I have been contemplating writing for a while but seem to always freeze ! But I feel that the stories we share are important especially when it comes to topics around body, weight, dieting, stigma.
So I decided to share my personal story around dieting and how it lead to an eating disorder, followed by some evidence around why dieting does not work.
When I was 18 years old, I decided to go to the gym with my then boyfriend.
We had a plan: he would quit smoking if I lost 5 kg and got “leaner”. Scary thing? I didn’t need to get any leaner AND there was nothing wrong with my body or size. I simply had the belief that it was my duty to try and look like the photo-shopped models I saw on magazines. That, and the societal pressure and high regard of body thinness that surrounds us. This belief is like a virus that has plagued our society, making us all miserable and chasing a dream weight, shape, size, look.
I am not worthy enough in the body that I have.
That belief drove me to sign up in a program with a PT. He gave me exercises and a detailed “nutrition program” to follow. Let’s stop there. There are already a few concerns I should mention: A) The PT was not a dietitian or nutrition expert B) He did not have any of my health history, he simply sold me a program that would “fix” me and make me lean (!)
ANYHOW… The diet was a very low calorie diet for 6 days of the week followed by a “cheat day” on the 7th day. On top of having as little a 1,000 kcal a day, I had to eat at certain times, measure everything I was eating, and ensure I burnt 600 kcal doing cardio as well as resistance training on top *like WTF*??
Initially I went through about 3 days of a “diet honeymoon period”, where I felt great, I told my whole family that they were missing out and that this is so so *FANTABULOUS*!!! Then the reality kicked in…
I started becoming obsessed with weighing: my food, my body, my progress, my worth.
I over-analysed every meal. I thought about food in between meals – actually constantly. I often pondered (compulsively) about when my next meal was coming. The food that wasn’t on the diet became naughty, morally bad food. I felt so powerless and completely hated feeling so out of control. On occasions when I broke the diet I felt ashamed, guilty and disgusted by my lack of willpower. I avoided family meals, became withdrawn, and felt isolated. And the worst of it all? The CHEAT day. Once a week I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and as much of it as I wanted. JUST FOR ONE DAY.
This was supposed to “kick start” my metabolism…and well… it did a lot more than that.
I began to binge eat. My thinking was that I would be back on that disgusting, restrictive, depriving diet come Monday… so I better eat NOW that I am allowed to! This is what is know as “the last supper” mentality. It’s the all or nothing mentality that many of us have over the weekend that often drives our overeating.
In my case, this restrictive/binge eating scenario eventually lead to bulimia nervosa that lasted years.
The more I tried to follow this diet, the more I disregarded my personal body autonomy. This cycle of left me feeling powerless. My body tried to keep me alive by signalling strong urges to eat, while the “food police” voice in my head drove me towards harmful practices to try and avoid eating. It was a battlefield of the mind against my very own needs, against my own body.
I now know that the binge eating response is a normal physiologic response to starvation.
When we go on a diet our body thinks it is surviving a ‘famine’ period. So it begins using our muscle for energy, which causes a lot of water weight to be lost quite rapidly. The body is super smart and begins preserving energy by not building any new muscles (lowering our metabolism) to ensure our survival. It doesn’t know there is McDonald’s on every corner and that we chose to diet. We also get strong urges to eat: especially carbohydrates as they are the preferred source of fuel for our brain, nerves and red blood cells. You see our body is not our enemy, even though we often treat it that way.
It is easy to see then that when we start eating normally again, after being starved for a period of time, we regain the weight (in the form of body fat). Our body is protecting us for future starvation. And weight loss becomes harder and harder with every failed diet attempt.
Diets are literally a war zone.
They are likely to make you fatter, they don’t help you lose weight in the long term, they simply mess with your head and your health! In fact regardless of the type of diet, most people (95% of them) in weight loss research regain the weight within 2 to 5 years. This fact is very well known and backed up by our very own National Health and Medical Research Council:
In my personal experience, the striving for weight loss damaged my self worth, my relationship with food and the people I love and lead me to an eating disorder. We now know that focusing in weight and dieting is one of the leading causes for eating disorders in adolescents.
It’s time that we wake up to the fact that diets are very very hard and they go against our nature. It has nothing to do with our willpower and everything to do with basic biological drivers to keep us alive.
The Mindful Eating Program I run is designed to help you break free from dieting and begin embracing your OWN body wisdom without rules and deprivation.
Join us for the upcoming online program starting end of January 2019
Find out more about the Mindful Eating Program here.
Alternatively if you would like personalized guidance to break free get in touch to book one on one session.