I have done every diet under the sun. Calorie counting, check. 5:2, check. Diet pills, check. Slimming world, check. Diet teas, check, Special K, check. Ever since I was in primary school I felt different. I’ve always been very tall and broad shouldered and I was super aware of it. It makes me sad to look at old photos now where I’d hide at the back or hunch my shoulders or do anything I could to make myself look like my petite girl friends.
In my teens things in my personal life began to spiral and as a reaction to this, plus my discomfort in my body, I decided that food is what I’d control. I thought being small would solve all of my problems. The first diet I ever went on consisted of chicken, potato and vegetables. That’s all I ate for three meals a day and I was miserable. This restriction lead me to overeat as soon as I got a glimpse of “forbidden foods”. I didn’t lose weight, I felt like a failure, I moved on to the next diet. Calorie counting felt like my savior. I am extremely organised and love a to do list so being able to see food purely as a numerical value really appealed to me. All I had to do was make the numbers add up right and I’d lose weight and everything would be okay. This continued for a while, I felt a strange high when I was hungry, more focused, more in control. But this was short lived. I’d binge, I’d put on more weight, I’d feel like a failure and start the next diet. I weighed myself every morning and every evening. This is how I lived for almost 10 years. I would lose around 5lbs maximum and I’d always put it back on and more. I cannot believe that it took me 10 years to begin thinking that maybe I wasn’t the problem. Diets are the problem. The diet industry is a business. If we all decided we liked ourselves thousands of companies would collapse. They thrive off making people feel that they aren’t good enough. How fucked up is that? None of them work because they are there to make money. They sell you success stories to make you believe that you are to blame if you don’t lose weight. They know that you’ll believe you’ve messed up, they know you’ll come back to start again. They know that you will keep giving them your money.
I remember one evening when at University after a particularly bad eating session I felt like I was at wits end. I was completely exhausted. All I wanted to do was eat like a normal person so I Googled it (as we all do for the answers to our problems) and that was the first time that I read about intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is essentially using your intuition to guide your food choices, to eat when you’re hungry and to stop when you’re full. I decided to give it a try and it was absolutely terrifying. I committed to stop looking at calories, I committed to stop thinking about the numbers and sung nursery rhymes in my head every time the calculations began, I threw away my scales, I gave myself permission to eat. For the first time in ten years nothing was out of bounds. I ate a lot, which is completely normal after years of restriction but after a while this started to panic me. Even though mentally I felt the most free I had in years, I still wasn’t getting thinner and old thoughts began creeping back in. So, I decided to make intuitive eating into my next diet. I would only eat when I was hungry and I had to stop as soon as I was full. But, I was adamant this wasn’t a diet, I was just eating like a normal person. But I wasn’t, because I was still mentally restricting. I was judging everything I was eating. Very quickly I became miserable, the moment I ate past the point of comfortable fullness I would eat and eat and eat. Before feeling immense guilt and vowing to try again the next day. This continued for a few months, I continued to believe that I wasn’t dieting but the binging behaviors weren’t stopping. I realized then that it was mindset that were causing these cycles because no-one should be breaking out in cold sweats when it’s a work colleague’s Birthday and they brought in a chocolate cake and you really want a slice but you can’t because you aren’t feeling hungry and then all you can think about for the rest of the day is that slice of cake. That is not a healthy relationship with food.
Diet = restriction = guilt/binging = diet. If you don’t break it, it’ll never end.
When I wasn’t thinking about how I looked and was eating without restriction I felt the most free I had in years. I wanted this freedom again but to get there, I had to like my body. You cannot diet yourself happy. I was done with putting myself through any more diets and I wanted to get to a place where I no longer wanted to change the way I looked. The more I worked on liking my body, the less I felt the need to control my food and the less I’d overeat. Instead of forcing myself to go to the gym which I spent years doing and hating, I started going for long walks and running because it helped me process my anxious thoughts. I made my food choices based on my needs in that moment – do I need something light and crunchy and refreshing or do I need some chocolate cake? I honored those choices every single time and the more I did, the better my relationship with my body became. I changed my social media feeds from fitspo to plus size models and life coaches. I read everything I could about the negative effects of dieting. I surrounded my digital world with people who believed that dieting was wrong and I began to see my mind changing for the better. I began to see my body for everything it could do instead of picking apart its physical appearance. During this time I lost around two stone. I realized when I visited a doctor and they weighed me that I finally weighed that dream number I’d always been aiming for during my dieting days and the most amazing thing was, it didn’t even matter. That was when I appreciated how far I have come. Not every day is easy, I still have days where I feel unhappy with the way I look, I still have restrictive thoughts, I still get influenced by the media around me but the difference now is that I answer back. I am so passionate about spreading the anti diet message that I challenge my inner critic every time she rears her ugly head. I finally believe that I am worthy.
Intuition means “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning”. It is the true act of listening to your body and responding. Just because you ate yesterday, you still need to eat today. The thing I found the hardest to let go of was the control. I clung to a diet because it made me feel like I was the boss of one aspect of my life when everything else, I couldn’t change. Stopping dieting made me face up to a lot of things. Food is never the real problem, it is a warning sign that you need to dig deeper. When you feel the urges to binge or over eat you have to pause and look at what real problem is, are you hungry or are you bored or are you tired or are you stressed. You have to work out what other mechanisms you can use to cope in these moments which aren’t food. You have to lay out all of your emotional junk and sort through it piece by piece. The thing that upsets me the most is that during my diet struggles, I didn’t think I had a real problem. I once told a Doctor that I thought I had an eating disorder and she dismissed it saying I couldn’t possibly have a problem because I wasn’t underweight. I feel so desperately angry when I think about all of the people that this has happened to. An eating disorder isn’t relative to a number on a BMI scale. An eating disorder is a mindset. Something needs to change. People need to be educated on the complex nature of these disorders. I want to cause ripples, I want to see women realizing that it is not them that needs to change. It is the culture that needs to change.
You have to trust yourself, you have to stop hating on your body, you have to throw away your scales and say I am okay as I am right now. That is your power and it’s time to fight back.
Minnesota Starvation Experiment
Every day Feminism: 8 reasons why I don’t want to hear about your diet
The Guilty Feminist: food episode
A moment that changed me: Being abused on the street about my weight
Isboel Foxen Duke