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Caught In a Cycle of Dieting Insanity

By January 24, 2013

I am an overweight person (legitimately overweight in terms of BMI) who either has absolutely no control over what I am eating or controls it so much that I will only eat 200-300 calories per day. Each time that I set out to lose weight and become healthier, it goes fine for about two weeks, and then I go off the deep end and only let the very, very minimum past my lips. I have tried counting calories, counting carbs, Weight Watchers (counting points), Jenny Craig (no counting at all), and I always, always, very rapidly reach the point where I am only eating carrots or celery (or things that only have 10 to 15 calories) and only that, all day. The worst part is that I can see myself doing it and going down that path, but no matter how strong my desire is to stop it dead in its tracks I can never muster enough willpower to stop the cycle from happening. Usually, this control of what I am eating will last four to six weeks, until I get sick or too exhausted. I will sleep for about three days straight and then I will just start eating anything I can get my hands on, until my stomach is bloated and heavy and I am in a lot of pain. This part of the cycle will last for a month and a half or so until I get the “dieting bug” and start the cycle over. 
Perhaps the worst part is that when I do diet, I will lose ** to ** pounds in the four to six weeks that I keep it up and relatives/friends around me will be envious or make me feel badly that I lose weight “so easily.” I have told a couple of people about this, and they just tell me that I just need to be more careful to watch what I eat (in terms of eating enough food). I really feel like they don’t understand because, if they did, they would know that it’s not something that I have any sort of control over. I have spoken with a general care doctor about this and she didn’t seem at all concerned, and in fact told me that I need to lose 50 more pounds. Is there anyone else out there like this? Is this an eating disorder? I feel a bit at the end of my rope, because I feel antsy about starting another diet and I wish that I could talk to a doctor or somebody that knows about this sort of thing, but I don’t have health insurance and can’t afford it. 
- Lauren

Dear Lauren,

Boy, have you come to the right place! Yes, there are scores of women (and men) out there just like you. It sounds like what you are truly seeking is freedom with food. By that, I don’t mean throw in the towel and resign to that fact that you will never be “in control” of eating. Rather, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could truly eat what sounds good to you, eat tasty and satisfying food until you’ve had enough then walk away and not think about food until you’re hungry again? This philosophy is called Intuitive Eating: eat when hungry, stop when satisfied. Eat with balance, variety and moderation.

Embracing and exploring this philosophy may be the most critical first step in healing your relationship with food. This has nothing to do with will power, laziness or a slow metabolism. It has to do with an out-of-balance relationship with food. Dieting is the worst, most ineffective means of restoring a healthy relationship with food. In fact, diets fail for 95% of people, this is what continues to fuel the $50 billion diet industry. No more dieting!

Some practical steps to get started: 1) read the book Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, it will explain this concept eloquently because it was originally written for chronic dieters; 2) research the movement Health At Every Size and authors such as Francie Berg and Ellyn Satter who write about this with wonderful tips to restore a healthy relationship with food. Also check out a workbook called, Moving Away From Diets by Karin Kratina, Dayle Hayes and Nancy King; 3) if possible, find a therapist to talk to about the emotional issues that may have driving the choice to battle food and your body in this way; 4) finally, find healthcare providers (physician, therapist, dietitian) who will support healthy lifestyle choices, not dieting. See “Finding Treatment.”

I applaud you for bravely seeking a better alternative to beating yourself up in this cycle of dieting insanity. There is hope, YOU CAN DO THIS! Here’s to making peace with food and a return to peace of mind!

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD