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Peace and Slimness Without Diets

eebee's picture

Twenty years ago you may have seen the book with the catchy title "Dieting Makes You Fat", by Geoffrey Cannon and Hetty Einzig. Even though I was a skinny child and have never been morbidly obese, or even just obese, I have subjected myself and my loved ones to dieting hell.

As a disclaimer, I believe diets do have their place if you've managed to lose touch with your natural sense of hunger and satiety. The ones I recommended or reviewed on this site served their purpose. A diet can be a useful vehicle for the unpleasant task of forming good habits, much like reciting times tables parrot-fashion when you're eight years old. Who knows why you're putting yourself through such drudgery, but it sure comes in handy years later when you're comparing prices in the supermarket.

Geneen Roth wrote about the contradictions and self-defeating behaviors that often accompany dieting in her mistitled book "When Food is Love". Never mind that I loathe to be seen in public reading a book with 'love' on the cover, this title screams 'lonely people with no friends devoting all their attention to a bag of potato chips'. Tragically the title misses the mark and I'm afraid not enough people have read Geneen Roth's gems about the destructive nature of diets that don't work, which, let's face it, is most of them.

Instead of listing reasons why diets don't work, I'd like to explain how, for me, not dieting is working. And if you've seen me recently and think I must be delusional to say I'm losing weight - I am actually 6 lbs lighter than I was at Christmas.

The hardest part of trying to shake off the diet-monkey is taking the huge leap of faith that it will actually work. Smug fitness gurus and silly magazine articles tell you that diets work, but who's gonna tell you eating what you want will work? I have tried not dieting before but only lasted two weeks because I hadn't lost any weight (yes I know how ridiculous that sounds). I lacked belief it would work and like one of those bikini-girls on Get Out! chickening out of doing the bungee jump, I ran back to the safety of diets and their twilight zone results.

However, things are improving! Here's how the daily conversation with myself runs when hunger appears:

Normal Me: I'm hungry!


Diet Me: Oh no, here we go again. Prepare for the saintly thoughts to tailspin into rebellion and self-hatred.


Normal Me: Oh shut up! I'm hungry! What am I gonna eat?!


Diet Me: Ah! That's right, we not 'dieting' any more. We're free to eat whatever the heck we want to.


Normal Me: Great, let's get something really outrageous to make up for all those years of self-denial and misery.


Diet Me: Go for it! Get whatever you want.


Normal Me: Well the chocolate, butter, cheese and cake will still be there if I ever want it but right now I'd really love some steamed vegetables.


Diet Me: Well I guess migraines and sluggishness aren't that appetizing right now. Veggies it is.

I know that sounds borderline nuts. But that written internal dialogue shows me how I have had two fighting dogs in my brain for too long now when it comes to my health - and the junkfood dog always won. I suspect I am not alone in this (or in my brain, apparently).

It took me a good four weeks to actually believe I really could eat whatever I wanted and that this wasn't yet another diet stunt I was trying to pull on myself. I did go to town a few times with jars of Nutella, margarine and toast, not to mention wasting $5 on ten stale jalapeño poppers from Arby's. But that got old quickly and I didn't want it any more. Another energizing bi-product of this breakthrough: I ceased to comfort-eat at that time of day I would typically paralyze myself with food, to avoid facing something scary or tedious.  

In explaining this exciting step to a friend of mine, she said something like "ok so you figure out why you're comfort eating, because you're scared, or lonely, or angry, or disenfranchized...but the eating doesn't go away just because you realized that". No!! She is correct! That's not how it works at all. The irony of it all is that I had to take care of the eating first so that I could have the strength to face the scary stuff. The whole not dieting thing only works if you honestly, sincerely keep doing it. There is nowhere to hide. I could indeed say to myself "Ugh! I don't want to be home staring at my filing and taxes and all the monstrous heaps of responsibility". I could indeed run for the cover of food. But for what? To make me feel better? Food doesn't have that much power and overeating never makes me feel better. Overeating doesn't even fall into the 'instant gratification' category, because the pain of an overstretched belly is immediate. I can eat whatever I want but I don't want it now. Like Eddy Murphy's character in Trading Places stealing the silverware that he suddenly owns, there is no point in stealing from myself. The gigantic specter of food rebellion has turned into a timid little mouse.

Moreover, I have to remind myself every time I get hungry that chocolate, chips, cake and cheese are still an option, otherwise I will default back to the empty promises of diets. It's better than Lucy and the Chocolate Factory, in that I don't even need to make myself sick of conveyor-belt chocolate before I decide not to eat it.

I've been lying to myself about food and diets now since I was fifteen. It may very well take me another twenty-six years to learn how to eat again. Here are my guidelines for my own challenge to myself to lose a little weight:

  • The banning of any food groups or types is banned
  • Don't go hungry
  • Don't count anything!!
  • Eat however much of whatever you want
  • Skate and train for the sheer joy of it

If you think any of this makes sense to you, I recommend:


"Dieting Makes You Fat", by Geoffrey Cannon and Hetty Einzig. I haven't read it yet, but I agree 100% with the title.

For some candid quality reading you can't hide from, check out Geneen Roth's website and her articles.

Incidentally, Geneen has an article up on the Huffington Post called "What I Gained by Losing in Madoff".

Comments

skatey-mark's picture

the sad reality of lifestyle changes

Well, a year has gone by since I decided to make some drastic (to me) changes to get back in shape after gaining over 50 lbs in an 18-month period...


I'm happy to report that, right now, I am back around my 'low weight' of the fall despite not going to the gym for a couple weeks. (Shoulder injury - that's another story.)


Anyway, getting to the point about dieting... Last year when I first started working with a trainer, the first thing we looked at was my diet. He had some pretty drastic changes:


1) Change from 2 meals (lunch & dinner) to 5 meals each day

2) Never let myself get hungry

3) Eat healthy foods

4) He even went as far as to have me eat certain types of food at certain times of the day. For example, no carbs in the evening. But carbs were okay at other times of the day.


I was watching my total caloric intake as well, and the pounds dropped off rapidly. I hit a couple plateaus in there too, but they didn't last long. The weight training I was doing had a big impact too -- I don't think the dietary changes alone would have gotten the same results.


Anyway, so when I started nearing my target weight, I started playing with my diet a bit and the weight loss came to a screeching halt. It was a bit surprising since I went from losing 2 pounds/week to nothing and all I did was add *maybe* 1000-1500 calories PER WEEK back into my diet.


I eventually lost a few more pounds, very slowly... Which was fine. I may have been building muscle too, so it's hard to gauge the process. I readjusted my goals from a target weight to a target body fat percentage.


So this year my goal is to drop an inch off my waist and get my body fat below 10%... Which should be realistic once I get motivated (and healthy) enough to hit the gym on a regular basis again.


But after all this time, I'm still following the same basic guidelines my trainer started me on. I throw in some potato chips every now and then... And hit the bar maybe one night a week at most (and only have 3 beers instead of 5-6...)


It's been a hard fact to take that I won't be able to return to my old hedonistic ways again. (Unless I want to regain all the weight.) Gone are the days of beer & cheese fries, ice cream, buffalo wings, general tso chicken, and many other foods I used to enjoy several times a week... Even pizza is off the list.


Of course, I do let myself have some of those foods occasionally as a treat. But they're no longer part of my normal diet. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss them. I love that food... :-)


A benefit of the new diet is that eating out is much cheaper now, since I'm not having a beer or two, or dessert... May times my girlfriend & I will split an entree rather than take leftovers home. So in these uncertain economic times, it's nice to save a little money when eating out.


Of course, it's still cheaper to eat at home... And eating healthy is more expensive than eating unhealthy. (In general.) Before, I'd usually just make some prepackaged or frozen meal (hot pockets, pizza, etc). Now, we're actually cooking real food which costs more and is a hassle, but I guess you can't put a price on your health...


So for me, I guess diets have always been a short-term solution and then I'd fall back into the normal trappings that would put the weight right back on. Now I'm much more conscious of everything I'm eating, which is its own hassle in a way, but I'm hoping I'll finally break the vicious cycle I've been in for the last 10 years or so.


- SM -


eebee's picture

That's great news.

I'm so glad you've found something that helps you. Unfortunately, if I said to myself (or worse - had someone else tell me) I couldn't eat carbs in the evening, I would be back to dieting hell rebellion square one. To me, that is a diet! Same thing if I or somebody else instructs me to 'eat healthily' - I'm doomed to the downward spiral. I understand this is not the case for those unaffected by disordered eating or those with a healthy relationship to food.

Perhaps my original post wasn't strong enough. And I'm sure I've built up a reputation of posting diets and yet more diets over the past few years!  As I said before, they worked in educating and exposing me to beneficial foods and combinations. However, any diet in general ultimately fails me, and the main reasons for that are control and my own lack of self-respect.

This is no diet. Not counting anything. Not trying to eat either healthily or unhealthily. But guess what? The result is that I eat healthily in normal quantities. It just happens because my quiet, shy subconscious can now be heard in the absence of diet mumbo-jumbo din. The sane, whispering voice in my head has been telling me all along that eating to the point of stuffed-ness is gonna hurt real soon, that cabbage lightens my mood and sugar enrages it. It all makes sense. Food is moseying on back into its rightful corner in my life, and exists to sustain me, not fight with me.  I cannot achieve that through any kind of diet. 

What you've detailed in your post, Skatey-Mark, is indeed sound nutritional advice for many people. But to those of us for whom eating has become an endless power struggle, it's like a red rag to a bull.  

For my non-diet to continue to bring me back to center, I have to constantly remind myself I'm not on any kind of diet at all, period: not cutting back on anything, not excluding anything, not 'trying to eat more' of something, not banning eating at a time of day.

If it weren't for the certain friends and relatives in my life, in whom I have witnessed such self-destruction and nonsensical beliefs about food, I probably wouldn't have posted at all. However, I feel that there are many of us out there stuck in the same holding pattern. Geneen Roth's articles are the best place to start to achieve freedom from diet prison.

But now you've gone and said it, Skatey-Mark: give us all the juicy details about the shoulder injury!! (I hope it heals up soon).

skatey-mark's picture

non diets & my shoulder

That's great that you've found something that works... :-) Everyone is a little different and what works for some doesn't work for others... I don't really stick too well with the "no carbs in the evening" thing, but I do try to be mindful of them at least. For a long time, I was keeping a food journal that I'd turn in to my trainer each week. THAT really made me think about everything I was eating, since it would be written down and I'd be "held accountable" for it. Now, I could have lied about what I ate, but that would have defeated the purpose of the journal. (I did bend the truth a bit at times though... lol) For me, if I wasn't thinking about what I was eating, I'd probably go back to my diet of pizza, cheese fries, and buffalo wings... :-) I think I have a bona-fide addiction to that stuff... Oh, and Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream... THAT stuff is like crack... Sweet, sugary, pumpkiny crack... :-) As for the shoulder, it's been a minor nuissance for some time now. It started late last spring and would normally just bother me when I was in the gym. In particular, if I was doing some work with dumbbells where each side is independent and you have to rely on the little stabilizer muscles a lot more. I kept thinking it would get better on its own, but it never did. Recently, it got a LOT worse. (It's marginally better now that I've been not going to the gym or doing anything to aggravate it.) A few weeks ago, I painted two rooms in my house, including the ceilings, and that REALLY made it bad. Bad enough I had trouble finding a comfortable position to fall asleep, etc. I finally scheduled a doctor appointment and he thinks I did something to my rotator cuff. So tomorrow I have my first physical therapy appointment, and we'll see what the PT guy says. My goal of the PT appt is to find out what exercises I can & can't do at the gym and, of course, what exercises I need to be doing to help my shoulder get back to normal. I was a little worried that the "treatment" would be to just rest the shoulder, which would eliminate any upper-body work at the gym. But if this really is "rotator cuff impingement" then rest actually makes it worse (supposedly). RCI arises when one of the shoulder muscles is too weak. Which doesn't seem possible, with as much upper-body work my trainer had me doing. But maybe we weren't hitting that muscle effectively. Anyway, I'm sure the PT guy will do his own assessment to determine what's wrong. So it could end up being something else. It has been nice sleeping late instead of dragging my butt out of bed early to hit the gym... :-) But I'll get back into my routine again soon. - SM -
eebee's picture

Legalizing Crack

Wow, I hope that rest isn't what heals you, but I guess if it is, you probably should! How does the shoulder issue factor into skating? Does it hurt to swing your arm or will you still be able to skate when the time comes?

I guess my approach to reaching my healthy weight is a bit more global, in that it's like the idealism of legalizing drugs. It's not banned so all of a sudden I'm not attracted to it :-).

It's an interesting point to me, that you head straight for the Ben & Jerrys, pizza, etc., and I'd like to ask if you think you're doing that because you do put yourself on diets or restricted regimens at other times of the year and you know in the back of your mind you're going to do so again in a matter of time? I'm sort of asking everybody who may have said the same thing you did (not picking on you, in other words!). But yes, we all had different upbringings, and if our cash-strapped parents felt like they had to get the most calories for their bucks, we probably all grew up thinking beef pot pie was a wholesome meal. So then, cue the diets. Probably one of the biggest favors any otherwise loving parent could do for a child (other than hammering home the importance of saving and investing early on) is to put a 'healthy' dinner on the table every day and treat it as the most normal thing in the world, reserving things like french fries, chips and cake to the odd Birthday.

 

eebee's picture

Lost more weight not dieting!

Happy to report I lost another 4lbs somehow. So that's down a total of 10lbs since Christmas/New Year. This isn't to brag, but to celebrate my freedom from diets and disordered eating. It's also absolutely fascinating to read and interpret my body's signals on the days I don't skate, vs. the days I do skate. I now expect elevated carb cravings during the 12 hours after a long skate. I used to panic whenever I got hungry in the following 12 hours after any skate over 1 hour. I'd eat more than I needed. Now I can actually tell how much food I need and I don't overeat any more, and neither do I feel like eating fatty junk. I do still eat fatty junk, however, just not as much. I'd say one of the biggest triumphs is the inner peace that is finally mine in the evenings. I no longer go through the mental tug-of-war over the contents of my fridge. I no longer walk into the kitchen twenty times a night, to stand there and have philosophical fights with myself as to whether willpower is all it's cracked up to be. I just go to the kitchen if I'm hungry, and eat something. That's it.
roadskater's picture

My Inner Peace Starts Monday

Nothing is better than inner peace. In the long run, that is, at least. I have to say I am very impressed at your finding a place of peace with food and with your sharing your struggles here. It's a bummer that people need to log in to comment because I think you would get more comments if not (but we'd have spam comments galore too). We want comments from non-skaters, non-cyclists too. The point you make about not thinking you'll diet next week helps with better eating this week (if I got that right) is a good one. How often have I said, "Oh I'll eat it this weekend, because my diet starts on Monday." Perhaps for some of us at least, the way to go is not to have any prohibitions, and just relax and never go on another diet. Of course, there's no denying that others need another path to inner peace with food, and I may be one, I'm not sure. I seem to do better when I have certain things I do not do in general (no cheese, no deep fried, but with the exception of 1/2 of a pizza 1x per week, which is a significant exception i admit). Winter is tough as I'm less likely to exercise, and exercise is the regulator of sleep and appetite for many. I am still making my way to it all. But I'm really glad you are feeling so great right now about your relationship with food and exercise! Thanks again for posting something personal! It will help more people than we ever will know.
eebee's picture

Serenity Now!

And if the Monday peace fails, you can always start again on Tuesday! I appreciate all your hard work at keeping the Russian Chemisty Majors off the website. Thanks for the comment! It is personal, and maybe embarrassing to some if they know me, but for those who don't, maybe it'll help. And by the way, whatever system works for people is fine of course, but if there's agonizing and internal conflict surrounding food, I'd suggest maybe that system isn't working.
Bryan's picture

My favorite zen koan (and

My favorite zen koan (and one of the very few I actually have memorized) is:

When you are hungry, eat. When you are finished, wash your bowl.

I think the problem for many (myself included) is knowing when we are truly hungry, rather than merely unfulfilled in some way that has nothing to do with needing nutrients.

eebee's picture

When you are hungry, eat.

When you are hungry, eat. When you are finished, wash your bowl.

I wish my teenaged son would get the hang of that one. He's got the eating part covered.

What I have found with not being on any kind of dietary restrictions (other than the allergy kind) is that I know now what being hungry feels like, much like I did as a child. I know now what full feels like - and it's not stuffed to the point of paralysis. And the really cool thing is that if I'm miserable now, I just sit there being miserable: I don't sit there with a bowl of ice cream being miserable :-) 

 

 

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