Why I’m starting the Anti Diet.

In the summer of 2010, my company started a six-month healthy living challenge. I enrolled because my department was aiming for 100% participation in the program, but when I got the results of my health screening, I was suddenly much more motivated than I had been before. I knew that I was chunky, but what I didn’t know was that my cholesterol was now in the danger zone, and that my blood pressure was high for the first time in my life. I knew then I had finally reached the limit of what was healthy in my lifestyle, and I was prepared to make some serious changes in my behavior in order to lose the weight.

So, I began the challenge. I started using apps like Lose-It to count calories every day. I started exercising on a daily basis. I did very simple exercises — Free Step on the wii Fit, hula-hooping — but I tried to do something active for about an hour each day. I got a pedometer and made a goal to walk 10K steps every single day. I discovered that I loved walking, and on the weekends I’d often get in 10K steps before breakfast. I didn’t diet per se — I just ate less and moved more. And over the course of the six-month challenge, I lost about 25 pounds and went from a size 12 to a size 5.

I met my goal. I was a healthy weight, and at the end of the challenge, my cholesterol was good, my blood pressure was normal, and I could call myself a healthy lady.

But it wasn’t enough. Even though I was a healthy weight, I was still on the high side of normal for my height. I wanted to lose another 10 or 15 pounds so that I could be solidly in the center range of my healthy weight. And, most notably, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I still felt fat. Logically, I knew better, but I wasn’t nearly as excited about the result as I should have been.

Near the end of the healthy living challenge at work, I learned that I could run. It was something I’d never considered trying before, and happened quite by accident when I got caught up in the moment and ran a great deal of a 5K for which I’d signed up to walk. Once I discovered I could run without killing myself, I got really obsessed with the idea of running — I wanted to do every 5K that came into town, and I wanted to be able to run the entire length without stopping for a walking break. Then, I suggested to my running partner, Stacy, that we should try the half-marathon the following April. I wanted to see if I could actually do it. So, we spent all winter training for the 13.1 mile run.

The training completely threw me off the schedule I’d been working with before that consisted of simple, low-impact daily exercise and moderated food intake. Running such great distances on a weekly basis often left me wiped out for the rest of the week, and I would always have 1-2 other shorter runs throughout the week to keep up my endurance. I was afraid of hurting my body, and I was exhausted aside, so I didn’t do any other type of exercising while I was training for the half-marathon. I also started eating everything and anything I could get my hands on. The long-distance running increased my appetite — possibly because I wasn’t getting enough protein — so I felt starved almost all of the time. While I enjoyed all the time I spent with Stacy and I also enjoyed proving that I could do something that I never thought in a million years I’d be capable of doing, I think I also lost my love of running just for the sake of running, and got highly burned out on being healthy in general. Once I completed my 13.1 mile milestone, I pretty much stayed on the couch and didn’t get up for a month.

Afterwards, I was unable to get back into the same rhythm as before. I would run perhaps once a week with Stacy, but I lost my desire to moderate anything else in my life. Slowly, I started putting the pounds back on. Come winter of 2011, I was back where I started — 20 pounds overweight, even though at least my cholesterol & blood pressure remained in healthy limits.

I wasn’t able to make the lifestyle change stick.

I think there were several reasons for this. Obviously, I disrupted my routine with training for the half-marathon, and I became so focused on that goal that I lost sight of the daily self-maintenance & care I’d previously created. However, it also always felt as if I were working towards a goal. I always had the idea in the back of my mind that once my goal was met, I could stop working so hard and depriving myself of foods I love. I could eat whatever I wanted again and I could spend less time exercising. Which, of course, was exactly what I did after the half-marathon was over. In addition, my schedule changed at work, and I started consistently getting much less sleep, and then I started working insane amounts of overtime and maintained a steady high-stress level for several months. Mainly, however, I think the issue stems from my psychological issues regarding food and healthy living in general — I should want to be good to myself and my body because I deserve that, but it’s difficult for me to maintain a pervasive feeling of self-love. In fact, I actually struggle with intense, deep feelings of self-loathing, which often trigger highly self-destructive behaviors. My tendency to “binge eat,” for example, is definitely one of those behaviors.

Why is it that so many of my emotional and psychological issues are so deeply rooted in my relationship with food? My entire family struggles with weight issues, and my grandmother has a history of nagging everyone about the slightest amount of weight they gain, even while pushing you to eat highly fattening baked goods. My grandmother also has a history of criticizing everyone she sees on the street for how much they weigh, something I internalized as a small child considering I spent so much of my time with her growing up. My grandfather, on the other hand, used food as a way of demonstrating affection. He would bring treats and sweets home from the store to let me know he loved me. Candy bars, chocolate-covered cream drops, Moon Pies — these all have intensely comforting associations for me directly related to my grandfather. When I feel bad, stressed, overwhelmed, or empty, my go-to relief is to find something sweet to put in my mouth — to try to fill that emptiness, and to try to evoke some of the comfort I received from my grandfather so many years ago.

Then, there’s the issue of low self-esteem. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t really matter how much weight I lose, or how I look — I have a difficult time perceiving myself as a beautiful, sexy woman. This is something that was recently highlighted for me in a really great blog entry I read about the problem with body shaming as motivation to lose weight. While I was able to lose weight and get healthy for a time, I was unable to change the way I think about myself, and I ended up back where I started. Reading this entry helped a light bulb click on for me. I don’t feel bad about my body because I’m overweight. I feel bad about my body because I have low self-esteem, and that manifests as a continual struggle with food and weight. In essence, I gain weight because I already hate my body. It also makes sense that the only way I was able to lose weight before was by implementing a punishment mindset — I wasn’t focused on being healthy; I was focused on depriving and working my body in penance, all to reach a very specific goal. This did nothing to correct the major underlying issue — that I need to love, respect, nurture, nourish, and take care of my body, because it’s me, and I deserve it. I just can’t seem to make myself truly and fully believe that.

So, I’ve been struggling with working towards weight loss again, recently. While I’ve been able to implement a very easy exercise routine that I enjoy with no problem (mostly walking), I think my friend Stacy and I have been having some very similar struggles with trying to eat healthy. She says, “The more upset I get about eating, the more I eat,” and that’s definitely how I feel. Moreover, as soon as I blow my calorie budget for the day, it’s so easy for me to say, “Well, won’t make it under budget today — might as well enjoy it!” and then stuff my face with snacks instead of keeping it under control. The calorie counting just isn’t working for me this time around — I think because it worked before, but now I’m right back where I started anyway. So, I think I need to try a different approach.

I need to learn to love my body, no matter what size or shape it’s in. I need unconditional love for my body.

I need to marry myself to my body — learn to listen to it, to understand it, to give it what it needs, and to fully live in it. I need to put an end to this 30 year divorce from my body’s needs and wants.

I need to nourish myself with food & exercise that I love, that I delight in, that are also healthy for me. Not healthy for me because I need to lose a whole lot of weight, but healthy for me because I deserve to treat my body to good nutrition & self-care.

Somehow, I have a feeling this is all intricately related to the psychological healing work I’m doing in therapy, too.

I need to treat my body with the same amount of loving-kindness and mindfulness that I’ve been giving my thoughts and emotions lately, and I need to make that a part of my self-care routine.

Serendipitously, I ran across a really great blog entry about this very issue. It’s called The Anti Diet. I highly recommend this entry to anyone who many be struggling with the same issues I am. Here are some of the basic cornerstones of the Anti Diet:

1. MOTIVATION - This is the only place I differ with the writer of this blog. There’s a little bit of body-shaming here, too. It’s so culturally ingrained that it’s difficult to move past it. That being said, motivation is definitely a big part of making a goal.

2. UNDERSTANDING HUNGER - I love how she outlines the difference between emotional hunger & physical hunger. I also love the suggestions of drinking more water when you are hungry as well as the different levels of hunger and how to control when you react to that hunger. I hadn’t thought about how important it is to NOT let yourself starve between meals in addition to NOT stuffing yourself to the brim at mealtime. Great suggestions here.

3. CRAVINGS - She does a great job of breaking down what a body really needs paired with what the body is craving. She also provides some really yummy recipes to show that healthy food does not have to be gross!

4. THE DANGER OF FAST FOOD – I was pretty aware of this already and tend to avoid fast food like the plague. That being said, I still indulge every once in a while. That’s probably still too much.

5. MOVE - I definitely understand the importance of moving. For me, it’s as much a stress-reliever as anything else. I need to learn to push myself a little further, however — I tend to like to stick with the easy stuff (like walking)!

6. THE DANGER OF SODA - This is something I implemented over the past couple of months. I never drank a whole lot of diet drinks, but I did fairly regularly. I’ve cut them out, and I’m glad I did. She gives a great explanation as to why these things are dangerous.

7. THE 80/20 RULE - This is probably the most helpful thing about this article for me — the idea that I’m not on a diet, that I’m just shooting for 80% of the food I eat to be healthy and good for me, while 20% of the food I eat can be the naughty stuff I love.

8. DON’T STRESS - Very, very important rule for me. Get off the scale. Stop worrying about losing the weight. Just love yourself and take it easy.

In her next to last paragraph, she says, “Your body deserves better than the way you’ve treated it in the past. You need to decide to love yourself & change for good.” For me, that pretty much sums up the approach I need to really make this work. I really should print out that quote and tape it to my bathroom mirror so that I start out every day with that goal in mind.

So, that’s my current plan of action — The Anti Diet. And applying that whole approach to everything I do. Which means I may stop making the weekly lists of goals. Everything on this list should be things I want to do for myself because they nourish me — body, mind, and soul. I need to just spend each day giving myself love and doing things that nourish me. And in order to do that, I think I can only work on it one day at a time, one step at a time, mindfully and slowly.

4 Comments

  • February 29, 2012 - 5:45 pm | Permalink

    That’s similar to the situation I’m in.

    After being upwards of 260-300lbs, I’m now OK hovering around 230-240 (although if I can lose more and get in better shape, great). It’s not where I’d like to be, but I feel like I’m healthy and active enough. I’m on high blood pressure medicine now too, so that eases the worry and guilt that my eating/exercise habits are hurting me (I think it’s likely also genetics and personality).

    I’m making a point to cook for myself more while allowing/restricting myself to eating out a few times a week. I’m also finding activities I enjoy doing (walking/hiking, biking) while not trying to set arbitrary goals on how often I should do them. I’m also trying to remember how much better I feel when I am in better shape.

    I still watch my weight, but I see it as more of an early warning that I’m slipping and need to reconsider my habits.

    And likely I will slip up on all of this at some point, so I try to find whatever works for me at the moment, and rethink/drop it when it stops working.

    • February 29, 2012 - 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely. And I definitely can relate about just wanting to find physical activities you enjoy doing. I’m impressed by your bike skills by the way!

      I think that one of the keys is being flexible. Hopefully, this new strategy will work for me, too!

  • Morgan
    March 1, 2012 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I was doing so well for a few months. I was getting up at like 5 to walk and watching my calories but I really think the exercise was the vital part, since I really don’t think I eat terribly bad. But then the weather got cold…and the hectic holiday season. And now I don’t have an excuse.

    I too have a horrible sweet tooth. I’m starting to think I have to treat them like an addict treats drugs and just stay away from them completely. Once I start I can’t seem to moderate them. It sucks that so many events feature such crap food. Eating badly is the socially accepted way of abusing oneself.

    • March 2, 2012 - 6:33 am | Permalink

      I think sugar is absolutely an addictive substance, and you are absolutely right about events featuring “crap food.” Also, this: “Eating badly is the socially accepted way of abusing oneself.” It is so, so true.

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