Diets suck

Oh, hi there! It’s me again. Get a drink of water. Right now. It’s super hot in Upstate NY and we all know, hydration is super important. Gotta start respecting your body, and the first step is getting some H2O in your gullet.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way. I’m exhausted. This has been the most hectic weekend we’ve had in a while…honestly since before COVID hit I think. Friday was Felix’s birthday AND Lily had dress rehearsal for ballet, so it was a lot of last minute errands and tag teaming with Dan to make sure everyone was where they needed to be and on time. Friday night we had a recording session of Dan’s podcast, A Grim Podcast of Perilous Adventure, and we were delayed because Felix couldn’t fall asleep because the poor guy had a hell of a stomach ache. Few things pull at your heartstrings as much as your child being in pain and you being powerless to do anything to help them. Luckily he did finally fall asleep and was fine the next morning. Yesterday Lily had two shows for ballet, one at 1pm and the other at 4pm and I signed up to be a backstage helper for the 1pm show. I always feel guilty that I’m not more involved in ballet, so helping backstage is my atonement for that. Her dance studio was able to rent out a hangar at a nearby park to put on the show, and it was really beautiful. Everyone did a wonderful job. After I dropped her off for the 4pm show I had to get ready to chaperone PROM! We were able to put together an outdoor event for the students and it was incredible! I didn’t get home until 1am and let me tell you, I’m too old for that silliness. Two late nights in a row, despite getting to sleep in the following mornings, plus being nonstop busy for days has me feeling wrecked. I got to have breakfast with some friends this morning and just kind of hang out today after I got groceries, but I can still feel that I’m physically and mentally drained from it all. 

After a great discussion over in my Ditching Diet Culture group on Facebook, I want to focus today’s post on what we mean when we talk about “diet.” Last week I touched on it a bit, but I really want to delve into this. When we talk about diet, what do we mean? What images come to mind? The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of diet is as follows: “1 : food and drink regularly provided or consumed. 2 : habitual nourishment. 3 : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason. 4 : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight…going on a diet.”

So literally, a diet is just the food that you consume on a regular basis. A cow’s diet is mostly grass and grains. A lion’s diet is carnivorous. Foxes are omnivorous and will eat anything from berries to small birds. It’s simple.

It’s not until we get to the fourth iteration of the definition that we get to what most people envision when they think of a diet. And, not surprisingly, when I put “diet” into the ol’ search engine, the first four sites that popped up were popular dieting websites guaranteeing results “FAST” with this shake/pill/special meals/point system etc etc etc. Ugh. Overwhelmingly the response from my Facebook group, when asked what diet means to them, is denial or restriction of certain foods or food groups with the specific intention of making one’s body smaller. Sometimes a diet can be necessary for health reasons, but typically we go on diets to attain an arbitrary number of some kind. Last week I explained that for as long as I could remember, my goal weight was 140lbs. That was a number I got in my head somehow and I’ve been striving towards it even since. Spoiler alert: I’m not even close. Even when I was “close,” I always had 8-10 more pounds to lose before I got there. And maintaining that weight? Forget about it. Most people feel so deprived when on a diet, and if you have to feel that way to get to the target number, guess what? Chances are pretty good you’ll have to feel that way to maintain the weight. For me, 140 just isn’t in the cards. I love food and celebrating with said food WAY too much to never have gluten, dairy, or sugar ever again. And you know what? I’m sloooooowwwwlllllyyyyy starting to love my current body so that the arbitrary number no longer holds any power over me. It’s slow-going, but I’m getting there. 

Another theme in the group comments was one of feeling “good” if you make a healthy choice by not having the cake or chips at a party, but feeling ashamed or guilty for treating yourself if you don’t “deserve” it. I was guilty of this as well, and I have a lot of issues with it. First of all, you’re not a dog so you don’t “earn treats.” No food is inherently good or bad, we just assign those labels to foods that should be eaten with more regularity and more scarcity. For example, unless you’re lactose intolerant, ice cream isn’t “bad.” But eating nothing but ice cream for a week? While that’s my secret dream, it would also be hell on your poor body! There’s no differentiation in nutrients or nourishment here, so yes, in this instance that would be bad. But a cone or dish of ice cream every now and then? It’s fine. And the term “cheat meal”? I’m sorry, but fuck that. That’s just perpetuating the idea of feelings of shame and guilt being associated with food and that just doesn’t fly anymore. You can cheat on your taxes, you don’t cheat with food. I said what I said. 

And ya know what the real mind-fuck about restriction is? You can deny deny deny all you want, and when you don’t have it around, you’re great. But once you’re face-to-face with the thing you really want, you are way more likely to binge on that food than if you just allowed yourself to have a normal portion of it more regularly. So if you “can’t be trusted with __________ in the house,” try it. Say it’s chocolate. Get a bar of chocolate. Keep it in the house. When you want a piece, have it. Eventually the novelty of that food will wear off and you won’t crave it so desperately. I can tell you from experience, I adore ice cream. I once fought with Dan about whether or not I could have ice cream for lunch (his argument was similar to the one I made above; as an adult I absolutely can have it for lunch, I just shouldn’t since it isn’t nutritionally dense. He’s smart but I’m stubborn so it was an impasse and I just had ice cream). I currently have two half gallons of ice cream sitting in my freezer. How much have I had today, on an insanely hot day? None. Didn’t want it. It was there, it’s been in there, but I just wasn’t craving it. I found that the key to my success was in actually portioning it out; I don’t necessarily mean with a measuring cup, but I did start physically scooping it into a bowl instead of eating straight from the container while standing over the sink like some kind of beast. Once my bowl was done, if I wanted more, I had it. Usually one bowl was enough, and for the sake of transparency I should say, during this time I did measure out a suggested serving size, just so I knew a rough ballpark of what that looked like. 

Now let’s get to some real tricky stuff. My friend, Elizabeth, and I follow a portion control plan from Beachbody. This does not restrict any type of food. If you want more details on what it entails just let me know, but I won’t get into it here to save on time. So we don’t restrict, but we do have a target number of servings of different food groups that are ideal. Is that a diet? We eat to nourish our bodies and we focus on eating what makes us feel our best. I still have pizza, but I’ve noticed I don’t feel great if I overindulge, so that’s my motivation for keeping myself from being excessive about it (gotta love life in your 30s, ammiright?). I’ve been tweaking with my lunches a little bit to see if adding more carbs, like rice and beans, has any effect on my afternoon energy levels (specifically for my workouts). I like the science behind it. But am I stuck on the hamster wheel of diet culture? Have they bamboozled me under the guise of independence and self-actualization? I just don’t know. I think we’re encroaching on intuitive eating territory, and this is what intuitiveeating.org has to say about it: “Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date.” I’ll do a whole post about intuitive eating at another time, but that’s what the portion control plan feels like to me, it just gives a foundation to start on. 

I’ll be the first to say, I’m no expert on this stuff. I just know what I know from my experience and a lot of research into it. If you take anything from this post, I want it to be this: If you want to be on a diet, that’s fine. You have bodily autonomy and you can do what you want with your body. But look deeply at your motivation for dieting. Is it aesthetically based? Are you fulfilled and nourished on this diet? Are you living your best, happiest life right now? If you diet to attain a number, where did you get that number from? Who says you have to weigh _____ or fit in size ___ pants? Analyze what you really want, and if you don’t want to restrict yourself in order to shrink yourself, great. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about intuitive eating.

Be well!

Dani

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