Monday Musings – The 20-year Long Diet

If my estimates are correct, in the course of my adult life, I’ve been on a diet off and on for the past 20 years.  I believe I’ve lost roughly 200 pounds during that time.  That’s 20 pounds lost, five pounds gained.  30 pounds lost, 10 pounds gained and so forth.  It adds up.  It doesn’t stay off, of course, but it adds up.

I mention this because I realized I’ve been snacking more lately due to stress (I’m a self-diagnosed emotional eater).  Even if the effect on my weight is only a pound or two, I can feel the difference and it’s frustrating.  And because I can feel the difference, it’s a constant battle, this desire to diet.  (By diet, I mean just watching what I eat and trying to make healthy choices, I’m not even talking about the extreme or fad diets that are out there.) 

At 37, I feel like I should be past all of these dieting issues, that somehow I should have learned by now what it takes to be healthy and thin.  So why do I feel this constant need to monitor what I eat?  This guilt that is associated with eating too much or not eating a balanced meal.  It’s been going on for so long that it’s more of a habit than anything else.  I know it’s not the worst issue to have, but sometimes, every once in a while, I wish that it wasn’t my issue.

To wake up in the morning and not worry if the dinner I had the night before is going to manifest itself in tighter-fitting pants.  To be able to eat whatever, whenever I want without feeling like I need to know the calorie content.  How would it feel to believe that I’m the perfect size, no matter what that size is?  

That has never happened for me.  Ever.  It doesn’t matter how skinny or thin I am, I want to be skinnier and thinner.  Be in better shape, have more muscle mass, just be better.  I realize there are probably a lot of underlying issues and I’m sure some of you are reading this and diagnosing me as you go.  ”You’ve just got low self-esteem,” some would say.  While others would wonder what traumatic experience in my life has caused me to have such body image issues.  

And my answer?  I have no idea.  There may be some deep, psychological explanation to why I feel the way I do.  Personally, I believe it has to do with my perception of myself in relation to other people.  I think it also has to do with the expectations that we as a society place on ourselves.  It’s difficult to see these cute skinny  girls in magazines and on TV and not think that it is attainable.  

So how does one go from being on a diet for 20 years to not caring about it?  Does the change need to be an internal one based on self-acceptance or does it need to start with a change in the way women are perceived in our culture?  Or another question is: should I really stop dieting?  I don’t want to go to the other extreme and not care about how I look or feel because I don’t think that’s healthy either.  I honestly don’t know the answer.

I do know that I don’t want to be on a diet the rest of my life – but I really don’t see any way around it.   

What about you – what do you think of dieting?  

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Eryn - February 9, 2009 - 7:16 am

Oh I feel your pain. About 5 months ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I was going to the gym 4 times a week, I had toned muscles, and I was at a perfect weight for my body type.

Then we moved, and the only gym nearby has ridiculous prices on memberships, which we can’t afford.

I’ve tried to make do with running and using my 1 set of 10-pound dumbbells, but I’m slipping. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell a difference, but I can.

I’m also an emotional eater, and have been very stressed for the last 3-4 months, so I feel your pain there too. It’s tough.

Carol - February 9, 2009 - 7:45 am

This has never had to be an issue for me. I was blessed from a gene pool of being very small all my adult life, but being healthy is the important issue. There are so many illnesses that are directly caused by being overweight. Maybe if you could look at it strictly from a health point of view, then everything will fall into place. You are so beautiful and you’ve just embarked on a wonderful new life that loving yourself and wanting to be healthy for those that love and depend on you would be a good focus. Try to look at the big picture and not stress over the little slips. Will it be a part of your life always, probably because it is for anyone that wants to live to be old and keep health problems at bay.

the weakonomist - February 9, 2009 - 7:59 am

Though he is a personal finance guy and probably not the first to say this, I’ll quote Dave Ramsey.

“Nothing tastes as good as it feels to be thin”

I found my balance of enjoying food vs being fat in college. I indulge whenever I please, but my primary diet is nothing be healthy foods. For example, my lunch today is Ham on wheat, an apple, brocoli, and some walnuts. But tonight I’ll have a handful of candy corn and a small glass of wine (not together).

Of course I also run/walk 20 miles a week, which helps a lot.

Margie - February 9, 2009 - 8:22 am

Sorry, can’t help on this one. Mine is just the opposite. I stay too skinny. But I don’t want all the unhealthy stuff to help me gain weight.

michelle - February 9, 2009 - 8:25 am

i totally feel you – i have struggled with this for a long time as well. i went on my first diet in seventh grade. i was never a “small” girl, but at one point i was down to a size 10. it felt fantastic, but then i started to slip and ended up with an eating disorder – namely bulimia. i am now a size 16/18, but i am trying to come to terms with myself. i got over the eating disorder about 5 years ago, and i know that was a big step. getting past emotional eating is another one. i feel you there!

i have tried to stop looking at healthy eating as dieting, and rather as a lifestyle. i have been doing better, but my ultimate goal, as you said, is to just be happy with myself. i know it can happen – we will get there!

reading pw’s recipes and making her cinnamon rolls didn’t help much, but i say you have to indulge occasionally to avoid the binge :) good luck!

thanks for posting on this.

Amy - February 9, 2009 - 8:31 am

Good for you! It took me years to figure out that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, wasn’t good for me and most importantly, was having minimal impact and making me unhappy.

You need to look into Health At Every Size [HAES] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_at_Every_Size

I recommend the following blogs too:
http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/
http://kateharding.net

And this is worth a look too:
http://www.bigfatfacts.com/

Good luck to you!

Heidi - February 9, 2009 - 8:39 am

Tabitha,

From the second I wake up, until the second I go to bed, I crave chocolate. And not just Reese Cups (which I crave plenty of) but dank, expensive German chocolate bars. That’s how this post got my attention. The chocolate photo caused me to froth all over my keyboard.

How do I stay in shape?

I bike like a MoFo and I eat two pieces of chocolate every night and every morning. I could never give it up. Also: I use chocolate as a motivational tactic. (“Finish this story and you’re allowed one piece of chocolate.”)

I eat small meals, knowing that by eating small portions I’m allowing myself to eat chocolate.

If your thing isn’t chocolate, then eat smaller portions of the things you’re not batsh*t crazy for, in exchange for treating yourself to something you love.

Also: Find a form of exercise that isn’t just WORK but FUN. For me, it’s biking. I roped my fiance into it and now we do it together.

Also: If I live close enough to a store to walk to it, I do. If I live close enough to bike to it, I do.

I’ve never been good at diets, but I’ve always been reasonable about exercise and portion-control.

If you’re an emotional over-eater, satisfy the urge with fat-free pretzels instead of … chips, or pasta or … whatever it is you emotionally over eat. If your natural inclination is to eat when you’re upset, don’t deny your body the urge, just trick it into eating something else with less calories!

Hmpf. Maybe this advice will work. Maybe not. That picture of chocolate, though. Man, Tabitha. I’m about to walk to the kitchen for a third chocolate chip cookie. Next time post pictures of carrots!

PS. I highly recommend biking once the weather gets better in DC. Get a tachometer for your bike. Tracking your miles will fill you with pride.

admin - February 9, 2009 - 8:59 am

Eryn – I know exactly what you mean! Before I moved to DC, I was working out two hours a day (I wasn’t working at the time, just going to school) and I have never felt better. Moving out here to the city, I was living on a $900 a month stipend and had no money for a gym. It’s amazing how quickly we lose the results from all that hard work, isn’t it?

CArol – you’re right, I need to look at the big picture and you’re also right in saying it probably will be a part of my life. Even if I don’t “diet” per se, I will always need to watch what I eat if nothing else than to make sure I’m getting enough nutrients.

Weakonimist – I think that’s a good attitude to have. And I agree that exercise plays a big part of it too. When I’m working out regularly, it makes a ton of difference.

Margie – ha!! that’s okay, I won’t hold it against you. :)

Michelle – I’m glad you were able to overcome bulimia – that right there is a huge accomplishment! And I hear you on PW’s site – it certainly doesn’t help. I don’t know how she cooks and eats that all the time! Must be all that work they do on the ranch.

Amy – will definitely go check out those sites – thanks for the resources!

Heidi – you sound like my husband! I’ve never seen someone enjoy chocolate like he does. And you’ve given me a good idea – biking. We had talked about trying it recently but with the cold weather never got around to it. Maybe we’ll look into trying out the bike path near our house. That’s a really good idea, thanks!

M to T&T&A&D - February 9, 2009 - 9:01 am

It’s amazing to read your post and identify with so much of what you write. If a survey were taken of 100 women, we would be astounded with the responses of the high percentage that are always dieting, feel they’re not their ideal weight, are emotional eaters and wish they could get off the merry-go-round. I say this only because I’ve read several of these very reports. So you’re not alone in your feelings.

Having said that doesn’t make you feel any better really but does ease the pain a little – knowing we’re not the ONLY person in the world that has this particular issue, problem or concern. Pinning a specific reason to why we’re the way we are isn’t the real concern here either I think. I feel the important issue for you and all those thousands that are just like you (me included) is: what do we do now!!! I’m coming to realize that the most important thing we can do is realize there is no easy fix. Just knowing this releases us from the rat race because it frees us to work on what is important – our health and how to maintain it. When we really work on maintaining our health we will become the woman we’re meant to be both emotionally, weight wise, and health wise.

So the important key is maintainance. Am I maintaining my health – doing all I can to be the healthest I can be? This opens the doors to many avenues we can pursue to help ourselves and an important sidebar is, we’ll begin doing all the things we’ve tried to do for years with hit and misses of success but now we’ll begin to totally succeed because we want to be healthy – live long lives to enjoy our families and life!!

Hang in there and try to focus on the health issue. I think your other issues will begin to fade into the background and you’ll be wonderfully surprised with the freedom you will begin to enjoy from the constant dieting (that won’t be a part of your life any longer), worry and stress from gaining a pound / loosing a pound syndrome, and emotional eating. Because…you’ll be eating healthy and enjoying yourself and life as you do so!!! Much success with your continued journey to a healthier you!!!

Kristina - February 9, 2009 - 9:10 am

First, I was shocked when you said you were 37! You look like you’re in your 20s!

And second, I feel you. I lost about 75 pounds, 6 years ago, and I have probably put back 15. I don’t weight myself. I go by how my clothes feel and look. I have been using my elliptical because I want to lose that 15, plus about 20 more, but I love food! It’s a problem.

Sabrina - February 9, 2009 - 9:10 am

This post really hit home with me. I have never been able to look in the mirror and see myself as I truly am. I have always seen myself as fat even when I was a size 5. Looking back at the those pictures now I think I looked anorexic.

After my second child I was finally able to lose down to a size 8 again then the PMDD (premenstrual dysmorphic disorder) took over my life with a vengeance. I felt like I was losing it. We tried a few different medications then found one that made me feel human again.

The next year at my checkup I had gained 20 lbs. I thought it was my fault. The following year, the same thing. I felt like such a loser and had been trying so hard to lose but couldn’t and was having some other health issues. Finally, the third year it happened again and I said I was concerned about the weight gain because I had had surgery and had been on a special diet and had been exercising but still had gained.

I drew her attention to the fact that this was the third time and now I had gained 60 lbs. She looked at my chart and said, “Oh, it’s the medicine that you are on”. I started crying. I had thought it was all my fault that I was just a failure. She changed the medication and said that I shouldn’t gain any more but might not be able to lose while taking it. She was right.

I decided about 10 months ago to go off the medicine completely. She told me that my metabolism could be so off from the med. that I still might not be able to ever lose it. So far, she’s right but I’m not giving up. It truly is a constant struggle and is on my mind every minute. It’s very frustrating to be trying so hard and have no results but I’m not willing to go on a “program” or “diet”. I think those just set you up for failure after they’re over. I am just trying to eat healthier and exercise and maybe in time, it will finally show up on the scale.

Mindee - February 9, 2009 - 9:28 am

1) I find it helps to only compare myself to people who weigh more and are in worse shape than I am.

2) I take GREAT comfort in Oprah. She has a zillion dollars, a chef and a personal trainer and Dr. Phil on speed dial and she can’t stay skinny. I should give myself a break.

Ann - February 9, 2009 - 10:20 am

I’ve been contemplating this issue myself more recently, and I feel so frustrated at the need to continually think about it! I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just one of the “problems” of being human. We (or at least everyone I’ve ever met) just can’t eat whatever we want and/or as much as we want and be healthy. And we can’t reach a health or fitness goal and then stop worrying about it. It’s just not the way life is. Especially as we get older, and even if we find eating/exercise habits that work, sometimes they have to be tweaked as we change.

But, in addition to finding things that work for me (which others have enumerated or given links for, so I won’t repeat them) I’ve tried to change my perspective. I like cooking and baking, so I try to look at it as a fun challenge to find new recipes that I really like that are healthy that I can make. And feeling better, both physically and just mentally about myself, really is worth it. I try to find a good balance between taking care of myself and still being able to enjoy food and not obsess about what I’m eating or how I look. And I’ve found that that’s definitely easier if I limit my “media diet”. I think especially as women, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, and I never read cosmo or any of those type of magazines….it could be different things for different people, but I’m sure you understand my point. I’ve only seen your picture, but you’re beautiful! It’s so easy to try to wish we looked like someone else, but there will always be someone prettier, skinnier, more in shape, more fashionable, etc. Even the celebrities and models seem to all want to look like someone else! Half of them want to be skinnier, and then the ones that are skinny want to have bigger boobs and be curvier…the ones with light complexions want dark olive compexions, the ones with brown hair want blonde hair and porcelain skin…..

Anyway, I don’t know where I was going with all of that, just some of my thoughts that I hope help encourage you to be healthy, but also be happy with who God made you to be!

admin - February 9, 2009 - 10:50 am

M to TTDA – it’s so nice to know that we’re not alone, if nothing else than to gain support and good advice!

Kristina – you’re awesome! 75 pounds – that’s amazing!

Sabrina – I’m so glad that doctor told you it was the medicine. Just keep going strong, you can do it! I know it’s hard (i’ve been there and am still there when it comes to try to lose weight) but it does happen eventually.

Mindee – ha!! so true. :) And you’re right, if Oprah can’t be perfect with all of her help, why should we be perfect?

Amy – you’re probably right, I don’t think it’s something that we can completely walk away from regardless of the shape we’re in. And it’s nice to be reminded that even the supermodels probably have things they would like to change about themselves!

Gennaro - February 9, 2009 - 1:10 pm

That’s interesting. From a male point-of-view, I think we look at this very differently. A different set of social or internal pressures. In the end, it comes down to an internal acceptance of who we want to be. Outside forces can’t influence us unless we give them the power to do that. Easier said than done, of course.

That scrumptious photo of chocolates isn’t going to help anyone with their diet, by the way :)

erin - February 9, 2009 - 2:38 pm

I have been somewhat struggling with this as well the last few years. Up until college I was one of those people who could eat anything and everything and lots of it and never gain a pound. It probably helped that I was a competitive swimmer as well (until I blew out my shoulder) and swimming 4-5 hours per day. After college the pounds just started creeping on, a little bit at a time. Without counting what I’ve gained being pregnant, I’m about 15-20 pounds over where I’d like to be – not a ton but still a bit discouraging. For me, it is less about food and more that I just HATE to exercise and cannot physically do the one thing I would love to do (swim). We have an elliptical which is not horrid… I just have to find the willpower to get on it on a regular basis. Which I NEED to do, because I bet this baby weight is going to be a BEAR to try to get off.

the domestic fringe - February 9, 2009 - 4:46 pm

Unfortunately some of us gain weight if we just smell too much food. I’m pretty much the same way. I fluctuate with 7-10 pounds all the time. I gain it in the winter and lose it in the summer. It’s an endless cycle. I feel better after I’ve lost and I think a bit part is due to the fact that when I lose it, I’m exercising regularly. I hate the thought of being on a diet, but I do need to be careful not to overindulge frequently. I think for me the perfect weight is one in which I’m exercing regularly, but not so it controls my life. I also think it’s one in which I’m watching what I eat, but not obsessing over every bite or cupcake. ;-)

To me it really sounds like you’re just a normal woman. Most of us aren’t naturally thin and we have to constantly work at controlling our weight so that it doesn’t control us. Don’t overanalyze yourself. :)

-FringeGirl

Heidi - February 9, 2009 - 5:32 pm

“(The) perfect weight is one in which I’m exercing regularly, but not so it controls my life. I also think it’s one in which I’m watching what I eat, but not obsessing over every bite or cupcake.”

FringeGirl: Truer words were never spoken!

Tabitha: Biking opened up my world! (http://tinyurl.com/blcra3)

Briony - February 9, 2009 - 6:57 pm

i do a lot of post-editing in photoshop…i only use a couple actions and usually i tweak them to fit to what I want. as fun and easy as actions are to use, i like going through the process step by step and seeing the pic transform by each of my choices. if i do something i really like…i will record it and create an action but most of the time i can’t remember everything :)

as for the diet thing…i’ve been in the same shoes for most of my life. i mostly do it because i want to be healthy and have a long life, but i’ve struggled with my self perception here and there along the way. i’ve finally come to the conclusion that the only way i am going to be healthy is if i stop caring about how i’m seen by others because that worry just adds to the emotional aspect and is a stumbling block. if you love yourself…you can do anything :)

admin - February 9, 2009 - 7:11 pm

Gennaro – always interesting to get the male point of view! And yes, those chocolates probably aren’t helping. :)

Domestic Fringe – I’m normal – it feels so good to hear someone say that!!

Heidi – I really am going to talk to the CPA about us getting bikes. Good thing spring is around the corner!

Briony – thanks for the info about your pics, they always look so fabulous. And that’s a good point – to stop caring about what others think of us. It is getting easier as I get older, maybe one day I’ll be there!

Ali - February 9, 2009 - 7:56 pm

On the “good” side – don’t worry about diets for a few years anyhow, pregnancy will just mess all those plans to heck ;-) .

On the “healthy” side – just learn to eat so as to feel your best, and let your body be what it is. Like my blog-post today? For some of us, it’ll never matter really what we weigh or how we look – we’ll always find something wrong. My new pre-40 goal is just to eat as healthy as possible (healthy eating diet posts to be continued), try to get some exercise along the way, and feel better about myself just by knowing I’m doing what I can.

AND remember to do your best to be happy regardless – getting pregnant needs a good state of mind ;-) . Good luck!

Alzo - February 10, 2009 - 4:27 am

I think many, if not most, adults struggle with this. And, as we get older, it gets to be more of a problem as the metabolism slows down but out desires for food do not. I have had a goal of losing several inches off my waist for several years, but I must not want it badly enough to make it happen because when it comes down to it, I have not been willing to give up the foods I love. My waist is not getting bigger, but I can’t seem to get it down either. I really need to ask myself how important it is and how badly I want it. Thanks for bringing this up.

John von Cannon - February 10, 2009 - 11:20 am

Sweetie–if it’s any comfort, not a week goes by I don’t keep my weight in check! Part of a fulltime job of living.

Sam - February 10, 2009 - 4:52 pm

I’m beginning to think we are either long lost sisters or soul mates.

For those of us that have learned and developed the emotional attachment to food, we will struggle our whole lives with being an emotional eater. It’s almost like being an alcoholic, except you can’t so no to food like you can alcohol – you have to have food to live!

I think it will be a lifelong struggle. It might seem easier during some times in your life rather than others, but, still a weekly struggle none the less. Sorry my outlook isn’t so bright on this one!

Jill @ModernMommyBlog - February 12, 2009 - 2:20 pm

My way of looking at it is that we are all on a “diet” a diet is simply what you eat. For me to be healthy and feel good about myself I need to monitor what I put into my body. If I don’t write down every calorie that I ingest then I will overeat. Perhaps maybe one day I will have been counting calories for so long that I won’t need to actually write things down anymore I’ll just know what I can and cannot eat. Calories aren’t the only thing about a diet though. There are things that I know don’t make me feel good like coffee, sugar, and alcohol (every once in a while alcohol does make me feel good but more often then not it just gives me a headache.) So I try and cut those out as much as possible.
I also have been able to get into a good exercise routine and I LOVE the way I feel after a good workout. I figure as long as I eat sensibly and continue to exercise I at least won’t gain any weight and I am happy with that.

Jill @ModernMommyBlog - February 12, 2009 - 2:26 pm

I know I already wrote a novel (hey maybe I should do a blog post on this?) :-) I just wanted to add that unless I had A LOT of weight to lose I will never put myself on a fad diet or one in which I am basically starving myself again. I focus on eating a SENSIBLE amount of calories every day and staying consistent. If my body wants to lose weight then fine if not then that’s fine too.
I learned this last year that women starve their bodies so much throughout their life that at some point their body says “nope, you have done this so many times before I know what is going on” and you don’t lose weight because your metabolism just slows WAY down.

Weight Loss Success - March 2, 2009 - 12:43 pm

Hi there,
Nice blog, I just found it and I’m already a fan
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with kind regards,
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Most recent blog post: bowel diet irritable syndrome

life - March 8, 2009 - 5:55 pm

Please, keep up the good work and continue to post topics like this. I am really fan of your blog…

Mattie Antoine - November 28, 2009 - 11:07 am

Wow, I like your site !

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