I have spent my entire life failing at diets. 

Now I know what you are thinking…

“I’m confused…didn’t you lose 125 pounds??”. 

Yes I did, and let me say this again…

 I, the Recovering Carbie, have failed at Every. Single. Diet. 

I’ve probably confused you by now haven’t I? You may even be scrolling through my Instagram feed to see if I suddenly gained all my weight back. Don’t worry I didn’t, I’m doing great.

But yet, I’m a diet failure.

The dictionary defines the word diet as follows…


Look at that definition carefully and you will see why I and most of the world fail at dieting. Diets = restricting yourself, depriving yourself, all in the name of losing weight.

In order to have long lasting results we need to maintain healthy eating habits for the rest of our lives. We can’t lose the weight and somehow expect that it will magically stay off. This is why I have failed at diets and you do too…because depriving ourselves for the rest of our lives is simply not doable.

I mean is it any wonder that the majority of the word “diet” is comprised of the word DIE??  Perfectly fitting considering we all want to die every time we start one.

 

That’s not to say that diets do not have some limited success.  I mean, I think we can all agree that depriving ourselves is something we can all agree to do for some short period of time. Hell, I can do anything for a little bit if it means I can fit in a smaller size of jeans!

But alas diets are not maintainable and hence the roller coaster of diets become our lives. We get motivated, deprive ourselves, push our willpowers to the limit, until we simply can’t deprive ourselves any more and we return back to our old ways.

I’ve been on this vicious cycle all my life.

 

I seriously have no conscious memory of me not being overweight. I’ve dealt with this my entire life. My first experience with dieting occurred when I was about 10 years old, when a Diet Center opened in my small town.  Diet Center was just like Nutri-System only without a peppy Marie Osmund as its spokesperson. It was a place that did all the diet work for you. They prepackaged the low calorie, low fat foods so you didn’t have to do any thinking.

My Mom, like any good parent, noticed that I had a weight problem early on in life and so her and I visited the Diet Center. When I walked in, visions of before and afters were all around me. Look at all this success!! Inside the 4 walls of Diet Center, my first diet seemed really easy. The owner told me confidently it would work, which I could see from all the pictures around me.  They had pizza, ooh Lasagna, oh look Chocolate cake! All the foods that I loved in “diet” form. My Mom and I were confident that with all my favorite foods in health form, this would be a piece of (…ahem…diet) cake.

But here’s the problem with diet cardboard box food: because it has no calories or fat it literally tastes just like the box it is packaged in. So there I was with my first reality check of dieting….while my friends could stuff their faces with real legit pizza, I on the other hand had to eat a tiny (so not the size of the picture on the box) cardboard pizza, simply because I was overweight.

So how did an 11 year old do on a Cardboard Pizza diet?? Yeah I’m sure you can guess. I failed long before our 90 day contract ended.  To be fair to myself, I never really stood a chance. You have to remember that I grew up in the generation where we had Hostess Cherry Pies in the cafeteria! When we read a book we earned a Pizza Hut Pizza! The cool thing to do was collect California Raisins or Beanie Babies from Happy Meals! How could I with all this temptation at my finger tips every day possibly maintain this diet?

After that diet failed, I settled into a few years of just living with my weight. After all… I had a glimpse into how impossible diets were, and I didn’t want to do that again. I convinced myself that I would be fine…sure I was heavy but I could manage it.   After all, even though I was cursed to live in the Hostess Ding Dong decade, I was quite blessed to live in the fashion world of the 90’s. We had boyfriend jeans, not skinny jeans. You know the store Express that sells those not-even-a-square-of-fabric dresses? They sold baggy over-sized sweatshirts that hid lots of extra weight. I mean even Abercrombie, yes size -5 Abercrombie, sold flannel shirts called “Big Shirts”. So I managed fairly well as an overweight young teen.

But then senior year hit and it was time for Prom. All my friends got to shop at a dozen stores for the perfect dress, and I had my first real reality check that I was too big to fit into the cool trendy prom dresses. My friend and I drove near Chicago to a bridal store, hopeful there would be more selection for someone like me. I can remember being shown a small rack of plus size dresses, hidden from view behind all the skinny size dresses. There was hardly any selection, but I found a simple black one I loved. Well, let’s be honest, it was either the black one or one with big poofy sleeves that looked like some cotton candy and sprinkles had a baby.  So,  I went back into the dressing room with my friend, and put on the black dress. We started to zip it up, and it didn’t fit. I panicked. It was either think of a plan to fit in this dress fast, or wear a cotton candy/sprinkle dress to prom.

Since we were two teenagers planning out this diet, and we didn’t have a lot of time, we went straight to the “real diet advice”, i.e. from TV of course.   This was the time when fast food restaurants started to offer “light” items.  Commercials displayed skinny girls eating a salad at McDonald’s. I loved fast food, so this sounded right up my alley! Thus began the Bean Burrito Diet of 1996. I am literally not joking, my diet plan consisted of eating Bean Burritos from Taco Bell every single day for lunch and most of the time for dinner, simply because the TV told me they were healthy.

But here’s the deal, it worked! Of course it worked, I used to go to Pizza Hut and McDonald’s for lunch everyday and eat greasy carbie foods, so a Bean Burrito was a (somewhat weird and small) step in the right direction. I fit into the prom dress and enjoyed my first diet success.

But my success was short lived, as we all know I couldn’t eat Bean Burritos forever. The second I went to college and entered the world of Papa John’s delivery and Pasta Nights in the cafeteria I gained back the weight…plus more. Diet failure.

My next attempt at dieting happened my junior year of college. A lot of my friends started getting boyfriends, having fun dates at parties etc. I was jealous and there really is no motivation quite like that. By this time I knew deprivation worked… it sucked… but it worked.   I was convinced I just needed to work a little harder to find success.

But alas I didn’t have to work hard because, as my luck would have it, the diet pill years were born! Ahh the Phen-Phen years… one simple pill and all your weight magically drops off without you lifting a finger.

This time I was super confident…I mean of course it would work it’s prescribed by a doctor!!  The diet pill sounded perfect for me. I could seriously keep going to Olive Garden and taking the Tour of Italy and eating 3 baskets of breadsticks and still lose weight!! I could eat like everyone else! No deprivation!!  What’s not to love about that? I jumped on this bandwagon right a way.

And yes, I jumped off of it just as fast when it didn’t work. Yeah, no pill was going to save me from what I was becoming. Diet failure yet again.

It was at this point in my life where I really settled into bad food habits. I was a huge over-eater. I was always hungry.  I ate when I was depressed, ate when I was happy, ate for social interaction, ate for fun. Food was a crutch, a hug, a laugh, an activity. It was a huge part of my life, not just an energy source like I now know it is. I kept wondering why I kept gaining weight because I was never really a sweets eater. Never did it dawn on me that the fact I was literally eating a whole box of mac and cheese every meal was the reason. I simply thought I was failing at diets because I didn’t have enough willpower.

Ahh…the law school years were next. I went through tons of stress and a horrible time in my life and my third year of law school came around. By this time I was about 275 pounds, a size 24, and convinced that I would never find someone, never get married, never have children, and was destined to live with my 3 cats in my little apartment until the end of time.

Yes, the threat of being a cat woman was motivation for the next diet.

In 2003 I decided I was going to change my life, and diet yet again. I started reading magazines, and doing some internet research. Everyone told me low calorie and low fat was the way to go. That was nothing new, as it was jabbed down my throat for years.  I realized I needed to settle into the fact that I couldn’t eat regular food like other people did. So back low calorie and low fat I went. Only this time I wasn’t going to let temptation anywhere near my life.

And thus the “Bubble diet” was born.  I call it the bubble diet, because I literally lived in a little bubble away from all reality. The plan was simple — hide from all my problems, hide from all food, throw away every bit of food in my apartment and eat nothing but Diet Meals. If I don’t make eye contact with that pizza, I won’t think of it.  No snacks, no desserts, no going out.  In other words, no reality.  Just me and my deprivation. I also for the first time started adding working out to the plan and I walked every day.

And guess what? I had HUGE diet success. I lost 80 pounds in 7 months. I went from a 24 to a 14, which for me was like a 4. I was SO proud of myself.  Sure I missed food like a baby misses her blanket and yes I was running from my problems, not facing them…but I didn’t care! I could shop at the Gap instead of Lane Bryant! I was thrilled! I was convinced I had finally cracked the secret to dieting. It only worked when you had more deprivation and less reality.

But here’s the problem with that concept, and the idea of dieting.  You can’t  hide from reality forever. I met my husband and started to enjoy going out to dinner. Food came back into my apartment. I guess you can say the bubble was popped and reality flooded back in.

Because I had spent my whole year hiding from food, when I would taste that amazing food again I would binge eat left and right. Old habits flew back in. Food once again became front and center in my life.

This failure hit me harder than any diet failure before because I was so close to finding my health. But alas by the end of my first year of marriage I gained back the 80 pounds I deprived myself for plus 20 more.

I got married and had kids.  The world of motherhood and wifehood was one where I couldn’t deprive myself.  I couldn’t expect my husband and three young kids to have no food in the house now could I?  And I had never dealt with my food habits, so having that food around was way too much of a temptation for me.  I’d buy Oreos for my kids and then say I forgot to buy them (even though I ate them while watching tv the night before). I settled into my miserable fate of being overweight. The scales topped 300 and I felt miserable.

I was officially out of diet ideas. I had no willpower to stay with anything long term.  I cried in my doctor’s office requesting weight loss surgery. I couldn’t beat the diet game so I needed someone to come in and save me. I strongly considered the surgery. I did all the research on it. I knew it was my only option. I was convinced that a busy Mom could not diet and find health.

I lived like this for 10 years. 10 years of decreasing health, increasing embarrassment about my weight.  10 years of watching that scale go up and up and up.  10 years of giving into my food habits instead of changing them.

And then July of 2016 hit. I hit rock bottom and officially had enough.  I knew I had to change, and since I didn’t know how on earth to do that, I started to research, yet again.  I found the documentary Fed Up! and literally watched it with my mouth wide open, thinking the intelligent narrator was telling my story.  It was a story of people just like me, that ate low calorie, low fat and couldn’t lose weight.  It exposed that what the diet industry was telling us all about diets were wrong all these years.

I then discovered that the problem for the past 30 years had nothing to do with me, it had to do with diets. They don’t work. They are created by an industry that if they do work, will lose money.  So why on earth would they want them to work?

I got to work and the rest as they say is history. I have lost 125 pounds not from dieting, but from creating a new lifestyle. I refuse to live in a bubble and I have a rule that I won’t make any changes in my life that I am not willing to do for the rest of my life.

So for example, I know that I can’t commit to no Fast food.  My life simply is not built that way. So, I had to learn how to eat fast food without hurting my success. Skip the bun and ketchup and eat a burger on a salad. Easy! I cannot exist in a world without pizza, so I learned to only indulge every now and then and switch to thin crust when I can.

Now, true, with this lifestyle there is a certain level of deprivation. I mean after all, I am low carb, low sugar. So, I am “depriving” myself of those things. However, I don’t deprive myself like you think.  I make substitutions that I can live with long term, that I like, that taste good to me. If I can’t find a solution, such as bread (because I hate low carb bread), I just live with regular bread and eat it just every now and then. I make modifications, not deprivations.

I eat real food. I allow myself indulgences here and there. I found a love of exercise. I created a new life.

And because of this I broke through 30 years of dieting failures and found my success.

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So if you spent this long blog post nodding along with me at the roller coaster of my dieting life, remember that you are failing at your diets not because of you…but because you simply cannot succeed at them.  Stop dieting and start analyzing your life to see where you can make small changes, instead of huge deprivations that will make you miserable. Get out and move, every day, even if you don’t really even know how to exercise.

Start embracing life and the reality of YOUR life.  You have to be the one that creates your lifestyle, you have to choose the rules.  No one else can do that for you.  There are no quick fixes, but everyday you make a change you are one step closer. Stop hiding from the foods you love.  If you can’t live without chocolate cake, eat chocolate cake, but just maybe change it to smaller quantities or research ways you can make the cake low sugar. Stop eating food you hate, and start eating food you LOVE.

So, I want you to right now make a promise to yourself like I did. STOP DIETING. That part of your life is over. Accept that you are a diet failure, and create a realistic livable lifestyle that you can actually “live with”.  No more cardboard pizza diets, no more miracle pills, no more living in a bubble.

If we do this, we will find the success we so desperately crave!

R.C.

 

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4 thoughts on “Why I failed at diets…and you will too

  1. So proud of you Mandi. I know exactly what it was like growing up always being overweight. I think I’ve tried all the diets too. I started again July 1 and have only set small goals for myself so far 15 lbs. when I want to have something I could do without or could substitute with something else I look at your picture and story and beam with pride that you are my goddaughter and such such an inspiration. Keep it up. You are amazing!!!!

    Like

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