If you asked me how many diets I’ve tried in my lifetime, I couldn’t begin to count. My dieting days started back in high school. I was never comfortable with my weight and was constantly searching for new diets and workout routines that would reshape my body. But despite my struggles with body image, I genuinely enjoy health and fitness. I love a hearty green smoothie, millet bread, and coconut milk. I also like pizza, a good burger, and fries. I feel my best when I’m active, fit, and searching for foods that make me feel energetic and happy in my own skin.
To give you some background, I first started to entertain the idea of making the perfect salads during my high school days. This would only last until free period in the cafeteria when my friends and I would load up on Party Mix and Snickers bars. My metabolism must have been fast in high school because I was not overweight and I ate a lot of junk food.
Then came college, where I gained the “Freshman 15” times two. My natural confidence helped me enjoy life no matter my weight, but deep down, the gain affected me. I felt completely uncomfortable on a trip to Mexico with all of my thin girlfriends. On a separate occasion, I remember sitting on the floor in my living room, overhearing a conversation with my then-roommate, who also happened to be the guy I was in love with throughout my four years in college. He was talking about how excited he was for his date that evening. He was going out with a beautiful girl he’d had his eye on for months. As I sat there, devastated, tears trickling down my face, all I could think about was how skinny she was and how skinny I wasn’t.
After college, I tried a series of diets — SlimFast, Weight Watchers, and chicken and broccoli regimens fueled by Hydroxycut (gasp!!!) — courtesy of my personal trainer’s suggestions. When I first met with my trainer in 2001, he asked me about my goals. My only goal at that point was to obtain a body like Britney Spears. I worked out twice a day and lived on boiled chicken and broccoli. I remember sitting in my studio apartment in Weehawken, New Jersey, chewing piece after piece of sugarless gum, trying to curb my hunger cravings and keep food out of my mouth.
In more recent years my diet choices consisted of Weight Watchers (this is a recurring diet in my long list), Jenny Craig, veganism, and giving up dairy and gluten because I convinced myself that I had sensitivities to both. I actually got to my goal weight the first time I joined Jenny Craig. It was the only diet I was able to stick to with success, but then life happened, and I eventually gained the weight back.
When I recently left New York to move to Florida, I thought to myself: this is it, I will be living my new life and the extra pounds will come right off. While I have adopted better habits during the past eight months — home-cooked family meals, twice-daily walks with my dog, frequent visits to the gym for a swim or yoga, biking, and walks on the beach — my weight hasn’t budged.
Seeking a solution, I joined Weight Watchers for the eight hundredth time and quit after one week. I was in a panic. I’m launching my first book in May, and I want to look my best. So I rejoined Jenny Craig, knowing I’d had success with it eight years ago. Two days in, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was eating processed food when all I really wanted was a home-cooked meal. I couldn’t clear my mind of the foods I needed to avoid. I quickly reverted back to that mentality that some foods are “bad,” and I felt guilty if I “cheated” on my diet.
That was it — the day of my revelation. I called my Jenny Craig consultant and explained that I wouldn’t be back. It was finally clear as day for me that I needed to figure this out on my own. I declared to myself that I would never diet again.
I went out and purchased the book Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole and have begun to adopt their principles. They’ve taught me to listen to my hunger cues and what my body craves rather than what I think I should or shouldn’t be eating. I don’t weigh myself. I know how I want to feel, and that is what I’m striving for. I want to be in a healthy place with food without all the internal struggle. I’m not stressed about losing twenty pounds before my upcoming events. I’m having fun exploring foods that make me feel good and recognizing the foods that make me feel lethargic. I don’t track my food or count calories. I’m exercising and training for races because I want—not because I feel I have to.
This new mind-set is very specific to me. I don’t want to discredit the effectiveness diets have had for others; they just haven’t worked for me. I’ve decided to take on Intuitive Eating because it makes sense for me. It feels nice to wake up without having to focus on planning my meals and managing calories. I enjoy my workouts because they aren’t forced. I look forward to food shopping and cooking with family and friends. I find myself deep in conversation during meals rather than solely focused on finishing my food, wondering if I’ll still be hungry and when I can eat again. I eat whenever and whatever I want now, and I work on stopping when I feel full. I am no longer controlled by food.
I’m certainly not perfect. Will I still have days when I eat mindlessly or out of stress? I’m sure of it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a process, but a process I’ve happily welcomed into my life.