I’m here today to talk about dieting. Or more accurately — how I STOPPED dieting, and how that affected my body and my mind.
In a world of low calorie this and diet resolution that… I’ve decided to check out. I’m walking away.
Or rather, I walked away a long time ago. And never looked back.
You see, way back in 2012 I hopped right off the diet train. I was so, so, so tired of watching that scale hop up and down like a deranged bunny — losing 10 lbs only to gain 15 back (rinse, repeat). (And I learned that those 10 lbs lost probably weren’t “real” anyway.)
Maybe you know the feeling?
I was so, so, so tired of being obsessed with calories or carbs or pick-your-poison.
So, so, so deeply exhausted needing to know what number was on the scale so I could decide what I was “allowed” to eat that day.
And just plain sick of linking my self-worth to the size of my jeans.
So I decided to do something absolutely insane: I stopped dieting. Completely.
I vowed to never go on a diet again.
At first, I made the decision that I wanted to learn how to maintain my weight for a while. Sure, I wasn’t at my “goal” weight, but that wasn’t the point.
The point was every time I dieted, I ended up gaining more weight than I lost. My “starting” weight kept going up. It wasn’t hard to see where this trend could potentially lead.
It came to a point where I was more scared of what might happen if I didn’t stop dieting.
My whole life I was either losing weight or gaining it back. I’d never maintained my weight for more than a few months. The scale was always going up or coming down (and then back up again).
What if I just stopped?
Stopped pretending dieting was the answer. Stopped believing that the most important thing I could control was what went on my fork. Stopped playing like food deserved to be the first and last thing I thought about each and every day.
I never made a New Year’s resolution not to diet. It wasn’t a bold declaration to the world.
It was more like a quiet knowing that crept up on me slowly over the years — and then became completely obvious:
Not dieting was the answer I’d been looking for.
Related: How I Finally Stopped Binge Eating
Dieting sucks. Here’s why:
- Research shows that weight fluctuations are more dangerous than carrying excess weight. A history of weight cycling via dieting is strongly associated with an increased risk for developing metabolic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. This is independent of weight (so it applies whether you’re a dieter who is skinny or one who’s heavy). This evidence strongly suggests that dieting affects you on more than a body fat level: dieting affects you–and can harm you–on a metabolic level.
- One study showed that obese women who diet are far more likely to have high blood pressure than obese women who do not have a history of dieting–more evidence that demonstrates the dangers of dieting on the entire metabolism.
- Weight loss that comes through dieting (especially extreme dieting) always risks losing lean body tissue in addition to fat. This robs your muscles, bones and organs of the material they need to function properly. While some diets increase this risk more than others, it is a risk with all diets that restrict calories.
- Our eating habits are passed on to our children. Kids pick up on our obsessions about weight and our eating habits. Whether we realize it or not, we often project our own insecurities about our weight and our restrictive eating habits onto our kids. It’s hard not to. But research shows that parents who impose restrictive eating habits only encourage further weight gain in their children. Stopping this vicious cycle in its tracks is reason enough to swear off dieting forever, in my opinion.
- Dieting distorts our natural relationship with hunger and food. When food becomes “good” and “bad,” eating becomes a moral issue rather than an issue of nourishment. When we deny our hunger, we forget how to eat for natural reasons and instead develop habits of emotional eating and experience guilt when we eat the “wrong” food. Basically, we forget how to eat. This can result in eating disorders, distorted body image and poor health in long run.
I Stopped Dieting: Here’s What Happened
I was terrified of the same thing most women are when they stop dieting: uncontrollable eating followed by uncontrollable weight gain.
It never happened.
It just didn’t. I stopped putting the focus on the scale, and — almost miraculously — my obsessive habits with food and my body started to melt away.
I’ll admit I wasn’t starting from scratch. For a few years I’d been coming to the realization that balance, moderation, and loving your body were key ingredients for a healthy, happy life.
But even so, it was almost surreal to me. It was actually working. And for the next three or so years, I maintained my weight (up and down about 5lbs, which is pretty normal).
Then something crazy happened… but more on that in a minute.
No, My Food and Body Issues Didn’t Disappear…
Maintaining my weight was a good plan. But just saying that makes it sound a whole lot simpler than it actually was.
The truth is, when I stopped dieting, it was — at least at first — a constant battle in my head.
I was tempted to diet all the time. Every time I gained a pound. Or felt bloated after a meal. Or saw a picture of someone thinner than me in a bikini. Or found a pair of too-small jeans in my dresser (I eventually donated them).
There was always the pressure to get wrapped up in food issues and body hate. To complain about my thighs. To participate in conversation when everyone started talking about getting a “beach” body or doing a 30-day detox in January.
My mind was a messy place. It took some time to untangle the web. And there’s no perfectly happy ending, either.
Sure, some things became positive, healthy habits. But every day I face decisions about how I want to think about my body and my food. It’s ongoing work.
As cliche as it sounds, it’s true: loving yourself is definitely a journey, not a destination.
Six Years In… Where am I now?
This year something strange happened — at least strange for me. Remember how I said I was always dieting or gaining weight?
Well, the one thing that never, ever, ever happened to me was “automatic” weight loss.
You know, the kind where weight just “falls off” without dieting. To me, that was the mystical rainbow unicorn — I heard stories, but of course it never really existed (not for me, at least).
This spring I realized that I needed to become more active for my long term health. Working at the computer all day was keeping me pretty sedentary.
I grabbed a FitBit and started becoming aware of my daily activity. I loved it. For the first time in my life, being active was fun. For real.
It wasn’t something I had to force myself to do. It wasn’t punishment for eating the brownies. It wasn’t about what the scale said the next day. I was being active because I loved my body and I wanted to take care of it.
And, for the first time ever, I lost weight without dieting.
It happened slowly. Like snail-crawl slow. Over a period of about 6 months, I lost 10 lbs. I ate normally during this time (normal for me is 2000-2500 calories every day). I never restricted any food types — I generally eat a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. I never followed a plan. I just used some common sense, a little moderation, and made the choices I felt worked for my body (with plenty of treats of course!).
After that, my weight continued a slow downward trend. I would gain a few pounds now and then, and then later lose a few. But these were just natural swings of 3-5 pounds because of, well, real life. Sometimes I ate more, sometimes I was more active. Life isn’t stagnant – it’s always changing.
Over the next two years, I lost another 8 lbs. So six years into this no-dieting journey, I’ve lost almost 20 lbs.
If you’d asked me six years ago if I thought this was possible, I probably would have laughed in your face. I was just hoping to stop dieting without gaining a ton of weight.
I didn’t realize that choosing my health and peace of mind over my weight would actually lead to the result I’d been looking for anyway. It was a long road, but a happy one.
It’s Not About the Weight…
But it’s not the “what” that’s important – it’s the “how” and the “why” of this weight loss that’s important to me.
The thing is, I learned to be happy with my size before. And I’m still happy with it now. It’s not an “I-can-only-be-happy-at-a-certain-size” thing. It’s not an either/or. It’s an and.
I was happy with myself then and I’m happy with myself now.
And that’s the whole point.
Why do you want to lose weight?
Think about it for a minute and let’s dig deeper into why you want to lose weight in the first place. Maybe one of these resonate:
Life without dieting… should you try it?
Should you try life without dieting?
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers for everyone. I can only tell you my story and hope that it helps in some way.
For me, breaking up with dieting was my way of letting go of a lot of negative behaviors and mental patterns I’d built up over the years. So I stopped dieting, but I also did a lot of inside work so I could stop doing a lot of other things, too (like hate-talking to myself in the mirror, ugh).
So, really, what I’m really asking you to do is start the journey.
Make a commitment to be kinder to yourself. To consider this: changes made out of love and respect last longer and work better than changes made out of hate. Work on bringing more joy and positivity into your life.
Then see what happens.
Tell me about your journey in the comments below!
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You can also read more about how I learned to eat and exercise in a way that nourished my metabolism (without stressing about it!) in my book The Nourished Metabolism. No gimmicks or magic pills, just a balanced perspective on how you can improve your metabolic health with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Click here to check it out.
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Elizabeth is the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life. Her mission is to help people find a more balanced (less stressful!) approach to living a happy, healthy life. Read more about Elizabeth here.