Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
This week Laura posted an article on her blog about why she does not diet anymore. I was interested to see some of the comments, and so I decided to write my blog this week on why I don’t diet anymore either. I am not hugely interested in the science of the diet industry, or statistics on how well diets work, I can talk, however, on my own personal experience, so that is what I am going to do.
Around 3 years ago I had to face up to the fact that I had put weight on and I was in a place where I was not comfortable with what was happening. I was having to buy new clothes, I did not like what I saw in the mirror and I felt shameful about myself. I felt pretty low actually. At this point, I was exercising a ton. I’d just finished a ‘run 1000 miles in a year‘, which I had approached by running 10 Km every morning, and I was in training for the European Obstacle Racing Championships. It’s easy to think that people who put on weight are simply weak or lacking in willpower, well, getting up at 5 am in November to run 10 km in the dark takes willpower, let me tell you.
I was comfort eating though. We’d had a super stressful house move and I was in a job in which I felt really unhappy. I’ve always enjoyed my food and I guess things went too far. The thing with weight, like a lot of other stuff, is that it doesn’t happen straight away. I did not put 10 Kg on overnight, it happened over years and by the time I had noticed and then faced up to having to do something, things had got out of hand. I was about 15 kg overweight.
But, remember, 15 Kg over but fit and doing cardio literally every day.
So I knew I needed to address the eating and so I looked for a ‘normal’ diet plan. Not something extreme like liquid-based stuff, I knew that was not for me and had seen it wasn’t great long term. I picked a mainstream diet club that seemed to have a good reputation and did not seem too whacked out in terms of the approach. Most of all there was minimal measuring, I hate measuring food and was dreading having to do it.
For a while, things worked out really well. I stuck to the diet really hard, avoiding treats even though I was allowed a few every day and I lost weight consistently. I had a structure to my eating and I felt better about myself. Most of all I felt like I had control back, which I liked.
I did find that I hit a plateau and so I started including treats into the diet, within the specified limits. I hit my goal weight and immediately re-set it to 5kg less. That should have rung a warning bell, but it didn’t.
I did have some hurdles. Back then, I was doing 2-week travel stints with work and would invariably put weight on during the trips. My response would be to hit the diet extra hard when I got back as I raced back to my ‘target’ weight. For context, my original target weight of around 80kg put me into a healthy BMI. My revised target of 75 kg was in the bottom third of the BMI.
I stuck like that for about 2 years but as I did so I found two things happening to me. Firstly, I stopped losing weight and secondly, my eating habits became really abnormal. The diet I was following encouraged certain foods such as green vegetables and allowed consumption of others, such as unprocessed carbs like rice, without restriction. Foods with sugar or fat in them were regulated with a points value for each and a certain amount of points on a daily basis.
I gave up bread. It seemed heavily weighted in terms of points and honestly, who is going to have a sandwich when it means you don’t get a few cubes of chocolate in the evening?
I could have has much rice or pasta as I wanted though, so I started having tons. Potatoes were also ‘free’ so I got an air fryer and started having plates piled high with chips. I don’t know why. On reflection it’s mental but I just never felt satiated.
I also found I was thinking about food all the time. I would plan meals to the last detail making sure I maximised consumption of ‘free’ food and making sure I did not eat into my points for treats later. Sunday roasts were a nightmare. I had a bunch of cookbooks published by the diet company and suddenly, shoving quark in everything seemed like a sane thing to do (it’s not).
None of this was prescribed by the diet itself. There is no reason why someone could not follow the diet and enjoy a structured but restricted food intake and in doing so lose weight and maintain that loss. It just was not my experience. I slowly warped the rules so that I was still eating far too much and hating most of what I ate.
Earlier this year I realised I couldn’t face being on the diet anymore. I decided not to renew my subscription and I felt an immediate sense of relief. I had not realised how much pressure the diet had created in my life until I stopped doing it. The sheer relief of eating normally again felt amazing.
Obviously, I do not want to put weight back on again and so I’m keeping a log of what I eat daily. I still weigh myself each week and track that although I think that’s probably something I should stop doing.
I’m trying to be mindful of what I eat. If I have a big lunch I have a smaller dinner. I’m also trying to eat food I enjoy. I always cook fresh and generally cook decent food but I’ve stopped cutting corners with the food I eat and making weird substitutions.
I’ve started snacking. I don’t usually eat dinner until around 8 pm and what I see now is that by having a healthy snack like nuts mid-afternoon, I don’t overeat at dinner.
Is it working? It seems to be, so far. I’m maintaining at about 82 kg, which is within the healthy BMI range and that seems to be ok. Certainly, I am not food-obsessed anymore and feel a lot less stressed. Let’s see if it continues.
So, I guess my point is, diets didn’t work for me either. I wasn’t unfit, or drastically overweight. I wasn’t looking for a quick fix or a magic bullet. I just wanted a structure to reset my eating. Initially, I got that but, over time, I found the structure warped into something unhealthy.
Anecdotally, I don’t think my experience is that unusual. I do remember going to the supermarket at about 11.30 one day as I knew a certain yogurt brand was on offer which was ‘free’ and offered a nice sweet treat, by the time I got there, there was just a gap in the shelf where people had bought literally every pot of that yogurt there was, by 11.30. In Facebook groups, it was common to hear people talking about eating 10 or more of these per day. Eventually, they were removed from the ‘free’ list.
I don’t regret doing the diet, it was a necessary learning experience but if I was in the same position again I think I would be better served by logging my food and simply trying to make incremental changes, or, as Trainer Steve puts it ‘Eating like an adult’. I think he has a point.