It’s not a secret that many women, and many Betches readers and Diet Starts Tomorrow listeners, struggle with the cycle of dieting. That’s why we tapped Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet and a recovering “food addict”, to share her journey with Betches. From yo-yo dieting to intuitive eating, from self-loathing to acceptance, she will be chronicling her decades-long struggle with food and how she overcame it over the course of this four-part series. New installments of F*ck Your Diet will drop on Mondays, so follow along, and follow Caroline at @thefuckitdiet.
I was one of those kids who went over to friends’ houses with a singular focus on eating as many of their snacks as possible. Screw the almond butter and apple slices at my house. This was my element. I couldn’t wait to finally have the resources to focus on my passion: cool snacks. Sugar and food dye. Powdery sugar. Sugary cereal. Sugar in any form, really. The best households were the ones where the kids had free rein in the kitchen. Their mom was in the other room, doing whatever people did before the internet, and we were allowed to just…get whatever we wanted. This was living. After sitting down and inhaling a pack of fruit Gushers, my friend would be ready to get back to playing some weird game where we pretended to be Simba and Nala. She was somehow satisfied by one little bag of Gushers, and I would pause as if I was thinking really hard and then say, “What if we had another snack first?”
We’d get another snack, and then I would repeat that pattern a few times until I got some form of pushback from my friend (“But… we just had 6 snacks…?”) and I would finally let us go and play our Lion King game. From these interactions alone, it was clear that I was obsessed with snacks, and they were not.
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Dear @ww and @kurbohealth and @oprah – putting kids on diets is doing active harm. Leave the kids alone. Let them eat chips without thinking about tracking or weight. Seriously, if you care about health: LEARN about weight stigma and the harm that this is doing to kids. Angrily/sadly/incredulously, Caroline. (Last slide from the @kurbohealth site by way of @lindatuckercoaching ) #weightstigma #disorderedeating #ww #wakeupweightwatchers #eatingdisorders #mentalhealth
Another friend of mine had an Easy Bake Oven. The luxury! The excitement! I couldn’t believe that just sitting there in her family room were little packets of powder that would make tiny doll-size cakes. I don’t even remember having the patience to wait for them to bake. I just remember ripping open bag after bag and eating the powder. What a life.
But because of all this, I grew up believing that I was a food addict. Actually, to be fair, I don’t think I knew what an “addict” was, especially back then. But it was very clear to me that I was obsessed with food—way more obsessed with food than anyone I knew. It didn’t concern me, it was just a fact. The only thing that concerned me was how to get more cool snacks. But I was actually very lucky, because so many young kids are put on diets and forced to focus on their weight at such a painfully young age (looking at you, Kurbo!). Body size is generally…luck. I ate more than ANYONE I KNEW and was the smallest of them all. I was able to avoid focusing on weight while I was a kid, because I was just a skinny little girl obsessed with pancakes. My humongous appetite and laser focus on sugar all seemed like more of a novelty than a concern to people because of my low weight. I have lots and lots of thoughts on this, how it affected me, and how this double standard affects us in general and as a culture, that I will elaborate on later in this series.
But the most fascinating thing (and the thing that I am eventually going to be elaborating on later in this series), is that my friends whose kitchens were stocked with all of the “junk” we never had in our house, didn’t care about snacks. They ate one, or two, and then wanted to get back to doing other things. They could take it or leave it. And that’s because (and this would take me twenty years to learn) food addiction doesn’t really exist. In fact… feeling food addicted, and addiction-like behaviors (which definitely DO exist, I was exhibit A) have only really been seen when there is “intermittent access” to food or sugar. What that means is restriction, and even perceived restriction, can wire us to fixate on, and act addicted to, food. Much much more on this later.
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Once again in tweet form: @ww and @oprah – get it together. Listen to the legitimate critique of this and pull it. (New to this outrage? @ww just launched a new app for kids as young as 8, promising a healthy relationship with food, but encouraging kids to count and track every bite, and posting before and after weight loss photos or CHILDREN. If our culture had more awareness about the damage this can do, this could and should be considered child abuse. Stop the madness.) #wakeupweightwatchers #eatingdisorders #weightstigma #diet
Because of my childhood skinniness, my early life was mostly just a lighthearted snack-gorging montage until I started gaining weight in puberty. My ability to eat three full-sized Snickers in a row in 20 minutes flat didn’t feel comical to me anymore. It felt more like, omg…oh no oh no… Is this why a food addiction is NOT fun or funny?
All of a sudden, I didn’t feel comfortable. The boobs I had literally prayed about for years (“Please god let me look like a teenager!”) were here, and they were humongous. I didn’t even fit into Victoria’s Secret bras. This was a code red. An adult body happened, and I was NOT having fun anymore. How do I go back!?!?
I have to think that if I hadn’t lived in a culture that encouraged women to look like pre-teens forever, and actually normalized puberty weight gain, it may have been easier, but it’s hard to say.
On top of all of this, after a hormonal test and an ultrasound, my doctor diagnosed me with PCOS, which is a hormonal disorder that is associated with acne, weight gain, infertility, diabetes, and way more. They casually told me I should diet and exercise and to “make sure I didn’t gain weight”. And all I could think was… Oh no. I did this. I caused this with my gorging on cookies. I think I caused this with my eating!?!?!
Based on everything I read online from Dr. Google, it seemed like food and weight were the underlying problem with this condition. So, it made sense to me that because I had been binging on snacks my entire life, that I had caused this problem, instead of understanding that it’s actually genetic, environmental, and very, very exacerbated by stress. But I figured that if I could eat less (or no) carbs, lose weight, and look like a J.Crew catalogue model in her tiny chino shorts, I could be healed. I would simply reverse my condition with a steady diet of steak, cauliflower, and almonds. Easy.
What that means is that I spent the next 10 years trying to be on a diet. And I tried them all. Atkins, South Beach, French Women Don’t Get Fat…all of them. If there was a new trendy, doctor-endorsed diet, I was on it.
I would follow the diet religiously for a few months, and I’d lose a significant amount of weight and feel high on life and praise (“Wow Caroline you look WONDERful!” Omg thank you so much! I pretty much only eat rolled up turkey slices and bell peppers and pickles and Cool Whip Free. I’m finally living my best life, being MY BEST SELF.) But below the surface, I was fighting a constant battle with food. After the zeal and adrenaline high of the first few months (or weeks) of dieting wore off, I would be gravitationally pulled to the kitchen. I started binging on the foods I was allowed to eat on the diet, and then I’d repent the next few days by being even more strict on my South Beach Diet. But soon I’d be gorging on foods that were not allowed at all. This was what solidified my belief that I was a food addict. There was something wrong with me. I couldn’t even stick to an extremely low-carb diet for four months? Was I a monster? All I did was think about food. It was clear to me: I had a problem.
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This is a big reframe: bingeing is actually a GOOD thing. We tend to think bingeing is PROOF that we canNOT be trusted, but did you know that bingeing is actually your body trying to combat and make up for past (or future) restriction? That’s another reason why stepping out of the diet and restriction cycle is so important.
There was one fall in high school when I didn’t go trick or treating, because, first of all, I’m basically an adult. And second of all, I’ve lost my taste for candy, because I am currently a reformed food addict. But you’d better believe the next week I was sneaking into my brother’s room to eat tiny piece of candy after tiny piece of candy. By the end of the day, I’d eaten most of his candy. And by the next week, I had gained back all of the weight I lost, before I put myself on another, better diet.
This happened over and over and over again, for a decade. I would start off following a diet perfectly, losing some weight, but soon I was sitting in a pile of wrappers with chocolate all over my face, furious at myself, wondering what the f*ck was wrong with me. It was actually really scary, because I had so little control. I believed I had a real food addiction, and not only was this addiction making my eating and weight erratic, but it was also apparently the reason I had hormonal problems and cystic acne and a hormonal syndrome that would probably only get worse and worse. I truly believed that if I didn’t get it under control, like any addiction, it would also just get worse and worse for the rest of my life. And my constant dieting was my attempt to get it under control. Impulse control! Will power! This was what I had to do. But no matter how much I tried, no matter how important it was to me, and no matter how well I would follow a diet for the first few months, I kept losing control.
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I am not a food addict anymore, because again, food addiction isn’t real—or at least, it isn’t like other addictions. In fact, I am now one of those people who sometimes even forgets to eat lunch (not that that’s better, it’s just extremely different). I assumed that my relationship with food would be a lifelong battle, but thank the f*cking lord, I was wrong. And the cure wasn’t the perfect diet, it wasn’t detoxing my body of carbs, it wasn’t Adderall or an exercise addiction or a very chic and French cigarette habit, or anything else I used to think would be the thing that could save me from myself. The cure was actually stopping dieting, and stepping out of the scarcity mentality once and for all. You can’t treat food like a drug addiction, because we actually need food, so any sort of scarcity actually makes your body more addicted and fixated.
The cure for my “food addiction” was actually… food.
I’ll be back next week to explain what finally woke me up, and what my healing process looked like. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’ll be eating.
Images: thefuckitdiet / Instagram