Things That Happened When I Stopped Dieting

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In January I resolved, as so many do, to “get my eating back on track” and I started tracking the food I ate.

I restricted. I obsessed about snacks that were less than a hundred calories. I choked down “healthy meals” that made me gag.

All in the name of my health.

All in the name of a smaller body.

And I had finally had enough.

I flat out stopped dieting. I decided I would not restrict anything anymore.

In the past, I did Whole30, I did autoimmune elimination diets, I went gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, nightshade-free, and I did vegan keto for all of two weeks. I did three day cleanses, three times, involving two or three shakes a day plus a piece of fruit plus a salad with a vinaigrette dressing and salmon or chicken breast.

I used to pack carrots and celery with almond butter in my lunch and force myself to go hungry if I “wasn’t hungry enough for my carrots.”

I hate raw carrots and they make me gag. I was starving myself deliberately and making it a moral stance.

Nope.

I realized what was apparent to so many of the people around me: I had an eating disorder.

I realized it was okay to stop. Stop restricting. Stop dieting. Stop obsessing.

Suddenly everything was back on the table again. Bread! Pasta! Cereal! I ate and ate and ate and ate and ate. Whenever I was hungry, I ate. And I was ravenous.

After twenty years of dieting, my body wasn’t taking chances on that diet cycle anymore. My body turned the eating signals on full blast, expecting me to shut it all back down again at a moment’s notice.

After an initial few weeks when my body got the memo that I was actually eating these days, I noticed some things.

Here’s what happened when I stopped dieting

I gained weight. I’ve gained some weight but consistently weigh the same amount every time I visit a doctor’s office. I don’t own a scale, so I’m not checking at home. Not that it really matters, because…

I stopped caring how much I weigh. When I gave up dieting, I also gave up the belief that a smaller body was the point of my existence. I spent twenty years on diets trying to control my weight. My weight is just my weight, and my body is the size that it is because of genetics, and constantly sabotaging my metabolism for two decades, and a variety of other factors.

I became truly body positive. When I look in the mirror I see myself, and I think I’m beautiful and worthy and just fine the way I am. I used to feel horrified to see I was still fat every day, seeing only the not-good-enough and numerous areas to improve.

I quit working out. I needed to stop exercising because I was obsessive about it. I’d push myself far beyond reasonable levels of fatigue and believed that if I wasn’t in pain, I hadn’t exercised hard enough. With this level of commitment to my own destruction, removing exercise from my daily routine was a necessary part of the process. But…

I missed exercise. Several months later, I started wanting to move my body again. But only in ways that felt good. I crave stretching and short walks and swimming in the pool at the gym. I miss running, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to it, because…

I got a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Oh, turns out all that pain I was experiencing when I pushed my body beyond its limits, and the way my legs screamed and ached every night was because I have fibromyalgia. I stopped obsessing about my body and was finally able to listen to it and get help for it. I’m on pain medication now and my quality of life has improved drastically.

I ate childhood food. I realized pretty quickly that the foods I craved when I first started eating again were childhood foods. Pasta, sandwiches, soups my mom used to make, and CEREAL. I tried so many sugary cereals in those first few weeks and my favorite cereal remains Aldi’s Honey Grahams. But I realized that my palate essentially time traveled back to when the trauma around food started. My mom was my childhood bully, especially about food, and being allowed to eat those foods without her voice shaming me was a revelation of healing. Also, Apple Jacks are not as good as I remember.

Sugar lost its appeal. I kid you not, after about a month or so of eating whatever I wanted, I stopped wanting it. A pint of ice cream will stay in my freezer for weeks now, and I can only eat a few bites of most sweet things before I am just tired of them. Don’t get me wrong, I will still go ham on a homemade tiramisu, and I want to eat Chipotle every single day. This isn’t a case of “ha ha, I have finally conquered sugar!” It just turns out that my taste buds prefer salty to sweet, and I never knew because I had always made sugar a demon to hide from and be tempted by instead of just letting it be neutral.

I still struggle with food. Recovery is not perfect, and I still struggle with “allowing” myself to eat things. If I have dinner and I’m still hungry, I worry about that. If I go a few days eating out or eating a lot of snack food instead of more nutrient-dense food, I worry about that. I am still prone to avoiding food until I’m starving, but I’m getting better at being okay with eating before it’s a desperate situation. Sometimes I don’t eat enough in a day and I end up ravenous at the end of the day instead of spreading out meals to stay satisfied all day.

I’ve been in recovery for nine months. My entire life is ahead of me, and it won’t be marked by hating my body.

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of bit.ly/GaslightingMillennials

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