I didn't diet for a big chunk of my life. Like any woman, I've gone through cycles of weight gain and loss. My first major gain was during a rough period in college, but then I lost the excess weight when I did a study abroad in the UK and learned how to cook for myself and took up jogging around the beautiful countryside as stress relief. But that was a pretty natural thing, not a concerted effort. And for the most part, it's always been like this: I put on weight for some pretty natural life reasons (stress, major emotional trauma, life shifts) and I lose it when I'm in a better place and settle in to my normal size - between a 12 and 14.
It all changed for me when I got engaged. There had always been pressure to be thinner (diet culture is pervasive as shit), but that pressure increased tenfold when a wedding was on the horizon. I started exercising consistently and put myself on the South Beach Diet.
In retrospect, it wasn't nearly so bad as some of the other stuff I've tried. You can still have fruit, after the first two weeks, and low-fat dairy. That made it passable. I did it until the wedding, and then I stopped.
That was the gateway to years of on-and-off dieting. It started with South Beach, which I did a couple of times. In 2012, the blogosphere blew up with posts about the Paleo Diet. It was a big trend at CrossFit, which I also started that year, so I gave that a try. Paleo + CrossFit changed my body composition a whole bunch, which I liked. After the holidays, I was looking for something with even better results. I did my first Whole30 in February of 2013, and lost 15 lbs in a month.
As you might have guessed, it got way crazier after that. I went through a couple of cycles of Whole 14 that year, whenever I felt like I was "slipping". The result of being on and off such a restrictive diet was that I got sick nearly every month that year with colds, strep throat -- basically any virus or bug that came my way. The results made me feel good, but I was constantly anxious about food: the amount, the composition, all of it. It sucked.
Dieting isolates us. As we all know by now, food isn't just calories. It's not just fuel. Food is the way we celebrate special achievements or holidays. It's the way we comfort someone after a loss. It's what we connect over.
When you take that away, when you make it seem like food is just something you put in your mouth to keep you alive and fuel your activities, you take away food's power of connection. That isolates people. It alienates the eater from what can and should be a holistic, natural process. It keeps them from connecting with people they love.
Worse, when we make food about "good" and "bad", it takes all the other stuff out of it. When you create strict binaries, you remove all nuance (and we try to do this all the time when we police gender, sexuality, class, race, and every other damn thing).
Food is a lot of things. It has complex meanings to all of us and our cultures and families. I believe that diets are the opposite of honor and respect. I think that if we want to build good communities and connection, we need to honor the place that food has in connecting people. I think we need to banish diet culture, which only serves to make us feel shitty about ourselves. That's how it makes the big bucks.
So now, today, think about how you can respect your food and honor yourself. Maybe check out The Eater's Agreement to start. But most of all, enjoy what you're eating, and don't let anyone ever tell you that food is bad, or that you are bad for enjoying food. If that were true, we wouldn't have tastebuds.
Respect yourself, respect your food, and respect your tastebuds.