Food is just food

In my last post, I said that I was no longer dieting, but what does that really mean?

First, let’s look at the definition of diet (as found in the Oxford English Dictionary): “A special course of food to which a person restricts (emphasis added) themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons”. So, by this definition, whether you’re eating Paleo (no grains, beans, soy, dairy, added sugar, or certain vegetable oils), Whole30 (dairy, grains, alcohol, legumes, added sugar or artificial sweeteners), Keto (no sugar of any kind [including fruits and dairy], no root vegetables [such as potato, pumpkin], and no grains [including grain derived foods such as bread and flour]), or Weight Watchers (no more than a certain number of Smart Points [that number is derived by using customers’ resting metabolic rate to determine how many calories they need in order to lose a couple of pounds a week]), you are, by definition, dieting.

I was really good at dieting for a long time, although I hadn’t followed a specific plan since I tried Weight Watchers for the first time back in college. From January 2013 to March 2017, my self-conceived “plan” looked something like this: no bread or baked goods of any kind, no white starches (rice, pasta, potatoes), minimal whole grains (quinoa and brown rice), only nonfat dairy products, and tracking every morsel of anything with calories in an online food diary. I obsessed over not just the number of calories I was ingesting but also how many grams of carbohydrates and sugar, sometimes taking 10-15 minutes to choose which meal option to choose as I compared calories and macronutrients. I lost a significant amount of weight by living this way, but I also developed really disordered eating habits including wild swings between strict adherence to my “plan” and carb-laden binges when I was under stress or tired or not feeling well; it was definitely all or nothing for me.

By some miracle, I managed to keep off most of the weight I’d lost for 2-1/2 years by doing the same things I’d done to lose it: restricting and obsessively tracking my food. And then I was injured in an accident that left me unable to run for a month, followed closely by a major shakeup at work, and all bets were off. Not only did I feel horrible physically but I was under more stress than I had been for many years; I turned to food for comfort and release. No tracking, no restriction, just eating lots of floury, sugary carbohydrates in large quantities (and usually in secret).

It was something my physical therapist said to me that finally made me want to change. She said, “You are so lucky that you weren’t hurt more badly than you were, Denise – your body is really strong.”

Strong? My body? My stubborn body that wouldn’t get thin enough no matter how strictly I counted calories? My undisciplined body that craved sweet baked goods and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even though those were “bad” foods? Was she serious?!? What the heck?!?!

And then I started thinking about it and I realized how right she was.

My poor body put up with my crazy food restrictions while I trained for three half marathons. It never complained and in fact, it got stronger and faster even as I slowly gained a few pounds with each race, increasing my hatred for it and my determination to “get this thing under control” so that I could finally be thin and happy. “This thing”, of course, was my own body, but I was so disconnected from it that I saw it as something separate, something not to be trusted and certainly not to be appreciated.

A few days after that conversation, I decided that I wanted to find sanity in my eating and my relationship with my body, so I started working with a coach. One of the first things Summer told me was that “food is just food”, and that just blew my mind with its simplicity. How many years did I spend obsessing over, restricting, and vilifying food, when the truth is that food is fuel for my body, nothing more, nothing less. In my unceasing quest to shrink my body into a more acceptable size, I’d rarely considered what my body actually needed to be happy and healthy, only how to make my food intake fit into my “plan”.

So there I was, a whole clothing size larger than I’d been just five weeks ago, before the accident, with a choice to make: I could go back to my diet/restrict/binge eating pattern, or I could try eating what my body actually wanted when it wanted it and in the quantity that it wanted. With a huge amount of fear, I stepped off the diet bandwagon and into a whole new world of eating.

For a little while, I was like a small child let loose in FAO Schwarz, eating everything I’d previously denied myself, including a scone every morning with my latte. Predictably, my body size increased. I had multiple panic attacks about my new “no rules” eating and started planning for a new diet several times before I remembered that restriction and obsessing had gotten me to this place of insanity in the first place, so – with support from Summer – I stayed the course.

Eventually, probably 6-8 weeks into my new way of eating, the insatiable need for sweet baked goods waned and was replaced by eating things that I knew made my body feel good and function well. I started to pay attention while I ate, too, so that I could feel when my body had enough food and stop eating. The first time I ordered a two taco combination with a side of black beans and could only finish one taco before I felt full, you could have knocked me over with a feather. This was a meal I’d eaten hundreds of times during my dieting days – it had fewer than 600 calories even with the black beans, for goodness sakes, but, of course, I’d never been paying attention to how my body felt before, so how could I have known?

It’s been 2-1/2 months since I stopped dieting and started listening to my body. I’m up another size in clothing (that would be the extended period of no-holds-barred baked goods eating) and I’ve never felt this sane, this normal, this happy about my relationship with food and my body. I haven’t weighed myself since before the accident and I don’t intend to ever again because my body feels happy and strong, my blood sugar is well controlled, and I don’t hate my body anymore.

Damn, this feels good.