I'm Done With Diets, But Are Diets Done With Me?

SPOILER ALERT: Not quite yet.
Publish date:
July 10, 2012
weight loss, diets, body image, math


I know how many Weight Watchers points I consumed yesterday. I geniunely don't want to know this information, but I can't scrub it from my brain. These numbers rise to my consciousness unbidden -- the calculator keeps clicking and whirring without my participation.

I'm having trouble with labels, too. I pick up a packaged food and watch as my hand flips to the calorie information in horror movie slow-motion.

They say that women aren't good at math, but so many of us are consumed in the constant calculations of appetite -- calories in and out, points, carbohydrate grams, fat grams, sugar grams, what the fuck is a gram even? Anorexia, bulimia, and yes, even diets can be an escape from it all -- just look at this piece of paper and it will tell you what to eat and you will not get fat. What a relief.

My non-diet is another way to opt out of the mental calculus of food, but without the presumed gaurantee that I will lose weight as a result. It's SCARY.

When dieting, I tend to starve most of the day and eat a sensible dinner -- I'll have two meals, or only one, and be noticeably hungry most of the time. Now, feeding my hunger, I eat 3, even 4 times a day, and my body so far craves protein and fat -- cheese, meat, whole eggs, peanut butter. Yesterday, it was very serious about chickpeas. I never sit and starve, never accompany the click-clacking of my computer keys with a hollow, rumbling stomach.

These regular meals, comprised of whatever I feel like eating, feel very dangerous to me.They feel like gluttony, like greed, like giving in. The fear finally led me to cave and enter a day's worth of intuitive eating into a calorie-calulating program, just to be "safe." I squinted my eyes to blur the day's menu as a I entered it -- eggs and sausage for breakfast; a salad with avocado, chickpeas and olive oil dressing for lunch, a hamburger with bacon and a fried egg for dinner, a coconut macaroon somewhere in there -- terrified to see the total.

It tallied up around 1600 calories.

Cunning, baffling and powerful, my dieter's brain seized this information and began its insidious wiggling work, to turn my non-diet into a capital-D Diet. I could easily transform my eating plan into rules, to begin beating myself up when I eat from psychological hunger or don't stop at the exact right bite.

As it is, I let the numbers in a little and soon I couldn't stop thinking about the worst math of all, the scale.

My friend Melissa Petro once told me that the best thing she ever did for her mental health was stop weighing herself, something that seems to me simultaneously logical and incomprehensible. I can't bring myself to get rid of my scale yet -- I feel untethered just considering it, picturing myself blowing up bigger and bigger until I float away like a balloon.

Once it was in my head, I couldn't stop. It felt like I pulled the scale out from under my bed without my consent, stepped on in a trance, watched the numbers flicker for several suspended moments.

I've lost 4 pounds.

A dangerous thing to know, if you are trying to resist the dieter inside. For so long I've been looking to my scale for answers to so much more than the question of how much I weigh. How shall I proceed with my day? Am I good or bad? Should I stand tall or shrink inside myself willing others to look away?

Don't look at me is the primary pronouncement of my body shame, followed by just give me a few days, a week, a month. I calculate into the future, projecting how much I can lose if I lose in various increments, how quickly I can be acceptable, worthy of being seen.

I don't want to live in the numbers anymore.

I am happy that I have lost weight, I can't lie about that. I am hopeful that my natural weight turns out to be lower than my current one, because I have a closet full of adorable dresses I can't zip up. But in order to find happiness and wholeness, I have to accept my body's ultimate wisdom, whatever it may be. I have to trust that my body has been trying to tell me something by bingeing out of diets again and again. It is saying, "This does not work for us."

It's funny how long we keep trying to make the unworkable work. It was the same with my drinking. I wasn't trying to drink alcoholically all those years. I was trying to drink normally, and failing.

I was going in from the same angle again and again trying to make it work right this time. I was trying to have a few drinks, get home at a reasonable hour, stop before blacking out. I was performing the definition of insanity, performing the same futile actions on loop and expecting different results. NEWSFLASH: Shit wasn't working.

Quitting drinking, and now quitting dieting, feel like calmly opening a door after years of fruitlessly pounding. Turns out I'd never thought to try the doorknob.

Tell @msemilymccombs how to destroy her scale on Twitter and Facebook.