Tag Archives: dieting

What I wish I’d known about weight loss and dieting when I was younger

I’ve written about my dieting history, weight gains and losses, and former athletic endeavors previously and keep them linked on their own page. In short, I was pretty heavy as a youngster and ruthlessly bullied because I was fat. I lost weight in my late teens and then spent much of my young adulthood in the throes of a raging eating disorder, along with an obsession for over-exercising. My weight has ranged by roughly 150 lbs. over the years.

I’ve learned a lot about body weight and dieting over those years and how extremes aren’t sustainable. They were hard lessons to learn and it didn’t have to be that way. I wanted fast results, not understanding that patience with the process and consistency in actions would be vital to achieving my goals. Patience and consistency really are key to any purpose, but particularly important in weight loss and maintenance.

So I’m writing some notes to my younger self that may have helped her move beyond her hyper-focus on weight and dieting and to start enjoying her life a whole lot sooner. I speak from personal experience, so these observations may be pretty specific to my situation. But I can’t help but think that they could pertain to someone else, should they stumble upon this post. 

Warning: these are not common recommendations for weight maintenance. They are simply my lessons learned following years of dieting and an eating disorder. These are things I wish I knew when I started those first diets forty years ago.

The calories-in, calories-out (CICO) approach to weight loss is evil and pretty much nonsense. Your body is much more complicated than this and the amount of energy you need changes daily. Moreover, the calculation of calories is highly imprecise. Food labels can be off as much as 20% and still considered an acceptable estimate. Estimates of calorie expenditures are even further off, even with all the gadgets we have today (and that you didn’t have back then). Put away your notebooks of numbers. They are of no use to you in solving anything pertaining to your weight.

Dieting as an intervention for weight loss is an abysmal failure. The amount of food permitted on most diets is not sustainable long-term. Your body will ultimately rebel against eating too little food, especially when trying to compete in a collegiate sport. For gods-sake, you need more than a salad to fuel two workouts a day. Eating too little will cause you to binge in response to feeling starved. Bingeing (and ultimately purging) will do more damage than just about anything else you will do to your body.

Don’t aim for an unreasonably low weight. Your weight will vary by roughly 150 lbs. over the next 40 years because of diets. You can avoid this (in part) by realizing that the weight recommendations for your height are way too low. There’s not a lot of body fat on you at recommended weights of 135-140 lbs. It will be tough for you to stay at this weight. I don’t know why but you just weigh more than most for your height. Don’t try to use someone else’s body to predict your own. A lower weight isn’t your success story.

Don’t use excessive exercise as punishment for perceived over-eating. This goes back to the CICO thinking — avoid the trap of thinking that you can eat something off-plan and burn it off later. It doesn’t work that way. If you want something, eat it and enjoy it. There is no need to punish yourself because you did nothing wrong by eating.

Do not fast for purposes of weight control. Just don’t. Yes, there is intermittent this and that, low-calorie protein shake fasts, juice fasts, and on and on. But unless you are training for a wilderness adventure that can put you into a situation where you run out of food and have to rely upon the land for sustenance, don’t practice fasting. Fasting will put you into a stressful mode that leads to intense food cravings. It also increases stress hormones and interferes with the proper functioning of your metabolism. Binge eating is often a common side effect of fasting.  

There is a whole industry devoted to diets that isn’t one bit concerned about your long-term success. The dieting market exploits the vulnerable. This industry claims success when you lose weight on their plan but then turns around and blames you when you fail on that same plan. If their diet was that good, shouldn’t you be able to follow it, lose weight, feel good, and not regain? But where is the profit in that? The diet industry relies on repeat customers. Cut them off.

Be patient with yourself. Forget quick fixes. Yes, your first major weight loss was rapid, but it wasn’t sustainable. Extreme, starvation-level diets aren’t necessary and certainly not a long-term ideal. Please try to spend less time thinking about your weight, clothing size, food, and workouts. There really are more critical things to think about. 

Dieting affects your mood in very negative ways. It’s hard to focus on anything when your stomach is gnawing at you. Being a bitch-on-wheels because you are hungry with low blood sugar is just not a good look. Nor is it effective in the long-run.

Excessive dieting and ungodly workouts will affect your relationships. You had great friends who stood with you when starting those initial efforts to lose weight. You lost those friends when weight loss became your sole focus and things got crazy. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you are extremely irritable.

Your weight will stabilize once you feel better and take care of yourself. Please don’t wait almost 40 years to realize this. Start working on accepting yourself earlier. You will find that your weight will drop when you are in a good place mentally and emotionally. Weight management becomes a non-issue when you feel better about yourself.

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I don’t know if these observations are universal, but I’m certain that they would have been vital for me to learn much sooner.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

On being fat: the early years (part 1)

I swore I wouldn’t make this blog about being fat and endless diets, but here I am with it. 

I feel like I need to write this series to provide context — where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and the serious, potentially health-robbing mistakes that I’ve made. Feeling heavy or being abnormally fat has been a part of my existence forever and, therefore, impossible for me to ignore. My adult weight has ranged from 150 to an estimated nearly 300 lbs. A huge range, I know. I lived it.

One thing I’ve learned is that my weight is directly linked to what is going on in my life at a given point in time. More stress equals more pounds. And while my weight gains were often due to stress eating, I know that this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, my body just hung onto fat, no matter what I did. I suspect that this may be the case for others, as well.  

I can’t write about my current outlook towards my pending retirement and future athletic pursuits without acknowledging this background. While it was the cause of much pain, fat also protected me. I’m still working through the emotional aspects of my diet and weight history, particularly as it relates to my career in an esoteric field that perhaps wasn’t the ideal one for me. 

This series of posts was challenging to write, and I’ve reconsidered posting them several times. But all signs point to the necessity of going through this history if only to point a way forward. 

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The harsh beginning: I’m the youngest of 3, with 2 much older brothers who were 10 and 17 when I was born. I was definitely not planned, arriving a decade after my parents decided to stop having more kids. I came along at a less than ideal time — strained health, financial distress, caretaking of grandparents, one son out of control, and (later) death of that son by a drunk driver. It was an anxious environment to grow up under, as my parents were pre-occupied with just surviving. There was much tension whenever they were together, manifested as either yelling or silence. I learned that my role was to stay out of the way and not make trouble. I spent a lot of time alone while growing up, often away from the house. I’m pretty certain that I sought solace in food through all of that. This led to weight gain, enough to be ridiculed by other kids for being too fat. Yah, I was the fat kid that everyone made fun of. Which led to more solace in food. A bitter cycle.

My family did try, really. They were doing the best that they could under some stressful circumstances. I think that we all were dealing with some trauma in that household, although from different sources. I wasn’t neglected, but I felt like I was an afterthought much of the time. But my primary torment came from bullies at school. My fat body made me an easy target, and I couldn’t walk down the hall without some dimwit pointing out my round belly or thick thighs. Facing that every day was unrelenting and harsh.

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My first weight loss and athletic goals: I lost weight when I left high school and got away from my bullies. I went on my first “diet” the summer before my freshman year in college. I cut back on food, swam, and walked daily. The results were pretty dramatic. I lost 60 pounds and started college looking much different than my senior high school picture. The difference in how people treated me was startling. Unfortunately, I also attracted attention that I simply did not know how to handle, after years of being ignored or targeted.

I had been a casual swimmer in high school, even swimming on a junior “training team” at a local swim club. I also worked at a sports facility as a swim instructor and lifeguard. Yes, I did that even while fat. Now, newly “thin” and starting my freshman year, I decided to try out for the collegiate swim team – a huge leap. While I wanted to do a sport, I also saw this as a way to burn enough calories to stay thin. But, I knew very little about sports nutrition and the need to adequately fuel for strenuous workouts. I kept austere eating habits while trying to swim 1 to 2 practices a day. I was an okay swimmer, but certainly not exceptional. I wonder how I would have done if I had simply eaten enough food.

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The ED period: I tried to eat as little food as possible to stay thin during my early college years. That approach soon turned into a raging eating disorder — fast-binge-purge. The thing about bingeing and purging is that while it’s brutal, you generally keep enough food to maintain yourself. Most purgers don’t obtain super-thin levels — much to the disappointment of many purgers.

Ironically, nearly all my friends (collegiate athletes in swimming, soccer, and cross-country) had eating disorders too. One roommate would fast all day, run a cross-country practice, and then hit up an ice cream shop for their largest serving (topped by cookies) after her daily workout. A fellow swimmer was bulimic and forced herself to puke nightly. Still, another swimmer practiced severe eating restrictions, such as having only a bran muffin in the morning and only a big bowl of air-popped popcorn at night. In a way, we sought each other out to justify our behaviors — and maybe feel normal in the process. We were all crazy around food but were surviving, so it must have been okay. Or so we thought.

I eventually sought help from a psychologist for my eating disorder. My shrink suggested that I use purging as a tool for those occasional times that I might overeat. He didn’t get that I was doing this multiple times a week. I’m not sure if he was clueless or that eating disorders were a relatively new thing that he was seeing in his practice. This was in the ’80s, and there was less understanding of these behaviors and the accompanying impacts. Instead, he seemed more interested in discussing my relationship with my boyfriend at the time. I ended up leaving my shrink after he started hitting on me.

Later, I was part of a newly formed eating disorder group organized by our student health clinic. There were 8-10 of us in that group, with a range of disorders. We talked, but there wasn’t much trust or support amongst us. Instead, it became a competition to see who was most disordered. I found that I wasn’t even good at disordered eating because I wasn’t super thin like some of the others in the group. I recall one girl pointing this out, saying that she was surprised that I purged because I was so large (!). I wasn’t fucking large. The group was disbanded after a few months because everyone’s behavior was getting worse.

It quickly became evident that I was on my own with this.

To be continued….

Photo from author