Dieting is the greatest drug I have ever been on. Chasing the high of weight loss gave me euphoric feelings of relief and control that nothing else offered. Quitting it was harder than ending my years-long addiction to cigarettes. It was my life’s one true addiction.
Gabor Mate, the world-renowned Canadian physician and addiction expert says:
“An addiction is…any behavior that a person craves, finds temporary relief or pleasure in but suffers negative consequences as a result of, and yet has difficulty giving up.”
That was me during my dieting days, to a T.
Every time I started a new eating plan, I felt an intense relief from anxiety. I relished sitting down with my computer and a notebook (and in the later years, an app) and plotting out my latest course of food restriction. I’d write out the rules, create my meal plans, craft my corresponding grocery lists. That feeling of embarking on a life-changing adventure was always both calming and exciting. Above all, I loved the sense of safety and control that it gave me.
At first, I’d do brilliantly on the diet. The pounds would come off and I would get so many compliments. Because my thing was orthorexia (the eating disorder that is an unhealthy obsession with health), the major bonus was that I got to feel superior to other people who weren’t “looking after their health” (LOLLLL) the way I was. Damn, how much I loved to look at people eating their [dangerous food du jour] and just feel sorry for them that they weren’t as morally superior as I was (hahahahahhahaaaaa).
I loved the illusion that I could control what other people thought of me by manipulating the size of my body. I loved the idea that I could trick people into thinking, “wow, this girl’s got her shit together,” when in reality I was dying inside while looking for something gluten-free on the menu in a restaurant. (This was in, like, 2002, when GF was barely a twinkle in some marketer’s eye).
Eventually, following the diet would get harder and harder. My body, determined to keep me alive, would always do precisely what it was designed to do in a famine situation: initiate hormone sequences, hunger cues and cravings; stop me from sleeping; make me lightheaded and unproductive; get me obsessing about food all day long—anything and everything to get me to eat. So I would internally scream at people and situations that made it hard to maintain the diet. And I would be so infuriated with myself: why wasn’t this effortless? After all, wasn’t all this dieting supposed to lead to a feeling of effortlessness in the world?
Of course, no one really knew about what hell I was in because it had the appearance of being virtuous and healthy. I was a model citizen: eating “right” and working out in accordance with the standards of capitalist patriarchy, i.e. obsessively. This was acceptable because I wasn’t anywhere near being dangerously emaciated; even when I was thin, I was still thick. Even my therapist, who I had been seeing once a week for years at the height of my food obsession, never saw that I had a problem.
The screaming in my mind and my body would eventually get so loud I would break. The comedown would be just as intense as the original high. I’d eat the forbidden foods. Cue the guilt and self-loathing and wild anxiety. And inevitably, at a certain point, the cycle would start again.
This is what I mean when I say that breaking free from the diet-binge cycle has been the single biggest transformation of my life—bigger, even, than becoming a parent.
It’s why I decided to put out my shingle as a diet recovery coach: to help people recover from their addiction to dieting, too.
If you are ready to kick the diet habit, let’s talk, darling.