Today is International No Diet Day, which got me thinking about all the diets I have done over the years. There have been a lot! You can read all about my dieting history in the “About Me” section.
One of the things that I remembered today, was a turning point in my life and my relationship with food. It was discovering the complicated relationship between dieting, eating and my self-esteem. I had never realised just how much my relationship with food was governed by my feelings about myself and drove my feelings about myself.
I also don’t remember how I came upon the book “The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathanial Branden. I read the book. I did the exercises. Some of the sentence completions, where you have to look at yourself in detail were quite difficult, however they give you an amazing insight into how you view yourself. That insight really helped me understand my relationship with food. It was probably the turning point in my life where I realised that diets really do not work for me, and probably don’t really work for anyone.
I believe that the issue of self-esteem is one aspect of diet and weight loss that has been overlooked and requires a lot more work and scientific study. Diets are a temporary state, where you are either “good” or “bad”, you are either compliant or non-compliant with the rules and boundaries of the chosen food regime. All of that “feedback” as well as the physical weight loss or unexpected weight gains play havoc with how we see ourselves and how we believe that others see and judge us.
I had dieted on and off for most of my adult life and it was only once I recognised the link between diets, food and self-esteem, did I realise that it was time to make a change. For me, that meant more searching for a better way. An approach where I add continually to my self-esteem rather than the previous roller coaster of: “I’ve lost weight”=”I feel good about myself” and “I’ve not lost weight”=”I must be a failure, I cannot do this, why bother etc.,” The euphoria would probably be celebrated with some indulgent “reward” food and the failure would be comforted with indulgent “never mind, there, there” food, all of which further served to make me feel worse about myself.
Discovering a plant-based diet, was not a magic pill for me. It wasn’t an instant solution. I can recall thinking when I heard people say that they were “plant-based” that they must be bonkers. I had no idea that I could and would change my diet to a 95-98% no added fats, whole food, plant-based diet, eating no fish, meat or dairy. That came about in part because not only did the idea that this way of eating would change my health destiny, I found that virtually every meal adds to my well-being and my self-esteem. I may still be overweight, but I am a lot lighter than I was. I may not be able to run a marathon, but I can run. I may not be an olympic weight-lifter but I do lift weights on a regular basis and at 52, I am fitter than I have been in my entire life.
What I choose to eat now nourishes my body and my mind. It is consistent with my having a positive view of myself. I’m not saying that I look in the mirror and immediately love what I see, but I like me a whole lot more than I did.
Do you think that self-esteem and dieting are related? If you don’t, let me share an extremely personal and humiliating example:
One of the diets that I tried was a pill that inhibited the absorption of fat in the gut and made the fat literally “pass” right through the body and out when you went to the toilet. The tablets were called XENICAL. At that time you got them on prescription, although (sadly), I think they are available over the counter now. I was attending a company event in San Diego at a beautiful resort hotel in La Jolla. I had been at several functions and had eaten some food containing fats earlier in the day. On my way back to my room, I could not stop myself and soiled my trousers. The fat leaves your body with little or no warning! Even typing this now, makes me shiver. Luckily, I was fairly close to my room when it happened. on returning to my room, I took off my trousers and found that they were stained right through and had to wash them out in the sink in my room, before I could send them to the hotel laundry. Can you imagine how that made me feel? How I felt when I went to breakfast the next day? I felt dirty, ashamed, as well as a failure on the diet! Can you see how this would affect anyone’s self-esteem?
What amazes me to this day, is the way in which people are zealous about a particular diet that they are following at a given point in time. It would appear that belonging to a group of like-minded people, or a club diet like weight-watchers etc., makes us feel like we belong. It adds to our self-esteem as long as we are “winning” the battle of the bulge. When we fall away, it damages us, but in order to protect ourselves we claim that the diet didn’t work and move on to the next one, or we say that it failed to fit in with our lifestyle. More likely, we failed and that failure damaged us and rather than admit that diets do not work and damage our self-esteem, we look for another diet to make us love our “soon-to-be-slim” bodies and ourselves.
My approach, is now to love myself by nourishing myself with food that I know does my body good and trust that my body will reward me with better performance. How do I know it works for me? The answer is simple: I just feel better, lighter, with more energy than I have ever done in my entire adult life.
Happy International NO diet day!