Every time I’d start on yet another diet, I’d experience a sort of high, ecstatic at the prospect of losing weight, because whatever diet it was, it held the promise of pure, unadulterated happiness. Dieting was my pathway to attractiveness, popularity and everything else that’s supposed to be wonderful in life.
As I’d shop for groceries from the diet’s rulebook, I knew this would mark a new beginning. This time the diet would stick, and I’d finally be thin. Skinny tasted better than any food ever could, I’d repeat. Food is just food. It can’t get the best of me.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
Dieting would finally deliver everything I’d always wanted — true self-confidence, the permission to wear anything, the validation from men and, again, I’d be happy. I’d be in a constant state of bliss, because I’d be skinny, and thereby, I’d be pretty.
Dieting is oh-so-seductive. It was for me, and I think it’s probably the case for you. Dieting brings hope.
Dieting feels like a panacea, like the antidote to all of your life’s ills.
Dieting feels like the gateway to the “in” crowd. It’s like you’ve finally become privy to some secret; the secret to success, beauty, glamor, contentment, and all that good stuff. You’ll be sexier, more charming, more self-confident. Everything in your life will finally fall perfectly into place.
But once the honeymoon period of buying groceries and sticking to the diet for a few days was over, I’d be miserable, moody, hungry, and I’d feel like a failure. My body was crying out, but I wouldn’t listen.
At one point, my roommate and I didn’t even get past the first meal of a diet. We bought all the pricey ingredients, cooked our first dish, had a few bites and realized that it tasted far from eatable. All those days that I’d spent getting excited to shop for the specific ingredients and begin a new, exciting chapter in my life were in vain.
When you’re on a diet, you become increasingly out of touch with your body. Your cues get all out of whack. You’re no longer sure what it feels like to be hungry or full because you give outside forces the priority. And you tell your body to shut up.
Many of us will only let ourselves feel good about our bodies if we’re thin enough. So, not surprisingly, dieting and a shaky body image become best friends. Instead of viewing our bodies in a positive light, we get angry and feel betrayed because our bodies won’t submit. They won’t become skinny, and that’s infuriating, especially after all the work we’ve put in by restricting.
Yo-yo dieting becomes a constant cycle of hope and despair. You restrict. Enter happiness. You overeat. Enter anguish. You lose a few pounds, and you’re giddy with excitement. You see the pounds climb up, and you’re devastated.
Last week, writer and health coach Eleanor Kohlsaat of the blog Make Friends with Food shared her struggles with yo-yo dieting:
I went from a small town to a large, overwhelming university, and I ended up spending a lot of time hiding in my room or in the library, eating junk food. I became depressed and began putting on weight. Naturally, I decided losing weight would solve everything, and so I went on a diet. Thus began a diet/binge cycle that lasted for my entire college career and for about a decade afterward.
Basically, I’d wake up every day determined to stay on whatever strict diet I’d put myself on. That would last for a few hours, until I’d break down and eat something “wrong.” Since I’d messed up, I had license to binge for the rest of the day. I’d go out and buy enormous amounts of forbidden food and eat everything. The next morning I’d wake up full and sick and remorseful. And the whole cycle would start again.
I’ve tried every diet you can think of. Nothing lasted more than a day or two.
Esther Kane, MSW, in her book, It’s Not About The Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace With Food and Our Bodies, has a thoughtful exercise on relinquishing your diet mentality. She asks readers to answer three questions. While answering these questions, Esther writes:
Do some soul-searching and answer each question as thoroughly and honestly as you are able, particularly the last one. When you think you’re done, dig a little deeper. Continue digging until you feel you’ve gotten to the bottom of things, until you’re convinced you’ve told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Remember: you’re doing this for you and no one else. You owe it to yourself to spend time reflecting on this aspect of your life that has caused you so much grief.
So take some time to answer these three questions:
- How many diets have you been on in your life?
- Have any of them worked over the long-term for you?
- Why do you diet?
Also, something that helped me tremendously was realizing that diets simply don’t work. (I honestly had no idea.) Not only do you feel miserable while you’re on a diet, but it also slows down your metabolism and helps you to gain weight in the long run.
It also encourages you to ignore your body and its needs. And, recently, it’s been linked to inflammation, which is “linked to type-2 diabetes, heart disease, unhealthy body fat,” writes Marsha Hudnall, RD, in today’s post on A Weight Lifted.