Like most women in America, I have a history of hating my body. As soon as I hit puberty, the extra pounds showed up as lumpy thighs and a soft belly. I wanted to hide. As a result, I spent a lot of my teens and twenties dieting. I’d read up on the latest diet, follow it as strictly as possible, and then live or die by the number on the scale, trying to lose the ten or fifteen pounds that was making me feel like a blob.
I would deny myself my favorite foods. I was hungry all the time. I would count every calorie, write down every bite I ate. Every food decision I made had calculations behind it. How many calories? How much fat? Is there something else I can have so I can lose weight more quickly? Can I just skip this meal all together without collapsing?
I was not a happy person.
Eventually, I would reach my goal weight and I would be satisfied for a time, admiring myself in the mirror and wearing “thin” clothes. But the thing that made me happiest was that I could eat again and stop feeling hungry all the time. My thin body never lasted very long.
In my thirties, my ability to diet went away. I could no longer follow a diet of any kind. I would decide I needed to lose weight and start my diet on Monday morning. By noon, the diet was out the window and I was back to eating whatever I wanted. Eventually I gave up trying.
Forty was approaching. One day I realized the food I was eating was making me ill and moody as well as fat. It was a frightening moment. I knew I couldn’t change my eating in order to lose weight. But it wasn’t just being overweight that was upsetting me. I was exhausted all the time and yet I couldn’t sleep. I had migraines and my stomach hurt constantly. Life felt hard and simple tasks required Herculean efforts.
I needed to change what I ate because I couldn’t keep living like I was. But I couldn’t diet the way I had in the past.
I decided to focus on eating for health instead of eating to reach a specific weight. My choices would be based on fueling my body and changing my unhealthy habits. Most important of all, I promised myself I would not starve myself. I would feed my body so that I did not suffer extreme hunger like I had when I dieted.
The first thing I did was stop eating between meals. It was the only thing I changed, but it proved hard enough. I was eating a lot throughout the day and didn’t even realize it. Changing that habit took a while, because it was so automatic. I’d already have a snack in my mouth before I realized I wasn’t supposed to be eating it.
I started losing weight immediately. It seemed like magic because I didn’t connect it with what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, so I felt like I didn’t deserve any credit for it. Instead, I took the weight loss as a sign that I was making good changes and should keep going.
As soon as snacking was no longer a habit, I was ready to change something else. I stuck with baby steps, little changes I knew I could handle, and worked on them until they were routine. Once I was comfortable with what I was doing, I was ready to make another change.
I slowly cut out the things I knew were bad for me — the processed food, the soda (diet and regular), the candy, the baked goods. I saw a nutritionist and started eating fewer carbohydrates and more protein. I paid attention to how I felt when I ate my meals, always on the look out for things that could be improved.
A year after I started, I was at a healthy body weight. I had lost 30 pounds without trying. It was the not-trying that worked for me. Focusing on my health instead of my weight gave me the weight loss I had fought for over the years, without the fight or the hunger.
Changing what and when I ate wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. My health improved and I felt better. I got my life back. Losing weight was an unexpected bonus, my message from the universe that I was making good choices.
I still struggle to love my body, but taking good care of it has been a rewarding first step.