Let’s face it, all of us grow up with something that defines us. Poverty, neglect, abuse and more are all powerful forces and they all have the ability to shape our personalities and influence our core beliefs. I grew up with diet mentality and it’s something that defined how I saw myself and the thought processes that shaped my reality. It was – and is – a powerful influence on how I looked at food and viewed myself. To this day I catch myself sometimes, hearing those destructive voices pester me at inopportune moments and I recognize that while I might have changed my lifestyle, dregs of diet mentality may always chase me.
For those of you who don’t know what diet mentality is, let me explain. Diet mentality is when you live your life always thinking you need to lose weight. You are never good enough as you are and you always are self conscious about how you look. If you aren’t on a diet, you are thinking that you need to be on one. If you are on a diet then you are suffering through endless days of bland food, restricted calories and cravings for the way you used to eat. Diet mentality creates a whole other persona in your head – one that critisizes you constantly, makes you feel terrible for eating anything ‘not on program’ and chips away at your self esteem on a daily basis. It is a mentality that believes you have to restric calories for short bursts of time to achieve a goal weight .. and then revert back to how you ate prior to being on a diet. It is evil. It causes corresponding negative behaviours like binging and anorexia as a result of trying to be some kind of skinny ideal. It is responsible for the millions upon millions of people who spend billions of dollars every year on diets and diet products. I have known people of every shape and size who suffered from diet mentality – and who still do. This is a powerful force and it crosses every race and gender line, affecting millions of people globally.
When I think back, some of my earliest memories are of being told I was ‘heavy’ and that I should go on a diet. It’s how my mother grew up, it’s what she knew and it’s what she taught both myself and my sister as we grew up. I joined Weight Watchers when I was 11 or 12 and began that endless love/hate relationship with my body and food. I remember being told that the women in our family were large boned and tended to be heavier so I needed to be vigilant with my own weight. I was bullied throughout my school years by classmates who thought it was horribly funny to tease me about my weight and my hair (disaster poodle perm but that is a subject for another blog post lol). I had friends who were superbly slim and whom I idolized simply because they were able to achieve my ideal weight just because of good genes. I yo-yo’d dramatically throughout my teens and into my 20’s, putting on a lot of weight at university then taking a lot off in my early 20’s and then gaining weight when I got pregnant with my eldest at 25 … yup it was a cycle and I couldn’t get off the train.
One of the weight loss journies in my 20’s was pretty defining for me. I joined Weight Watchers because it was the one diet that had always worked pretty well for me. I worked like a demon, losing weight and for the first time ever – working out at a gym. I did kick boxing, cardio, strength training .. you name it. I fell in love with getting sweaty and initially I saw great results from it. However, as you lose weight on a diet, what happens? They restrict your food intake even more so without knowing it, I was hurting my body and killing my metabolism. I couldn’t figure out why, when I was doing all the right things that my progress would slow, I would be STARVING all the time and exhausted. It was a recipe for disaster and ultimately, I quit the process and slowly went back to eating as I always had before a diet. Which meant – you guessed it – the weight systematically slid right back into place.
My next big push came a few years after I had had my second child. I knew that I was heavy – heavier than I wanted to admit – and so I wanted to try something different. This time when I decided to lose weight I chose Herbal Magic as my diet dealer of choice. Looking back on it now, they had a lot of things right. They stressed whole foods over processed ones, focused on healthy, balanced meals but you had to buy their supplements and they restricted my caloric intake to about 1200 calories a day. I saw great progress on this plan – I lost A LOT of weight but ultimately, after my caloric intake was restricted to 1000 calories a day, I began to question the process. I was starving again. I didn’t have the energy to exercise (and obviously not the calories to support regular workouts). I was told that I had to buy more and more of their products to be successful and to me that just became a cash grab. It seemed greedy. I questioned what would happen when I reached my goal weight – would I be buying supplements forever? Would I be this miserable and hungry forever? Every way I looked at it, I couldn’t see a win for me – so again, I quit. And again, as the staff at Herbal Magic threatened when I said I was quitting, the weight slid right back into place.
Another part of this crazy puzzle that was my life is the fact that I love food. I sincerely hope that when I die, I go to this amazing place where I can cook & eat great food for a long time. Oh and it has to have cats – lots and lots of cats – but I digress. My point is I love food and nothing suits me better than watching the Food Network, trying out elaborate recipes and enjoying every yummy bite. So when I eat this for too long, my inner voices scream at me that I need to go on a diet or I am going to be out of control fat. Which means eating bland food, hating the fact that I have to eat bland food in restricted quantities while I long for the days when I ate things that tasted good. Hopefully, you can relate. It takes a long time for me to get to the point of needing to go on a diet. Not only does dieting take inordinate amounts of willpower and inner strength, but it affects every member of my family since I am the main cook. What I eat, they eat. When I lose or gain weight, they follow suit.
In early 2016, I began thinking that it was finally time to try again. I had had some health scares in 2015 and overall had been feeling very low and unhappy with every aspect of my body. I was tired of dieting however. I didn’t want to do this diet crash course of craziness only to ultimately fail – yet again. Which led me to a shocking thought, one that I had never really had before. I had never, not once, finished a diet. Never. From Weight Watchers to Herbal Magic to pills to meal replacement drinks .. I had quit them all. Which then led me to think, why? Why was I quitting? What was going on? Before I started anything, I needed to understand and pick apart my previous experiences.
I came to a few startling conclusions:
- Diets are focused on losing weight – not being healthy. They make people focus on the pounds and getting skinny shouldn’t be the goal. Healthy should be the goal.
- Exercise HAD to play a part in the process. My doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I had to get good and sweaty 3 times a week so that meant I had to be eating enough to sustain that.
- Diets are short term plans. I was looking for lifestyle change – one that I could sustain forever, not just for a few months.
- Diets aren’t about balance, they are crazy sprints to a finish line and then once you cross that, it’s right back to the old way of eating. Which means doing the cycle all over again. Diets set you up for failure. They do. It’s a billion dollar industry and if every person was successful then there would be no further need for all the diets and products out there. Right?!
- I needed balance, sustainability and a whole new lifestyle. I needed to change my life forever so that this cycle of yo-yo’ing could go away.
With all this in mind, instead of focusing on a goal weight, I chose to focus on getting healthy. I re-joined my gym and worked out 4 – 5 times a week. I got sweaty and I loved every minute of it. I tracked all my food and made a point of choosing healthy whole foods over processed, frozen and typical ‘diet’ foods. I meal planned like a champ, made meals in advance on Sundays and read all I could about getting healthy – not skinny. I started working with a personal trainer who was also a nutritionist and I trusted his advice to INCREASE my daily caloric intake. Yes, I now eat just over 1900 calories a day – definitely not what I was used to in previous diets – and it’s helped me sustain this lifestyle for over 9 months! My weight has dropped 60 lbs and I have shaved off 14% of my body fat in that time frame. Truly, when I focused on getting healthy and strong and was consistent, my weight started to take care of itself.
The voices in my head are quieter than they ever have been in my entire life. I wake up every day and I am happy – happy with my life in a way I never have been. I know that this is a lifestyle and it’s one that I plan on enjoying and working at indefinitely. For me, I am living beyond the diet, and it’s a place I hope that every person who has ever experienced diet mentality, can get to.