When I was in 8th grade, I went on the South Beach Diet. I wasn’t particularly heavy, but I had a belly that made me anxious and it seemed that depriving myself of carbs was the only way to fix it. For about a week I ate only nuts, meat, and cheese. I avoided my beloved popcorn like the plague. Cookies were banned. Goodbye breakfast cereal. I was being “good.” I was sticking to my diet.
And then about 10 days in, all hell broke loose. I had packed a perfectly carb-free lunch. But on that day, 8th grade was rougher than usual. I felt sad and alone. And I simply couldn’t eat another bag of plain almonds. So I marched myself to the cafeteria line and bought french fries, a cupcake, and a piece of pizza. I scarfed it all down. Then when I looked at my empty tray, I felt sick and “bad” for breaking my diet. Guilt and confusion filled my head.
That’s where it all started.
For years after that I dieted on and off. The number on the scale determined my mood. I restricted and then binged. I signed up for Weight Watchers 3 separate times. I spent an obscene amount of time and money in the “Diet” aisle of Barnes and Noble. I tried desperately to make myself throw up. And when it didn’t work, I cried.
It carried on like this for years: moments of restriction, moments of bingeing, and some moments of ease around food. I didn’t want anyone to know I was unhappy with my body so I spent a lot of energy hiding my dieting. I couldn’t stay planted in a healthy place. I couldn’t find lasting ease.
But in the last two years, there has been a shift.
Perhaps it’s the saltwater, or my yoga practice, or having someone I love to cook for. But somewhere along the line, I finally had had enough. I was through with the compulsive dieting. Instead of googling the latest diet, I reached out to a yoga teacher I knew who is also a holistic health counselor. I emailed her, confused, broken, and on a sugar roller coaster. And you know what this health lady did??? She met me where I was. She gifted me a cookbook and took me to the grocery store. We talked about whole foods and family. We talked about how when we crave something sweet, it isn’t necessarily sugar. Maybe it’s a hug. Or a talk with a good friend. We talked about emotional baggage and about how you should definitely avoid the “Diet” aisle of the bookstore.
And slowly, surely, I began to heal. I read Geneen Roth’s book like it was the bible. I listened to my body. I asked people for what I really needed.
My only food mantra now is to eat real food. To fall in love with heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market. To think of my family when I pick out cherries. To cook with love. To make recipes that smell like home.
Yes, I try to eat less sugar and less processed food. But I also don’t get mad at myself when I do.
I am working at my relationship with food. Some days are easier than others. But it feels good to stop counting and worrying and stepping on the scale. It feels good to come home.