Sorry diets! You're too strict, controlling, and possessive, and it's time I learn to trust myself around food.
When I was 29, on the cusp of 30, I panicked. My weight, a constant source of stress and anxiety for pretty much my whole life, hit an all-time high. Even though I was living out my dreams as a writer in Manhattan à la Carrie Bradshaw, I was miserable. My wardrobe was less "off the runway chic" and more "clearance rack at Lane Bryant." I had no "Mr. Big" to speak of—though I overheard many potential suitors refer to me as "Ms. Big" before they all but disappeared. I was happier holing up on a Saturday night with a pizza (medium, regular crust from Dominoes with pepperoni and pineapple, if you must know) than even trying to squeeze into an all-black "going out" ensemble that I hoped would hide some of my fat rolls as I sat in a corner watching my thin, pretty, and happy friends get hit on and eventually leave me to find my own way home—where I'd order that pizza anyway. (Important: Why the Love My Shape Movement Is So Empowering)
With about five months until I turned 30, I reached my breaking point. I couldn't take having such limited wardrobe options from the two stores that carried my size in things other than muumuus. I couldn't take feeling bleak about my future that seemed destined to be husbandless and childless. And I couldn't take feeling foggy, bloated, and breathless all day.
So after years of failing every diet under the sun—we're talking Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, a round of the wonder drug Fen-Phen, Atkins, LA Weight Loss, Nutrisystem, "scientifically proven" plans I fell for during late night infomercials, soup diets, and countless plans customized by nutritionists—I finally admitted to myself that I was powerless over food (not to mention, I was about to go broke from the endless stream of diets I went "all in" on) and joined a 12-step program for food addiction. It was extreme—I had a "sponsor," abstained from all flour and sugar, and ate three carefully weighed and measured out meals a day. It was the same thing every day: for breakfast, I'd eat 1 ounce of oatmeal with choice of fruit and 6 ounces of plain yogurt for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, it was 4 ounces of a lean protein with 8 ounces of salad, a tablespoon of fat and 6 ounces of cooked veggies. No snack. No dessert. No leeway. In fact, every morning, I had to tell my sponsor the exact items I was going to eat for the whole day. If I said I would have chicken for dinner, but later decided on salmon instead, it was frowned upon. It was hard, it was hell, and it was a test of willpower I didn't even know I had.
And it worked. By my 30th birthday, I had lost 40 pounds. By the end of that year, I had lost 70 pounds, wearing a size 2 (down from a size 16/18), dating up a storm and loving the constant chorus of "you look incredible" compliments from friends, family, and colleagues.
But that was almost 10 years ago and now, I'm nine months away from my 40th birthday. And 10 years after I took that step to change my life and body with the most extreme measure of my entire, professional dieting career—history is repeating itself. (See also: Why Actually Reaching My Resolution Made Me Less Happy)
Well, sort of.
I've gained most of that weight back. And now, as I stare down the big four-o (September 18, 2017, is the day), once again I'd like to lose weight, and I'd like to feel healthier. But my motives are different this time. I'm not trying to meet guys at clubs anymore. I have a husband who's my soul mate, a beautiful daughter who's about to turn 2, money in the bank, a peaceful life in the suburbs, and control over my successful career. I'm not willing to put food and dieting at the center of my world anymore—that's where my daughter is.
Still, I know food has way too much power over me—it always has—and it's denying me from loving and appreciating all I've manifested for myself during the past 10 years. How can I move forward when I'm consumed with thoughts like, "Do I look fat?" "Would my life be better if I was thin again?" "I want pizza." "I shouldn't want pizza." "Will today be the day that I wake up thin?" Those type of thoughts constantly bounce around in my head, which means it's tough to stay present and tougher to turn them away and think about things like what's the next big story I want to pitch or just enjoy a date night with my husband in peace.
That's not to say that I haven't tried—and failed—to get things under control since the weight started creeping back, then skyrocketed once my daughter was born. I gave up on the 12-step program because it was nearly impossible to maintain, but tried almost everything else. I went gluten-free, I went Paleo, I tried three more rounds of Weight Watchers, and I committed to going spinning five days a week. I tried acupuncture.
Even though these diets never worked, the truth is that I'm used to being on a diet. They're my normal. They give me a sense of calm and hopefulness that I'll wake up thin. They tell the world "I know I need to lose weight, but I'm doing the best I can." Committing to a diet plan makes me feel in control, but they also make feel guilty, like I'm a defiant child who's going to get grounded for eating carbs. Other times, they make me feel like a cheater, like a failure. But the truth is, diets have been failing me. You can only succeed on a diet for so long until it turns on you.
That's why I'm here to say goodbye to dieting for good as I start my road to 40. Dieting makes me say the word "can't" a lot. And that's a lot of negativity to be putting out to the world. Constantly saying things like "I can't eat bread" or "I can't eat at that restaurant" or "I can't go out because I can't drink" wears on me and makes me feel like an outcast. Worse, they consume me and fill my brain with useless "chatter." I'm constantly wondering if I ate something that was more points than I had allotted for the rest of the day or if I needed to hit three grocery stores in order to get every specialty item on my list. It's counterintuitive because dieting makes me think about food more than when I'm not dieting. It works my brain into overdrive and leads me to obsess over everything from how many cookies I can get away with to fixating on what other people think of my body. In a nutshell, it sends me spiraling out of control and straight to the fridge.
So, as I turn 40, it's time to take back control. It's time for me to learn to trust myself and trust my body. I didn't know how powerful my body was back in my twenties. But since then, I brought a life into the world. I gave birth with the same body that I shame and deprive. It deserves more than that. I deserve more than that.
If I want to turn 40 feeling healthy, strong, and confident—I need to do things that make me feel, well, healthy, strong, and confident. I need to set goals that make me feel successful, not like a failure or cheater. Now, instead of counting calories, I'll force myself to get to yoga or meditate. And instead of cutting out all carbs or all sugar, I'll be mindful if I had something with carbs at breakfast to eat fewer carbs at lunch. Those are goals I can really stick with.
Goodbye, dieting. After living 40 years on this earth—and spending 30 of them dieting—it's time we break up. And this time, I know it's not me. It's most definitely you.