This week I realized it’s been a year. One year. One whole year since I was dieting.  It’s kind of a big deal.

Today I was talking with a friend of mine about life before this process.  I started to cry.  It’s hard to find words to explain to someone who hasn’t lived it what its like to feel judged by people at the drive through any time I order a milkshake.  To feel like I’m making a bad decision when I get seconds, even when I’m hungry and actually need to eat more.  To be at the restaurant, doing squats or jumping jacks in the stall after using the restroom because I’m so hyper-aware that the restaurant food is more calories than I “should be eating in a day.” How do I even begin to explain what a relief it has been to slowly, painfully leave this whole system behind me? Have you done these things? Do you feel this? 

Let me back up. Growing up I was normal skinny.  Not the tiny shapeless girl of the nineties, but pretty normal. Average skinny, with a nice big butt. I never thought of myself as being skinny. I’m relatively tall, so I’m in no way tiny. Plus it was the nineties, so my healthy skinny didn’t quite match the anorexic look that was being sold as “normal.” But still.

The six months before getting married I was quite busy and lost 20 pounds.  I worked for a coffee shop for six months after I got married and gained it all back.  I was just starting to work out and try to get healthy at a whopping 23 years old when I ended up pregnant.  Pregnancy, hormones, breastfeeding, and sleepless nights covered the majority of the next 9 years of my life. Sleepless nights merging into ten! Or Eleven? I’ve lost count. My kids aren’t great sleepers.

During this time whenever I was breastfeeding I was trying to watch what I ate.  Calorie counting. Worried I’d never lose the weight. When I wasn’t breastfeeding I was trying hard to lose weight. Granted, I was loaded with hormones.  Admittedly, I wasn’t sleeping much to begin with.  Then I’d get up early and go to the gym. I’ve since heard that skipping sleep to go to the gym is like skipping over dollar bills to pick up nickels, but I had no understanding of that back then.  When I’d really buckle down, I’d lose weight.  The second I’d ease up I’d gain it all back, and then some. When we’d eat out, I’d feel guilty.  But we ate out more than recommended because I was tired.  Or pregnant. When we were at home I’d feel hungry.  Maybe because I was hungry.  Maybe because I was tired. 

The diets began. Starting a few months after I had my first kid, continuing all the way til last year. More than ten years, (minus pregnancies).  Following each pregnancy was a stint of postpartum depression. Always getting worse. For diets, I tried all the things.  I did the HCG diet, I did an unprocessed foods diet, support groups, online groups, apps, betting to win money if you lose weight, eating clean, eating less, working out more, all the things. I gave blood. Won some money. Went vegan for a month. Bought a juicer.  Used the juicer. Truth be told, I would often lose weight. But always, the second I started back to living a reasonable l life I gained it all back and more.

I’ve always loved food. But now, food became too big of deal in my life. I was always having to watch what I was eating. So I was always thinking about food.  What I needed to eat.  What I couldn’t eat.  How long I needed to weight before eating again if i was going to hit my calorie goal. Thinking about a time when  I could eat what I wasn’t allowed to currently eat. When I got a bar of chocolate, it was gone within 24 hours.  If not within 2. If I wanted a milkshake, it might feel like an obsession. A lot of thinking about food.

I finally started noticing a pattern.  I gained the most weight after a good hard try at dieting.  I’d spend time bringing my number down, but it’d end up higher at the end than it was to begin with.  I always felt sick, as though I was pregnant, when I was on a diet.  Crazy.  I gained weight. I stopped recognizing my face.  That was the worst. The year before last I lost 60 pounds, and gained it back with 20 pounds interest.  I couldn’t afford to diet any more.

So last year, I decided to try something new.  Something my sister in law was talking about.
I decided to do something radicle. Give my body a break.  Trust myself.  Quit dieting. 

Now, please hear me.  To quit dieting is terrifying to me.  I’m afraid I’ll gain “a hundred pounds”.  Or that I’ll never lose the “baby weight” and the brownie weight.  But, despite the fear, I did it.

I took the first step. I quit.  The year unfolded.  It was a highly traumatic year for me, for reasons having nothing to do with food.  One month I was triggering so much I was physically sick. Months were filled with travel that wasn’t planned.  Tragedy. It was a crazy year to be trying to unlearn so many things.   Crazy all the way up to this last month… full of quarantined children (Jesus help me please!) and worries about economic and political issues.  What a year. 

In the winter, I pushed a step further. I watched this vlog (and this one) by my friend  Joey on overeating and weightloss. It kicked my butt.  I started thinking about how many things in my life influence other things.  I started wondering what it would mean for me, personally, to live with sobriety.  It was like a jumpstart for me; I’d been considering (avoiding?) doing a course called Spirit, Mind and Body, by my lovely and brilliant sister and law… You know, the one who got me started on this whole thing. (You can find her here.) So I bit the bullet and started it.  It addresses all sorts of mindsets and habits regarding body image and food, and is nothing short of enlightening. It’s been challenging me and inspiring me as I seek healing and balance. It’s walking me forward in this journey.  I’ve loved it; I don’t want to walk this alone. 

It’s been a year. My relationship with food has changed.  When I want to stop and get frozen custard, it doesn’t own me.  I make a choice. I don’t judge myself. I am an active part in my own life.  I feel free. I can have chocolate in the house and totally forget about it.  It’s lasted me for days, even weeks. ( I just remembered!  I have chocolate in my closet right now!) As much as I love it, what a relief it is to not enslaved to chocolate.  I wasn’t on a diet when my kids celebrated their birthdays, maybe for the first time ever! (Kid’s born in the first few months of the year have to deal with their moms having “new years resolutions” in play, you know?)

I’ve started paying attention to how food makes me feel.  I don’t eat things that make me feel bad.  I do eat things that make me feel good.  When I eat for a while and still feel hungry I’ve started noticing.  I’ll have a cup of tea. (Got that idea from the first Hunger Games book, where Katniss talks about “hollow days.” And no, it is NOT diet-get-skinny-tea.  It’s just tea. ) If I’m still hungry, I’ll ask myself, “Have I slept?  Am I dehydrated?”

So here I am a year later.  I have a completely different relationship with food. Or at least, the beginning of a new relationship with it.  My body has had a bit of time to heal from dieting and trauma. I haven’t lost weight. But guess what?  I haven’t gained any weight either.  Huh. Who would have thought? Maybe my body is learning to trust that I’ll feed it. And as for me?
I’m continuing to learn to trust my body. It’s still scary.

But it’s starting to feel like hope.