The Dieting Chronicles, Part 1
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If you read our last post or listened to last week's episode, you know all about what this new series entails. It's meant to tell you (and remind me) all about my personal stories with dieting, and there are many, in the hopes that we can finally start viewing food in a different way. That we can bring it back to the wonderful source of sustenance / creativity / delicious part of our lives that it actually is, and stop viewing it as a source of stress, calories, points, grams of this, as punishment or reward, and go back to listening to our bodies and enjoying food again. This anti diet philosophy is something I've been trying to share since the blog started, but it's also something I've failed at, many times over, hence last week's public apology.
There are so many words we use to disguise dieting, and I knew all of them well: "healthy", "clean", "un-processed", "guidelines not rules". You name it, I used it and believed I was off the dieting train when in fact I was in the most dangerous one, the one that moves so slowly you can't realize it's actually moving until it reaches its stop and it's time to get down. Suddenly you have no idea how you got there or where you are exactly.
This website, our online program and this blog and podcast are all about sharing the love of yummy vegan food, and giving you support, but whenever it comes to food and eating, we need to talk about how we relate to it, and especially when it comes to being vegan, we must talk about restriction. Not only because being vegan includes restricting by default (you're excluding meat, dairy, eggs etc.), but because now there are countless mini vegan diets, from paleo vegan, to vegan clean eating, to [and here I slightly cringe every time] eco-atkins (seriously?!). Those days of being vegan and feeling the joy and freedom of eating any dish your heart desired, simply in its vegan form, are long gone. Some have stayed true to this and my hat's off to you, but so many of us are now applying the dieting lens to vegan choices and we've added another layer of must nots to the mix. I include myself in the second group, unfortunately, but thankfully no more.
It was only when I stopped the restrictive mindset when I actually started (by started I mean I'm still working hard at this) to really heal the final remnants of a crazy, messy, relationship with food. Don't worry, we'll discuss the inherent restriction of being vegan towards the end of the series, but for now let's just say that restriction didn't just appear in my life. I practiced, and I practiced. I was on the diet wagon and off the diet wagon. It was a journey that took nearly 20 years, and 23 diets (the ones I can remember). Yup, 23. This journey is of course the topic of this series, and although I won't make you sit down to hear about those 23 in depth, not to mention the ones I tried twice or three times over until I got the message, it's so important to tell you the stories of the ones that made me crazy with food, not to mention my body image.
I used to think that it was my insane overeating patterns and emotional eating that started my fight with food, but in the great epiphany I had over Christmas (more on that later and also in last week's post and episode), I came to the tough truth that I had done this to myself, through years of dieting and trying to control food (which actually stands for trying to control "something"). Yes, I learned some emotional eating patterns as a young child, but the bulk of my overeating was a result (not a cause), of food restriction. That's why just as we did with our food stories, and our body image stories, it's time to pay the piper and look back into our dieting stories.
My "friend" the pineapple
You've heard me say many times that I grew up in the most body positive and anti diet household. In my house food was our friend, we ate well, we ate deliciously, and we didn't count grams of anything or weigh ourselves. Food was fun and it was pleasure.
This doesn't mean though, that I didn't receive dieting messages.
The first body image reference would come from a group of friends in a dressing room, and the first diet would come from my ex, who quickly told me people were talking about how I was now only wearing sweaters because my stomach had gotten bigger. For the first time I heard the word diet and felt the need to apply it to myself, and for the first time I got a serious big bruising in my otherwise ok self-esteem.
I embarked on my first self-imposed (and also self-designed) diet, the pineapple diet. God knows where I heard that pineapples would help me, or why I figured I could subsist on almost only that, but the slices were cute and portable and soon I was eating pineapple, while my ex-boyfriend ate a sandwich and I stared at that sandwich like it was Leonardo DiCaprio in 1997. I ate pineapple and I exercised, and I soon started getting bruises all over my arms and legs because of the serious anemia I had. My mom started to notice and it was back to eating normally, only normal was for kids, I was now starving and overate and gained even more weight than I had started with.
Slimfast comes in chocolate?! I'm in!
Long before smoothies were cool, we had slimfast. Two drinks a day plus a sensible dinner is what you were supposed to do with that one. Under the watchful eye of my body positive mother I wasn't able to sneak those in as easily, meaning I tried eating a bit less and having the shakes when no one was looking. They came in chocolate flavor so it seemed like a good idea at the time. You could buy the powder and make it at home, but the cans were even better. They would soon fill up the back (and hidden) parts of our kitchen cabinets, and when it was time for the "sensible dinner" all bets were off. I would go crazy over food. All my mind did was think about food, plan how I was going to eat my next meal, what I would have for dessert. It was the opposite of mindfulness come meal time, let alone "sensible". It was more like a "how fast can I eat this so I can eat more" kind of meal. This fortunately didn't last very long, but it was the first state of a deprivation mindset, and the first diet to really leave me with a "eat while you can" gut feeling I wouldn't be able to shake off for years.
The soup or salad at night diet
Designed by "moi" might I add. Who knows where I got this one from.
Soup and salad seemed light and healthy, so for some reason I vowed to only have one of these two at dinnertime. I went through my tomato soup phase, cream of mushroom soup phase, boring broths, minestrone, leek and potato was a no-no (a rule I quickly started adding to the rules I already had, because well... it included the word potato), the salads were bland and boring, and this didn't last very long. For some reason I've always enjoyed a good salad, and still do after this little stunt, but soups and I never got along again (with some exceptions). I have to keep reminding myself to come up with recipes for our members because I know how delicious they can be. At that time however they were basically punishment, we had a spat, and I never looked back. I quickly discovered I wasn't losing weight on this diet, and before I could "try harder", which was normally the second phase of any diet I tried, the cookie monster in me came out to play and break the rules.
The tomato soup diet
Even after meeting my husband (then boyfriend), a man who not once in the now 17 years we've been together has sent any negative body comments my way (I know right?!). A man who never made a single comment when I started to rapidly gain weight after my mother died, or after the countless diets I went on (spoiler alert #1: I gained weight after every single one, rather quickly might I add. Spoiler alert #2: the "maintenance" phase of diets is the equivalent of having a really close friend slowly convince you to join a cult, while saying: "it's not a cult! Don't worry!... but why don't you sip on this kool aid while we discuss it further?"). Even after having such a sweet and loving influence in my life, I didn't stop with the diets, in fact, things got worse. My mother's illness got worse, then she died, and with it came the weirdest grieving process, one I still feel I'm going through sometimes, and dieting turned into the relief of being able to control something. Forget food addiction, dieting addiction is a far more real thing, and overeating is the aftermath.
I heard of the tomato soup diet right around the time my mom was going through a particularly rough health crisis. On this one you were supposed to eat a special kind of tomato soup for breakfast and lunch, and also for dinner for a couple of nights, and each night after that you would add some additions to your plate at dinner: tomato soup and one baked potato, tomato soup and one small salad, tomato soup and a piece of chicken, tomato soup and one egg, then back to only tomato soup, then back to the baked potato, then God knows what would have happened next since I lasted 10 days and went on a total food bender.
The chicken broth and tasteless food diet
One day when I was around 21, my aunt (a term of endearment since she was really my mom's best friend), came over to bring me some chicken soup when I was sick. When she walked through the door I saw that she had lost a ton of weight (in spite of the fact that she was always this tall, beautiful, slender woman). While she watched me eat her famous chicken soup she started telling me about the new diet she was on. Side note on this awesome woman who I have admired and loved since I was born, she was ALWAYS on a diet. She was gorgeous, smart, funny, and always on a diet. She was also the woman that took care of me countless times when my mother was in the hospital. She would move into my house for weeks on end and keep me company, take me to school, help me with my homework, and she also introduced me to lemon fries.
Many years prior to that chicken soup and flu night, she was on her tuna fish diet. She ate tuna for almost every meal, with tons of lemon drizzled on top and a little salad on the side. She would always want to keep me happy though, so for the next few weeks she made tuna and salad for her, and tuna and french fries for me (not that there weren't other options but I just kept asking for this meal over and over again because it included fries and ketchup). This woman is responsible for the only handicap I have as a cook (according to husband) and it's that I try to add lemon to everything.
For weeks I drizzled lemon on the tuna, on the fries, topped them with pepper and of course had some ketchup on the side. This was probably the first time I had ever heard of the word diet, I was around 8, and although I didn't understand why she had to be on one, I started to understand the concept: you have a piece of paper that says what you have to eat, and that's what you eat. I was unaware of the third part of this equation back then. It turns out it really goes like this: you have a piece of paper that says what you have to eat, and that's what you eat... until you can't.
But I digress, back to the chicken soup story.
After my flu was better, I made an appointment at the chicken soup diet place, where for weeks to come I would eat my meal plan, receive fat melting injections and undergo the weirdest treatment which included these little suction cups that they would move up and down my belly (which the doctor had quickly titled my "problem area" upon the first visit). Basically I got to have painful injections, then have a hoover stuck to my stomach, then go home to eat bland food. Fun. I've since called this diet the chicken soup diet, not because that was all I could eat (the meal plan included a small range of bland and uninteresting foods, almost no carbs and almost no fats), but because, and I quote my doctor: "whenever you get extremely hungry, you can drink some chicken soup... but mostly just the broth". Lost some weight, gained back double, and could never look at a bowl of chicken soup the same way again.
I'll say it again, for years I thought my emotional and overeating problems came from living through a difficult situation at home, and that is partly true, but the truth is it wasn't the occasional popcorn binge that was the problem, it was the dieting. It was the restriction and the knowing that any fun or enjoyment I was getting through food wouldn't last very long, and it was a battle against my body caused by thinking I had to have the body people had in magazines in order to be accepted, to fit in. This is what I had so desperately craved since I was little, since so many things in my life constantly put me in the "she's different" category. Being really short, braces, glasses, no dad in the picture, mom with a disability, terrible at sports but good at school (two very "uncool" things in the world of a teenager), shy. Being different is something I now relish, but that took YEARS!
It was the diets that started it all, which is why this series is all about them. More diets and stories in the dieting chronicles coming in our next installment, ´til then remember that a cupcake is just a cupcake. Eat it, enjoy it, then move on with your life.