Dieting as a lifestyle

This is part of a larger thought.

Some people have very early memories. I remember being in my crib. I thought it was a fine crib except for when I didn’t want to be in it.  My very first memory was at night. My room was dark but the door was open and I could see my mother in her lighted bedroom across the hall, standing there in her white slip and talking to my father, who was out of sight. Naturally I wanted to be with her in the lit room and to be part of the conversation and so I cried out and shook the bars of the crib.  She stared straight at me but stood as still as a tree, hand still raised to remove her earring. I waited to see what she would do next.  She glanced towards my father, who must have whispered some instructions. Then she slowly and silently continued her tasks, careful never to look back in my direction despite my protests. “I am HERE. See ME.” I kept screaming and shaking those bars until a hand out of sight swung the bedroom door closed. After that, I knew there was absolutely no point in screaming.

My next memory was also of that crib. It was a sunny morning and although it’s hard to say what they were, I had big plans. So I went through the same routine I’d practiced a million times. However, this time I was just tall enough.  I nearly cut myself in half on the thin wood of the crib railing, swung a leg over the edge and then found myself hanging from the side of the crib.  “Well, this is new,” I thought.  I weighed my options. I could cry for help or I could fall, but I couldn’t stay there forever. And so after what seemed like forever, I gave myself a giant swing and let go.

I have never asked anyone, but I suspect that many chubby girls raised in the 1980s have lived my story; I’m not special.  The old lady waitress at Western Sizzlin who smelled funny and pinched fat kid cheeks– why didn’t anyone ever stop her?  My mom was in Weight Watchers and would take me to meetings. This was before the point system, so it was always melba toast and cottage cheese for breakfast. By second grade, I was filling out my food diary scantron bubbles as religiously as my mother did.  Two bubbles for fat. Three for protein. Ten for carbs. Eight check marks for water. Us girls were always on the diet, except when we weren’t and then we were ‘bad.’

To be honest, I’m not sure when it happened. Not in middle school, when I would hide the eight cheese slice wrappers under the rest of the trash so my dad couldn’t see what I’d eaten before he got home. Not in high school, when I would starve myself all day only to binge on peanut butter in the pantry.  Not in medical school, when I would limit my intake to 800 calories a day to the calorie…unless I couldn’t sleep from the hunger and then I could have two spoonfuls of mustard because I could make up 20 calories the next day.  Not in residency, when I was worked so hard and came so close to the edge of everything that I just couldn’t. I literally just couldn’t control my eating and drinking, and as a result I couldn’t bear to look at myself. In the first house that I owned in Virginia, I took down all the mirrors. Every single one.

I’m not sure when I made the paradigm shift from dieting to healthy eating. It was after I quit medicine, I know that. All I can tell you is that at some point, I realized that dieting was too harmful and I was done with it. A dieter says “I shouldn’t.  I couldn’t. I won’t. Oh fuck, I did. I’m horrible. I’ll have to make up for it later. ” It’s a form of restriction and self-denial based on the expectations and instructions of others. People go on diets because they don’t trust their own judgement, but somehow they trust a Cosmo or a Self or a Better Homes and Gardens.

Compare this to healthy eating.  A healthy eater is a knowledgeable eater.  They know about protein, vitamins, glucose indexes and fiber.  They understand how they feel after a fatty meal as compared to an optimized meal.  They know how to adjust their diets based on activity and they don’t sweat the details because healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a two week sprint.  A person with a healthy lifestyle says “I will. I can.  Oh wow, that felt good. And no worries, it will all balance out in the end.”  People with healthy eating habits know their bodies and needs and they trust their own expertise; they do not inflict the criteria of others on their own selves.

The locus of control, expertise, and trust matters.  It is everything.

I’m not just talking about food.


Featured Image by: Caroline Attwood,


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