Ever since I can remember, I have had a love-hate relationship with my body. As a young child, I didn’t know much about nutrition, so I went straight for the packaged foods. My diet consisted of mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, chocolate chip bagels, fluffernutter sandwiches; you name it. Heck, I would never eat vegetables unless they were doused in ranch or baked in something sweet. Carrot cake and zucchini bread count as a serving of vegetables right?
Despite this unhealthy diet, I was a competitive swimmer. I had to fuel my body, but it never occurred to me that I was either eating too much, or too unhealthy. My mom would comfort me and tell me that I needed the extra pounds on me so I could grow. While that logic was somewhat true, I was not at a healthy weight. Transitioning into high school, changes were upon me. I started to eat healthier because I realized the negative effects my eating habits had on my body. I became conscious of my food choices one night after my sister and I discovered PETA videos; we couldn’t stop watching. After we exhausted those, we transitioned to documentaries, such as Forks Over Knives and Vegucated. I was so disgusted with the meat industry that I decided to become a vegetarian.
I didn’t only change my diet for animal rights, I was in it mostly for the health benefits. This diet along with running five miles almost everyday of the week was shedding the pounds off of me pretty quickly. I was starting to feel much more energetic, and was starting to feel more comfortable in my own body. I thought this vegetarian thing was working so well for me, so I decided I may as well become vegan—and so I did.
In the process of losing the excess weight, I reached the healthy weight for my body; but I was not satisfied, I wanted to lose more. As months went on, dieting became a game, and I was winning. Not only was I on a vegan diet, I was also restricting what I was eating and working off most of what I had eaten that day. I reached the point where my fatigue was so overwhelming that I was too weak to exercise. But all of this didn’t matter because dieting is good for us, right? With this in mind, my eating disorder began.
I dieted past the point of a ‘healthy weight’. My body was being starved and I did not like what I had become. It was an odd phenomenon; I was losing weight to become healthy, but I ended up reaching the opposite extreme. My family and friends became concerned. It was extremely difficult to hear from my doctor and the ones who love me that I had to start eating more. I denied it, because I was on a vegan diet; doing justice for my body and the planet. One day, after months of eating restrictions, I stood in front of the mirror and realized what I had done to my body.
My friends and family were right; I needed to start treating my body with respect so I could become healthier, feel strong enough to workout, but most importantly I needed to feel good in my own skin.
A couple of months passed by and I began to gain some of the weight back that my body was craving for. Eventually I was able to work out again…I discovered my love for hot yoga and joined the rowing team at my school. But as a vegan, my body simply could not handle the amount of beans and legumes I was eating, and I came to believe that I was gluten-intolerant.
I took this as an opportunity to eat gluten-free, taking on yet another diet… But even on a gluten-free diet, my stomach troubles persisted, and I wasn’t really sure what was causing them. I decided to expand my diet by including fish to help with energy and see if that alleviated some my stomach issues. I was starting to feel more lively, more energetic, and more like my old self but I still found myself telling people I “couldn’t” eat things, they could never keep track of which diet I was on. These restrictions kept me from eating certain foods, and while it felt good to not eat “bad” foods such as meat, dairy, and most desserts, my body still wasn’t feeling 100%.
I flirted with diets to the point of becoming a gluten-free lacto-ovo pescatarian *takes a breath*, later I decided to add meat to my diet and eat paleo (a variant of the low-carb diet). I even tried out crossfit. Throughout my four years of high school, my weight fluctuated so much because of the constant alteration in my diet. I thought that dieting, as told to us in the media, was good for me. I was not helping my body; I was hurting my body, and was blinded to the detrimental effects dieting had on me until it was almost too late.
Finally, as a senior in high school, I decided to give up all my restrictions and eat whatever I was craving. Years of being vegetarian and vegan caused my taste buds to crave vegetables like never before. But I also treated myself to “bad” foods occasionally. Since I have been in college, I have fully begun to learn how to love my body and how to not restrict what I can or cannot eat. Even without dieting I didn’t gain the freshman 15. I learned the importance of balance— eating your salad, but enjoying your cake too. In addition, I was able to keep working out. It was the biggest stress reliever in a new environment with a more demanding course load than high school.
Without a diet, I can happily say I am free of my eating disorder… I still gorge late at night, take that third serving, and eat cake , but I am the most content I’ve ever been in my body.
For all of you out there who are currently on a diet, life is only so long. Treat your body like a temple, and remind yourself to treat yourself from time to time. Dieting puts your body in deprived states where your weight fluctuates, when a balanced food intake can maintain a healthy weight.
Let’s start listening to our bodies and break up with diets, and instead, promote healthy relationships with food again. Since opening up my palate, I’ve been able to enjoy some food experiences I’ve never had before— A kosher brownie from Douglass (before they got rid of them), a pancake the size of my face from Steve’s Diner, a sleazy s’mores cookie, my first ribs from Dinosaur Barbeque, and so much more.
With all of these diets I’ve experimented with, I’ve come to realize that I need to be realistic in what my body needs. Health is not dieting; it’s not restricting, it comes with balance, and having a good relationship with food. Without dieting, I am the strongest I’ve ever been, healthier than I ever felt, and couldn’t be happier.
1. Eat fruit and vegetables at every meal.
2. Make the gym a regular habit and walk whenever you can.
3. Keep away from processed foods, but treat yourself to them from time to time. It’ll rid yourself of cravings, and won’t make you go crazy.
4. Don’t be afraid to eat a lot of natural nut butters and oils such as olive or coconut. Fats do wonders to your body, as they fill you up and keep you trim.
5. Snack throughout the day to keep your metabolism going. Never go more than four hours without eating – It’ll shrink your stomach and you’ll end up overeating at the next meal.
6. Eat chocolate every morning. What better way to start the day?
7. Instead of labeling certain foods as “bad” or feeling guilt over them, treat them as experiences. Remember you only live once.