What To Do If You Stopped Dieting and Feel Like Shit

Recently, my mentor Rachel Cole posted this blog about how to feel good in our bodies.  I want to take a moment to point out why we might be feeling bad in the first place. Then, it might be clearer why what she suggests we do to feel better really knocks it out of the park.

If you are currently dieting, you may find that dieting is not making you feel good.  You get really excited at the beginning of the diet.  You lose some weight and feel even better.  Then it gets harder to maintain and your negative voice gets louder and you start to feel like a failure.  Then you gain the weight back and feel even worse.  Yes, you are in pain and it is coming from dieting. Dieting is bad for us mentally, physically and emotionally.  

But why were you dieting in the first place? There must be something else going on, or why were you trying to change the shape and size of your body?  We have all accepted this as normal behavior, but it's actually rather barbaric don't you think?  Would you chop off an arm to weigh less? No? But you would starve yourself? Interesting.  It will take some work and some healing to stop this behavior and feel good in your body.  The good news? It's entirely possible for everyone and it feels better than you can imagine. The bad news? You may feel worse before you feel better.

For a chronic dieter, you may feel like shit for awhile for a few different reasons.  First, you might physically feel like shit during the re-feeding process since our bodies have been deprived and they are now adjusting to the wide variety of foods they have been missing and wanting.  Our metabolisms are readjusting after years of slow down when our bodies thought we were suffering from famine.  It's ok if you feel bad.  It's NOT because you are "eating too much" or "eating the wrong things".  You cannot unwind years of deprivation and disordered eating without a period of adjustment and that may feel uncomfortable.  It could also take months or years depending on how long you have been dieting.

You might also feel like shit mentally.  After years of telling ourselves what we should eat and how much based on external sources (i.e. diets) it is going to feel scary and strange to be eating what we want and how much we want.  It is going to take some time to discover what foods we actually like to eat and what amounts are satisfying.  We are going to mess it up often.  We are going to eat things that aren't satisfying and we are going to over eat and under eat as we try and sort it all out. 

At this point - the inner voice that has been telling us to diet all our lives is going to be going nuts.  This voice has always thought dieting was the answer to solving all our problems.  So we might feel like shit mentally because we are still judging all of our food choices and trying to quiet that voice.

The third reason we might feel like shit is because the voice telling us to diet may have been an adaptation we created in order to survive trauma and avoid feeling other pain.  It's a coping mechanism.  It has been trying to distract and protect you all these years from other things in your life that you would like to avoid. It means well.

So when we take away dieting, we are taking away our coping mechanism and we are going to have to deal with some feelings and emotions that have been hiding behind the dieting behaviors.  This might feel worse before it feels better.

In addition, dieting is a culturally accepted behavior that many people bond over. We are social creatures and when we take away dieting, we take away something we used to use to connect with other people. This can feel isolating and scary.  It's hard to swim upstream and defy cultural norms.

Our culture also stigmatizes and discriminates against people in larger bodies.   You may have been using dieting to suppress your natural weight in order to knowingly or unknowingly have thin privilege and social currency.  If you take away dieting, and your weight restores itself, it can be also be scary to face the world with a body that won't get as much praise or attention as your dieting body. 

Ok - so here we are and we quit dieting and now we feel like shit.  What next? What is the point?  The point is - that just when you think you are doing everything wrong is really when you are doing it right.  Let it all be ok.  You might think that you feel like shit because you are not eating well or moving as much as you "should".  This makes perfect sense, but please know - this is diet mentality trying to drag you back to the comfort and safety of that world. 

The point is that now that the blinders are off, you can finally start to heal.  Out of the darkness comes the light.  Our bodies can physically heal now that they are being fed properly.  Our minds can heal as we learn that the size of our body or shape is not the most important thing about us.  We can start to heal painful situations in our lives that we have been avoiding.  For more on what to heal and how to feel good, refer to Rachel's post as often as you need to. With every baby step and small shift that you make, you are going to feel better and better. There are also lots of helping professionals out there (including yours truly) who have been through this and are happy to help you out. 

Reclaiming your life is not necessarily going to be easy, but it is definitely going to be worth it.