“Sometimes when I’m raging against my body, I hear it quietly but firmly call out: same team. Same team. Same team.” Dr. Maria Paredes
Whole 30. Paleo. Keto. Intermittent fasting. Extreme calorie deficits. A new week, a new diet.
The vicious cycle of wanting to “be good” and then not being able to follow through with diet rules is something that many people experience. Having every intention of sticking to that meal plan, working out, and making the “healthiest” choices possible, but what happens when things do not go according to plan? There were donuts at the staff meeting today, your child wanted to bake cookies with you, or, simply, you ran out of time to meal-prep the dinner that fits the diet’s rules.
If you are like me, any disruption in the food rules I was following that week used to send me into downward spiral. I would be hungry because I couldn’t eat a certain food group, ran out of points, and/or in a huge calorie deficit from undereating and over-exercising. By the end of the day I would end up binging. The phrase “I’ll start again tomorrow” became my motto, but the guilt and shame never seemed to disappear.
Think back to your reasonings of starting a new diet: what was the driving factor? To lose weight. To feel healthier. It’s always to change something. As a lifelong dieter, my goal was to lose weight to ultimately feel good enough. Diets, which I will term as any set of food rules, reinforce disordered eating and thought patterns. A slippery slope.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), individuals who diet are 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder, while individuals who follow extreme restrictive diets are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Dieting is associated with weight gain and binging, and “95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1 to 5 years.”
My diet bottom hit like a ton of bricks a little over a year ago. I was living in Ohio for grad school. I came home from a day of classes feeling so proud that I crushed a grueling workout and all I ate was what was approved on my self-made meal plan that allotted a little over 1,000 calories a day. My weight has always fluctuated, but I don’t remember a time when I was ever satisfied, even at my lowest. I was completely beside myself because I wasn’t seeing results I wanted and food became terrifying, but yet the thing I thought about the most.
Throughout my teens and undergraduate career, I remember thinking that constant hunger was a good feeling and that if I was constantly hungry, it meant I was constantly burning calories. Starving from not meeting my basic caloric needs, I binged, which triggered intense shame and guilt. Sobbing because I was ashamed that food was something I felt like I had no control over anymore and was completely convinced that my body defined who I was.
I’ve been working on recovery from an eating disorder for a little over a year now. Unlearning diet rules and letting go of the rigidity, anxiety, and guilt has been something I fight for daily. My support team consists of my therapist and a registered dietitian, both specializing in Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating (click here for the Intuitive Eating blog post!).
HAES is based upon five principles:
- Weight inclusivity
Accept that there is diversity in body sizes and shapes.
- Health enhancement
Support policies that equalize access for all bodies and practices that promote well-being.
- Respectful care
Acknowledge biases and end stigma and discrimination. Provide services that aid all socioeconomic statuses, races, sexual orientations, genders, ages, and body sizes.
- Eating for well-being
Promote individualized eating based on hunger and satiety cues, rather than strict eating plans.
- Life-enhancing movement
Support joyful movement that allow people of all body sizes to engage.
I fight to remember that my body and I are not at war with one another and that any food, regardless of calories or society’s labels, can be eaten without guilt. I fight to recognize and honor my innate hunger and satiety cues. I fight to have my life back. Anyone who takes the step to dive deep into the work of unlearning food rules is brave, whether you have a diagnosed eating disorder or trying to break free from diet culture.