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How I finally learned that diets don’t work

Posted in health, and personal

Entering recovery from BED

Eventually, I got lucky. I happened across a poster on a telephone pole advertising for a peer-led support group for people suffering from eating disorders, and BED was one of the disorders listed on the poster. I joined a weekly peer-led support and discussion group facilitated by two women in long-term recovery from their own eating disorders. My family doctor referred me to a local hypnotherapist, which led me to have 22 sessions which trained me how to self-soothe without food in times of stress. Slowly, and with the unceasing support of my family, my close friends and these connections, I finally started to develop the self-confidence I needed to be able to get through the day without turning to food for comfort.

Recovery from an eating disorder is said to take an average of seven years, and it frequently involves a lot of lapses and relapses back into your disordered eating behaviours. I cannot conclusively say that I am in full recovery right now, but I can certainly say that I am better situated than I once was with respect to my behaviours. Where I once sincerely believed that I was utterly incapable of getting through a single day without overeating, I no longer think of this as an absolute certainty. My morning and evening routines as a stay-at-home dad to three kids can still take their toll on my nerves each day, but I no longer feel the constant siren song of the fridge or cupboard every time something doesn’t go the way I wish it would have. I celebrate these as significant bits of personal progress when compared with the way I used to behave.

It’s easy for me to remember when I felt like the best part of my day was when I could be alone and eat. It feels sad to admit it now, but eating, overeating and binge-eating were the only tools I had to calm down and relax at the time. I had also been marinating myself in shame from these habits, which had once again gotten me back to my previous weight. By my own back-of-the-napkin calculations, I had gained and lost over 850 pounds since the age of 10. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to see that this isn’t normal (even though it’s quite a common history amongst the overweight and obese people I know).

Today, I happily accept that I’ve given up on the dream of losing weight for its own sake. I no longer believe in the notion that I can diet my way to a “healthy” weight and maintain that weight loss permanently by willpower alone. I can recognize that when I’m not in a stable or positive state emotionally, then I may feel powerless over my urge to overeat. But I also now recognize that I am not truly powerless over that urge. I now know from experience that there are different things I can do other than eating to make myself feel better. In fact, most of those new things make me feel much better than eating ever did.

As a part of my recovery, I’ve also spent time reflecting on how and why I originally developed these disordered eating habits in the first place. I accept that I’ve come by these habits honestly, and I’ve started to forgive myself for feeling like I needed to abuse food in that way, for so long. As a result of my own research and therapy, I’ve also now digested the concept of “normalized” eating, which is based on your body’s own physical cues for hunger and fullness. My primary focus now is on practicing “normalized” eating as often as I can every day, without trying to harbour the explicit hope that this will one day lead me to a “normalized” body weight. I’ve failed at so many diets for so long, that I recognize how triggering they can be for me to start bingeing again.

Six months ago, I also began working with a personal fitness trainer. I’m happy to report that I sincerely love my new training regime, and I now voluntarily work out hard several times each week — and I actually enjoy it!

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