F*ck Your Diet: I Used To Be A Food Addict, Here’s How I Healed Part 4

Annnnnd we’re back for the fourth and final installment of F*ck Your Diet. This series is for you if you identify as a food addict, a binge eater, someone who feels stress over what you eat, or if you’re constantly trying to lose weight and going from diet to diet. Here is my disclaimer: if you feel happy and content with your relationship to food and weight, you have my full blessing to keep doing whatever you’re doing. I’m not trying to napalm the part of your life that makes you feel good. If you like your diet, simply don’t f*ck your diet. That’s my general rule of thumb: If you’re happy, I’m not trying to get you to do anything. But! If you feel like something is off in the way you relate to food, this is definitely for you.

I spent the first three installments explaining how food deprivation and restriction actually cause and/or perpetuate food fixation and many experiences of food addiction. I also explain how I went from a food-obsessed childhood binge-eater, to teenage chronic yo-yo dieter, to a weight-obsessed faux-intuitive eater. Dieting was my religion and sugar was the devil I was trying to purify myself from. And strangely, it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the more I restricted food and sugar, the more and more out of control and “addicted to it” I felt when I inevitably “slipped up” and drove to CVS at 11pm in my parents’ car to buy sugar-free protein bars that I pretended were candy bars. But still, if you haven’t read the first three installments, I recommend you go ahead and do that, because you may not understand what the hell I’m talking about in this installment if you don’t. Part 1. Part 2. And, Part 3.

 

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what if i did eat the whole thing at 4 am anyway? | @the_amanda_gail

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It was almost eight years ago now that I woke up from my decade-long diet hell. Which means I’ve been eating whatever I want for eight years. And even though in the beginning I was very hungry and spent a few months eating a lot and making up for lost time, I didn’t actually end up spinning into years of chaos like we all worry we will if we stop dieting. The chaos is temporary. The extreme hunger is temporary. I didn’t eat the whole world. And today, even though I have zero (ZERO!) rules around food, I do not eat a steady diet of donuts and McDonald’s and Snickers, because… I don’t want to (anymore). In fact, at this point, I probably eat “better” than I ever did on a diet, because I can actually hear what the hell my body is asking for, and the drama around food is gone.

 So, what I’d like to do in this last piece in this series, is address some common fears that come up when people consider “F*cking Their Diet” or “Being on The F*ck It Diet” (which is actually what my site, Instagram, and book are named) or are even just flirting with the idea of not dieting.

“Anytime I try to stop dieting, I eat way more than anyone should.”

You are not alone! In fact, this is one of the big reasons that most people are convinced they can’t give up dieting. But, eating a lot of food is actually a really normal response to dieting or restricting food. We think it’s our bodies proving to us they’re broken or food addicted, but really it’s just survival. It’s just the body trying to make up for a famine scare. 

We also tend to think that we should be eating way less food than we actually need. Did you know that in the 1940s, there was an experiment where men were put on a semi-starvation diet of 1,600-1,800 calories a day for six months, and it made them extremely emaciated and obsessed with food, and it made lots of them anxious and depressed, and normal amounts of food didn’t help them to recover at all? Instead it took them 5,000-11,000 calories a day for months to rehabilitate their bodies and their minds? Yeah. That happened.

So if that’s any indication, 1,600-1,800 calories is something lots of people think they should be striving for. Also, 1,200-1,400 calories is how much they recommend you feed your 2-year-old, so, you need a lot more, ok? No wonder we all feel so out of control with food. Most of us don’t even realize we are constantly trying to under-eat, and then we beat ourselves up for eating more than our too-low daily calorie amounts, and then we force ourselves to repent the next day by eating even less. What do you think that’s doing to our bodies and relationship with food?! We just need to f*cking eat consistently, and stop putting ourselves on cleanses, ok??!

“I honestly can’t trust my body or cravings, all I want to eat is cake and cookies and pizza. I’m positive that is all I would eat”

Craving only high-calorie dessert and “junk food” is also a really normal response to dieting. (And I promise it is just a phase before your cravings diversify and calm down.) If your body has been getting intermittent access to calories (like going back and forth dieting and binging and dieting again), or you’ve been trying to eat less food than your body wants for a few months (or a few years), you’re going to crave the densest food that you can find, because that will counteract the state you’re in the fastest. That’s why we crave cake and cookies and pizza and candy and grilled cheese and everything we think we shouldn’t have. Your body just wants dense and easy-to-assimilate calories for a while, because that is what will get your body out of a low-metabolic state the fastest, and back to a normal and more easy relationship with food, with more normal cravings.

The other thing is that when we make any food off-limits, that food is going to have wayyyy more allure psychologically than if you were allowed to eat it. (I used to misinterpret this and think: Ok, if I allow brownies then I won’t WANT brownies. And then I’d be mad at myself that I still wanted brownies. But you can’t play that paradox! You have to actually allow yourself to eat the brownies!)

 

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🧀🧀🧀 the BIP MVP @pethderek

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“I have to diet! I’m an emotional eater!”

Dieting and restriction can actually make emotional eating worse. I know, what? First of all, many of us actually use dieting as a way to try and distract from our emotions, too. Not only does it bring the promise of beauty, glowing health, and praise, but it also gives us a high on stress hormones. But at the same time, the more we diet, the more chemically rewarding food and eating becomes, and the more food can give us a “high”. So, not only is dieting its own version of avoiding our emotions, but in a way, it actually makes eating a more effective “drug”. And often, people go back and forth between the two “addictions” in a never-ending yo-yo. In order to make food a less effective drug, we need to stop dieting and restricting. Another paradox, I know. 

Having other coping mechanisms and emotional support is definitely an important piece of the emotional eating puzzle. I’m not saying that ice cream should be your therapist. But, just beware that going on a diet to heal emotional eating is like trying to put out a brush fire by blowing on it. 

“I have to diet! When I don’t diet, I gain weight!”

Ahhhh, yes. Weight gain and cultural fatphobia. This is no small subject. It’s actually at the heart of this whole thing. It’s a core reason why we are all dieting in the first place. And it’s also a subject that makes the villagers take up arms like they’re in their very own mob led by Gaston, and they storm into the comments to rage about the obesity epidemic. Because people feel very, very strongly about weight gain and health, and want to concern troll allll over the health of people they don’t know. 

First of all, gaining weight after dieting is also another normal phenomenon. That’s what the body does. It loses some weight at the beginning of dieting, and then it insists you put it back on. It will literally slow down your metabolism and raise your hunger hormones in order to force you to gain back weight. It’s normal. It’s also survival. And we assume it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to us, but our bodies are doing it on purpose. We evolved this way, and it’s actually protective against withering away. Because, no matter what our culture tells us, becoming a nation of teeny tiny little string bean people isn’t actually what makes our bodies feel safest. Having a super low body fat percentage isn’t good for us and can wreak havoc on our hormones.

But we live in a very thin-obsessed and fatphobic society. We just do. And the thing that makes it so hard to even begin to have a conversation about not dieting is that there is a lot of moralizing over health that helps to justify people’s judgement over weight and the way people eat. People feel very strongly about weight and weight loss. Just go to the comments of these articles, you’ll see. But what that means is that being afraid to gain weight, even a little, even weight that your body definitely needs and wants to gain, is understandable. We constantly see how much better people are treated when they are smaller or fitter or leaner, and how much judgment (and concern) comes along with gaining weight. We are praised nonstop when we lose weight. We assume that weight loss is always healthy and impressive, when, hey, lots of people are losing weight because of eating disorders, illness, anxiety, etc. Weight loss is not always healthy, and on the flip side, weight gain is not always unhealthy. But we live in a society where obsessing over food and weight, and developing disordered eating habits, are praised, and even encouraged, and that makes it really hard to tell if what we are doing is healthy or if it’s going too far. 

“So you’re saying that I just have to accept my body as it is?! What are you? A monster trying to destroy the American people from the inside out?? HOW is that healthy?!?!”

One of the things that really shook me and woke me up out of my diet and weight loss obsession was learning that what I believed about weight and health was based on misinformation and cultural bias. Because I cared about health. I still do, actually! Believe it or not!

We think we can fully blame people for their weight, and assume that they just aren’t trying hard enough. But, I mean, you’ve heard, right? Dieting backfires. This has been relatively mainstream public health info since 1992. But… we have a hard time hearing it. There is a cognitive dissonance. I used to hear that “diets don’t work” and think, “No no no noo, those scientists clearly aren’t studying the right diet.” But really, weight loss diets backfire long-term. It’s not because we are lazy, it’s in our biological blueprint. Initial weight loss on a diet happens all the time, but our bodies will eventually adjust to try and get our weight back into a range where it feels safe. And the idea that we just need to keep eating less and less and less to try and keep up with our body fighting back is not healthy. That’s not health! That’s focusing on weight at the expense of health. 

Get this: a two-year study was done with two different groups of women categorized with an obese BMI, and the group that didn’t diet or focus on weight loss, but instead made subtle healthy lifestyle changes—joyful movement that they actually liked doing, eating in an intuitive, nourishing way that wasn’t focused on weight loss, stress reduction and shame reduction, and being kinder to themselves and their bodies. And at the end of two years, they ended up with improved overall health (blood pressure, blood lipids, mental health symptoms), even though that group didn’t end up losing weight. And the group of women who focused on standard weight loss protocol (good old fashioned monitored, guided diet and exercise, prescribed by a diet) lost weight initially, but gained it all back and then some, and ended up with worse physical and mental health markers that they started with by the end of two years, even when lots of them were still sticking to the doctor-prescribed diet. So what that means is that joy and self-compassion was good for their health, and earnest and doctor-monitored weight loss backfired big time. 

I know! I know! Nobody wants to hear this! But in the very least, it’s important information if we want to understand what the HELL is going on when we put ourselves on a diet. And it also matters if what we really care about is our overall health. 

So, back to the question: am I trying to ruin the health of our nation? No, I’m just trying to explain that obsessing over our weight and food and exercise isn’t good for our health. A hyper-focus on weight and weight loss and perfect eating actually ends up being a distraction from truly taking care of ourselves. The truth is, when people stop dieting, some people eventually lose weight, but some people need to gain weight, and some people stay the same. Either way, forcing it tends to backfire in more than one way.

 I definitely understand why it scares people. It sounds extremely irresponsible, because people still assume that not dieting means eating donuts for breakfast and lunch and then eating mac n’ cheese and Burger King for dinner every night. And then eating an entire cake in bed. Which is actually the kind of thing I was more likely to do when I was constantly forcing myself to diet.

 

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This is the (actual) book dedication for The F*ck It Diet. I considered dedicating it to my little sister, but her response to me was, “aw that’s sweet but like, don’t, y’know?” So I said, “fine. Cheese it is.” 🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀🧀 (Have you read #thefuckitdiet ????- my sister hasn’t but that’s ok because I bug her enough in real life. You can read the first chapter for free by visiting my site slash link in bio etc etc etc)

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These days, food isn’t the drama that it used to be. I eat a varied diet and I eat until I am full. I crave healthy foods, I crave dense foods, I crave vegetables and fruit. I crave pizza. I’ll eat one (or, y’know, sometimes even two!) pieces of cake instead of finishing off the cake at 1am while standing in front of the refrigerator. I eat dessert. I eat pancakes. I eat the bread on the table at restaurants. I eat grains and meat and eggs and lots and lots of cheese. Sometimes people ask me what I like to eat, and I usually can’t even remember because that is how little I think about food now. It’s food. I like it! I like it a lot! I want to feel good, I want to feel fed, I want to feel alive, and I want to go live my life and pet my dog and go get happy hour.

In conclusion: I think sweet potatoes and green juice are healthy, and I like them, and I eat/drink them! But being afraid of nachos was ultimately very bad for me. Maybe that applies to you, too?

It’s been so great to get to share my story and experience with Betches readers. I know some of you hate me now, but that’s just the name of the game when you talk about diets. People get cagey. People are very devoted to their diets, and in some ways, diets are the new religion of the 21st century. If you read this series and you’re like, “this is… interesting to me, but I’m not convinced,” my book The F*ck It Diet goes wayyyy more in depth. You can also start researching weight stigma and Health at Every Size, and start reading all of the things that helped open up my eyes to the dark side of dieting. You can also follow me on Instagram at @thefuckitdiet. (I post a lot of instagram stories of my bernedoodle if you’re into that sort of thing.)

And remember, if you’re having a great time dieting, or doing whatever you’re doing, I really don’t care if you diet or not. I promise. Everybody should do what works for them. Don’t F*ck Your Diet on my account. BUT, if you’re stressed out over food and weight and have been in a dysfunctional cycle with dieting, I invite you to come join us over here on the other side of diet culture. There are snacks! There are cheese boards with dried fruit and sourdough bread! You can take naps! You’re allowed to buy clothes that actually fit you! Nobody will ever force you to wake up at 4:30am to go to the gym! And there are no diets.

Images: @dietstartstomorrow/Instagram; @thefuckitdiet/Instagram

F*ck Your Diet: I Used To Be A Food Addict, Here’s How I Healed Part 2

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

Read part 1 of the F*ck Your Diet series here!

Welcome back to F*ck Your Diet, where I am uncovering the dark side of dieting and restriction and giving you permission to F*ck Your Diet, too. This is the second part of my series about my experience with food addiction, dieting, bingeing, and how I got out of the cycle (part one is here, where I talk about my childhood food fixation and bingeing on Easy Bake Oven powder packets that led me to believe I was a food addict… because I acted like one). I’m going to break down the nuances of food addiction, food fixation, and using food to soothe in the next and third installment, so stay tuned for that one too!

My dieting started at 14 when I gained weight for the first time. In a matter of months, I went from totally flat-chested to a size F bra. Not only did I not fit in Limited Too’s pastel-colored bra options, but I didn’t even fit in Victoria’s Secret bras. I was 14 and only fit into old lady bras from a department store. HELP.

At the same time, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and told flippantly by my doctor not to gain weight and make sure I exercised and watched what I ate. Which, to me, implied that food and weight gain caused my hormonal problem, and that therefore dieting and losing weight could cure it. Challenge accepted. (This is not actually true, because thin people have PCOS too, but somehow I ignored that fact.)

And at the very same time in high school, I was deciding whether or not to try to become a professional musical theater actor. I know that sounds stupid, it seems like every teenage girl acts and sings and thinks they are extremely talented, but I was being cast in professional musicals in Philadelphia while I was still in high school. I had my picture in a skimpy little white dress blown up on the cover of my local newspaper for a feature on me. This is not to brag, only to illustrate the extra pressure on how I looked. 

 

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Don’t let anybody to tell you your hunger or your appetite is wrong. You’re supposed to be hungry and you’re supposed to eat. If you are still hungry, you didn’t eat enough food. It really is that simple. #hunger #appetite #dietculture #intuitiveeating #thefuckitdiet

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Beyond health, and beyond just the normal discomfort of getting used to an adult body, I was on stage, playing characters named “Philia, the beautiful young virgin” who sang songs about how lovely I was. If performing was my destiny, and I kept being expected to play these tiny pretty little ingenues in musicals, and I really was good enough to be working professionally as a 17-year-old, and everyone in my high school kept saying “DOONER YOU ARE GOING TO BE ON BROADWAY,” then I told myself I really have to start doing a better job on my f*cking diet. I cannot let my food addiction get the best of me. I MUST accept the challenge of my destiny and become skinny. It was all a huge burden, actually. The joy of singing and acting was completely outweighed by the hyper-focus on my looks and weight. It was the nail in the coffin: I was extremely obsessed with food, and dieting, and what I weighed. It felt necessary for my health and hormones, and it felt necessary for my CAREER.

But the more I dieted, the more and more out of control with food I became. I took it extremely seriously. The stakes felt VERY HIGH. And so I would be absolutely perfect on the diet for a few months, and then, inevitably, I would lose it. I would shovel food into my mouth in secret for a few weeks, completely miserable and horrified with myself that I was letting what was clearly a food addiction take control of me. I’d gain all of the weight back that I’d lost in a week flat, and then I’d put myself on another diet. 

This cycle started in high school, but it continued through college and into my early twenties. And the more I dieted, the more intense my binges became, and the more obsessed with food I felt. I thought about food nonstop. If I wasn’t diligent about the rules of my diet, I would eat way more than was “acceptable”. I was constantly starving, and I gained weight really easily while I was dieting. It seemed like I could gain almost all the weight I’d lost back in just a few days. I could eat an entire jar of peanut butter in one afternoon when I was on a low-carb diet. I could eat 6 boxes of cookies in one sitting. I could eat 10,000 calories in two hours, and I often did. And then, I was back on another diet, trying to overcorrect for the damage I’d done.

 

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hi! I’m on vacation but I can’t keep away! If you’re new here, this account (and my book) is all about getting out of the diet cult we all grew up on (or joined later in life). It’s a little like de-programming. I was a chronic dieter for over ten years, and believed I was TRULY a food addict (because I acted like one). Now I write about everything I learned that helped me get out of the cycle- why *diets* were actually the thing making me extremely out of control with food. I also write about how you can get out of that cycle too. Go over to my site and download the beginning of my book for free! thefuckitdiet.com/free (link to links in profile!) #thefuckitdiet #intuitiveeating #diet

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I would try doing your basic calorie counting, I would also go on “sensible plans,” I would try to just eat “moderate” amounts of “whole foods,” but I would also dabble in more extreme plans for total health and healing. I become raw vegan for 9 months, and I also became paleo (which is the complete opposite of raw veganism) and I ate like the caveman I was always meant to be. Nothing worked long term, and nothing cured my food addiction and cravings like they promised they would. Sure, for a few weeks (or months) I was on a high, sure that I’d found the perfect plan for me. And it’s easy to stick to too! I love it! I will eat this way forever!!!!!! But soon enough, I was bingeing.

I was always trying to eat less food and less carbs, no matter what plan I was on. This was my lifelong—well, decade long, but what felt like my lifelong—burden: curtailing my food addiction and my weight. It was scary. It was miserable. It was desperate. And honestly, my intentions were pure. I believed this was important, and responsible, and the only way to save me from myself and a horrible fate of health problems. I thought that skinny was healthy, responsible, beautiful and important. And that was mirrored back to me everywhere. Everyone around me, every diet, every magazine, every conversation I overheard: dieting was important and responsible, and I was failing over and over and over.

Until I heard someone on a paleo message board say that going low carb messed with their hormones and fertility, and that they had to eat more carbs, rest, and gain weight to get their hormones working properly again. …I’m sorry… what? Are you telling me that eating low carb is maybe ruining my hormones? That is the opposite of what I’d been trying to do. Then I heard some low carb paleo guru say on his podcast that eating low carb can make you more insulin resistant but “it’s ok, because you aren’t eating carbs anyway.” (Yes, I listened to paleo podcasts 8 years ago. As I said: I was dedicated.) And also: I’m sorry, WHAT?! I’ve been eating low carb for 10 f*cking years because I’m trying to improve my hormones and my insulin sensitivity, and cure myself from the inside out by purifying my body with pure food so I can heal on a cellular level. And you’re telling me I’m making things worse?! And honestly, I was making things worse. My health was not better. I could barely sleep. I barely got my period, but I blamed that on my PCOS, and not on me being on and off a diet for a decade. 

 

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???????????

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I felt like the spell had been broken. I didn’t know what to do about it and I didn’t have the full picture yet, but I didn’t feel enchanted by diets anymore. Honestly: I felt duped. I’d been doing the same thing over and over again for 10 years, and it had only made me more obsessed with food. Even my occasional attempts to “eat intuitively” were still just attempts to eat less and weigh less. I finally felt, deep in my bones, that all my attempts at curtailing food and carbs were not the answer anymore. In fact, I felt like the way out of this cycle might be … eating food and …gaining weight. 

This wasn’t a small, gentle “aha” moment. This was a breakdown and breakthrough born of true misery. This was like leaving a religion. I had worshipped at the altar of thinness and food control and “healthy eating” for so long. I had relied on it to save me. I had hated myself for how out of control I would get with food. I was so disappointed in myself for not being able to get my “addiction” under control, no matter how important it was to me. I had been disordered and obsessed with food and dieting and weight for so many of the formative years of my life. And I had really and truly tried it all, and nothing had worked. I was just as miserable, food obsessed, and as unhealthy as I’d ever been.

So, I started researching. I needed to understand more about the harm that dieting and restricting and controlling your weight can do to your physical health. It was clear enough to me at this point that dieting had been bad for my mental health, but if I could learn more about the harm I was doing to my physical health, that would really help me get out of the cycle. 

I probably Googled something like, “are diets harmful?” Then I probably Googled “are you f*cking kidding me with this, why didn’t anyone TELL ME that diets are bad for me and are only going to make me more obsessed with food?!?!?!” and somehow I stumbled across the book Health at Every Size. I don’t know if a blog recommended it, or if it was a comment on a blog, or if it was a search in Amazon for a book about weight and health science, but this book was exactly what I needed to read. It’s written by a scientist and weight researcher, Linda Bacon PhD, who initially went into her field to learn how to effectively lose weight and keep it off, healthily and permanently. And what she learned over her years of studying the human metabolism, was that with intentional weight loss, there is always a metabolic backlash. Your body insists you put weight back on so it feels safe. Your body either slows down metabolically in order to put weight back on, sometimes even when you’re still sticking to the diet. Or it fixates you on food, so food tastes better, you’re hungrier, and has your brain thinking more about food than it otherwise would. Your body is literally pushing you off your diet. On purpose.

 

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Wired to fight back baby, wired to fight

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Not only that, but the health improvements from weight loss are also temporary. Intentional weight loss starts off with health improvements, but over an extended period of time, health markers tend to end up worse than where they started. Ugh. Of course. Thanks a lot, Dr. Atkins.

The other fascinating thing I learned was that we all have diverse weight set ranges, the range where our own body feels safest. This is influenced by our genetics, and sometimes even our past attempts to diet. We think that dieting is going to help lower our natural weight set-range, but it can actually make our safe weight higher, because our bodies are like, “f*ck you for starving me, I refuse to die this way!” And so we put on weight, to save our lives. 

We think the weight gain is the problem, but it’s actually protective. Our body works really, really hard to keep us in our set range. It will literally adjust our metabolism and our appetite in order to make us gain weight again if we are trying to go below it. Pushing your weight below our natural range is not only hard, and often impossible to stay there, but it’s bad for us, too. And weight cycling (going up and down every time we go on and off a diet) is bad for us too, way worse for us than just staying at one weight and tweaking our health habits.

 

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Also we can replace “woman” with “person” and it applies fully. No matter what the reason: everyone can fuck right off with faux health concerns and concern trolling. (This image is by @katiemcrenshaw and I found it through @with_this_body ) (also some people’s asshole comments on this post are easily helping me figure out who to block !! “Much love xo xo block! “ )

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This isn’t saying that weight loss is always unhealthy—it’s not. But intentional weight loss and restriction often end up doing more harm to us, long-term, than food. We think we are being healthy and responsible, but we are actually putting our bodies, metabolism, and hormones into a cycle that ends up being really bad for us, and really bad for our relationship with food. 

This information corroborated everything I had been experiencing. Also: f*cking thanks for nothing, diet gurus. Thanks for missing this important piece of information and continually assuring me that yours was the diet that held the answer to my food cravings. I finally had the assurance I needed that eating and getting out of the diet cycle was the way to heal my fixation on food, my erratic appetite, and allow me to just… live my life. It felt daunting. And I knew I was going to have to face some big fears, let go of some control issues I had, and almost certainly: gain some weight. But I knew I needed to do it.

In my next installment, I’m going to talk about what that was actually like for me to stop dieting. What it looked like to stop dieting, let go of the rules, buy new clothes, change my priorities…  and how long it took, too. I’m also going to take a more nuanced look at what food addiction actually is. Stay tuned! More Soon! Until then I’ll be writing, eating, and napping.

Caroline is the author of The F*ck It Diet, a book for chronic dieters. She loves TV, her dog, and doing the least amount possible. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Images: thefuckitdiet / Instagram

F*ck Your Diet: I Used To Be A Food Addict. Here’s How I Healed.

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

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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

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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.

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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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Diets are the cult/scam that just won’t go away. #diet #thefuckitdiet #IntuitiveEating #weightloss #weightstigma

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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.

Caroline is the author of The F*ck It Diet, a book for chronic dieters. She loves TV, her dog, and doing the least amount possible. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Images: thefuckitdiet / Instagram