Diet Resolutions for the New Year

Last year, I resolved "never, ever, to blog." Really. Never. I had a private blog by the end of the month and a public one about three months later. So much for resolution credibility.

This year's resolution is much graver. I resolve never to diet. I come from a family of dieters. And, as I watch the younger women in my family struggle mightily with eating disorders, I know that failing to keep this resolution is perilous.

I have said before that my children have literally saved me in this regard. I won't do anything to compromise a growing baby in utero or successful breastfeeding, so as long as I'm pregnant or nursing, I don't starve myself. Since I've been pregnant, nursing, or both for the last 19 years, I've pretty much dodged the agony of self-inflicted starvation that plagues so many women.

Although I don't exhibit the behaviors of an eating disorder, I have, at times, been haunted by the guilt behind them. Like so many women, I've been taught by my environment that thin is better, even that only thin is acceptable and that the thinner, the better. So, while I didn't starve myself and achieve thin, I was tormented by the failure not to be thin. Success, it seemed, was getting back into that size six by the six-week postpartum checkup. As I got older, and had more babies, success began to evade me.

When success is evasive, we feel failure. Well, maybe not all of us, but certainly those of us who are perfectionists. It is only natural for perfectionists to be looking for the perfect diet. Whether it's the Marilu Henner approach (vegan: I literally walked around repeating "no meat, no milk, no sugar, no caffeine") or the Sally Fallon approach (lots of meat, raw milk, fermented veggies, soaked grains only), we are on a quest for the perfect diet.

 Sometimes, the quest is only about health but for most women, it's usually about weight loss, too. And if you read enough books, try enough diets, believe enough gurus, there's nothing left to eat. For instance, read the above restrictions. If you follow Marilu and it doesn't make you thinner and you don't feel better but you still believe her and then you try Sally's approach (while still hanging on to Marilu's advice), you're pretty much not eating at all.

I tried so many different diets and read so many different theories that I really didn't know what (or whether) to eat at all.

A few years ago, a friend suggested a book that literally changed my life because it changed my perspective. If I could, I'd keep a case of these books in the car to hand out to every starving waif I see. It's called Fed Up! The author, Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, takes a long hard look at dieting in our culture. She points out that 100 years ago, Lillian Russell, who weighed nearly 200 pounds, was considered the greatest beauty of her time. Once upon a time, Marilyn Monroe was a sex goddess and she was a size 12. Then the fashion industry embraced Twiggy, who was a 5'8'', 90-pound twig. Now we have dresses in size 00 because the waifs need a new goal. Women haven't changed. Perspective has.

Oliver-Pyatt goes on to explain the very real health risks to "regular dieting," not just anorexia and bulimia. She illuminates the typical diet plan diet which is likely to have about as many calories as a typical concentration camp diet (I'm not kidding).The book busts myths and offers support. More than anything, it points out that an obsession with thin has fostered an epidemic of self-hate. Isn't that so sad?

I've learned to eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm satiated and decline when I'm full. I've promised myself never to diet again. And I've made that promise out loud to a friend or two who have suggested along the way that my obsession with the perfect diet and with body size would be really, really detrimental to my daughters. As a matter of fact, when that observation was made was when my dieting days were over. Remember? I won't do anything to compromise the health of those precious babies. I'm still working on the negative self-talk and it might take me a lifetime to silence a voice that grates against my positive self-image. But it's progress.

I've seen up close and personal what the expectation and the quest for perfect physical form on the part of mothers can do to the girls who are watching. Diets are forbidden in our house, as are any references to being fat (unless we are talking about a certain delicious baby). But what to do about all the conflicting information I've read over the years about what to eat? How to regain a long-lost approach that puts food in its rightful place?

I had lost the ability to make rational decisions about food, to eat anything without feeling guilty. There were too many diet gurus chanting in my brain. I wanted a guide that put the emphasis on health, one that embraced and enjoyed food –all food — within reason. I settled on Eat, Drink and Weigh Less by Mollie Katzen and Walter Willet. Katzen is an old favorite from my vegetarian days, but this isn't a vegetarian book. The emphasis here isn't on weight loss (and the title is most unfortunate); it's on changing unhealthy behaviors and replacing them with healthy ones. Readers are encouraged to take a quiz covering several lifestyle parameters to get a pretty good idea of the state of your health and then make a decision not to be thin, but to be healthy.

For years, I thought the goal was to look like I'd never had a baby. Now, the goal is to acknowledge I've had eight and to protect their health by setting an example of good eating habits. I don't want to teach my daughters how to diet. I want to teach them how to cook and how and what to eat. My motivation is not the numbers on the scale. My benchmark is not my dress size. Instead, I want to be a good mom. Good moms are healthy eaters. I resolve not to diet.

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  • Guest

    what a lovely story!

     

    KatySmile

  • Guest

    I am so glad to see someone writing about this.  I too grew up among severe eating disorders and unfortunately have struggled with an eating disorder all of my life; always going from fat to thin and back again.  I now am raising four daughters and I am trying so hard to protect them from my own sick attitudes and those of my sick family members.

    One thing that has helped tremendously is "The Light Weigh."  I still struggle but the insanity is not there anymore.  It is a Catholic program, check it out at:

    http://www.lightweigh.com

    I think this is a more prevalent problem that we think.

  • Guest

    The best thing I've stumbled onto is Jorge Cruise's "8 Minutes in the Morning."  The strengthening exercises do what I need – build muscle as I get into middle age and start being very out of shape, unable to lift things, go for much of a hike, or say no to overeating.  His "diet" is not really a diet at all, just portion control.  No bad food, just bad portions.  HOW CATHOLIC.  We are supposed to keep ourselves from gluttony.  Whether we call that a "diet" or just "healthy eating" it is a sin that needs addressing in our culture.  Making thinness our god (or godess) is bad, but so is eating like there is no tomorrow.  We have a duty to take care of our bodies and that means gaining control over the amounts we eat.  I tried the "I'm never going to diet again" thing too – and gained a lot of unhealthy weight.  What I needed was not to obsess over food, but get a handle on avoiding gluttony – eating when I'm not hungry, eating more when I'm already full, eating for pleasure alone.  If you say dieting is wrong, you are giving a lot of us gluttons an excuse to do nothing.

  • Guest

    I am 43 and have given birth to and nursed 10  children  I have Elizabeth Foss' philosophy regarding eating during pregancy and nursing.  I think that if you listen to your body during those time periods  you naturally do the right thing. 

    I have always tried to regain my pre pregnancy weight and health status by a year postpartum and before the next pregnancy.  Mainly this is so I can be healthy for the next pregnancy and healthy in order to raise my other children. 

    I have had emotional issues regarding my postpartum body and the way it looks after every pregnancy. I want to look like ME, the way I THINK ME looks, that is.  I am always afraid that this will be the time that I won't regain my healthy body size.  (As I side note, I have always become fit between pregnancies despite a car accident and ensuing back injury (6th pregnancy) and 4 broken ankles (9th and 10th pregnancies).  The love of another child has always overridden my fear of fat….."Perfect love casts out fear!"

    I have come to see a lot of these food and body image issues as spiritual issues.  Take the focus OFF of food and eating and focus on your body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT the god. Theology of the Body is helpful here.  It is in and through your body that you glorify the One True God.  Therefore, one needs to treat one's body with respect as a way of thanking God and so that it can continue to serve Him.

    To this end, I exercise regularly and pray while I'm at it.  Very often I offer up the suffering of exhaustion–physical and mental– while I'm running or biking or doing sit ups as a way to say thank you for the gift of my children, among other things.

    Further, we are always advertising for God!  WE are a walking billboard.  Who would want to have 10 kids if they look at us and only see bedraggled dumps.

     Finally, at those times when I feel frustrated and depressed at the way I look in the short term, I look at the latest baby and literally think, "You're worth more than flat abs and a 6 minute mile!"

    Remember to cling to and feed on Christ and your body image issues and the eating that goes along with them will not consume you.

    Also, if you're feeling hungry, the greatest banquet ever prepared is awaiting you in heaven!

  • Guest

    "Diet" to me implies a temporary change of eating habits in order to lose weight.  If that is the definition than I don't want to diet either.  I want to change the way I live in the areas of food consumption and exercise in order to achieve better health.  I shouldn't obsess having a flat abdomen after all, I have been pregnant about 110 months or 9.1 years of the last 29.5 years.   I will never look like I did when I married…5'8" and 95lbs….who would want to!  However, as I am aging (can it be triue that I'm 48 already…where did the years go!) and facing the challenges of high blood pressure and adult onset diabetes I know that I need to change the way I eat in order to be around to raise my the rest of my children (my "baby" is just 3 1/2 years old).  When I was young I could eat anything and everything in anty quantity and not gain weight.  That began to change around age 30 and baby #5.  But it is so confusing to try to determine what is "good" to eat and what is "bad".  And it is difficult to make time to exercise on a regular basis with a busy family to care for.  The books Elizabeth mentioned sound like they might be helpful in developing a healthy lifestyle.

    Momof11

  • Guest

    In response to Momof11:  It has gotten much more difficult logistically to get the activity I need in order to be healthy.  I used to teach aerobics which consumed a couple of hours a day.  By child #7 I simply ran in jumped on the treadmill while the kids were at activities, 45 minutes, boom! I was set…just don't talk to anybody…"you're here for the business of exercising", I'd think.  Now, I have a "spinner bike" in my family room.  My goal is to ride 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week.  A rule of thumb I set for myself is: "Never miss more than 2 days in row".  Fitness is my only target, although stress relief is a side benefit.  I wall myself off from the crawling baby, turn on EWTN, and spin away.  I admit that it even takes discipline to get on the bike when it is located in my own house.  However, it has been said that if you can't discipline yourself, how can you lead others?  THe other thing I do is sit ups,stretches, push ups AS SOON as I get out of bed in the morning.  If I don't do it RIGHT then I won't.  My advice is pick a time that works for you realistically.  Start slowly and gradually build. Set realistic goals.  

    A side benefit of having equipment in the house is that the kids can use it too….fitness is for everybody.

    In terms of nutrition, make it a family activity to learn about food and fueling your body for maximum performance.  Kids really are interested and follow their parents' example even in this area.  You wouldn't put diesel fuel in your vehicle if it called for unleaded.  The same principle applies to nutrition. 

    I hope I wrote some strategies that help you.

  • Guest

    Speaking for those of us who have tried diets and extreme to moderate exercise regiments, (to the point of almost ruining my knees cycling miles of real hills on a real bike :( who just don't lose weight unless we are exercising 2+ hours a day literally at high exertion with recommended slow-downs scattered between hills and valleys on the eliptical machine…who have 1 or more conditions (pre-diabetes in the wings, not diagnosed as blood sugars are fine; I was on the verge of insulin shots during last pregnancy and dad has been diagnosed and his dad,too) and conscious of the "little" things as a nutritionist/ nurse such as eating whole grains, skim milk, zero trans fats, avoiding all refined sugars, less carbs, and avoiding caffeine… avoiding gluttony and being a good steward of one's temple are key. Exercise in moderation is a must for those of us with fibromyalgia as a pain reducer, and also to help increase REM sleep (a deficiency in REM is a contributer to muscle fatigue/myalgia symptoms). Healthy nutrition + moderate exercise= good stewardship.  

  • Guest

    Thanks for a great article!  I learned not to diet the hard way.  I used to weigh myself everyday and a lot of times my well being determined what weight I was at, and the comments people made to me about my "size".  Not anymore!  Starting to be believe  that my weight was the problem to my husband's porn addiction, helped me search for  the truth.  God showed me of course that it wasn't the truth.  When we stand before the heavenly Father our weight won't be the last thing on the agenda, it won't be on it at all!  We are children of God and need to worry about perfecting oursleves inside so our inner beauty can shine to others.  Our obssessiveness with weight just clouds that inner beauty to shine through and makes those around us uncomfortable.  (if she thinks she is fat, what does she think of me?)

     Don't listen to the father of lies.  At this time, these lies are all around us, but that is what it is, a big, huge lie!  Happiness is our closeness to God.  Change your thoughts about your weight into how Christ suffered and died for you. Begin loving yourself and others. 

     By the way, my husband converted and not because I lost 40 pounds!  He saw how happy I was knowing Christ.  And that's where the truth is!

  • Guest

    I read the article and all the responses, and I want especially to congratulate tracyann on her perspective.  About half-way through, I began to wonder whether anyone was going to say anything about God being the focus of our lives rather than our weight/size.  As Tracy Ann pointed out, at the Judgement, our weight will only be an issue in relation to the sin of gluttony.  Our size/weight/shape is at least partly due to the way God made us.  Focusing on God is what's important.

     

    I do have to disagree–on a personal level–with Gemma.  Exercize and proper rest are vitally important in fibromyalgia, but exercize and appropriate rest are not always possible to a fibro patient.  What works for you may not work for another fibro; conversely, what works for another fibro may not work for you.  "Good stewardship" is following God's Will for your life, not how many carbs or fats you eat or don't eat.

  • Guest

    I enjoyed the article and sent it to other lightweigh group members. I noticed a lot of comments have already been posted. You can tell the diet thing is heavy on many womens hearts. I have found the most peace with food from participating in Suzanne Fowler's Lightweigh program. I have been studying and learning to follow the light weigh principles since July  2005 , and it is the only program that I have found that teaches the truth about how to obtain peace with food which is through Jesus. Praise be to God! God Bless All of You!!! 

  • Guest

    Having a beer right now.

    "I would like a great lake of beer for the King of kings.  I would like to be watching heaven's family drinking it through all eternity." ~St. Brigid of Ireland

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