I have a tiny problem with authority (with a nod to Anne Lamott). I don’t like anyone telling me what to do — even diets. If I go on a diet that says I am not allowed to eat certain foods, I am soon obsessed by the desire to eat that forbidden food. I start telling myself — and believing — that I deserve to have it, in fact I deserve to have whatever I want. And I have lost 30 lbs. in 2 years by doing just that — eating whatever I want.
“Two years?” you say? Yes, this is not a miracle diet. I lost 30 lbs. very slowly, and I have kept them off. Also, I am not thin. If you saw me you would be unimpressed by my (not) svelte body. This is a way of eating that has worked for me, and I plan to eat this way the rest of my life.
It started with Geneen Roth, specifically the book Women, Food, and God, which I read years ago. Roth’s writing made a lot of sense, and her words and ideas influenced my own change in behavior, which happened many years later. I think of that change as my “You can have anything you want…do you still want it” method.
Like many, I have tried a lot of diets over the years. I was most “successful” with Weight Watchers — I didn’t feel hungry and I lost weight. But I never lasted more than 3 weeks on any diet, even Weight Watchers. I would say it was too hard to maintain because I had to make different food for me vs. my family. But there were many other reasons: I couldn’t keep up with planning ahead, I didn’t feel like going to meetings, I got tired of thinking about what I should and should not eat all the time, I did not want to deny myself food that made me happy.
In a kind of desperation I once tried Jenny Craig. I paid for the entire package — had the food delivered to me. No double workload. No decisions. I did lose weight. But as soon as I switched to “maintenance,” it all came back — with a vengeance. It seemed like that “returned” weight was harder to lose than any other.
Then the diagnosis: Type 2 diabetes. I had had gestational diabetes so I knew I was more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes. But, to be honest, I thought I wasn’t eating that badly, I wasn’t so overweight, and if it did happen it would be when I was old. I was 59 when I got the diagnosis. I suppose I thought that was old back when I was having babies in my 20’s and 30's.
Anyway, I realized diabetes was not something to ignore. I needed to do something to get that A1c number down (a test that shows your sugar level over the last 2–3 months). Diabetes could kill me, and I want to be around for a while yet. Diabetes could make me lose my sight, or even a limb. Yuck. No!
To be honest again, I was ashamed. I did not want to tell anyone I had Type 2 diabetes. It took me a while to admit it even to my husband and kids. Why the shame? I am not sure. It felt like failure somehow. It felt like I had failed. It felt like people would think I was a weak person who could not control herself. When I did tell people, some of them expressed shock. I could take that as a positive — I must not look to them like someone who overate and was overweight. But instead their shock made me feel like I was being judged deficient in some way. I am not really sure what causes this feeling of shame. I still fight it.
But what would I do now that I had this diagnosis? I hated dieting, and had never been able to stick to a diet. As often as I heard that you have to change the way you’ll eat for all your life, not only while you’re dieting, I could not imagine I could change for a lifetime. Each time I went on a diet, I thought it would get me to a better weight, and from then on I would stay at that weight by being careful. The change in eating would be temporary, only while I was on the diet. Problem was, I never got to that better weight. And, of course, I’m sure if I had, I would not have stayed there.
What to do? I had to face it: I needed to change the way I ate forever. But I could not imagine being able to give up potato chips forever, give up chocolate forever, give up ice cream forever, give up bread forever, give up french fries forever. I could not even imagine being strict with myself and forever eating less of all the food I loved. To make a lifelong change, I needed to be able to lose weight but still eat whatever I wanted. Anytime I asked myself if I could eat something I wanted, I needed to say yes.
But of course I couldn’t eat as much of those foods as I had been. That’s tricky. Geneen Roth wrote to take notice of what you are eating, pay attention to everything about it — the chocolate cake with all its moist, rich layers, the frosting that was just the right sweetness and smoothness, the great way it looked on the plate, the beauty of its chocolate brown color, the incredible delicious scent, and so on and so on. That sounded like a good thing to try — take notice, pay attention.
I also read that, in reality, after the first few bites you stop truly tasting whatever you are eating, even super delicious things. I took note and discovered that was true. After several potato chips, they no longer have that potato flavor goodness that was so delightful in the first few bites. I still like their texture. I still like the saltiness. That lasts a bit longer. But if I really pay attention and I am honest with myself, after several bites those chips don’t taste as delicious any more.
I was diagnosed right around the holidays. Where I work, our kitchen area becomes laden with goodies during the holidays. Vendors and sales reps shower us with gifts. Food, food, food. Sweet, salty, crunchy, melty, silky treats. Chocolate, nuts, chips, crackers, cheese, cookies, cakes, candy. Mm-mm-mm. I would walk past the counter and ask myself, “Do you want that, Mavis?” And if I said, “Yes,” I would pick up a piece and take a bite. Then as I continued to take bites, I would ask myself, “Do you still want it? Does it still taste delicious?” (When I told this to a friend she said, “So if I want to lose weight I need to talk to myself, right?” Well, yes.)
I gave myself permission to waste food. That was part of it. I decided not to have a guilty conscience about putting perfectly good, even super delicious food into the garbage. It was O.K.. Besides asking myself whether I wanted it, whether I still wanted it, whether it was still delicious, I had a mantra repeating itself in my mind. In fact, I still do: “You can have whatever you want. You can have whatever you want. You can have whatever you want.” All day long.
I did also cut back on sugar as much as possible. I don’t put sugar in my coffee anymore — I use Stevia. And I take notice of how much bread or other carbohydrates I’m eating. I never tell myself I cannot have them, though, if I want them. I use the same method with myself, telling myself I can have whatever I want, asking myself if I still want the next bite, trying to answer myself truthfully, and stopping when I actually don’t want more, or it really doesn’t taste great anymore.
A couple other things: I pay attention to how many carbs I’m eating. I never deny myself, but when my weight is creeping up to that target number, I look for more options, usually at lunch, with no or very few carbs. Also, I like to read or watch TV while I eat, which can easily result in mindless eating. Some experts say just don’t watch TV or read while you eat. No, that’s boring. So I try to pause, look up, think a second with each bite, and notice what I’m eating — while continuing to watch TV or read.
One last trick: If I really want something but there’s a lot of it, I eat part now and eat the rest later. When I had gestational diabetes, the medical experts told me you want to keep your blood sugar from spiking, keep things level, small meals and snacks throughout the day. Using that logic, if, for example, I get a big bagel with topping for breakfast, I save half and have the rest at coffee time a little later in the morning.
I weigh myself every morning. I’ve been at around the same weight now for months and months. Many experts frown upon weighing yourself every day, and I realize that it could be unhelpful for some people. But so far, it doesn’t seem to make me unhappy or dissatisfied. I’ve given myself (for now) a weight that I don’t want to be higher than. As long as I don’t go past that, I feel like I’m good. And if I do seem to be getting close to going over that number, it reminds me to pay better attention.
How is this working for me, you wonder? Well, I have gotten that A1c number down but it’s still not in what’s called the “normal” range. I still officially have diabetes. My doctor has increased the dosage of the medicine I take. I hope that, along with maintaining this weight, or even losing more, the A1c number will get into the normal range. I also need to figure out how to do more exercise — even just walking more. But, the fact is, I lost 30 pounds. It took over 2 years, but it has stayed gone. I still look at myself in the mirror and am not completely satisfied, but I feel more content with how I look and feel.
What Jessica Knoll wrote in her article, “Smash the Wellness Industry,” rings true for me:
Most days, I feel good in my skin. That said, I am probably never going to love my body, and that’s O.K.. I think loving our bodies is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also a limiting one. No one is telling men that they need to love their bodies to live full and meaningful lives. We don’t need to love our bodies to respect them.
In regard to food, I feel freer, and therefore happier. No food is bad. I don’t have to feel guilty that I ate something “bad,” something that would make me fat, or “go straight to my hips,” or make my already pot-belly bigger. I can go ahead and love whatever food I love. The food I love is good. Plus, I can have whatever I want! How great is that?! I am nicer to myself, and I like having that nice me as a friend. Yes, I know that sounds weird. Do I have split personality or what? There’s me and there’s me. But, it works. For me. And me.
Everyone is different. Many factors affect each individual’s health, what motivates one person as opposed to another. What works for me may not work for you. I get that. I am NO expert! Talk to your doctor.
I tell people about this method because I want others to feel happier. I want them to have their own nice selves as friends. It makes me sad when I watch people I love going on diets that deprive them of things they would like to have, and when they talk about certain foods as bad. I can see they are unhappy with the way they look, so much so that it messes with their self-confidence. It makes them unable to do what they are meant to do, what they love to do, to fulfill the desires of their heart that God wants them to fulfill. I hope and pray that what I have written here helps in some way to make it so someone can have a better, richer, more joyful life.