Today I’m stepping back from the food and sharing my struggles over the last few years with dieting. I hope that some of you will relate to this and take something valuable from it. This is what I would tell every girl or woman who’s on the diet roller coaster – or, what I wish I would’ve known before getting on.
I was 13 when I went on my first diet. As an average size 8th grader who had never been overweight nor super thin and ate pretty healthy compared to most, I innocently wanted to lose a few pounds of “baby weight.”
Following the South Beach Diet protocol, which cuts out virtually all carbs in the first phase before slowly introducing some back in, I quickly lost 10 pounds. I felt great and healthy. Until the diet was over, and the weight I had lost returned (probably not a bad thing). I tried to maintain the diet’s rules in normal life, but I had only learned how to manipulate food groups to lose weight fast and unsustainably.
When I first set out to lose weight, I didn’t know that a seven-year cycle of restrictive diets and exercise routines would follow.
I’ve tried a lot of diets, minus hardcore Paleo (thank goodness). It started with South Beach, then 6-week diet plans from beauty magazines, random diet books, and of course, low-carb many times. When I cut out processed junk and moved towards real food about three years ago, my attention shifted away from my weight for a bit. For once, I was eating good to fuel my body. And then a couple years later, I found veganism, which – contrary to why some go vegan – I truly embraced as an abundant lifestyle and not just another weight loss scheme.
But the desire to lose weight always seemed to return, partly due to competing in pageants and wanting to fit society’s standards (ugh), and partly due to my perfectionist personality. It was a perfect storm. I started 2016 on my typical low-carb (still vegan), five-meals-a-day pageant prep meal plan and began working out 2-3 hours a day. I had done this before, but long story short, this round of dieting knocked me off my feet physically and mentally. I may go into this in another blog post, but I was at my lowest weight since 8th grade, I had no energy, I didn’t (and still don’t) have a period, and I was obsessed with my body, scared of food, and physically & emotionally hungry.
It hit me that I couldn’t go on like that anymore.
I was listening to a podcast on this topic, and the host said something like, “Think of how hard you had to work to get to your ‘thin body.’ You will have to maintain that forever, but your body will probably still outsmart you, and you’ll have to work even harder.”
I knew I couldn’t work out for 2-3 hours a day, eat 1,400 calories, and be constantly exhausted for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to fight my body anymore.
I wanted to find where it felt most comfortable. Where I could eat until I was satisfied, stay active, and relax while maintaining my body’s natural weight. I needed to accept the fact that my natural weight is probably not my lowest weight. And that’s okay. i just wanted to be normal again.
Diets are failures by default. Heck, they have “die” in the word itself – that’s enough for me to know they suck. You eat a little more than you think you should or hardly work out, so you go on an extreme diet that cuts out food groups (usually carbs) and all the pleasure associated with eating. It turns eating and moving into necessary chores, so you tire of it quickly. Soon you find yourself back where you started, or even worse, only to get caught in the horrible cycle that is dieting and negative body image. It. Doesn’t. Work.
I finally realized that. I’m still in the process of figuring it out and finding my sweet spot, but I’ve definitely learned some valuable lessons in the past few months about health, self-love and balance. I want to share them with you in the hopes that you can learn something and avoid the diet cycle – or get out if you’re in the midst of it.
[Tweet “The diet roller coaster isn’t fun – here’s how I got out, got healthy & learned to love myself.”]
Here’s what I want to tell every girl on a diet…
Your body will fight you every. single. day. to get back to its normal weight.
Just like I mentioned in the quote above, maintaining your unnaturally low weight will be hard work. It’s something called “set point theory,” which says that your body feels comfortable in a certain weight range and will fight to stay there. It’s smarter than you give it credit for. If you drop to a low weight that your body feels uncomfortable at, it will outsmart you and adjust to get you back to where it wants to be. Then you’ll have to do more exercise and eat less to stay at your low weight – not a good thing.
You’re (probably) killing your metabolism.
After a few months of low-carbing earlier this year, my metabolism was completely shot. I had no energy, I was always cold, and my hormones had basically shut down. When you’re constantly going up and down on the diet roller coaster, your body has to constantly adapt. Not eating enough throws your body into emergency mode, and your metabolism slows down simply to keep things running. I’m working my ass off (or, rather, not working my ass off by relaxing) to get my metabolism back to normal.
You need all the food groups. Yes, even carbs.
Low-carb diets are unhealthy. We need carbs, especially as women. We also need fat and protein. There’s a need for all of the macronutrients, and we should never cut one out or be scared of one. Of course, I think it’s healthy to care about the quality or source of your macronutrients (i.e. beans vs. bacon for protein), but to be scared of fruit – the most antioxidant-rich foods – or whole grains because you’re afraid of carbs is NOT healthy at all. I never want to be scared of an apple again.
It is totally okay to be conscious of what you’re eating and the quality of your food.
“But you’re vegan, isn’t that a diet?” I know someone might think that, but I truly don’t see veganism as a weight-loss diet. It’s a way of life that has changed my life tremendously. I choose to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet because that is what I believe is the healthiest diet for my body. I don’t think rejecting dieting means eating all the junk food you want. Rather, it means learning what is best for your body and mind, and choosing these foods in abundance because you love your body and want to take care of it.
It’s still okay to eat junk food sometimes.
Because vegan snickerdoodle ice cream is a thing and we all need to enjoy that every now and then. I love to make comfort foods and treats from healthier ingredients, but sometimes you just need to go out and get a good meal without worrying about what’s in it. I am still struggling with this one, but I have been letting myself enjoy these treat foods when I crave them. There are foods that nourish the body, and there are foods that nourish the soul. It’s okay.
There are many more productive things you could be doing than counting calories or weighing portions.
I get so sad when I think about the precious time I wasted plugging in every morsel of food to a calorie-tracking app, crying at my body in the mirror, or forcing myself to go to the gym when I should’ve gotten some quality sleep. When I think about the spring semester and the beginning of the summer, it’s really all a blur. I spent so much time worrying about insignificant things like my body or the ounces of broccoli I was eating instead of how I could help people through my blog or spending time with people I love. Time is sacred – spend it on things that matter.
Eat real, whole food. Your weight will figure itself out; your health is more important.
It’s a scary place to be when an extra bite of quinoa or a spoonful of peanut butter gives you anxiety. I never want to be there again. Giving myself the freedom to eat the foods I love (whole plant foods) was the best decision I could’ve made. If cooking and enjoying the foods I love without stress means a few extra pounds than what I think I should have, I’ll take it. Those “extra” pounds mean happiness, functioning hormones, and memories with loved ones. Plus, I know I’m fueling myself with the healthiest foods on the planet – and that’s more important to me than my weight. I trust that my body will find its happy place, and I’m learning to accept whatever that is.
“Make your life your masterpiece, not your body.” – Katie Dalebout
Oh, the wise Katie Dalebout. This was my mantra all summer as I managed to claw myself out of the dieting cycle. I (and you, too) have so much going for me in life – school, this blog, a support system, a will to succeed. Just think about how insignificant the inch of fat on our stomachs really is compared to everything else in the world. Our values, relationships, and the way we serve the world should mean more than what our bodies look like.
This has been a difficult journey. I’m still on it, and I don’t think the journey will ever end. There will be twists and turns, and I’ll learn along the way. I’ve already learned so much and am so proud of how far I’ve come.
My biggest hope is that through sharing my story and struggles, I can help you and beautiful women everywhere find a better, healthier, more loving way to live.
I can’t end this post without thanking Cody from Nutshell Nutrition for helping me along the way and providing amazing support. If you’re struggling with these types of issues, I highly recommend checking them out.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and struggles. I love you all.
Thanks Amanda for letting me think out loud this Thursday.