For the love of whatever you find holy, please do not force yourself to eat 2 pounds of kale a day. Don’t convince yourself that there’s something magical about confining your eating to a 6-hour window. Don’t talk yourself into thinking it’s rational to cut out all fat, all fruits, all dairy, all starchy carbohydrates and consider it a balanced diet.
These are decisions and rationalizations that are made from a place of desperation. I know it, and I’m sympathetic to your pain. I’m sorry that the world has convinced you that your value is only skin deep, and if you are not thin you are not loveable. I’m sorry you’ve been handed rules to a game and told there’s only one right way to play. I’m sorry that you’ve been taught that there’s only a narrowly acceptable way to be a woman, to be a man, to be enough.
Please hear me when I say that I am angry, but I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at the rare but oh-so-loud doctors who have abused their positions of authority and convinced you they are right because they are more educated. I’m angry at the outright liars who justify their sales pitches by calling out personal liberty over the public good. I’m angry at a society that has sent you a million messages that your self-worth is defined by the size of your waistline.
And yet, while my anger is pointed at those taking advantage of this manufactured need that is dominating your life, I do believe you have some responsibility. I don’t say this to invoke shame but to encourage personal agency and empowerment. Some wise part of yourself knows that these solutions aren’t. Some part of you says, this seems too good to be true and there’s no way I can stick with this long term.
Listen to that voice. But don’t stop there. Don’t say I can’t stick with this and it’s my own fault. Practice pointing the finger at those who have been taking advantage of you. Get mad. Get resolute. You’re not going to let them lead you down a path of failure again and again. You’re not going to be the hamster on the wheel, endlessly running and going nowhere.
Change is uncomfortable and what I’m about to suggest will be change. Fight the urge to fall back on self-blame and begin getting curious. If this isn’t the solution for you, what is? It might be letting go of society’s rules about body size and learning to live comfortably in the body you’re in. You can reprogram your beliefs and your thinking to see and accept yourself; you can learn to be neutral about your appearance. You might even redefine beauty in your own eyes.
But this isn’t an either/or, it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure. Another path open to you is finding the folks who use science to help rather than to harm. One of the deeply frustrating problems you are facing is you have been left alone to become your own expert. We have failed to help you see that some “expertise” is more valuable than others; some uses of science are more valid than others; some folks are more ethical than others.
You’ve been weeding through the diet bullshit trying to figure out who to trust for a long time. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re skeptical of everyone who says they have a solution. That skepticism is wise and appropriate.
Use the power behind that skepticism to push yourself away from folks who have sold you quick fixes and absolutes in the past. Instead, gravitate towards people who begin with “it depends,” and then ask for more context before they give advice. I know you want solutions right now. You feel desperately, urgently, that change must happen!
I say this all the love and compassion I can, that change needs to start with you. You need to recognize that what you’ve done before hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work this time, either. The problem wasn’t you, it was the extreme diet. The problem was you, it was your willingness to try anything, even if it seemed extreme, in order to change.
What is going to work faster in the long run? Sustainable changes that accumulate over time, month after month, year after year, or quick fixes that “work” in the short term but inevitably backfire? Which path will have you closer to your goals six months from now? A year? Two?
You don’t have to eat 2 pounds of kale for it to count; what would happen if you aimed to have a cup of vegetables at each meal?
You don’t have to confine your eating to only 6 hours of the day; what would change if you learned to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied?
You don’t have to exercise daily; how much stronger would you be if you found thirty minutes twice a week?
The slow way is the fast way. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.
Note: As I write this, I have been a member of Balance 365 for just over a year and a listener to Jen and Annie’s podcast for more years than that, and looking over this post, I realize how much of their language has permeated my thinking. I think that’s a good thing, and I want to give them credit. If you’re looking for another way, for a healthier, evidence-based approach to fat loss, body neutrality or reducing emotional eating, there isn’t another source I could recommend more.