My story of dieting and being "the fit chick"
If you’ve read a few of my blog posts, you can now tell I’m not a typical dietitian. This blog isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t eat, but rather what you want to eat, and what is actually important in the nutrition and health realm. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to start this blog post. This is the short version of a very long story that starts with good intention in the pursuit of “health”, and ends up in a mess of mental and physical health. Some of you reading this blog post know me as a friend, family member, peer, or coworker; others know me from my Instagram account @healthyhanny, or maybe it's a combination of both. And you may have noticed a change in content and values over the last year. I feel like I owe, scratch that, I want to give an explanation. To understand my perspective on nutrition and health, we need to start from the beginning.
I initially began my Instagram in the pursuit of “getting fit” and “eating clean”-I wanted to show people, “Hey look at me I’m doing all this stuff and I look great!! YOU can do it too!!! I’m being ‘Healthy!!’”. I would post pictures of me eating my boring “bro” meals of chicken, rice and vegetables, followed by a picture of me spending 2 hours at the gym because “no excuses!”. This was all to look a certain way, because society values being “thin” or looking “fit”. Soon enough my identity became enthralled in being the fit chick, and I felt so good about myself (short term). I was getting so much attention, and everyone applauded me for living this “healthy lifestyle” that actually wasn’t healthy at all. I even changed my major from accounting to dietetics, because I was obsessed with this “healthy” lifestyle-I wanted to help people do what I was doing. Looking back this was so problematic. The truth is, nothing about what I was doing (restrictive eating and excessive exercise) was healthful, or helpful.
After pursuing this “fit and healthy” journey for a while, I began to feel mentally and physically tired. Tired as in, not wanting to do my homework or hangout with my friends or participate in activities outside of fitness and food. I was struggling with body image issues and felt trapped. I just had to go to the gym, and eat every few hours, or else I was no longer “healthy”. This time of “eating healthy” aka dieting lead to instances of binging on food that I wouldn’t allow myself to have. Like, eat a whole medium pizza and feel guilty/overly stuffed, but laughing it off casually because it was my “cheat day”. Wanting a brownie, then eating a brownie flavored protein bar instead to later find myself still wanting a brownie. I was started hitting a plateau with exercising and dieting. My body wasn’t changing anymore. I felt like I was doing something wrong, that I was the reason I couldn’t change my body or keep up with restricting food. I thought I was a failure, which is farthest from the truth. My body was actually succeeding in what it’s supposed to do biologically, which was to keep me from going below a weight I was healthy and functioning at. The real failure here was the dieting, food restriction, and over exercising idolized by society.
I eventually made a choice. A choice that I stand behind every single day. I didn’t want to spend anymore time or energy being “the fit chick” or to be known for “eating clean”. I no longer wanted it to be part of my identity. I didn’t want to look back at my life and have the only thing I accomplished be going to the gym and eating quinoa (I like quinoa, just making a point). I wanted to contribute more to the world than just my appearance. I still love exercise and eating vegetables. I also love not exercising, and eating ice cream especially when exploring a new city. I have interests outside of exercise and food like volunteering, politics, advocating for social justice, and hanging out with my dog. When I gave up dieting and being the “fit chick”, it freed a ton of mental space, and time in my schedule. It was refreshing to fill my life with more fulfilling activities.
What I’ve realized is dieting is harmful. It’s not noble to restrict foods. You aren’t morally better if you stick to your meal plan. And it’s not about lacking self-control if you aren’t able to stick to rigid eating. A common misconception is that dieting means following a name brand diet like Atkins or Weight Watchers. But the truth is, dieting is “restricting oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food.” Of course, there are exceptions to the rule due to medical disease states, allergies, or religious reasons-sure. But a self-diagnosed gluten allergy, or cutting out a food group because you “feel better” and “might lose weight” doesn’t fall into the exception. Whole 30 is a diet. Following these diets aren’t at all about “being healthier”. It’s often about attempting to change your body to fit into this ideal society has for how we should look. Dieting, even in its subtlest forms like macro tracking or avoiding food groups, encourages disordered eating behaviors and poor body image. And it doesn’t even work! Did you know 95% of diets fail within 2 years? And dieters end up gaining more weight back than they lose? Another shocking statistic is 89% of women have attempted a diet by the age of 17, and 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies.
If dieting has such a low success rate, why does society still value it? Why do we still engage in dieting? Focusing on weight loss is not constructive, nor health promoting. Weight is not the end all be all to health; there are so many factors that go into health such as sleep, stress, socioeconomic status, genetics, etc. There are plenty of people in larger bodies who are metabolically healthy. Also, there are plenty of people in thin bodies who are “unhealthy”. What actually matters in health and nutrition is your relationship with food, and moving your body in joyful ways. Do you eat when you’re hungry? Do you stop when you’re full? Do you sometimes overeat, or eat when your sad/bored/anxious because you’re a human? Do you aim for variety, satisfaction, and joy at meals? Do you move your body because you want to, or out of obligation? How are you sleeping? Do you have stress in your life? How is your mental health? Ask yourself these questions when thinking about health, and start exploring the answers. We need to look at health from a more holistic stance, outside of just nutrition and exercise.
Everyone should be able to exercise and eat what they want to. And of course, live their life how they want to. But I’m also here to tell you it’s okay to just eat without being on a diet. And that you don’t have to exercise every day to be healthy. You aren’t lacking self-control if you want to and allow yourself to have a piece of cake. I’m a huge proponent of authenticity and real talk. I wanted to share my story because I see so many people struggling with dieting and body image. I see people in my life struggling with eating disorders/disordered eating openly, and secretly. This post barely breaks surface of a long journey to intuitive eating and body respect- I would crash the internet if I typed out every detail of the struggle. But I hope it’s given insight to my passion around relationships with food, the importance of ditching dieting, and why I can’t write you a meal plan. I’m a Registered Dietitian and fitness professional, and will continue to love these roles with a different perspective. Health isn’t black and white, but it sure as hell isn’t restricting food and over exercising.