As much as I dislike stereotypes, the person sat at their desk politely declining sweet treats because ‘I’m on a diet’ is one we’ve all seen.
That person was me for years, and every time I was on a diet, it never worked out.
We see it all the time in magazines, plastered across articles online – ‘Girl loses HALF HER BODYWEIGHT after making one simple change’.
Those of us who read these articles are often struggling with the exact same problems. In fact, we’re probably sat reading it over a bowl of sweets (guilty) and thinking ‘that’s a great idea. Starting tomorrow – may as well finish this bowl of sugary goodness first – I will get right on the diet. Time for a new me!’
Then we strip our cupboards of all our favourite foods, sit down in front of a plate of salad, and last two weeks before someone offers us a glass of wine and we go ‘oh, alright then’.
Year after year, we yo-yo between ‘miracle cures’ that claim to offer one simple plan, one basic exercise regime, for a reasonable price, that fits your budget, easily slots into your hectic lifestyle, and is so simple to follow you’ll have lost all the weight before you know it.
If that was true, there’d be no need for viral articles praising someone who stuck with one of the plans and made it to the end. We’d all be following our regimes with such ease, none of us would be overweight, and I wouldn’t be writing the words you’re reading.
But because there’s big money in advertising miracle solutions, and lots of people out there who love to eat cake, the ‘diet factory’, as I like to call it, will keep on churning out its produce until there’s a major change in the way we think about food.
Having been on every diet plan under the sun, I’m going to share how each of them panned out, and why I’m not ‘going on a diet’ to lose weight.
Weight loss groups
‘Talking is good. I will talk to other people who need to lose weight, connect with a group, and that will help me a lot,’ I thought as I dutifully paid a joining fee, printed off my pass and headed down to my nearest group one evening.
We had a brief chat about how to avoid temptation in the house, and why stocking healthy food is the way forwards. This was perfectly sound in its logic, and so were the healthy eating guidelines I was handed.
But when I looked at the food list, my allowance and how many calories that equated to, I realised I was just going on a 1500 calorie meal plan and having a weekly talk. I could do the same by myself – without the bill. So I didn’t go to the next session, followed the plan for a week…then went back to my old eating habits.
Before I went to Uni, I decided to egg my way to a summer body. It was not pretty. Pan after pan of boiled eggs got forced down my gullet. I figured that cutting out most major food groups and eating lots of protein would be the miracle cure I was looking for.
Sure, my breath stank. I developed a constant headache that put me in an awful mood. I had no energy. I spent my time either sleeping, trying not to fall off an exercise bike or forcing down eggs. But I was going to look AMAZING. Who cared if I had no life?
I tweaked my diet so it included meat and veggies, and dutifully followed the low-carb life for the next 18 months.
But I became terrified of carbs. I’d lost weight by cutting them out. Oh my god I could never eat bread again. Pasta could never touch my lips. Or I would become overweight in a flash. Months of hard work ruined. No, it was simply not going to happen.
Meals out were a nightmare – I’d sit in the corner with a bowl of nuts, stomach rumbling, saying it was fine, that’s all the restaurant had that served my dietary needs, you all go ahead and enjoy your chocolate sundaes IT’S FINE I LOOK GREAT WHO CARES.
After a few years, I became sick of not knowing what normal eating was, and when a friend was cooking pasta one night I said ‘Oh sod it’ and grabbed a bowl.
The overeating crept back, I gained the weight again, and…you know the rest.
This is supposedly how the cavemen eat, and we’re all cavemen really, right? It’s who our ancestors are, and they didn’t have access to all the sugary refined rubbish we can grab in supermarkets.
Besides, I was eating some types of carb, so really, eating berries and nuts was super healthy.
Granted, going paleo involves cutting out dairy, and I realised that I personally feel better not consuming much yogurt or cow’s milk. I’m probably mildly lactose intolerant. So some good came out of it on a personal level.
But I felt restricted again. It didn’t feel like I was living to be turning down the muffins that got handed round among friends, avoiding most alcoholic drinks and never feeling satisfied.
I wasn’t enjoying what I was eating, felt cut off from the people I was with, and after a few weeks, I grabbed a muffin. Or three. Maybe a whole pack. Then possibly some chocolate. You get the picture.
I know going vegan isn’t the same as going on a diet plan, and people who are vegan will have perfectly reasonable ethical or health-based arguments for cutting out all meat, fish and animal produce from their daily food intake.
But many people see going vegan as a way to lose weight, because cutting out food groups will often have this side effect. So I decided to cut out the chicken sandwiches I so dearly loved, say goodbye to the blocks of cheese I’d graze on in front of Netflix in the evening, and switch to tofu instead.
After a few weeks of eliminating these food groups, I did lose some weight, but I felt like a fraud. Stocking up on vegan products just so I could try, yet again, to get a summer body, instead of doing it because I was genuinely committed to the lifestyle.
Plus, I still felt like there was a void. And that void had to be filled with food. Eating tons of tofu didn’t solve the problem. So one night I went down to the shop and bought a chicken sandwich.
Weight loss shakes
‘You should try them, honestly, my mate has all the shakes then eats an entire family size bag of Doritos every night and still loses weight,’ a friend told me, as if the shakes contained some sort of magical anti-fat powder that made you slim.
So I bankrupted myself by stocking up on shakes and healthy meal ingredients – because I was allowed to eat one healthy meal a day, so that made me feel more balanced.
Thing is, if you’ve got a problem with overeating, and you’re presented with tasty strawberry shakes, you’re just going to sit there chugging the lot. Then run to the toilet and stay there for several hours. And realise you have no money for more food until the next week.
Fruit and veg is good for you. It’s full of vitamins. So why not supercharge yourself by pumping your body full of them? In fact…how about you drink nothing but those vitamins? Just drink juice. And nothing else. This was the logic I used as I looked up juicing plans.
Once I’d done my research, I lugged back a bag full of fresh produce and threw it into a juicer. Gagging slightly as I knocked back the green mixture I’d created, I went about my day feeling rather smug.
I was juicing, don’t you know. And I’ve got a bugger of a headache, but it’s fine. I’m juicing. With mild dizzy spells. And now I feel nauseous. And everyone is annoying me and I’m in an awful mood. But I’m juicing. I’m going to lose so much weight. It’ll be great. Oh my GOD I AM SO HUNGRY WHERE’S THE NEAREST THING I CAN EAT.
I’m not going to enter the debate about whether juicing has health benefits – I’m no expert. But for someone who cannot handle being deprived of food, drinking nothing but fruit and veg is probably the worst solution possible.
Have you seen a pattern yet? I was trying to find a miracle cure without looking at why I’m overweight in the first place. Covering up the cracks by restricting myself, swinging between dietary extremes, and cutting out important nutrients in a bid to get the fat off.
So what’s my current plan to lose weight? This is the top enquiry I get from readers following me on my journey. ‘How are you doing it?’
Well, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Everyone is different. Sure, we’re united in the fact that we all ate too much for too long, and now we need to look after our health. But we all have different reasons for doing so. Maybe you’ll figure out what your reason is after reading about why I let myself get so overweight
What I do know is that losing weight isn’t about ‘going on a diet’. It’s about finding out what foods you can enjoy eating for life, that will also nourish your body. It’s about loving yourself, loving your body as it is now, and wanting to make it even better than it already is – by making it healthier. It’s about not starving yourself, cutting out major food groups, or swinging between extreme styles of eating.
Put simply, it’s about learning to love food the right way. Knowing what will make you feel good, both body and mind. Combining that with exercise – something I will start to cover in coming weeks. But, most of all, knowing that this journey is not primarily about ‘losing weight’. It’s about loving who you are, and wanting to give yourself the best life possible. And one of the ways you can do that is by eating less crap.
If you believe your eating habits are disordered, or you’re worried about a friend or loved one, you can contact Beat’s adult helpline on 0808 801 0677. They also have a youthline, which is at 0808 801 0711. The helplines are open 365 days a year, 3pm-10pm.
Alternatively, you can check out the support available on the Beat website.
What have I learned this week?
I used to just eat whenever I felt like it – if I saw something that looked good, if I was bored, if I was watching Netflix. But actually, filling yourself with crap all day just makes you feel sluggish and irritable.
Every day, I’d wake up with a headache that I just couldn’t shake. I’d wash down the junk food with a side of painkillers – often those infused with caffeine, as I’d be constantly tired, no matter how much sleep I got.
Instead of mindlessly grazing, I decided to be more mindful around what I was eating. Taking time to make something made me appreciate what I was putting in my body. Being aware of what I was eating made me think more about how I was fuelling myself over the course of a day.
The act of cooking in itself is incredibly therapeutic – I had a housemate last year who told me he made time every night to cook for himself. ‘It’s my chill out time, when I can really relax and de-stress after a day of work,’ he told me. I can see what he means now.
Once I’ve finished, if I feel like eating more, I wait 20 minutes. Most of the time, I’m not hungry after that time has elapsed.
By being aware of what I’m eating, how it makes me feel, and taking time to appreciate what food can do for me, I’ve learned how to use it correctly.
Plus my headaches have disappeared. Funny, that.