The Agony of Dieting Defeat

One week of Lent and I’m already spent. It seems like just yesterday I was struggling with my New Years diet, then I was stuffing super bowl food in my face, followed by the obligatory splurge of Fat Tuesday, and now I’m expected to deprive myself of some desirable food item until Easter, when I will likely attempt to consume a pound each of ham, scalloped potatoes and chocolate in one sitting.

 For yo-yo dieters like me, the cycle of self-sacrifice and reward doesn’t start the day after Fat Tuesday.  Religious and secular holidays provide a year-long timeline for our dysfunctional habits. But this year, I can’t hack it anymore.  Enough is enough. 

 “Don’t ever underestimate the rewards of yoyo dieting, “ my brother-in-law recently warned when I told him of my plan to finally quit a 30 year battle with 15 excess pounds. “Nothing feels as good as losing a few pounds, so why would you ever want to deprive yourself of this pleasure?”

He has a point, but at age 43, dropping those few pounds seems more difficult than chewing my own arm off. Could it be that I’ve lost faith after years of watching myself fail on every diet? Or could it be that, at my age, I’ll never look good in a bikini no matter how much weight I lose? Gravity, birthing three large babies, and breast-feeding has taken its toll. For my middle-aged body, losing weight is akin to removing potatoes from an old burlap sack. Not pretty.

Or could it be that the laws of nature are written in stone, dictating that the human “animal” in all of us will slow down, hunt less, gather less? Our metabolism will gradually decelerate and our aging bodies will more efficiently store every calorie of every meal. 

But the animal in each of us no longer eats a meager diet of roots, berries and an occasional saber tooth steak. Today, humans have a never-ending supply of tasty treats our cave-dwelling ancestors never imagined. Guacamole. Egg rolls. Lasagna. Doughnuts. Nature’s innocent wisdom has inadvertently dictated that today’s human gets old and fat. Oh, joy.

 Realizing this, do I prolong the futile battle to banish my bulge? There must be a better way. A way to stop the Binge-Gain-Guilt-Deprive-Fail-Surrender-Binge Again routine that I know so well. It just doesn’t work. 

According to pop psychology, true contentment requires “loving” oneself as is – bumps, bulges, jiggles and all. But females like me who grew up in families with “weight issues” are doomed to a life of warped body image and preoccupation with diet. Satisfaction with myself seems impossible, but worth a try.

On a recent shopping trip, I experimented with this silly “self love.” Bearing all under the fluorescent lights of a dressing room has always been intolerable, so I routinely make the mistake of buying things off the rack without trying them on. This holds particularly true for bras, and I had a drawer full of ill-fitting ones to prove it. 

 But a couple weeks ago in the lingerie department of a local store, I decided to abandon my grab-and-go methods and actually find something that fit. This necessarily involved staring myself down in a mirror under harsh lights, and I was ready for the challenge. What I discovered was that once I cram my mammories, back fat, and those puffy little armpit chicken fat thingies I’ll never get rid of into a bra, I’m actually a full cup size bigger than I previously thought. The benefit of facing myself in the dressing room mirror was that I acquired new bras that actually fit, and I looked pretty damned good in them. Who knew?

Do I now spend hours staring lovingly at myself in the mirror with a renewed sense of positive body image? Not even close. Nevertheless, I am encouraged that a little bit of realism and acceptance goes a long way in ending a deeply ingrained pattern of self-deprecation and yoyo dieting. 

 So this year, I am trying something new and revolutionary. I will eat when I am hungry. I will banish guilt. I will look at myself in the mirror. I will relax. I will be normal.

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Comments: 8

  1. DiAnne March 1, 2010 at 7:52 am Reply

    I can’t stop laughing…”I” am turning 50 in a few months…and so is my body. Great stuff! Love your thoughts, and thanks for relating to a lot of us ladies. We sit and think it, and now I have been assured that I am NOT ALONE! Love it. : )

  2. Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC February 27, 2010 at 6:23 am Reply

    Thanks for your bold honesty. You are right- diets don’t work. Research shows that when people diet, they often lose the weight but almost always gain back more. I am a licensed mental health counselor and am writing a book about body image called Fannies: Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit. It is a collage of story, research, narration, how-to, humor, and faith. One of the subjects included why diets don’t work, and what to do about it. My blog posts excerpts of the book. Check it out at Let me know your thoughts. Thanks, Cherrie

  3. shaye February 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm Reply

    unbelievable!!! this is an incredible article, you are spot on sister

  4. Julianne Kochanski February 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm Reply

    I just have to laugh as I too had decided Lent was the perfect reason to deprive not only myself but my whole family of several things especially food!! You lightened my mood and made me laugh at such silliness! I love yo-yos!!

  5. Natalie February 23, 2010 at 10:02 am Reply

    Halleluiah–we all need to practice this philosophy and go on living happily and not defeat & criticize ourselves!

  6. Andrea Hagan Thompson February 23, 2010 at 4:17 am Reply

    hi there! i am sara cummings’ sister and i just have to tell you that i love your article. i’ve just turned 40 and rather than freaking out about the turning point of this momentous birthday, i only became more concerned about health. which is good and bad — i’ve been trying to janet-jackson myself up and look, feel, and live better as long as i possibly could. it lasted all of a week. then i swung the other way on the JJ pendulum. i have been commiserating with a friend who has decided that between her natural body shape, an ulcer and ibs, and her love of food and wine, she simply has to give up the hope of ever being “skinny” again. so tonight while my husband is riding a (sadly very short) wave of inspiration and has headed to the gym, i am home, enjoying a glass of wine, some triple-cream brie and solitude. tonight i’ve decided i don’t look so bad in the mirror….

    on a related note, i went shopping yesterday, and had to face my tummy and thighs in those horrid lights and that big ol’ mirror. my tactic is to turn my back to my fat. i don’t look until the clothes are on. then i groan and cast the tried-on clothes aside, again with my back to the mirror. it’s how i stay happier…. i say screw it. we’re women, and this is what happens. men can just deal with it.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari February 23, 2010 at 10:37 am Reply

      I feel your pain, Andrea, and as I sit here at my computer with my stretched out gut lying in my lap in front of me, all I can think about is one thing you mentioned…..triple cream brie….mmmm

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