Since the age of 12, I have tried at least one and usually multiple diets every year. As an awkward, pre-teen girl I thought I should look like the girls in the Teen and Seventeen Magazines that I bought with my spending money. So I followed my mom’s lead and started reading her Weight Watchers materials, making my own food tracker, filling in the little tiny boxes for fat, vegetables, meat, and poultry, etc. Fast forward to my late 30’s and I could add these diets to the list: Body for Life, the South Beach diet, the Atkins Diet, calorie counting on paper, My Fitness Pal, Weight Watchers again, low-carb, and Trim Healthy Mama. My last diet, intermittent fasting with an 18/6 eating window ended in mid-2019. After that, I decided to experiment with not dieting. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from a year of not dieting.
You might think I probably wasn’t “successful” with any of these diets, and that’s why I swore off dieting, but that isn’t the case. Yes, some of them lasted a few days before I “fell off the wagon” and started eating all the “off plan” foods, but I’ve also been called the “thinspiration” of my friends, and have been told that I’m a “role model,” for how to change your life, at least as far as health and fitness is concerned. I’ve gained and lost about 200 pounds over the course of those 25 years. My biggest weight loss was 75 lbs. between 2008-2010, which I did keep off for close to two years before gaining it back. With my last dieting, intermittent fasting, I stopped after developing a chronic health condition that was caused by eating that way. I had lost 35 lbs. doing IF and thought I could do it forever. But it was actually making me sick.
Not Dieting Isn’t the Same as Being “Off the Wagon”
The first lesson I learned from a year of not dieting is that not dieting doesn’t mean you’re “off the wagon,” that you’ve “let yourself go,” or that you don’t care about your health or being overweight. This has actually been a great year for me, health-wise. I’ve developed more positive health habits that are TRULY for my health and not just for being skinny or being admired by strangers on social media. This year I’ve gotten more sleep, eaten more vegetables, learned to listen to my hunger signals, and finally felt some peace with food.
Diets Don’t Work
A second lesson I learned from a year of not dieting is that I didn’t fail at dieting. Dieting failed me because diets fail. The research on diets says that diets don’t work. In fact, dieting is associated with future weight gain.
Not dieting doesn’t mean I eat all the things
Feeling the urge to binge or overeat is normal when you first stop dieting. Restricting what you’re eating is damaging to your metabolism and is psychologically damaging. The result of that is when you stop restricting food, your natural tendency is going to be to overeat. This isn’t a lack of willpower, it is a normal part of being human. For me, over-eating or binging when I stopped dieting lasted for a couple of months, but then it stopped and I just felt like I calmed down about food. If you’ve never heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, it’s a super fascinating read. If you read it, see if you can see the similarities between what happened in the experiment and modern-day dieting. Here’s an awesome podcast about it.
Not dieting doesn’t mean I don’t care about fat loss
I can still want to lose fat and not be willing to use dieting to do it. For me, that meant trying to find another, more sustainable way than dieting. That has looked like working on my thinking and working on my health habits. It’s not sexy. It’s pretty much the most boring thing ever. Eating more vegetables and more protein is boring. Trying to move my body everyday is boring. But very slowly, it results in fat loss. Or maybe sometimes it doesn’t. That’s ok too.
I don’t have to hate my body
Another lesson I learned from a year of not dieting, is that I can want to lose fat and ALSO not hate or shame my body at the same time. Bodies are pretty boring and hopefully one of the less interesting things about me. The truth is that even at my thinnest, I wanted to be thinner. And that wasn’t a problem with my body, it was a problem with how I thought about my body. I have wasted so much time, energy, and money dieting and worrying about what other people thought about my body. Also, feeling shame usually makes someone want to turn to something to comfort them, like food. Feel bad about your body=want to eat cookies to feel better.
We want to encourage you to rethink your relationship with dieting and with your body. Love yourself, kick the diets to the curb, and mama, buy the pants! Check out a few other articles we’ve shared on this topic: