Listen on the go!
If I sat down to tell you every single story about all the diets I've been on we'd probably be here for a month. You know if you've read my personal story with food and health, that dieting and I go way back.
We know each other.
Today I'm going to share a bit of that story with you, but rather than tell you all of my diet failures (masquerading as initial diet successes), I'm going to tell you how I was actually able to let go and find freedom from dieting. I feel relief just writing that sentence, and yes, this is possible. In all the years I spent going from one diet to the next, I realized that I had given food this super power that it does not possess. Don't get me wrong, food is amazing, it is almighty in the sense that it truly has the power to heal you. It has the power to fuel you and take you where you want to go. It also has the power to make you very sick if you let it.
Here's what it doesn't have though, and it took me years to realize this! It doesn't have power over you. I had spent so many years fighting against my body, against cravings, against food, thinking there was one magic little bullet in one of the diet books that lined the shelves at the bookstore. If I didn't buy the right one this month, then I would find it next month. I never realized that what needed to be revamped was my relationship with food in and of itself.
You've heard me say before that going vegan was THE BEST choice I've ever made. It made me connect to my food and the meaning of my choices in a way I had never done before. It made me see how much my actions impacted other humans and animals and the world around me. It's been one of the most special and meaningful things I've ever done. Here's the thing, I hadn't realized that when it came to my relationship with food and dieting, things had to change within me, that any way of eating that exists, is bombarded with information and dogma as to what you should fill your plates with, even veganism. It took a little more understanding on my part to finally leave my diet junkie days behind. This isn't the fault of veganism at all, it's us humans that are constantly trying to change things in ourselves, cut the fat, eliminate sugar, be perfect.
My problem was always with portion control and overeating. If you've read my personal story here, you probably know that I grew up within a very stressful life circumstance as a kid. I was raised by a single mom who had a serious and debilitating illness from the moment she was 11 years old. I spent my entire childhood going from one emergency room to the next, one surgery recovery into another, and completely terrified that I might lose my closest friend, my only care giver. From a very young age I developed this bff relationship with food. It always comforted me when I was scared, or feeling a bit down. It made me happy and excited and helped me forget about the scary things that were going on at home.
Food can be so comforting. It gives us a total sense of relief, it eases anxiety, it can put problems on pause, and what's even worse is we learn this quickly as kids. Both by seeing the adults around us medicating through food, or using it to soothe us or our siblings, and when finding joy and relief in it ourselves.
This equals trouble. Try unrooting a habit that has been part of your life for 20, 30, 40 or 50+ years. It's no easy task right?
The diet industry knows this, it knows that after these crazy habits with food have set up house, weight gain usually follows, and we're out there looking for that magic diet book.
If this was or still is you, rest assured you're not alone!
I went on so many diets I can't even count them. Some of them were so restrictive I didn't even get the chance to stick them out and see any results. The others however were far more dangerous and really messed up my relationship with food. The ones that actually had you believe that "there would be no deprivation", "you could eat your favorites", "it wasn't a diet but a doable a lifestyle". I fell for these time and time again, and here comes the tricky part, as longs as I firmly stuck with them I would start seeing results. Until I stopped of course. Then all the weight would come back full speed, like that stretched out rubber band you were threatening your brother with.
All of those diets had a few things in common, they had beautiful shiny pages filled with tweaked versions of decadent comfort foods. They included a giant photo of a pasta bowl, but when you read the recipe, it turned out all you could have was a quarter cup. Do you know what a quarter cup of pasta looks like? How can you even fit some macaroni into one of those little measuring cups? Let alone spaghetti. It was nothing like that picture, but don't worry, the diet book also tells you that you can eat more again in just 3 hours so fret not.
So wrong! I was trapped in a cycle of being completely obsessed with the diet, feeling hungry and immediately counting the hours and planning out my next meal. I was in what I call "diet haze". That little blurry diet fog that you start seeing your day through. All in terms of where you can eat, what you can eat, what do you need to run out and buy quickly. Suddenly your life is about the diet, food, and trying to make will power your new bestie.
This can work for a while, it can even feel exhilarating at times to feel that you're finally doing something to "fix this problem". For me it felt exactly like when I decided to take my first ballet class and my mom took me to get all the stuff I needed. New pink ballet slippers, a brand new black leotard, endless pairs of tights just in case, little pins to put my hair up in a bun. Boy was that fun!
Same thing happened with dieting, I would devour my book, make a shopping list, ear mark all the new recipes, go to the store and spend way more than I should have, but it was this new present for myself so that was a-ok. We all start diets with this delicious and amazing sense of hope, but chances are that if you're here, yo've probably been down this cooky rollercoaster before. You've passed the sense of fear/exhilaration you get when you're holding to the handlebar and bracing yourself for what's to come. You've passed that huge rush you get after you've done something that seemed scary, but now you've gotten down and you're just plain dizzy!
It gets better...then you decide to get back in line and go again.
You buy the next promising diet book.
Here's what this whole back and forth process doesn't teach you. It doesn't teach you that when restriction, external portion control and will power are part of the game, you're in a tug of war with yourself that will only leave you face down in the sand. It doesn't teach you that you can actually be back in control by actually releasing control.
Before I give you a more in depth blueprint into the tools and tricks I used to stop dieting and eat super healthy, wonderful, delicious foods including my favorites (the real deal favorites, not that quarter cup of pasta nonsense), here are some of the things that helped me finally improve my relationship with food:
1) I took a good look at my previous history with dieting and I got real with myself.
If none of them had worked in the long run, I had to heal my diet amnesia and stop trying to do things this way.
2) I had to learn and understand how my body worked.
I learned that our bodies thrive when you give them real whole foods that it can actually recognize. The beauty of following a whole foods based vegan diet is that you can actually make the most scrumptious comfort foods with real wholesome ingredients, from lasagna to pot pie and anything your little heart desires. All with REAL food that came from nature.
3) I had to understand that portion control was important, but that it didn't come in the form of counting calories or having endless sets of measuring cups and scales.
All that restrictive and "measuring" mindset had to go.
4) The golden rule that completely changed my relationship with food and especially with the HUGE portions I was eating: mindful eating.
We all have an innate mechanism in our bodies that will tell us exactly how to keep portions under control. It was when I really made a conscious effort to start incorporating this practice into my life that things really shifted for me. I had to re-learn how to understand my body's signals of hunger and fullness. Mindful eating is all about eating consciously, aware of every bite and taste, and especially eating slowly. This will allow our bodies to catch up with our brains and tell us that we've had enough. This takes practice, and we go much more into this here, and especially in our free 3 part video series I'm linking to below.
5) I understood the power of visualization in a way I hadn't experienced before.
Instead of focusing on the six pack or the thighs I wanted, I started focusing on how my day would feel like when I was completely comfortable in my own skin. When I would finally reach a moment in my life in which I simply knew in my bones what healthy choices to make without the use of a diet book to guide me. When I had finally conquered my relationship with food and felt total freedom. I would see a happy version of me that was confident and glowing, and I would then look at how she made her choices. What did she have for breakfast? How did she politely refuse the second piece of cake if she really didn't feel like having it? I held onto this image and took her with me to every breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and even on my day to day decision making. Like a wiser version of myself that always knew what choices would take me to that happy place.
6) I started to love my body as it was at that very moment.
I would treat myself with total love and kindness. This was key in feeling that I was the one in the driver's seat and that I was a total pro in making good choices and stopping when I was full. I felt that my body was this beautiful, wonderful temple that deserved only the best, and that also deserved treats which I could now give it without the need to eat the entire chocolate cake.
7) I let go of that "diet haze".
Meaning, I started to live my life and make food a wonderful part of it, but not the only part of it. I didn't need to be constantly reading about food, figuring out if what I was doing was enough. I needed to look inside my body, into how I was feeling before, during and after meals. Not outside of it.
8) I had to understand that my body was different from anyone else's.
No matter how well a friend did on one diet or another, I was not the same person. I had been down all those roads before, and I was determined to find a real solution that could actually be with me for good. Because it came from my way of functioning and living, not from a shelf at the bookstore. I also had to get back in touch with my body and really be able to feel what my body was telling me. I had completely lost touch of what fullness signals were like, or what actual hunger was like. Activities like, yoga and other types of exercise as well as meditation really helped me get centered and quiet the mind so I could listen to my body.
9) I had to heal
I had to go back into my painful past and heal. I had to say goodbye to another version of myself that really had reasons to be fearful back then, but that now was in a completely different place. I had to grieve my painful losses and forgive myself from all the guilt I had been feeling. We are all, but especially women, glued to the hip with that creature called guilt. Even when things happened to us as kids and we had no possibility of actually making different choices or doing something to change or help ourselves or our loved ones. Letting go of that was HUGE for my relationship with food and the way I dealt with things in the present.
10) I had to become a pro, and tell food that I meant it when I said "I know what's good for me"
As I mentioned before, I had to release the idea that food had a grip on me, I was now what I like to call "a pro". I made choices like a pro, thinking of that wiser version of myself that knew what I wanted and made choices with ease after releasing all that diet dogma. This included eating the most beautiful health giving foods, and also not beating myself up about having my favorite treats when I did.
If any of this rings true to you and you want to go even deeper, we'd love for you to join us in our video-based online program My Brownble, where we teach you how to cook amazing vegan food, and help you on that ongoing quest of finding balance. You'll learn how to indulge in your favorites and still prioritize your health, creating healthy habits that last you a lifetime.
Thanks so much for hanging out with me today, don't forget to share this post with anyone who has been struggling with weight, food and dieting, and leave us your story with dieting below. How many diets have you tried? Did they work? What do you think you need in order to improve your relationship with food for good? I can't wait to hear your story below!