I am one of the 95% of dieters who regain the weight.
I had a plan. I had a goal. It was going to fix myself. It was going to fix my life. I was going to find everlasting peace and happiness. I was going to be skinny! (There should probably be dramatic music playing in the background of that last sentence– in my head, it’s the theme from Rocky) And I did it! I got skinny! Kind of. Well, what counted as skinny for my body type. I didn’t really ever make it to the lean, sculpted bodies plastered all over the internet, magazines, and social media. So, unfortunately, it was never really skinny enough.
I actually got skinny a whole bunch of times. Well, again, kind of skinny. Skinnier. Does that count? I got skinny-ish a whole bunch of times because every time I stopped working really hard at being skinny, I gained weight. Then I had to work at getting skinny again. And then I gained weight again. It happened every time. Including this last time.
Let me tell you something about The Pursuit of Skinny. You never get there– no matter what the story-books say. After losing some weight, you stand in front of the mirror in a pair of jeans and feel ok and say to yourself , “As long as I fit into these jeans just like this, it’s all good– no need to ever worry.” Then you lose even more weight and those jeans are hanging off of you and you think to yourself , “Yes. Now. As long as these jeans fit just like this I am good to go– no need to ever worry.”
But, because diets don’t work (and because your body has been starving and has been hungry and has been programmed to survive), as soon as you are “done with the diet” your body gains weight. Then one day you are standing in front of the mirror in the aforementioned jeans and they fit like they did in the first go-around of this scenario. Remember the one where you told yourself, for the first time, it’s all good? But is it all good? Nope. It’s all bad. Because your jeans don’t require a belt to keep them up anymore. Because all you see is that you have failed, yet again, at your millionth (mild exaggeration– very mild) attempt at being skinny.
It really feels like nothing short of failure. Because, of course, you were sure that this time you had it all together enough that you would never-ever gain the weight back again. You don’t take into consideration the idea that diets might actually be the problem. Or that maybe, just maybe, you actually can’t mold your body into any shape you want just because you want to. You don’t think about the fact that bodies are diverse and not all bodies look the same. You don’t think about a thing called genetics. No. You just blame yourself for not sticking to your diet well enough. For not having enough will power. For not trying hard enough. For failing. Again.
You have a couple of choices at this point. Diet. Again. Because, of course, this time it will be different… Or stay the course with this curious new no-dieting-and-eating-like-an-actual-human-being thing you have been reading about.
Do you want to know what I did in this exact scenario? I stayed the course. I did. I didn’t go on yet another diet. And I gained some more weight. I did. And those jeans? They’re kind of tight. And my body? It landed at the same size it always lands when I end a diet. Do you want to know why? It’s because I am one of the 95%– the 95% for whom diets fail.
Have you heard of that definition of insanity? The one that says that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is, well, not all that logical? Let’s apply this concept to dieting– a process that research has shown to fail 95% of the time. Yep, you read that right– 95% of the time. Seriously. Those are terrible odds. Like, really terrible.
Despite these horrific odds, we keep starving ourselves in the hopes that somehow we might be in that super lucky 5%. But the truth is, even if by some stroke of luck or super-human will-power or a miracle from above, you actually do end up in that holiest of places, the 5%, the chances that you will keep that weight off for more than five years is (drum roll please) 5%. Yes. 5%.
The amazing author Harriet Brown wrote this in her article, The Weight of the Evidence:
This isn’t breaking news; doctors know the holy trinity of obesity treatments—diet, exercise, and medication—don’t work. They know yo-yo dieting is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, higher blood pressure, inflammation, and, ironically, long-term weight gain. Still, they push the same ineffective treatments, insisting they’ll make you not just thinner but healthier.
In reality, 97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years. Obesity research fails to reflect this truth because it rarely follows people for more than 18 months. This makes most weight-loss studies disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst. (find the full and fabulous article here)
I know. It’s gruesome, isn’t it? But what happens when you “fail” on that diet and can’t maintain that weight loss? Do you blame the diet? No. You blame yourself. And then you go on another diet. You actively practice insanity. Remember how we defined that? Doing the same thing over and over and thinking you’ll get something different. Insanity.
I had to practice this particular brand of insanity for 34 years before I even considered believing what my experience was clearly showing me. Before I considered actually looking at the science. The thing that sucks is, while my brain understands and believes (mostly) why dieting is a horrible trick and a terrible trap, the huge mess of negative body image issues and the left-over beliefs of why thin-is-the-only-way-I-am-good still remain.
So I’m working on this– these body image issues and left-over beliefs. Actively. I’m practicing body acceptance. And by no means is practice equaling perfect at this point. I am trying to undo 34 years of conditioning. No. It’s more than conditioning. It’a a deep-seated belief that skinny is the answer to everything. That skinny is the only path to happiness. That skinny is the only thing that matters.
It makes me sick that I was taught to believe this– that I got sucked into this trap. It makes me sick that so much of my life was focused on something of such little importance. It makes me sick that I can I still get stuck in it even though I know what I now know. It also makes me sad. And mad…
There is a saying that goes something like this, “The longest journey is from your head to your heart.” I’m making that journey and it’s a rocky one. But it’s one I won’t give up on because it’s worth it. Because it matters. Because I want something better for myself. Because I matter– no matter what size I happen to be.