sharing about it all. I’ve written and rewritten, and even now that it’s done, there is still so much I want to add or clarify or justify, but I’m not going to. I can and will go into all of this much, much deeper in future posts, but for now I’m going to leave this as it is and hope that it makes sense.
A few months ago I was in the midst of another diet—one that wasn’t called a diet, but more of a “way of living” or “nutrition program” or something to that effect—but at the end of the day, it was a diet. How do I know that it was something it didn’t claim to be? Because in my experience, diets all have some key features:
- Inconsistent (and frequently unsustainable) results
I was feeling frustrated because even though I’d seen some initial weight loss, I was starting to gain a couple pounds back, and I was finding it harder and harder to stick to the program guidelines every single day. I tuned in to one of the videos featuring the program’s creator in hopes of finding some, well, HOPE, and at one point she asked, “How many of you are feeling frustrated, like you don’t want to put in the effort anymore, and find yourselves thinking, ‘I’ve learned enough, I can do it my way. I’ll just make better choices this time’?” I laughed because that was exactly what I’d been thinking, and then she continued on to say something to the effect of, “Stop. You’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work. I know this seems challenging sometimes, but putting in the work now is the only way you’re going to see results.”
Now, that might sound innocent enough to some of you, but to me it felt like a steel door slamming shut in my chest, and in that moment I felt so disgusted and turned off by her and her program that I just wanted to close my laptop and never open it again. I felt angry, and it took me a while to really figure out why. But since then I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, healing, and learning, and I think I’m finally starting to understand.
Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts know that I’m a chronic dieter with over a decade of experience bouncing around from method to method in search of the Holy Grail of Diets that will finally solve my “problems.” The trouble with that, though, is that it seems the diets have been the problem all along. I have fallen for dozens of marketing ploys over the years promising me happiness and peace and freedom that are only attainable by finally reaching my “goal weight,” or having abs, or having a thigh gap. I have convinced myself that being slim will make me happy, but I’ve been slim, I’ve started getting abs, I’ve hit my goal weights multiple times, and guess what? Still miserable. I have somehow simultaneously felt pride in my accomplishments and still dissatisfied with myself, and all of it has been backed by this consuming fear—fear that I would gain the weight back, fear that I would “fall off the wagon” and “fail” whatever diet I was on, fear that I still didn’t look how I thought I “should” look, even after all the hard work I put in.
I walked away from the diet. I decided to do things my way, as I’d done after every diet before, but something was different this time. My anxiety was high, I was obsessing about every bite of food that went in my mouth, mentally calculating nutrition facts, comparing it to what I’d had earlier in the day to determine whether I was “allowed” to eat it based on whether I’d had too much or not enough already that day, feeling intense guilt when I ate more than a bite of sugar (including fruit, because some diet or other taught me that fruit sugar was still sugar), making myself eat certain things post-workout so that I recovered correctly, stressing when I missed more than one workout in a row, worrying about why I was craving more breads than usual because, as I’m sure you’ve heard, bread is bad, and all the while I showed absolutely zero signs of distress on the exterior. My mind was engaged in an all-out war, my own little private Ground Zero, and no one around me was any the wiser.
I was exhausted. I was starting to get facial movement compulsions that have arisen at various times of high anxiety (similar to a nervous twitch, like when someone wrings their hands or bounces their leg). I had so many urges to scream out and dump all of this on my husband, but the last thing I wanted was a look of shock or pity, because I couldn’t stand the thought of being viewed as helpless. I’m a strong, independent woman, I can do this on my own. I don’t need you treating me like a bird with a broken wing, I can fly out of this damn place all by myself if I really wanted to. Can’t I?
It was in the midst of this frazzled state that I turned to social media, because the semi-anonymity there makes me feel less intimidated. I’d been following a few body-positive people on Instagram for a while, and one in particular had mentioned a podcast called Food Psych which tackled a wide range of topics surrounding eating disorders, intuitive eating, body image, etc. Now, I’ve never considered myself someone with an eating disorder because the only disorders I know of are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating, so I didn’t really relate with that aspect of it, but I was desperate to learn about self-love and body love and I had heard bits and pieces about this intuitive eating thing and since I literally had no other ideas, I decided to give the show a listen.
Within five minutes of the first random episode I chose, everything changed. They hadn’t even gotten to the main subject yet, it was still in the part where they answer listener questions, and I heard the word “orthorexia.” Ortho-what? What the hell is that?
an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy
— a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful
I found the definition first, and then website after website detailing this affliction and the various ways it manifests, and all of a sudden I wanted to cry. I knew my relationship with food was very, very broken. I knew that I had a laundry list of “rules” that diets had coded into my head over the years, but I didn’t know there was a name for it. I felt equal parts terrified and relieved—the former because holy crap there’s something wrong with me, but then also holy crap this means there’s a solution.
It’s amazing what having an answer can do for you. Once I knew the problem, I set to work finding a solution. I learned that registered dieticians (RDs) are key to helping with eating disorders (or, as I’ve learned to describe my situation, disordered eating—a distinction which I’ll elaborate on in a future post). I had trouble finding someone affordable at first, but through another chance Instagram connection, I was referred to a wonderful woman who runs her practice out of Hawaii who I now meet bi-weekly with via virtual chat, and she also suggested looking into a podcast called RD Real Talk, in which I could find an 11-episode series about intuitive eating, and she recommended the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. I also reached back out to the gal who I learned about the Food Psych podcast from and opened up to her because I knew she’d understand, and she responded so gently and lovingly and offered her support whenever I needed it.
I am learning an incredible amount about myself and about what ridiculous expectations I’ve been taught to set. I am at a strange crossroads where I want to be supportive of my friends who are on their various weight loss journeys, but it’s also a bit of a trigger for me and it brings up feelings of anger because I know some of them are only on those journeys because they feel like they’re supposed to look a certain way. I want to grab everyone I know and shake them and say, “I LOVE YOU AND YOU’RE PERFECT,” but I’m still having trouble believing that about myself so it feels hypocritical. And I’m so upset with how we got to where we are, a weight-obsessed perfection-crazed society that’s trying to live up to the ideals of a photoshopped magazine cover. And I’m so ashamed of the thoughts I have sometimes! I was looking at a very different before-and-after on Instagram the other day—the “before” was when this gal was super fit, had abs, and was working out and watching what she ate all the time, while the “after” was her now, plus sized and happy as hell, radiating confidence and self-love. I had never seen her “before” picture prior to this moment, but in all of her current pics I’d thought of how gorgeous she is and how I would love to have half her confidence. But you know what I thought when I saw the before and after?
“How could she give that up??”
Honestly, my first thought was how she could have walked away from abs and a great body. Because that’s what I’ve been taught to think of as success. And I *hated* that thought. I hated the realization that my brain is automatically perpetuating the ideals that have made so much of my own life so challenging. It made my stomach churn, because that’s not even how I truly feel about her. My instinctive thought didn’t factor in her happiness, freedom, self-worth, none of it—it literally only focused on how her body looked.
I saw a quote earlier today that said, “Your first thought is what you’ve been conditioned to think. The one that follows is how you truly feel.” I told my RD about my reaction to the before and after and she said, “It doesn’t matter that you thought that, what matters is how you feel about that thought—it obviously didn’t sit well with you, so that’s what you need to focus on. I want you to learn to look at those types of images with neutrality, that neither one is better or worse than the other, but that both are just different types of bodies and they are both perfectly okay.” What a concept, right?
Whew. This is a lot to write about.
I know this was a huge brain dump of an update, but I needed to start somewhere and this is as good a place as any. As I said in the beginning, this is in no way meant to confront or criticize any of my friends and family that are on various dieting or weight loss journeys, but if you relate to anything I’ve shared about, you are always more than welcome to comment or reach out.
In the coming months, I want to expand on the things I’m learning—self-love, judgement-free eating, diet culture, finding my intuitive voice with not just food but my entire life, dealing with the personal issues that surround my broken food and body relationships, and, of course, my thoughts on intuitive eating and what that looks like for me.
Wherever you are on whatever journey, much, much love to you. I’ll write again soon(ish) xoxo