To all my chronic dieters,
To start, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to define what a “chronic dieter” is, because it’s one of those things where if you think that kinda sounds like you…it probably is. And I want you to know that I’ve been there. For most of my life, I have tracked every calorie, lost weight, gained the weight back, and either gone back to counting/measuring/tracking calories or hopped on the new diet trend (I was vegetarian for a year in college, back when going meat-free for weight loss started getting its share of limelight). I was completely miserable, and if you’re one of us chronic dieters, then I want to venture a guess that you are unhappy too.
For most of my teenage/adult life, I forced myself to live within food “rules.” I used to eat ALL JUNK FOOD, just because it had nutrition labels and I could correctly track the calories in it. When you’re on the go, it’s easier to track calories in a Pop-Tart than calories in an apple. It’s easier to track calories in a McDonald’s meal than calories in a meal you cook yourself. (You just cooked, are you really about to start punching in numbers of all the ingredients?) I would bring Lean Cuisines to family dinners, guys. I felt insane and my diet, quite honestly, was sh*t. The only rule I often had was to stay under a certain number of calories a day. If I went over that number, I felt like I failed. I didn’t care about the quality of the calories in the least. I couldn’t really eat out with people, because I’d freak out about not knowing the calories of the dishes. So if I had to eat out, I’d say “f*ck it, it’ll be a cheat day” and go crazy that whole day. And by “crazy”, I mean I’d eat it all. I would eat until I felt sick, just because it was “cheat day.”
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This went on for almost a decade. My relationship with food was always a bottom line. It’s funny, because I went on to become a personal trainer with a master’s degree in kinesiology, and I used to preach everything health related—everything that made a lot of sense, and that is scientifically proven to work for people. But my own situation was so f*cked up. I knew better, but I didn’t know how to do better for myself. I was helping people achieve their dream bodies, but me? I was being controlled by food.
Eventually, I got so tired of it. So I remember setting a challenge for myself. I challenged myself to just stop counting for a week. I told myself to start approaching food as I would if I was suggesting it to a client. Before I ate, I’d ask, “Would I tell my client to eat this?” For such a long time, I was telling my clients the things I wanted to do for myself, but I was too scared to commit.
I’ll be honest. That first week was rough, and my God, I was so tempted to track everything. I felt like Bambi. I was learning to walk, but by “walk,” I mean trust my instincts and trust that I can treat my body better. I avoided temptation to quantify my food, and I began to FEEL (instead of just knowing in my academic mind) that all calories are not equal, and instead I started to look at the quality of food.How my body reacts to fresh, home-cooked food like baked chicken and chickpea pasta is MUCH BETTER than how my body reacts to junk food, no matter the difference in numbers.
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Day by day, I started to see the freedom in trusting my instincts. Despite the initial fear, I soon was able to eat at any restaurant I wanted and cook food for myself without reaching sky-high levels of anxiety. I don’t have to stuff myself to the brim anymore just because it’s a f*cking “cheat day,” because I didn’t need a “cheat day.” I didn’t have to eat yet another fast food meal just because it fit the calorie quota for the day. When all you’re used to is confining yourself to rules, leaving those rules behind is terrifying. That’s probably why I, and you, my dear reader, stayed in that cycle for so long. As long as we stayed within the rules, or under a certain amount of calories, we felt “safe,” like we did something right.
So, if you are a chronic dieter, my challenge to you is this: stop forcing yourself to live within these rules for the next 48 hours. Stop quantifying your food, even if it’s just for a few days. Trust yourself, and trust that you know how to treat yourself beyond the numbers at the end of the day. Stop letting these confines ever make you feel like you’ve failed your body, because nothing and no one should ever give you the power to feel like you’ve failed your own body. I trust you, and so should you. I know that it’s scary, because now your choices are literally endless, but once you re-establish that trust with yourself, it’s like a brand new world. And it’s super worth it.
Images: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash; dietstartstomorrow / Instagram