Tuesday, June 8, 2010

diets don't work

Dieting has never worked for me. Diets have always made me feel very miserable, unhappy and profoundly deprived. Calling them "lifestyle changes" didn't make any difference either. Yes, I lost weight, but no, I never maintained the loss. Deprivation simply doesn't work. If diets worked, fat people would lose weight and remain thin. That just doesn't happen. Everyone I know who has ever lost a significant amount of weight by dieting has regained it all, and now yo-yos between high and low weights, in a constant battle with food, their wills and their own bodies. We treat our bodies as enemies to be defeated instead of our most beautiful and useful assets to be nurtured.

I now recognise how detrimental this pattern actually has been to my health. I found this excellent article the other day via Lori's blog. Please give it a read if you are a yo-yo dieter, as it really opens your eyes to what this habit does to the body. Please read it if you have a few extra pounds and you're thinking of starting a diet to shed them.

I am beginning to understand that depriving the body destroys the metabolism. If my body regularly experiences calorie deficits, then it's going to react strongly whenever I overeat, and try its best to hang onto the extra calories...for survival! I have often wondered why some people can go to say, a wedding, and eat and drink lots more than usual, and not gain weight. The answer is not luck. The answer is that their metabolism functions properly because it has not been confused and destroyed by cycled bouts of deprivation followed by bouts of excess. Therefore it metabolises extra food instead of turning it into adipose. My husband has always eaten pretty moderately and exercised. He does not do this out of principle - he does it because he listens to his body unconsciously, eats what he needs to, and enjoys running. At special events, he does not gain five pounds. I do, though. And it's not because I've consumed 17,500 calories worth of food either (one pound contains 3,500 calories). It is because my physiology has actually been affected by this behaviour of deprivation and excess that has been going on since I was about 13.

What is the antidote to this problem?

My friend Lee would say, actually, that it is love. She is fully recovered from Eating Distress and has left the world of dieting far behind her. To quote her:

"I was every weight...I hit both ends...and no number on the scales, no dress size, no body size ever made me any happier, or any more content. What I discovered was, that the more I obsessed about weight, the bigger my weight got. The more I trusted, forgot about it, and just listened to my body, focused on finding a balance...my weight just stabilised. I lost the excess weight caused by emotional over-eating, restricting and not listening to my body's signals. There were times I restricted and gained pounds at the end of the week (a symptom of fluid retention and metabolic rate standing still). Then I trusted that I could eat more and never had to worry about it.

I focused on accepting my body; sending love to the parts I didn't like, and that seemed to be the answer...to live anyway and the body just kinda sorts itself out when you aren't focusing on it and you are wrapped up in doing other things...in living!

Sometimes you temporarily gain a bit of weight becuase your body is healing. The poor body...being so beaten up and broken and yet it keeps fighting for you...but as it heals, it sorts itself out. You just need to trust; to beleive it's worth it. Something that helped me was realising that what had caused all the problems I experienced with my body was the disordered behaviour in the first place.

So there was no point in going back looking for the solution in the very thing that had created the problem! The answer is to build up the self-love. When you love yourself enough, you stop hurting yourself.

Build up the acceptance: only when you accept something the way it is completely can it change in positive ways. Build up the forgiveness (forgive your body for not always meeting your expectation, trust it is doing its best...).

Work on feeling good enough the way you are...build up your sense of feeling good enough to the point that nothing can break it."

So this is what I am trying to do. It is genuinely difficult to trust that it is all going to work out ok. Our culture screams at us that all we need to do is put down the fork. That's actually not the case. In fact, many of us need to learn that it is actually ok to eat. It is actually ok to give our body what it needs. I think I have been stuck in a mindset of thinking "If I can just deprive myself for long enough, then I will reach my target weight, and then I can stop depriving." That is total bullshit. Deprivation does not work. Dieting does not work. Why would I want to go back there? It has caused so so many problems: such a sense of failure. Sometimes you can even get a bit of a (short-lived) high from depriving yourself. Yay! I ate very little today! I am hungry but my willpower won out! Soon I will be thin! You think this feeling is confirmation that things are changing in you - but they're not!

What does seem to work, in the experience of Lee and others like her, is imperfectly stumbling along in the journey of kindness and self-acceptance, while feeding the body every couple of hours with something nutritious...plenty of meat, fish, fruit,vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, pulses, cheeses, yoghurt.

I don't always get it right. I eat too much or too little sometimes, or too much non-nutritious food or whatever. Sometimes I go too long without eating, which slows the metabolic rate. I also allow stupid bullshit thinking to go on in my head instead of correcting it and slamming it down at every turn. For example, I was at a bbq recently. We were eating at the table. Plate after plate of meat and bread and salad came my way as they were passed around. Feeling a little pressurised, I mindlessly took something from every plate, not even thinking do I like this? Do I want this? When the loading was done, I looked down and saw far more food on my plate than I wanted, including foods I do not even like. I panicked slightly. I began to eat quickly for a couple of reasons. (a) So that people would not see the quantity on my plate and (b) so that I would not offend our hosts by leaving half a plateful, having helped myself! How idiotic! Halfway through my meal I was very full, but kept going. It was actually terrible. And it all transpired not because there was a lot of food and a lot of "temptation" but because my thinking was utterly disordered. However I have learned a lesson about mindfulness in such situations and I won't let it happen again.

I am definitely a bit scared at the moment. I suppose I have been feeling that I can trust that my body will stabilise at a healthy weight if I can see the "proof" on the scales. (As you know, my scales are gone.) My therapist's suggestion that perhaps seeing lower numbers on the weighing scale was in fact not proof of recovery woke me up to the realities of my motivations...as a lifetime serial dieter from a very early age, I think I was actually viewing the recovery process as the key to losing weight. How insane is that!

I have to battle against this mindset now on a daily basis, but at least I am aware of it, which means I can get into the ring and fight it, instead of taking the covert digs from the condition day in day out without really realising how I am ending up so battered and bruised...

Here's to self-care, self-nourishment and the rest. Later.

1 comment:

  1. I admit that I've never heard of Eating Distress, but it sounds like you're approaching it in a healthy manner. I just posted a blog about how I love the scale, so we obviously have somewhat different philosophies, but whatever allows us to live comfortably in our skin is what works for us. Best of luck!