Giving Up Dieting Wasn’t the Hardest Thing

When I think back about my journey to Health at  Every Size, I sometimes think that the hardest part was giving up dieting, because by that point being on a diet had become a massive part of my life. But there was something that was harder to give up…

It was my addiction to the pursuit of being thin. This took a lot of forms but at the time there was nothing like the adrenaline rush of starting a new diet or a new weight loss challenge.  Every day was one day closer to having a socially acceptable body.  All the praise you get when you lose that first little bit of weight. I had the same yo-yo diet experience that most people will statistically have but the blow of weight regain was always softened by the high of starting another diet.  Weighing and measuring food, spending more and more time in the gym.

Another form that it took was my performance of dieting.  I was constantly talking about my diet, my exercise routine, why this diet was different because it was a lifestyle change and you have to make a lifestyle change if it’s going to work blah blah blah dear lord I must have been annoying.  Although I absolutely did need a lifestyle change, it wasn’t the one I thought I needed. No amount of changing my lifestyle would make me thin – in the hospital after collapsing on a treadmill due to an eating disorder, with such low body fat that some of my bodily functions had stopped working, I was still 15 pounds “over weight”.

I found Health at Every Size during what was supposed to be the search for the diet with the absolute best track record of success.  I had read hundreds of studies at that point and was honestly completely shocked to find that there wasn’t a single study that even suggested that dieting would lead to long-term weight loss for me.  Health at Every Size was an absolute no-brainer according to the research, but it meant giving up dieting and giving up on all the benefits of dieting – the addiction of the pursuit of thin, the high of the new diet, the approval I got as the fat girl who counts every calorie, skips every dessert, and is a model good fatty doing what is socially approved in order to get a body that is socially acceptable.  The idea, that I knew deep down wasn’t true, that all of my problems would be solved as soon as I was thin.

Looking back, my choice to celebrate the awesomeness of my body and take good care of it through healthy habits rather than hating how it looked and trying to make it smaller and hoping that would bring health, was absolutely the best choice I could have made and my life is exponentially better in terms of my mental and physical health because of my choice to pursue HAES. But in this case I had to sacrifice something to get something better and what I had to sacrifice was my addiction to the pursuit of thin, the “good fatty” approval I got for being the world’s worst dinner companion constantly blabbering on about calories, points,  and drinking enough water.

When I first started my Health at Every Size practice I would have “slips” where I would think about dieting – just one more time – then I would remember the rule about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  I had to quit cold turkey and fight through the withdrawal – I was never going to be thin and I was never going to get the approval that a fatty on a diet gets and, over time, that became completely ok because the peace  and freedom I got were worth far more.

If you’re having a hard time giving up the pursuit of thin or the diet mentality, I recommend checking it out. You can look at the blogs of Golda Poretsky or Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist  to get an idea about eating outside of the diet paradigm.  Check out the Fit Fatties Forum and see over 1,000 people of all sizes and fitness levels who are working on fitness from a weight-neutral perspective – look at the photo and video gallery and read to forum, and check out the blog of fat fitness professional Jeanette DePatie to start to get a sense of what it’s like to pursue fitness goals that aren’t about body size.  (And no, none of these people pay me anything, I recommend them because I like their work!)  Check out the research about Health at Every Size.  Then maybe give it a try, you can always go back to what you’re doing now if you don’t like it.  If you’ve tried diet after diet and nothing works, maybe it’s time to try not dieting.

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out (purchasing these helps support my activism work, which I really appreciate):

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here to order

The Dance Class DVDs:  Fun classes for all levels!  Click here for the details

Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

Speaking Schedule 2013 – I am now working on my speaking schedule for next year.  If you would like me to give a talk at your university, job/company, or organization just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and we’ll talk about the options to make it work for your situation and budget.

27 thoughts on “Giving Up Dieting Wasn’t the Hardest Thing

  1. Wow. This is so easy to relate to. Just yesterday, when I did my normal “check yourself out naked before you get dressed” glance in the mirror, I realized that I was no longer checking myself out to see if I had lost or gained weight. I was actually just looking at myself without judgement. What an eye opener!

  2. This post make me cry a little with self-recognition. Thank you.
    I’m looking forward to receiving the dance DVDs.
    Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

    1. HAES encourages healthy behaviors, which can lead to weight loss, but it’s usually temporary until your body adjusts. If you lose weight, you’re not “doing it wrong”, and (hopefully) no one in the HAES community would judge you for something you have little control over. Either way, HAES is about Health at EVERY size, whether you are thin, thick, or somewhere in between, HAES is about health, not about weight.

      I would say, don’t sweat it unless you think it might be hurting your health. And if that’s the case, you might want to see if you can find a HAES friendly doctor and have a chat about what your body needs to be healthy.

    2. You aren’t alone!

      I’ve lost some weight while practicing HAES– probably as a result of starting fairly intense activity (which I really enjoy) along with giving up dieting and learning to listen to my body. After a while I stopped losing, and now my body has mostly settled into its new size, which is still fat.

      The most awkward thing was that I was still getting the approval from others, despite not “trying” to lose weight. Being told “good job” everyday when weight loss wasn’t something I was looking for was really uncomfortable and weird.

      It sucked when the weight loss triggered diet-y feelings. It’s a complex thing to sort through, truly.

      1. OMG, you really summed up all my feelings. All of the congratulatory statements and “How did you do it?” questions…. and my response (IE & HAES) makes them glaze over. I understand that HAES is weight neutral, but it is happening to me as my body adjusts to me listening to my inner wisdom. And… I need an outlet to talk about it with people who understand and have been there.

    3. No, you aren’t alone. I haven’t really lost much in actual pounds, but I have dropped clothing sizes. It definitely does trigger some of those old feelings, which can make things complicated. Your body is just adjusting to your new healthy habits and each person’s body has a different reaction. For some it’s temporary weight gain or loss, for others it is more permanent gain or loss, and some stay the same. Don’t feel alone, I think it happens more often than you realize, but with HAES we are more focused on healthy habits than weight, so weight loss or gain isn’t usually talked about.

  3. This post really hit a chord with me… actually kind of was a trigger. I guess I’m in the stage of learning to love myself and Health at Every Size where I’m coping with all the weird feedback and internal junk. I’ve got a long long way to go to completely rid myself of biases based on weight, even though I’ve been big/fat/huge/etc and up and down in weight since 5th grade.
    As far as loving myself, it’s been really hard to LIKE what I see in the mirror. I’ve abused my body so much over time (both intentionally through crazy dieting and unintentionally through reactions to medicines) that my skin is ‘done in’. Please don’t give me the whole “if you just be patient and drink milk, it will eventually tighten up” comments, folks. I’ve waited 5 years and it’s still hangin’. I look like a 3X woman in a 5X body suit. My legs are only nice looking to me if I’m on my back and my feet are straight up in the air (giggle, I can imagine some of your comments)… but then that means I’m pooling on the bed around my frame. It’s very hard to feel really positive about myself when I’m grossed out by this. To make it even worse, well-meaning people have continued to compliment me on my weight loss (yes, Eating as a Faith to Yoga, I’ve lost weight on HEAS… almost 60 pounds over the last year when I got the doctor to change my horrid meds that put 75 pounds on me).
    When I get compliments on how slim and pretty my face looks or how I’m looking really good with the weight loss, I just feel my inner bitch welling up and imagining ripping off my clothes and saying, REALLY?!.. YOU THINK THIS IS PRETTY? SEXY? I LOOK LIKE A WATER BALLON HALF EMPTY!!! Instead I grit my teeth and tell them thank you. I’m afraid to insult the compliment, as I know most of them are speaking from the heart and from a misinformed space of understanding.

    I find I’m tremendously jealous of large women who were strong enough to not diet their bodies into mush and the are firm and plumps and sleek and smooth over those lucious curves. I know i’ve done this to myself, but envy is a companion I’ve had trouble distancing myself from.

    1. Susan- If you are at a stable weight, have you considered having some of the excess skin removed? I would think that if there is enough excess that it “pools” it would cause some functional problems as well. One of the major motivations for my breast reduction was a yeast infection in the fold underneath that could not be managed and made me miserable for years. It wasn’t about appearance or being more socially acceptable (although that was an interesting side effect)–I just wanted my skin and muscles to be happier along with the rest of me!

    2. I totally can relate to the legs-in-the-air comment! Mine are gorgeous! As many of us have, I’ve gained and lost. The last time I lost, I realized my legs look so much better fatter because the fat filled them out! Weird…

  4. This post really speaks to me. I can tell you first hand that losing ‘the weight’ doesn’t solve all your problems, in fact, for me, it created even more problems. I was fat up until I was around 17 years old, then over summer vacation, something changed for me, biologically I think. Without trying I started eating differently and began an exercise routine and lost about 100 pounds in four months. Now to be clear, I wasn’t 100% happy with the way I looked before I lost, but i wasn’t miserable either. My weight wasn’t on my mind all the time, I still thought I was attractive most of the time. However, after returning to school, that all changed.

    People praised my weight loss, congratulated me like I had survived cancer. It was… disturbing. One teacher came up to me and said, “Oh, you’ve lost weight, that’s good. Keep that up, don’t slip back into what you were before” What I was before? You mean a living, breathing person who deserves your respect, just like anyone else? People would come up to me at lunch and look at my food, and ask very invasive questions. “Are you sure you can eat that?” “You don’t want to ruin all your hard work” etc. etc. etc.

    Family was worse, they all made comments on my ‘new’ appearance. Warning me not to eat desert, constantly reminding me of how awful I looked before and how great I looked now.

    This behaviour towards my weight loss made extremely paranoid about my weight, how much I weighed, not gaining weight, getting even thinner, and most importantly NEVER, EVER going back to ‘what’ I was before. It was terrible. I became my weight, all my value was placed in how thin I was. I woke up everyday thinking about the way I looked and how important it was that other people see me as thin. It eventually got to a point where I felt life was too much for me, that i could never be thin enough, good enough for everyone else. It didn’t matter if I got good grades, did well in sports, was a caring person, if I wasn’t maintaining my weight loss, it all meant nothing. My greatest accomplishment was losing weight, period.

    When you lose a lot of weight, like I did, you think people will treat you better, but they don’t. To the people that knew you before, you will constantly be the ‘former fat girl’. Someone that they have to monitor so that you don’t fall back into old habits. They seem to think that witnessing your body changing gives them a right to it, a right to comment on it and a right to police it.

    Losing weight is not a silver bullet. It is not a solution. I was happy when I was fat, now, I am miserable being thin. I also have a whole bunch of health problems that I didn’t have when I was fat. I take five different medications every day. However, everyone assumes I am healthier than I have ever been, when really, all I am is thinner than I’ve ever been.

    I applaud you Ragen, you are so much stronger than I am. I hope one day to be able to break out of this thinking, the diets and the fear. You are amazing and inspiring me to be better, to be more than my weight. Thank you.

    1. Stress is one of the most destructive things. I am so sorry you are going through this. You are stronger than you know you are and you will get through this. You have a wonderfully supportive community here, and there are several places on facebook, too.

    2. Mrs. Gribbin, Thank U for sharing this. I am really grateful for reading this.
      I hope U r getting better n better at accepting urself the way u r.
      GOD Bless.

  5. “When I first started my Health at Every Size practice I would have “slips” where I would think about dieting – just one more time – then I would remember the rule about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

    I am really struggling with this right now. I have been making “lifestyle changes” for 15 years and it’s been very hard for me to quit cold turkey. I love the HAES philosophy, but when it comes to food, I don’t know anything else except for how to diet. I am finding that I need to unlearn so many things that I thought to be true about weight and health. I’m still learning but I’m hopeful that someday I’ll have a normal relationship with food and my body. Your blog has been so inspiring for me. Thank you.

  6. My epiphany that dieting doesn’t work was quite a while ago, and took most of my twenties. One chink in the wall came when I realized that in junior high, on pediatrician-prescribed amphetamine diet pills, I had gotten down to skin and bones, 113 pounds on 5-5″. I wore a size 12. My dang bones are a size 12 all by themselves.

    Chink number two came when I read some article in some silly fashion magazine that “Marilyn Monroe sometimes weighed as much as 135. How would you feel if you were that fat?” My first thought was Deleriously Happy if I looked like her. My second thought was, you mean the weight I’ve been trying to get down to my entire life is still going to be considered fat?! She was also 5’5″.

    The peak epiphany occurred at the age of 28. I weighed 200 pounds and was choosing another diet. Then suddenly it dawned on me: I started dieting at the age of 12. At that time I was 5’0″ and weighed 150. I had been dieting 16 years, more than half my life, and I weighed 50 pounds MORE than when I started!

    I have never dieted since. This was back around 1980, and I had never heard of health at every size, but that’s basically what I did. I found a workout program I liked that fit into my schedule, and I decided that I would eat anything I wanted, any time I wanted it, but I would eat half what I thought I wanted and eat it slowly. I got down to what is my lowest possible weight, 170, and stayed there a long time.

    The workout program eventually went by the wayside, and I’ve had a hard time finding another one. My peak weight was 220. My knees and my feet hurt all the time. At the beginning of this year, I weighed 210, and was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on my tongue. Surgery and radiation later, I’m once again down to 170, and no more pain in knees or feet. Oodles of compliments, and I’ve got to admit I like looking this way much better, but I’d still trade it for the rest of my tongue, my salivary glands, and my molars, and not having to worry about a recurrence for the rest of my life. Since eating is difficult I probably won’t gain it back. It takes me a half an hour to eat a sandwich.

    I make some stabs at exercise, but haven’t found the right niche yet. I know I feel better when I do, and I want to get my strength and stamina back, so I keep trying.

    You are a daily inspiration! Virtual Hug!

  7. Thank you for articulating this. I know this was still lingering in the back of my mind, that I still want to be thinner and I’m still hoping that will be the outcome. It will be something to continue to be aware of as I pursue health at whatever size I am.

  8. Thank you for the resources. I want to eat healthier, but it is so hard to find ACTUAL nutrition information among the “Lose 10 lbs in a week” bullshit that seems to be everywhere. Never mind trying to be active! I want a progress chart that actually shows progress not just watch some number that doesn’t have much weight (no pun intended) when it comes to how I am feeling go up and down and feel bad about it.

  9. This recent blog really spoke to me, because, despite having been a strong advocate for HAES for as many years as the philosophy has been promoted, I kept slipping back into the fear of gaining weight and needing the approval I gave myself when I was restricting my eating.

    Using HAES as a principle, I had managed to overcome borderline anorexia, which I had in my teens and 20s, and to accept–even love–myself at a weight I used to consider “horribly” fat, but which is actually only plus-sized (5’5″ approx. 175 lbs–HAES taught me long ago to throw away my bathroom scale). Nonetheless,, the perfectionist in me found it really difficult to embrace the way my own face and body look to me at a size any greater than that–even though I can appreciate the beauty in other people who weigh hundred of pounds more, and I wholeheartedly believe that size is not a barometer of health or anything else.

    I’ve just recently–with the aid of coaching from the fabulous Golda Poretsky, from whom I sought help in getting to this place–come back to committing to stop focusing on my weight at all and to not restrict ever again, even in reaction to bouts of uncontrolled eating. I can tell that it’s a real sea change for my psyche to refrain from “drinking the koolaid” that makes people spend so much time and energy avoiding weight gain and/or wanting to lose weight.

    As a result of this deep belief-system change I’m going through, I had a really powerful nightmare the other night, one of those where the feelings don’t leave you for quite a while after you wake up. When I recounted the dream to my husband the next morning, he said he’d heard me crying, “Help, help!” in my sleep. At first I couldn’t figure out what the subject matter of the dream could possibly relate to in real life…until I realized it probably had to do with accepting HAES and giving up the belief system that says people should not be fat.

    In the dream I was trying to escape–and help my friends escape–some kind of “Moonie”-type cult compound containing hundreds of people. At first I found myself rushing up and down stairs looking for a way out while accidentally stumbling into tiny dorm-type rooms where others were staying, none of which led to an exit, and I started to panic. Finally I was able to reach an exit, a padlocked cyclone fence with barbed wire across the top on the far outside of the compound across a scrubby yard. I was aware that some people I know, including my husband and another male friend of ours, had gotten out before it had become as difficult to escape, but that I had gotten myself stuck. Outside the fence there were dozens of people shouting and carrying signs, urging those of us inside not to fall for the seductive propaganda we were being sold. The people outside were lifting up the barbed wire to help those who wanted to slip through escape. I kept getting swept back into the compound but making my way to the exit, where I noticed over time that the fence kept getting raised higher and the barbed wire harder to get through. At one point, to get to the fence, I ended up crawling with several others through deep mud, hidden by bushes, scrabbling to freedom with our bare hands up to our wrists in wet twigs and leaves. Inside the compound, there were all kinds of deceptively pleasing things going on, like massage and yoga and new-age workshops and touchy-feely hugging and sharing, and everybody seemed happy and high, spouting platitudes and acting like pod/Stepford people. Some of those inside the compound were my brother, his wife, and her twin sister, who (in real life) all tend to fall for latest new-age hype and scare stories in the media.Also inside was another friend of mine who gets seduced easily and who is especially vulnerable to going down the wrong path. I tried desperately to get the people I cared for to escape with me, while they, and the other cult people, kept telling me how wonderful it was inside, pressuring me to stay. I ended up concentrating on getting my brother out, to the point where I put myself in danger by going back inside to get him, telling him I couldn’t believe I had come back after crawling through the bushes and the mud to escape. Eventually he got out just ahead of me, with no trouble, while I got out only after becoming ripped up by the barbed wire.

    By the way, none of the people above particularly symbolize in my mind weight-related stuff so much as lack of critical thinking and the tendency to fall for erroneous things they hear about without examining the science or truth around it. The scariest part of the whole dream was the idea that I was going to get lulled into believing staying inside was a good thing and succumbing to how rosy things were at first, then later finding that everything had become horrible and terrifying but being unable to leave.

    The more I think about this dream, the more convinced I am that it had to do with breaking away from the “normal” mindset that gaining weight or being fat is a horrible thing. It’s fascinating how the subconscious works…

  10. My diet epiphany came from something that happened to my mother. She was a life-long dieter, and raised me that way, too. In her 40s, she got sick, and it progressively got worse. It was diabetes, but combine that with 30 years of smoking and a life of yo-yo dieting, her body just gave up. Piece by piece, her body gave up and she got sicker and sicker. One day, she came home from yet another stay in the hospital, and she was happier then I’ve ever seen her, because she was ‘below 150 lbs for the first time since high school!’ She was DYING, but she didn’t care – she was going to leave a thinner corpse. She died 2 weeks later. She was 54 years old.
    That’s when it hit me, like a bullet between the eyes. THIS IS CRAP! This is no way to live!
    I admit, I did try one more diet, but shortly after that failure, I worked hard to change the way I thought about food.
    It took 2 long years, but I can honestly say now that food is no longer the enemy. I watch what I eat because of the way it behaves inside me, not because of it’s caloric value. I can look at a picture of myself and say, ‘Wow. I’m big. I’m really big.’ BUT I don’t want to run out and start a diet. I *also* don’t want to go out and eat! To me, I have finally achieved peace with food and my body. It’s a wonderful thing.

  11. This is so timely, as usual. I swear you can read my mind.

    I have an online friend who is a body builder as a hobby. She just started doing the Beach Body Coaching thing and I was checking out her website. I found myself thinking “maybe I should try it’ “maybe this is the one that will actually work”. It worked for my friend, why not for me?

    I was doing really good at accepting myself and practicing HAES then I saw recent photos of myself taken while doing a 5k scavenger hunt. I completely slipped back into my old mind set. I’m critical, afraid to eat and seeking out possible solutions to “fix” myself.

    Logically, I know nothing is going to make me thin. I know that counting calories doesn’t work. I know that depriving myself doesn’t work. I know that doing what I was doing, just living life and keeping active doing things I enjoy, is what I SHOULD be doing. But I keep seeing those pictures in my head.

    And I’m stuck in the “it isn’t fair” stage. I’m doing everything right! I don’t eat a lot because I can’t. I have an auto-immune disease so I can’t have gluten, soy or sugar. That basically means if it comes in a package, I don’t eat it. I exercise a lot because I enjoy it. I’m the most active person I know and I eat less and yet I’m the heaviest person in my circle of friends. It pisses me off and I can’t get past it.

    I was ok for awhile. Accepting myself and at peace with where I was then I saw those damn pictures. Totally threw me off track and back into my old mind set. I feel like all the progress I made as far as self-esteem is now in the trash. Or maybe the progress was never there and I was deluding myself.

  12. Thank-you for addressing the “positives” of dieting. If we don’t recognize that dieting rewards us in other ways than the potential of weight loss, we can easily be sucked into another diet. When I counselled smokers who wanted to quit-we always did an exercise about the positives of smoking. People were so used to being lectured about how bad smoking was that when someone acknowledged the nice things about smoking, the smoker was able to find ways to replace those with other nice things that weren’t ruining their lungs. Now, of course, there are many messages about how GREAT dieting is (even if we know that they are false) but as HAES practitioners, recognizing the lure of diets beyond weight loss is important. Even if I know I won’t lose weight on a diet, I will potentially get other nice things-praise, approval, a sense of control and so on. Again thank-you to this blog for exploring these things. I learn more from it and your faithful fans than I ever thought I would when I stumbled upon this site a few years ago.

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