I have been dieting for as long as I can remember. I was trying to shrink myself and to be as I am supposed to be. But it never worked.
3 years ago, I got married. And even though my husband and I didn’t want children right away, the pressure to prepare for pregnancy was on.
On top of that 2 months after the wedding, we went on to live in China for 2 years, because of my husbands work.
So, I decided to use these 2 years to become my thinnest and healthies self, so when we returned, we’ll be having the most perfect and healthiest babies.
What did I do
I went into my “read everything under the sun” mode. I was focusing on sustainable weight loss combined with best health outcomes.
At that time, I didn’t believe that I could be healthy and overweight. It just didn’t compute. I believed that I could be thin and unhealthy, though. That’s why I was focusing so much on doing things right.
As you know keto is all the rage now. And it’s sold like the healthiest way to live. And also, the best thing for your future children. And I bought it.
I was in a new place, around new people, but it was only temporary. So, I made the decision to sort my eating out and not socialize too much. Keto and socializing don’t go too well together.
So, I went keto (the hard-core type – no fruit, no dairy, 30 g of total carb a day). It was great at the beginning. It was different than what I had tried before. I was really enthusiastic. I lost about 20 pounds in the first six months and I was over the moon.
But that was it. The scale didn’t budge anymore.
The next thing I did was to add more exercise, but this just made me gain weight.
So, the next logical step was fasting. I did 20-hour fasts each day. Then added a 36- hour fast every week. Then a 3 day fast every month, and so on.
But I didn’t lose any more weight… I even gained some.
I know this doesn’t sound healthy. But think about all the health-o-cholics you know. Do their obsessions sound and look healthy?
What was happening
I was so convinced that this is the best way to live and that I am just not doing it right, that I didn’t see the signs. I was just trying to find the right buttons to push and I was convinced that the next restriction will sort out all the problems. But there were things that I was just not paying attention to.
The physiological signs:
- My hair was falling out (I thought it was from my hair dye at this point – it wasn’t)
- My nails were brittle
- I was cold all the time – I was walking around with a jacket in July and drinking tea like a crazy person
- I was tired a lot and it took me a lot of willpower and discipline to do my work and to exercise 2, 3, and sometimes 4 hours a day
- The psychological signs
- I was irritable;
- I didn’t want to eat out, at all. It didn’t matter that we’re in a different country with amazing food, that’s worth trying
- I didn’t want to meet new people, because I was self-conscious of my weird habits
- When I was coming back home, I didn’t call a lot of my friends. I was staying under the radar as much as possible. I was trying to meet with people over coffee or for a walk. Never in a restaurant.
- I was afraid to go to the movies because my husband always buys popcorn, and it was getting too hard to resist
- I was obsessed with exercise – it was impossible to take a rest day. I needed to deserve my food
- I was obsessed with food – it was on my mind all the time. What I was going to cook, what I was going to eat, when, how much, and what I was going to cook for my husband. I was cooking for him everything that was off-limits for me. This was a way to feel normal.
How did I get out of this?
I want to tell you that I am out of the woods and that I am completely cured now, but it will be a lie.
What happened was, that when we returned home for good, the change in environment gave me a positive jolt. We spent more time with friends and family and around people in general. I was wondering how these people are even alive with all their bad habits. I didn’t know if they were having a problem, or I was.
I started reading about different points of view on eating. I got into “Health at every size” and “Intuitive Eating”. And I bought a few books on how diets are making us fat. This helped me a lot to get a fuller picture of what’s going on. Until then I was looking at just one side of the coin.
After extensive research, I realized I am the one with the problem. And that not stressing as much, will definitely make me happier, and maybe even healthier. So, I’ve been committed to loosening the grip ever since.
I am in the process of repairing the relationship between me and my body. I am listening more, and hearing more. I am paying more attention to my hunger and satiety cues. And also, to my appetites and preferences. And I have help – I hired a therapist because my friends and family don’t really understand the issue and are not very supportive.
It’s hard to tone down the normative voice in my head. And it’s a process, I am not perfect. And I don’t think that there will come a time when I’ll just order the pizza, without an inner dialogue convincing me in the virtues of salad or something less processed, or at least something with whole wheat, not flour. But still, for now, it’s enough that those voices don’t win most of the time.
Being able to hear what I want, and not what I am supposed to want has been a game-changer for me. I am kinder and accepting to myself. And it has spilled over to all other areas of life.
I couldn’t be happier that I am going through this journey, because even though it was very hard, it’s worth it.
Now I am a more accepting, kind, and in-tune human. And I am more comfortable with myself. Which was the point all along.
Vania Nikolova, Ph.D., is the head of health research at RunRepeat.com. She uses her academic knowledge and experience with an eating disorder to shed light on why dieting is bad news.