Tomorrow I turn 50, woo-hoo! Big day, and I thank God for all my blessings. One of those blessings is that I’m healthier at 50 than I was at 40, and even 35. Are my abs leaner? No. But that’s about the only health marker that hasn’t improved in the past several years since I gave up Dieting and switched to Real Whole Food.
Confession: I used to be a food addict; and I had an obsession with wanting to be thinner and leaner. Now, after 28 years in the fitness and nutrition business, I can definitely say that way too many women feel the same way, and those thoughts rule the mind, and ruin the body.
It doesn’t have to be like that!
Here’s my story of dieting and negative body image, see if you relate.
I was a typical female teenager. I’d read Teen Magazine and Seventeen, stare at the models, and dream of looking like them. My first diet started when I was 15. I’d busted through the 114 pound weight limit I set for myself in 9th grade, which compelled me to sneak home a pack of Dexatrim – it worked, for a while. Til it didn’t. Next, I tried the Fruit Only diet; which worked less well than Dexatrim. In 12th grade I bought a pair of special pants that – for real here – attached to our vacuum cleaner, and I had to wear them while exercising – while the vacuum was running. I believed in those pants, but they didn’t work either. I still just looked like me.
Reality Check: at 5’6 and 128 pounds, I wasn’t overweight; I just didn’t look like the girls in the magazines, or on TV. And it bugged me.
Fast forward to 1987, I’d graduated from college and married Mark. My 4 years of college had me totally committed to the world of fitness, I loved exercising! Not only did I get a serious endorphin rush from workouts, (and still do) but I fully, deeply believed that exercise would keep me slim; the whole “calories in – calories out” theory. I took a full time job managing the Aerobics Department at a local gym, and my career was born. Through the rest of the 80’s, and the 90’s, my desire to be fit – and weigh less – never waned.
Well, actually, after my first baby, Megan, in 1990, between heavy nursing and working out, I got down to 114, my 9th grade goal weight! Let me tell you all: Happy. Days. But then she quit nursing and I got pregnant again (Amanda), and again (Macy), and again (Shelby).
Through constant diet efforts, I managed to stay around 128, but I never looked like Cindy Crawford. It bugged me. I wanted that thigh gap.
Sometime in the mid 90s, I switched from reading regular women’s magazines, to body builder women’s magazine. This did so much for my self esteem! Now my dream shape wasn’t just thin; it was ripped, lean, and muscular. (Strong is the new skinny.) Since I was a group ex instructor, and personal trainer, I had the opportunity to workout hours a day. I fueled myself with frozen diet meals, diet desserts, diet drinks, cereals that had more fiber than hay, and (thank you mom! ) vegetables. Meat was a rarity, and fat was an absolute no-way. I ate 5 to 6 “mini-meals” a day, carried my protein bars with me everywhere (I was scared I’d get hungry), and counted the hours to the recommended “cheat meals”, which sometimes consisted of a whole pizza and a pint of ice cream. No, actually, and honestly, that was just starter food; because I was never full from crap like that; I was just triggered to eat more.
Anyway, I thought it was such a great Diet Plan! Just like the women in the magazines! Except for when I fell off the wagon, which happened all the time. And not for a meal, but for a day, or two, or more. I lived on what I call the Diet Roller Coaster: Starve – Feast – Starve – Feast, for years. My weight actually averaged out, but it was all so consuming that I started to worry about myself. I didn’t want my 4 daughters disliking their body, or obsessing about food, like me.
I began to see the insanity of this cycle, but I couldn’t stop. I wanted to stop, badly, but I literally couldn’t. I went to a counselor sometime in my late 30s to describe what I guessed was bulimia, or food addiction. He told me I was probably either depressed or anxious, and did I want a prescription. I was neither, and I was pissed he’d even suggested that.
(Ever notice how often a doctors default with a woman’s health issues is, “do you want an anti-depressant?” )
This is when my health started to take a nose dive. Really, it started to go downhill at 30, when I developed asthma, but it took 10 years for me to see what was happening. (Inflammation from the crap I ate) The asthma came on quick and strong, and I was put on 3 separate daily drugs to “manage” it.
Then, after my 4th baby at 31, severe IBS began. Severe. Like, sometime starting in my mid 30s, my stomach would bloat every afternoon to the point of me looking 5 months pregnant. And.. I had bad gas. It was awful. I thought it was a side effect of eating so healthfully….
Right around then my period stopped, for the first of many times. My GYN ran a blood test which determined I was so low in estrogen that the lab listed me as “post-menopausal”. I was 34. The solution? Put me on The Pill to force a period, and make me “normal” again. I did it, but it kept happening, for years. (Today I know that low estrogen isn’t normal, and it’s fixable.)
At 36, fatigue and low energy set in; a test showed my thyroid hormones were low, which meant daily thyroid meds. At this point, our medicine cabinet was loaded with drugs to deal with all the symptoms I considered completely normal: Gas X, Beano, Tums, Seravent, Advar, Fast Acting Inhalers, Armor, the Pill, Midol, and Advil. I popped these things in my mouth every day without a thought. I carried them in my car…. Now I carry systemic enzymes and “bitters”.
The final straw, my Ah-Ha moment, came at 40. I got my second blood clot. My doctor told me that since this was my second one, I needed to go on Coumadin, a blood thinner. OMG. Grandmas take that stuff! Thank you God for the clot, because THAT was my wake up call. Instead of Coumadin, I went to a Functional MD, and was put on systemic enzymes and big doses of fish oil, (actually, those were my starter supplements). Every blood test I’ve had since then has shown zero “sticky blood”, just normal blood.
For the first time, I started to look and connect what I ate, with the health problems I was having. Up til then, I’d just Dieted, which I thought was supposed to make me healthy, but it hadn’t. The big shocker: I realized that the majority of what I put in my mouth wasn’t actual food, it was Pretend Food that looked real and tasted great, or at least I thought it did at the time. But except for pretty big daily serving of vegetables, I lived on processed foods high in carbs, chemicals, and bad oils; in other words, pure crap.
I served COMPANY frozen diet dinners with vegetables added, topped with slices of fat free cheese! I thought I was a smart Gourmet! I wasn’t. Those “foods” slowly made me sick, and kept me constantly hungry.
Over the next few years, I morphed from a “Diet” based paradigm, to a Real Whole Foods paradigm, eating (seriously) copious amounts of healthy fats, healthy meats, and absolute loads of vegetables.
I quit eating grains, then sugar. That was hard because I was addicted, but I preserved, and thank goodness! Today I use ZERO effort or will power to stay away from that stuff.
The “no grain/no sugar” scares people, but consider this. Imagine what it’s like to never have gas, bloat, or constipation. I said my stomach’s not as lean, but it’s flattish! Or to not constantly think about food. Or to have more energy at 50 than at 40? My asthma’s gone. My thyroid labs are normal. My estrogen’s still low, but I made it through menopause, fully, without one hot flash or night sweat.
Best part? My weight’s not an issue. Not because I weigh 114 or 128, but because the obsession is over. The Diet Roller Coaster, which was caused by dieting, is over. I don’t gain every weekend and lose every week. I don’t promise myself every Monday morning that “this will be the week I lose weight.” I’m just…. stable, and normal. There’s still no thigh gap. I don’t for a moment look 20, but, I look fine.
I’ve stopped being so ridiculously hard on myself.
I feel like I used to live “Under The Dome”, but now I see how I was manipulated into wanting someone else’s unattainable ideal body image. Those images are just Temptations, trying to entice us to spend our money on products!
This brings me to the point of my piece: Women, I think many (most?) of us are the victims of slick marketing created to make us feel bad about our looks.
I think said marketing conspires to convince us that we’re too fat, too busy, too depressed, too stressed, and too inadequate to handle life with out special diet food, diet pills, diet aids and diet groups. Science Daily reports a study that says 75% of American women surveyed report unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.
Really? 75% of us feel badly about ourselves and/or food? Is this what we’re teaching our daughters? Talking about with girlfriends? We’re being duped into wasting most of our lives stressing and obsessing about our weight! This is criminal, and the efforts aren’t just making companies money (billions!) while we continue to gain weight; they’re making us sick, which leads to pharmaceutical drugs, which have side effects, which leads to more drugs.
Yes, I’m a conspiracy theorist. Here’s a few statistics that I base my conspiracy theories on: In 1960, about 10% of Americans were obese and an overweight child was a rarity. Today, we have 68% of our adult population either overweight or obese, and 1 out of 3 kids. In the 1970s, new Federal policy stated that Americans needed to lower their intake of fat and cholesterol from animal or tropical sources, which they did. Butter decreased and margarine and vegetable oils increased. Weight, Heart Disease, and Cancer rose.
In the 1970s, the same policy recommended that Grains comprise a majority of our diet, up to 12 servings a day, which we did; consumption of grains – and sugar – skyrocketed. Weight, Heart Disease, and Cancer rose. As weight and heart disease and cancer continued to rise, our doctors medicated us for the ills, and told us to eat less and exercise more. We have. Weight and disease continue to rise.
In the 1980s, weight loss centers, diet foods, and diet drugs, as a business, were booming. Today, Dieting is a multi billion dollar industry. We’re all dieting, and yet weight and disease continue to rise. This makes us feel pretty badly about ourselves.
Meanwhile, in 2015, 1 out of 4 American women are on a psychiatric drug. Read that sentence again. It doesn’t have to be like this. Women, we don’t have to be fat, bloated, tired, and unhappy. We’ve fallen prey to companies and foods that cause addictive behavior, that lead to weight ups and downs which cause depression, and Moms, if we don’t stop the cycle, our kids won’t just be on the same boat we are, they’ll be on a worse boat.
The Surgeon General says that there’s a strong possibility that todays children might be there first generation of American children to have a shorter life span than their parents.
I started by opening up to you about a decades long body issue and food battle. I put myself through some crazy crap, which I know from my work with other women is not unique. I don’t do crazy anymore, I changed. You can change. Anyone can change. Everyone can break cycles and habits.
If you’re ready to change, evaluate what you’ve been doing. Get in touch with me. The definition of insanity is doing the same old thing and expecting a different outcome, right? Change your belief system from Calories In Calories Out, Low Fat blah blah blah, to Food Is Medicine, or Food Is Poison.
Understand that good fat is good for us; starving ourselves backfires; our hormones always rule; and small plates and baby forks for weight control are Dumb. Come on! We can be positive examples for our kids; we can be the one in our circle to stop the cycle and start a trend; and let’s not waste another minute lamenting our stomach, thighs, butt, or weight. There’s so much more to life than that.