Ok – I’m going to be really vulnerable here: I’ve done A LOT of crazy sh*t in the name of being “healthy” or in pursuit of a certain body.
I can hear it now, “wait, what?! I thought you were some sort of health coach!”
Well, I am – but I’m also human. I’ve had to build my immunity to the body-pressures and the dysfunction around food in the U.S. – and apparently my way to do that was through trial and error; LOTS of it.
I’ve experienced just as many falls as I have triumphs with food and fitness along the way, so my goal with this post is for you to know two things:
- You are not alone.
- Diets don’t work.
Even though nutrition, fitness, and mindset are my profession and my passion – I think it would be a disservice to act like I haven’t struggled or that I always have my sh*t together.
It’s just not true, and it sets an unrealistic expectation of that even being possible (because it’s not).
FYI: For the sake of this post I went and dug up some pictures which tell my journey the best – but unfortunately I had thrown away most pictures from the heaviest times in my life. Either way – this will be the most pictures you’ll ever see of me in one place!
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig in!
I grew up going to OA (overeater’s anonymous) and Weight Watcher’s meetings with my mom who was a self-diagnosed sugar addict and emotional eater. Although I didn’t struggle with food growing up – I remember thinking that eventually I would because my mom did…and I was right. (Although I still believe today, the only reason I did end up struggling was because I thought I would!!)
When my college basketball career came to an abrupt end, it was like I was free-falling.
I had no structure in my life and no idea how to take care of myself for myself. I blamed a lot of what had happened with basketball (and some other life events) on myself – and had a very ugly self-image which I didn’t have the tools to combat or communicate.
It was at this point I found food and alcohol.
One of my college roommates was pretty experienced in this realm and also had two types of eating disorders, so it was a perfect breeding ground for what came next…which was more than 10 years of obsessing about food and hating my body (and myself).
Those years were a weird mix of knowing what I was capable of – but motivating myself to get there through negative self-talk and not ever being satisfied with my body or where I was in life.
For a while it was hard for me to look back at this part of my life without feeling ashamed (which is why I don’t have a lot of pictures from it anymore – it was when I was the heaviest).
But now, as I recount it, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today mentally, physically, and spiritually had I not spent time wading around in the muck.
Above: (2002) College after basketball = drinking & eating.
Above: (2004-ish) Grad school DJ’ing = drinking
Below: (2008) Always hiding under big shirts and sweatpants
A Decade of Diets
So now that you have a little backstory…without further adieu, here is everything I tried in order to lose weight or manipulate my body to look how *I thought* would make me happy – and ways I used food to deal with life (at least those I can remember – I will add as more as they come up!):
- Eating a couple times during the day and then having a “liquid dinner” consisting of only alcohol (Then overeating of course because I was drunk and hungry)
- Low Fat/Fat Free (Olestra or Olean anyone?! – Whatever happened to those WOW Chips that made you poop your brains out anyhow?? They seemed to just disappear….)
- Sugar Free Everything (BLECH!! The aftertaste! And the gas!)
- Juicing (All I wanted to do was EAT. I was meant to eat things, not drink them)
- Weight Watchers (This did NOT account for days when I needed more food or hormones, and there was so much processed food!!! Plus it created a scarcity mindset around food where I was always afraid of running out of points.)
- Bingeing (Related to boredom, not getting my emotional needs met, or setting boundaries)
- Over-exercising to “make up” for the binges, overeating, or just over-exercising because MORE IS BETTER!!! (It’s NOT…don’t start doing this.)
- The Master (lemon) Cleanse (Twice: Once to lose weight, the other to was more to take a break from thinking about food – but all I could think about was “when’s my next drink!?”)
- The Cabbage Soup Diet (Why did I ever think this would work? Let me spare you the suspense…It didn’t)
- Bodybuilding Style Diets (Eat 6 times a day, 2.5 hours apart, only certain foods, pack food in tupperware, then wonder why you can only focus on when your next meal is…)
- If It Fits Your Macros (Yes, this tends to be more flexible in terms of food choices but my God the COUNTING. Why has no one realized this is like the new Weight Watchers with macros instead of points?? And btw – nutrient dense food should be included in any diet – even if you can eat pizza and ice cream and stay within your macros)
- Carb Cycling (I do somewhat of a relaxed version of this now…but pay attention to when I’m hungry and what I’m craving to eat for energy, hormones, etc.)
- Restricting during the week, then having “treat weekends” (Ended up being a binge-fest every weekend)
- Drinking Senna (laxative) Tea (Let’s just say this is NOT meant to be used for weightloss and leave it at that)
- Fat Burners (FYI – these don’t work unless you do…and most are SO BAD for you!!!)
- Drinking an entire bottle of magnesium citrate saline EVERY night (Another laxative to pass my food through…I did this for months ugh gross!)
- Exercising AT LEAST 2-hours a day – if not 2-times or 4-hours a day (Oh – did I say over-exercising already? Yeah…this was a “go-to” in my arsenal.)
- Hiring coach after coach and buying program after program to tell me what to eat and when to eat it (I cheated on every last one of these meal plans by the way…and no, it’s not because I’m weak or flawed. It’s because I’m normal and MY BODY knows best!!…Plus I’d been dieting for so long I go into rebel mode automatically.)
- Prepping and packing my food for an entire week of travel 2-weeks out of every month for nearly 3-YEARS. (There is SO much wrong with this, but let’s start with frozen fish, broccoli, and chicken in my suitcase; leaks; and becoming anti-social because I was either exercising or eating in my room when we had down time on the road…just ask any of my colleagues at C-SPAN.)
- STRESSING!!! – Over those 10-years I stressed SO MUCH around food – and what to eat – and when to eat it – and “what if I ate too much? Or not enough? But I have a social event! But it’s a holiday! Did I workout to “earn” that meal? Do I look fat in this? Ugh my muffin top! Cut out more! Count more! DO MORE!”……..and on, and on, and on. It was so exhausting!
Above: (2010) Mostly cardio and stress (Also I thought I was fat here – makes me cringe just typing that).
Below: (2011) Prepping for a figure competition while traveling 2-weeks out of every month. I packed all my food for the week and obsessed about getting a workout in (or 2) wherever we were in the U.S.
Below: (May 2011) One and only figure competition I did. After this – I promptly binged.
Above: March 2016. No obsessing over food – loosely carb cycling – and working out 30-40 minutes 4-5 times a week.
So there you have it in all it’s glory; the list of things I’ve done because I hated my body, myself, or both.
I hope it brings you some solace to know you aren’t alone if you’ve had (or have) a rough time around food, dieting, and body image.
All I could think while typing this list is how resilient our bodies, minds, and spirits are. A decade of over-exertion, under feeding, over feeding, unnecessary supplements, stress, anxiety, self-loathing, yet my body, my heart, and I were able to withstand, change and adapt. How amazing is that?!
Here are the takeaways I got from my years of trial and error, education, and experience:
1) DIETS DON’T WORK. No really, they don’t.
I know some of my pictures may tell a different story and I may look fit – but at what cost?! During those periods in my life, food and exercise consumed me – and I was never good enough.
Listen – I completely get it if it’s hard to trust anecdotal evidence such as my story. But what about research?
In 2007 A team of UCLA researchers reviewed 31 long-term studies on dieting and concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain – up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost! (Mann, T. et al, American Psychologist, 62(3) 2007):220-233).
And what about your own experiences with dieting?
Or the dieting experiences of those around you?
How sustainable are the diets you or others have been on?
Are you able to navigate life and stay on the diet?
Over my lifetime I have watched friends, family, clients, and acquaintances lose and gain the same weight or fat by way of endless diets or following the latest fads.
I’ve also known plenty of people who lost weight or fat and kept it off by living restrictive lifestyles (I was one of them too!) – but is that considered a success?
To me it isn’t. It’s like living in a prison where food, exercise, and body image run your entire life.
A success means our body leans out and becomes stronger as a by-product of becoming the healthiest version of ourselves through sustainable life-long habits.
2) HERE’S WHY DIETS DON’T WORK.
Over the past decade of having daily conversations about food with people I’ve learned that our knowledge about food has very little to do with weightloss/fatloss. In fact our knowledge is inhibiting us from learning what works best for our own body!
Many people I’ve worked with can recite the calories in nearly every single one of the foods they eat, yet they can’t stay on a diet.
Why? This is because dieting knowledge is stored in the cortex of the brain. Yet our biological hunger occurs in the hypothalamus – and our emotions and emotional behavior take place in the amygdala (two other parts of the brain).
When your body is hungry (especially after feeling deprived!) and your amygdala is firing because you have all of these rules and fear around food – the cortex cannot be accessed. This means all that knowledge we have about the caloric and nutritional value of food doesn’t matter!
Then comes the aftermath: your amygdala calms down because you ate meaning the cortex and all it’s knowledge can be accessed once again. But because you have all this food knowledge – in comes the GUILT.
Plus – a diet by definition is something temporary; it is not meant to be sustained for life!
You know what cheating on your diet is called? Listening to your body. #train4life
3) DIETS ARE FANTASTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES.
Dieting itself is like walking a tightrope. You’re either ON the tightrope – or you are OFF the tightrope. There is no middle ground.
When we fall off the diet tightrope (which we will #becauseLIFE) then we must regroup and get ourselves back on for another unsteady walk…until life happens again.
But what if we treat eating and our journey to a our healthiest selves as more of a pleasant hike?
What if we simply meander about enjoying the scenery and treating our encounters with overeating or holiday eating as simply taking a path which led us a little off course?
Next time you overeat – have strong cravings – go off your diet – or eat when you are feeling anxious or bored; try to pay attention to how you are feeling during the experience instead of judging yourself and feeling guilty.
Then take away what you’ve learned – drink some water – and get over it.
I learned the most about myself and my body while I was in the midst of falling off the tightrope.
For example – Once I gave myself to unconditional permission to eat – I learned I really didn’t like what I was overeating on at all. I learned I crave carbs when I am tired or anxious.
And ultimately – I learned I only really want foods which make me feel good and help me perform in the gym!
4) YOU CAN’T ASSUME SOMEONE GOT TO WHERE THEY ARE IN A HEALTHY WAY (or that they are truly happy and free from food/body obsession)
Yes, I’m smiling in all the pictures and I look fit in some – but what you don’t see is the hours of workouts, food prep, picking myself apart, fights with my husband, or crying because I was so incredibly tired from it all.
There are A LOT of smoke and mirrors in the fitness, health, and diet industries.
If you find yourself comparing yourself to others or judging your progress based on other’s bodies I can promise you, you will never be happy with your own.
There will always be someone more fit, skinnier, with better skin, better butt, and longer hair. Always.
The sooner you can free yourself from the mirage of perfection on social media, television, magazines, etc, the easier it will be to respect your body and accept where you are at this moment.
Just remind yourself – you have no idea what is going on in someone’s life just by looking at their body. And you have a perfectly capable one just waiting for you to move it and fuel it properly!
5) WE HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO OFFER THE WORLD THAN OUR BODIES.
It still makes me sad think about all the time, energy (and money!) I’ve spent trying to change myself because of my dissatisfaction with my body. How much of that I could’ve directed toward self-development and giving back to my friends, loved ones, and the world!
I won’t go as far as to say it was a waste because it’s brought me to where I am today – but I know now my time here on earth is better used focusing on things that have an impact both on myself and others.
Think about how much mind space your insecurities take up in your head.
How do they impact you throughout your day?
Now think about what people would say they like about you.
I’m going to guess that the people who love you do so because of your many wonderful traits which have nothing to do with your looks.
Remember: Someone who loves you unconditionally doesn’t care if you are 20 pounds lighter or don’t have cellulite. They love you for who you are!…And so should you!
All Right – Wrap It Up Already!
Maybe you have tried a lot of diets or ways to lose weight and you just keep losing and gaining the same pounds over and over.
Maybe you haven’t tried any diets, but you just don’t eat food which support your health and you have no idea where to start.
Or maybe you are reading this because you just wanted to see all crazy sh*t I’ve done to lose weight!
Regardless of the reason – if I can save just one person from years yo-yo-ing and body shaming I’ll have considered this a successful post.
However… if you’ve already experience years of both – that’s great because now you can be your own best expert!
It sounds so cliche but without all of those really challenging experiences around food and fitness – I would be no where near as educated as I am today about my body and my mind. I wouldn’t be able to empower others to tune out the noise and tune into themselves.
So start today where you are. Fall off the diet tightrope forever and start listening to your body, it’s been waiting!
Let me know in the comments what crazy things you’ve done to lose weight or change your body! We’re all in this together. 🙂
Yours in Health,
Above: March 2017 – No dieting. Working out anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes 5 times a week.