I can't even begin to count how many times I chanted this, like some ritualistic mantra of the WW clan, over the past 6 years. I truly believed in it too - "It's not a diet, WW is a lifestyle." I am not restricted, I can eat whatever I want!
I found and followed Instagram influencers who were just like me - looking for a way to lose extra weight but not wanting to sacrifice taste, and enjoyment. I relied on these Weight Watcher pros for recipe hacks, ways to eat more veggies, and secrets to "tricking" my body into thinking it was having something decadent or indulgent all while sparing me a few precious points along the way.
I embraced this lifestyle. I am, afterall, a Type A. I love lists and challenges are best accomplished for me by sticking to the plan, checking off the boxes and moving on to the next step. I was losing weight for my upcoming wedding - my "why" as WW would call it - and I felt justified in doing so. I also felt uncomfortable in my body. I didn't like the extra weight, where it was at, or how I looked. I quickly met my "goal weight" just before the wedding and was so incredibly happy. The compliments, the photos, everything was great. I even achieved LIFETIME MEMBER status.
Over the next 5-ish years, I maintained my weight - and in the WW world, "maintenance" means weighing in at least 1x per month and being within +/- 2 lbs of said goal. If you went over, you paid a fee. For a short while, I even worked for the company, thinking the extra motivation to stay at a certain weight would be ideal.
Something happened though when I left running and started to find other areas of exercise that I enjoyed even more for the next chapter of my life. Weight lifting created a strong sense of being in me, but I saw the scale start to climb each month. I thought at first that perhaps I was seeing some "gains" as they like to say, but eventually, since I was still trying to do everything the "right" way, I would see the pounds shed. That didn't happen. Over a year in weightlifting and I became stronger and stronger, but the weight didn't shift. I tried to tell myself it was muscle, but the shame and guilt I felt as I would step on the scale didn't assuage the feelings.
After my weightlifting journey abruptly ended, I found a new, scary, exhilarating place to get my exercise - Wildstyle gym. A place where I get to sweat (cardio! burns calories!) and punch things. I get to learn a technique that apparently my body REALLY really likes, and I'm fairly good at it. I settled in for my journey, getting "back on track" once again with my WW game and just knowing this time I'd start to see the scale come down. It fluctuated periodically, but really, only when I tried hard to "stick to plan" and "not go over" points did I see it budge in the downward direction. I started to really restrict what I was eating again and "be good." Despite wanting things, I would purposefully not purchase them, or not enjoy a glass of wine when out with friends. Then, the binge would happen on weekends. I would work so damned hard all week, sometimes working out 5-7 times, and feel like I "deserved" to let go once in a while.
Like most of us in the world, Covid19 came along and put a halt to all of our well laid out plans. For me, it threatened my livelihood and the stress I felt as the world began to lock down was immeasurable. An almost-depression descended on me as I'm sure it did for many others. I decided, in early March, to stop tracking my WW plan. It was just that extra thing that I couldn't fathom anymore. So, I ate familiar recipes, and ordered our Hello Fresh boxes (thank goodness for that!) without worrying about tracking. I stuck to my virtual workouts because I wanted to keep my mind and my body strong during the quarantine and I knew that if I lapsed in the gym too, I'd likely have a hard time going back.
Do you know what the scale did? Almost exactly the same damn thing it did when I was working so hard on counting, cooking, substituting, etc. It fluctuated here and there, but primarily didn't go too far in either direction. So then I begged the question of myself "why am I working SO DAMN HARD" and "why am I not enjoying so many things that I probably could?"
I think the Universe sends us signals from time to time when we're ready to move on to our next step in the process of life. Sometimes it's a nudge, and others it's a shove. I started seeing people and quotes on my Instagram feed that spoke more positively of all body types. I started seeing "Food Freedom" and "Ditch Diet Culture" as a recurring theme. I started seeing women who look a lot like me - curvy, dimply, bumpy - showing up in bathing suits and looking....confident. I decided to explore this and click on some of their hashtags, and follow their stories. One night, while sitting by the firepit with a glass of wine, I came across a nutrition and body coach - and I reached out to her randomly. We connected and I learned that she helps women (and men) find peace in their bodies by giving up diet culture. Even on our first coaching call, I still defended WW - I mean, surely it was a good program, but it was ME who was the issue - I didn't want to put in the work anymore. Surely we can't all just eat what we want and be OK with that right? I mean, I lived and died by the WW program for 6 years - what would people THINK of me if I turned my back on it now? What would people SAY if I gained back the weight I lost?
It doesn't fucking matter. That's the simple answer - but it's really just the tip of the iceberg when there is so much living and growing beneath the surface of the water. While it may be a simple answer, it's not a simple way of thinking. Reading more and going through several coaching calls now, I am slowly realizing that we are programmed from the beginning into diet culture. Society has ingrained in us the desire to be thin - afterall, thinness means that you are more successful, more liked, and have an easier path in life (not just when it comes to clothes). Changing our minds to understand our bodies, to respect our bodies and to TRUST our bodies is almost taboo in this world that we live in. And diet culture knows it - so they start to slowly change their messaging - mindset, wellness, whole living. All of it is still DIET culture. All of it is still telling you that you're not doing enough by just doing what you know, what you want and what you desire.
So, here I sit, a recovering diet addict. I would consider myself one of the lucky ones in that my addiction to points, counting and work out deficits didn't end up as a serious eating disorder but many do. I have already had an eating disorder in my history, but that's for another blog post, and it was not a typical kind you might think of. I have a tendency to control and manipulate my body based on circumstances I'm going through.
I am learning to let go of the culture that tells me at 175 lbs I am less than the person I was at 150 (my lowest adult weight - and coincidentally the one where people started questioning my severity). There are so many more things I can do with my 175 lbs now and I am going to focus on them in a way that makes me feel good, not ashamed or having to "excuse away" some weight gain with the promise to whomever I'm talking to that I will "get back on track" or be skinny again sometime soon.
This is me - and god damn if it doesn't feel good to start embracing full trust in my body - when it wants a salad, when it wants oreos, and when it wants to wear a hoody because it's not feeling itself today. All of those feels are OK because they're where my body wants to be in that particular moment. I would encourage many of my female friends in particular to start surrounding yourselves with quotes like the one above, with the people who will love you unanimously for you and not the you 5lbs down from the weight you are now. Start throwing compassion out there to those that you see in society that diet culture tells us are fat, or obese. In reality, the fear of fat is the bigger issue and why we are so quick to pass judgment on to others. It's a work in progress for sure, but it's one that can truly open up your heart and your mind to greater being.
I've found a great quote that I plan to live by: "Nobody is going to stand up at your funeral and say 'she had a really small waist, ate clean and had a great thigh gap.' Eat the damn cake."