What Happens When You Stop Dieting?

In typical Emma fashion, I began writing this post in the Squarespace blogpost text box rather than a Google Doc or Microsoft Word file, and after a failed save, lost forty minutes worth of writing. So, here’s what I could recall of what I’d written:

A delicious dinner with bea. #noregrets

A delicious dinner with bea. #noregrets

There’s this general belief in diet culture that once a person stops dieting they’ll lose control of their eating habits and fall into a death spiral of KFC, cheesecake, and loaves upon loeaves of bread. That we’re either good girls and boys on our diets, or we’re sinners gorging on cookie dough ice cream and McDonald’s French fries. 

A phrase I’ve heard often is “I can’t trust myself around X” or “I have no portion control” and so the only solution is to restrict, restrict, restrict. 

And yes, if you’re someone who’s spent months or years restricting certain food groups or cutting your calories, there generally is a feasting phase once you stop restricting, but this binging phase doesn’t have to last forever. There is a middle ground. 

There is a reality where we can eat the food we want to eat, where we can eat until we are satisfied, without counting calories or cutting out entire food groups for non-medical reasons. It’s called eating like a “normal” person, or intuitive eating.

But there’s one big thing a person has to be willing to do to get there. In my opinion, it’s the hardest part of embracing intuitive eating and letting go of diet culture.

We have to accept the fact that we might gain weight. 

I made this myself with Hello Fresh and it was delicious.

I made this myself with Hello Fresh and it was delicious.

There are some people who, once they give up dieting, gain weight. There are some people who lose weight. Some might gain then lose or stay relatively the same. Whatever the outcome, a person has to be willing to accept it.

This is hard because we’ve been taught our whole life that if you are assigned female at birth, it is your job to be small and thin or curvy by socially exceptional proportions, and that if you are a male you should be beefy or slim and athletic. 

We exist in a world where our size can determine or affect our social standing, our ability to make money, our lifespan, our perceived value as human beings. 

So the idea of gaining weight, to some, is unsurprisingly not easy to accept. Or even an option. 

But if the payout is better mental health and the ability to live your life more fully…isn’t that worth it? 

Short answer: Yes. BUT, it can be hard to let go of the you you were when you were in high school, or the you you were two years ago when you were on that diet for two months and you were hungry but damn you looked trim, or the perfect you that has only ever existed in your own mind’s eye, an alluring, unattainable siren song. 

It can be hard because the world is not kind to people living in larger bodies. The word is in fact, pretty fucking shitty to people living in larger bodies. The world wants them to feel shame, wants them to believe they are less then, wants them to keep working until they’ve fixed what’s “wrong” with them, and the world wants to feel morally superior while pretending to be concerned about health, when deep down, it’s always been about aesthetics. 

I haven’t dieted since October 2018, and now I’m at my heaviest weight since high school.

I’m at my heaviest weight since high school, but after having read books like Body Respect by Linda Bacon, Hunger by Roxane Gay, and Landwhale by Jes Baker, I have never felt more aware of my thin privilege.

Thin privilege is my ability to walk through the world without people treating me poorly because of weight stigma and fat phobia. Thin privilege is being able to find clothes that fit me in any store I visit. Thin privilege is being able to fly in an airplane, ride a roller coaster, or go out to eat with friends without worrying whether there will be seating I can safely and comfortably use. 

Thin privilege does not mean that a person feels good or attractive in their body, nor does it mean they don’t suffer from crippling self-doubt and unrealistic expectations. Thin privilege does not protect someone from developing an eating disorder or disordered eating. 

Thin privilege is not about how we feel about ourselves, but how others feel about and treat us based on the fact that we appear thin or fit. It’s about the world being made to accommodate our bodies and accept those bodies as the norm, or the ideal.

Thin privilege is not having someone assume you are lazy and stupid because of the way you look, but rather maybe assuming that your appearance must reflect a good work ethic and good head on your shoulders, even if you just have a naturally high metabolism or your body is the result of years of disordered eating and internal struggle. 

I may have a tummy pooch and cellulite but I still look gorgeous in this picture by Khalif Photography.

I may have a tummy pooch and cellulite but I still look gorgeous in this picture by Khalif Photography.

I do not feel like a thin person. I look at pictures of myself from last year and sigh wistfully and wish that I could go back to feeling like that girl. That girl who bought new, cute athletic wear and had an impromptu photoshoot in the back yard. That girl who felt sexy and unstoppable on her weight-loss high. That girl who ate very little for a month and then for some reason was very hungry the next month, and the month after. 

But I do feel the difference, mentally. The difference between being obsessed with food all the time and having the mental space for more important issues. The difference of being able to enjoy a meal with my boyfriend or friends without the guilt or need to exercise extra hard the next day. For so long, I was the friend who showed up for dinner and my hosts would say, “Are you eating gluten? Are you eating dairy? What can you have?” and now I can just smile and say, “I’ll eat anything.” No more pressure to accommodate my stupid diet. 

I’ve also seen drastic improvement in my immune system. It could be that my body has just now begun to develop a resistance to all those germs I’m exposed to when I teach my kiddos, but since giving up dieting I have only been sick once–maybe twice (knock on wood), whereas while dieting I would catch a cold every other month or so. 

I’ve also discovered that eating only complex carbs like brown rice and whole grains does not sit well with my gut bacteria, and since incorporating more simple carbs into my diet again (white rice, some pasta) and the occasional Beano, my body is 10x happier. No more bloat, to more embarrassment.

It’s not easy. I still think about going back on diets. And to be completely honest, even knowing what I know now, maybe I will.

But I don’t want to. Because how can you say, “Yes, every body is beautiful!” to your friends while telling yourself, “I need to lose weight to be better.” 

You can’t. Not if you really believe what you’re saying. As Dr. Jeffrey Hunger says on Christy Harrison’s podcast, Food Psych, “you can’t be anti-stigma in one breath and advocate for weight loss in another.”

And that’s all I remember from my original post.

Here, go look at some body positivity artwork. You’ll be glad you did.