It was the summer of 1997 and as a 21-year old college student without a care in the world, I was doing what oodles of college students across the country do on the weekends to decompress—PARTY! But I did a bit too much of it and before long, my clothes got a little tight. I really don’t know how the hell that happened…after all, doesn’t alcohol cancel out all calories consumed afterwards? 😉
Did I mention I was a broke college student? Investing in a new wardrobe wasn’t an option, so I made the more economical decision to go on a diet. It was a no-brainer! As a dietitian-in-training, I had all of the tools at my fingertips to create a sound meal plan and safely shed those extra pounds. Here are the four lessons I learned from that one safe and “innocent” little diet:
Lesson #1: I am human.
Human beings do not like restrictions. Human beings rebel against restrictions. Even if said restrictions are reasonable and otherwise healthy, human beings still do not like restrictions. Let’s say I prescribe you a 1500 calorie-a-day diet. How much do you want to bet you’ll want 1550 calories? If I feel generous and bump up those calories to 1800, how much do you want to bet you’ll want 1801? Even though 1800 calories may satisfy you physically, it won’t satisfy you mentally (word to the wise…mental always trumps physical…ALWAYS). It is human nature to want MORE than we are allowed to have. This is why I never prescribe diets. It’s like handing you a prescription for failure.
At one point, I allowed myself 2500 calories a day because surely 1500, 1600, 1800, 1900, 2000 and 2300 calories a day weren’t enough. I always wanted more. Guess what happened at the 2500-calorie level? Yep! I wanted more.
So what’s the answer? Remove the restrictions! Get rid of the limitations! And for Pete’s sake…please stop counting calories. Listen to your body instead. That’s what babies do, and they are brilliant eaters. YOU have a brilliant body today. If you slow down and listen—I mean really shut up and listen—it will tell you when it’s had enough. I haven’t counted calories in almost fourteen years. Do I know how many calories I eat? No. Do I care? No. Do I eat a balanced diet (including my all time favorite foods in moderation) and exercise my body most days of the week? Yes. Do I tune into my level of hunger and fullness? Yes. Do I sometimes ignore those levels and overeat? Hell yes. And the reason I know this is because I tune into my body. Do I beat myself up for overeating and eat the whole cake? Hell no. I just tune back in.
Lesson #2: How to have a sloppy love affair with doughnuts and obsess over food.
Never before did I obsess over food. Food was normal. It was part of life and living. But as soon as I placed the proverbial red “X” over the forbidden foods you aren’t supposed to eat when dieting (pretty much any food with taste), a dysfunctional relationship was born. Although I always loved doughnuts growing up, I never had a problem with them. We were friends. I would enjoy one every so often and be done with it. They were also at the top of Dieting 101’s “Forbidden-Food” list, which gave them a tremendous amount of power over me. When food has power…it wins! And boy did the doughnuts win. Like a maple-iced doughnut holding a gun to my head, forcing me behind the wheel of my car, at one point I drove to a 24-hour doughnut shop in the middle of the night to get my fix. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was because I wasn’t allowed to have them that I wanted them and would stop at nothing until I got my hands on one (or two, three or four).
So what’s the answer? Understand (and believe deep down in your gut) that NO food is off limits. Our favorite “sometimes” foods have a special place in our lives. Sure it’s a small place, but they still have a home. When you erase the red “X”, food no longer has power. YOU win.
Lesson #3: When I failed one diet, there was always another “new and improved” diet lurking in the darkness, waiting to suck me in.
After I failed my self-prescribed diet, I turned to Weight Watchers, then Richard Simmons “Deal-A-Meal”, then diet pills, then fat-free, then carb-free, then diet pills again (this time it was Metabolife, which has since been pulled from shelves due to reported serious health effects and yes, even death). None of them worked and in fact, helped support my three-year battle with Binge Eating Disorder.
Why didn’t they work? Can you say restrictions? How about limitations?
So what’s the answer? Remove the restrictions! Get rid of the limitations! And for Pete’s sake…please stop counting calories. Listen to your body instead.
Lesson #4: I didn’t fail the above diets. They failed me.
Recall from Lesson #1—Human beings do not like restrictions. We rebel against them. And since all diets are built upon restrictions, they fail us from the get-go.
So what’s the answer? Stop dieting! Don’t even think of trying another one, no matter how alluring and sexy it may be (and if you’re tempted to try one, send me an email at Melanie@BustYourDiet.com with the diet in question and I’ll give you a kick in the pants to set you straight!)
Instead, feed your body real food. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein (think poultry, fish, beans), nuts, olive oil…one-ingredient foods that are fresh, bright, fibrous… and give you gas! Click here to learn more. And here to learn even more!
Do you see yourself in any of these lessons? Have you learned from them or are you waiting to catch the next diet train? If you will, think back to your last diet. Remember that feeling you got when you derailed from it and ate a forbidden food? Despair. Hopeless. Lost. Disgusted. Angry. Depressed. Sad. Anxious. Guilty. Do you really want to hit the rewind button and do it all over again?
You are your solution. So set yourself free.