I never planned on being the type of dietitian that shunned meal plans or calorie counting for weight loss.
I would help people lose weight with regimented meal plans and strategies for counting calories, eliminating “junk” foods, and meticulously measuring portion sizes and grams of fat.
I always felt like I had an extra 10-15 pounds myself, so I would implement these strategies first so I’d know exactly how to help others. I had the best of intentions, really.
Losing weight was just a mathematics game – calories in versus calories out – and although math was never my strong suit, I knew I was a relatively smart person – how difficult could it really be? I would maintain a 1200 calorie diet (recommended by my online nutrition tracker) and work out at the gym five days a week.
And the first 2-3 pounds were pretty easy. But that’s where the fun ended.
I was constantly hungry and disgruntled by my insatiable cravings for sweets and snacks – the very same foods I was trying to eliminate.
But hey, that’s where willpower comes into play, right?
Not so much. No matter how much effort or “willpower” I put forth, I just couldn’t maintain the 1200 calorie diet regiment forever.
A vacation would come up. The holidays. A stressful exam and poor night’s sleep. There was always a reason I “deserved” a little treat. I had been so good.
Eventually, my rebellious side would get the best of me and just like that (so much faster than they came off!), the few pounds I had sacrificed so much for would return, usually bringing another 3-5 unruly friends with them.
Worse, I was overcome with shame and guilt over my failed attempt.
But eventually the rush of a new diet would lure me in again.
I was a registered dietitian now – a legit nutrition pro – and I was working in a renowned cancer treatment center too. Anything preached here must be real-deal. This time I have really, actually, finally found it: the holy grail of wellness and weight loss.
I just had to eat everything on the “excellent” list and avoid everything on the “avoid” list (as if it were the plague).
Like most diets, it worked – for awhile…the pounds were starting to come off and I was feeling good but then, just like old times, temptations arose.
Simple, everyday events, like going to a restaurant left me feeling like a guilty fugitive on the run. It was impossible to find anything “approved” on the menu. Each dish had at least one ingredient from the “avoid” list.
What if someone sees me?
Am I living a lie?
Emotional moments started to get the best of me too. As an oncology dietitian, patients would sometimes pass away and I didn’t really know how to cope – I wasn’t prepared for it.
I was planning my own wedding while helping a patient fight with every ounce of his being to walk his own daughter down the aisle a few short weeks later. He didn’t make it. Instead of feeling gratitude for my own family’s health, I just felt more guilt. I was a mess – I wasn’t worthy.
During those times, I turned to food for comfort. Eating something on the avoid list was my dirty little rebellious secret. Nobody had to know.
Afterwards, once the high of eating a forbidden food had passed, shame would envelope me. I couldn’t be trusted.
Why couldn’t I just practice what I preached?
I was a complete failure.
I had reached my diet rock bottom.
So I left my job and I started doing my own research.
Sure, I felt my best after eating a balanced meal rich in whole plant foods – but I couldn’t find any compelling studies convincing me that certain foods need to be avoided 100% of the time (like the plague).
Most of what I was learning indicated that this type of diet ideology was actually the main source of the problem.
Think about it, most of us know we should be eating more vegetables and drinking more water. And we know that a serving size of potato chips is typically not the entire bag. Yet, most of us still don’t eat enough vegetables, we’re dehydrated, and our cravings for sweets and snacks are unbearable. We feel so motivated to do the right thing but then the urge to overeat is uncontrollable – literally biological.
Maybe it’s not lack of nutrition knowledge or “willpower” that’s the real issue here.
In any case, I thought, my relationship with food and my body couldn’t possibly get any worse, so I decided to try intuitive eating.
The black and white nature of weight loss diets had always been a source of comfort to me, so ditching diets and learning to eat more intuitively was kind of awkward at first – even a little bit scary.
Instead of letting the clock or my online nutrition tracker dictate when and what I ate, I started listening to my own body instead. I began the gradual process of relearning my own hunger and fullness signals and then acting based on those signals. (Remember how we did that so effortlessly when we were little?)
I also began to understand that food was a fleeting source of emotional support. If I wanted longer-lasting happiness, I needed to stop ignoring my deeper emotional issues.
Slowly but surely, with the help of mindfulness, patience, and a whole lot of self-compassion, I began to learn how to trust myself again. And slowly but surely, I began to consistently eat healthfully not to lose weight but because I wanted to actually start feeling good again. In fact, I tossed out my scale a long time ago and have only gained more confidence, strength and (for the first time ever) a sense of real body appreciation since doing so.
It’s funny, I became a dietitian in part so that I could crack the weight loss code but in reality, the big weight loss secret is that there’s no secret at all. We already have everything we need to live vibrantly, happily, and healthfully inside of us – no meal plan or 1200 calorie diet could ever compare to the power of our own intuition.
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