One of my favorite excerpts from the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole:
For many people, dieting is a way to cope with life, from filling up time, to serving as a symbol of control over your life. Think of the times in your life in which you started a diet. How often did your diets coincide with difficult times or transitions in your life? It’s nor unusual to begin a diet during the following life transitions: passing from childhood to adolescence, leaving home, marrying, starting a new job, or when experiencing marital difficulties. While dieting may have been futile, it offered excitement and hope — the exhilaration of quick weight loss and the excitement of watching the scale inch downward. The hope– that this diet will be it. It’s similar to going to a hairstylist for a new cut, with the expectation that it will revolutionize the way you look and feel about yourself and maybe change your life. But when you say goodbye to the thrill and excitement of dieting, you’ll also be letting go of the false hope and disappointments from dieting.
This really resonated with me for several reasons. One, I can pinpoint multiple times in my life where I was going through a time of transition and start counting calories, eating “clean” and doing exercise I didn’t really enjoy. Two, I totally got her reference about going to the hairstylist for a new cut. Of course– cutting four inches of hair off, dyeing it blonde will change your life for the better! I’ve gone through countless hair-dyeing episodes. If I felt frustrated with life, I’d just go to the salon and “try something new”. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going to the salon and getting a fresh look, but when you expect it to change your life, that’s where its irrational!
Thinking about times in my life when I’ve dieted, when I was in a state of transition. There was quite a few…
- My freshman year of college, I was a vegetarian. I was tracking my calories in an app while going through the hardest transition — moving out of my parents house. Trying to find some kind of control over my life in a time of uncertainty.
- During my dietetic internship– a time of stress and anxiety. Struggled with panic attacks throughout my internship.
- While I was starting my first job, working in a hospital. I had a big anxiety about sick — dieted so I wouldn’t have heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
- While I was moving in with my boyfriend, living with a guy for the first time. stress to look the same throughout my early twenties
- Getting engaged and dieting for the wedding
That’s over five times in my adult life that I’ve started some form of diet/clean eating streak/exercise streak. I’ve dieted myself to a heavier weight than what I started with. If I had never dieted in the first place, I would likely be somewhere near my start weight. But I can’t think about it that way.
What I can tell myself is that I’ve learned from the past. That’s the only thing we can do with the past– learn from it, appreciate it for what it was, and move on. If we ruminate on it, we’re just making the situation worse. My journey with intuitive eating has been taking some time, and some days I don’t feel totally there yet, which is okay. I’ve spent the better part of ten years worrying about my weight and that’s a hard habit to crack.
Life transitions, whether happy or sad, are tough. Change can be very hard. We are surrounded by messages that we’re supposed to improve ourselves with each transition– lose the freshmen fifteen, stay looking like we’re 20 years old forever, look our absolute best for our wedding, lose the baby weight, etc. It’s totally unrealistic for society to tell us we’re supposed to look the same and look our best throughout each life transition. Our bodies are meant to change and evolve throughout our lives.
Instead of running to dieting during your next life transition, let’s brainstorm some things you can do instead to stay in the moment! If you have ideas for these life transitions, leave it in the comments.
- College/moving away from home: Focus on friendships. The friends you make in college can be some of your closest friends throughout life. Instead of worrying about gaining the “freshmen fifteen”, focus on relationships and doing well in your classes.
- First job/new job: Starting a new job can feel like a life refresh, and even if you like or don’t like the new job, it can lead to wanting to diet and “reset”. Again, focus on relationships. This is going to be a common theme here. Make friends with your coworkers and focus on doing a good job.
- Engagement/preparing for a wedding: One thing I regret during my engagement is focusing so much on how I was going to look on my wedding day. Looking back, I feel it was a little self-centered. But getting swept up into the bridal world is so easy! Focus on your soon-to-be-husband. Go on more dates. Explore new places. Talk about important life stuff. Put your energy into planning your honeymoon.
- Having a baby: This is one area I haven’t had any experience in (yet!) but hope to one day. Life with a newborn baby is so hectic, new moms don’t need to be worrying about “bouncing back” to their old body. Women’s bodies change so much during pregnancy, and our bodies are going to look different afterwards than they did before. That’s not a bad thing. Our bodies are meant to be fluid and ever-changing. It’s society that tells us that our bodies need to look the same our whole lives. Focus on your newborn baby and building that mother-infant relationship, and also on your relationship with your partner.
Being gentle to yourself is the whole idea here. Just because you’re entering a new phase of life does not mean you need to go jump on the latest diet!
What are some life transitions where you’ve felt the urge to diet or change your image?
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!