This was the time of year where I’d run myself head first into a dark hole of self-hatred and sabotage.
I’d be counting calories and obsessing over every indulgence I didn’t resist over Christmas—every eggnog latte, every santa-shaped shortbread cookie, every f*cking slice of sticky pudding.
I’d land on a number, then calculate how many calories I needed to restrict in January to get “back in balance” and finally feel like I was deserving of my next meal.
I was terrified of gaining weight. Weight gain, in my eyes, was worse than death.
When I retired as a dancer I knew I didn’t have the strenuous regime to ensure I didn’t gain weight. It started out as harmless healthy eating, a new kick or a mild elimination diet. This harmless “healthy eating” then led into a severe obsession of measuring and obsessing over every single calorie consumed.
I made dieting my job, my full time nine-to-five gig. All my mental energy was dedicated to the calculation of calories in and calories out. In January, it was dieting-on-steroids (I amped it up even more because my self-worth was at an ultimate low, while guilt and shame were at an ultimate high). My happiness and self-worth were completely dependent on the number on the scale for that day, or for that hour.
The last few days of December were always the most painful. I’d spend hours on the internet looking for the diet industry to suggest what restrictive plan I should punish myself with next. I’d commit and hold onto it for dear life—until about six days in where I’d throw in the towel and binge on all the foods I felt deprived of.
This cycle went on for nearly 10 years of my life.
Dieting like a pendulum—you hold on so tight to one side that as soon as you let go you smash into the other side at lightning speed.
My emotional landscape was littered with toxic thoughts of not being good enough or skinny enough. I was on a mission to reach a desired feeling of self-love by harming my body to lose those extra five pounds. This spun me into a vicious cycle of never-ending disappointment and never achieving the emotions I was starving for.
I was convinced being skinny would make me feel whole; I was convinced those last five pounds would make all my dreams come true.
Then it all hit me like a slap in the face.
I was sitting in my London flat researching the next “miracle diet.” I had a sick feeling in my stomach, a painful pit, like God himself was screaming at me via my intuition. I knew I was ruining my life. I knew I was sabotaging my relationships, especially the relationship to myself. I was in a war, a constant battle with my body. My body was always there for me, healing me, guiding me, supporting me—and I treated her with disgust and hatred. I felt the pain of 10 years of dieting condensed into one moment, and the intense pain overwhelmed me to the point of aggressive tears.
I fell onto the wooden floor and created a pool of tears around my body. The painful reality was right in front of me; the painful realization that I was simultaneously damaging my body, self-worth and self-love was paralyzing.
I came face-to-face with reality for the first time in a long time.
It was the first time in years I finally listened. Scared sh*tless, I decided to not follow a diet that week, or that month or for the rest of the year. This was scarier than hitch-hiking through Cambodia at two a.m. with no luggage, let me tell you. Not counting calories? Not having a laundry list of “bad” foods? I had no idea how “normal” people ate. I was lost.
Being a full time dieter requires you to never be in your body and constantly be living in your head, thinking about the next meal and how many calories it contains. This was a whole new stomping ground for me, as I had to actually listen to my body and respond to its fundamental needs. I was convinced learning Japanese was an easier task to undertake.
As the days, months and years went on, I developed a relationship with my body. I listened to her, I spoke kindly to her, I nurtured her. We played life as one; we were finally a team—mind and body, head and heart. We now use food for health and hunger. It’s respected and no longer used as a drug to numb emotion or a tool to manipulate body weight. Liberation? F*ck yes.
On top of all my awards, titles and life achievements, retiring from five years of dieting is by far my greatest accomplishment.
I credit these three little things to fully retiring from this vicious cycle:
Trust your body to communicate its needs. There is a wise indicator within your soul that is constantly trying to convey messages; trust it and listen carefully. Your body knows best. Living in a fear-based mentality of obsessive dieting blocks the flow of trust. If you’re dieting, you’re simply not trusting. Your body will communicate to you its needs, how much to eat and when. A solid foundation of trust is needed to listen and respond.
Get curious about the emotional void and pain you’re filling and numbing with food. Ask yourself, What am I actually hungry for? It’s never the food. When we are binging we are simply using food as a drug, a modern-day coping mechanism to numb emotional pain. Usually this pain is very sub-conscious and something we’ve been living with for years—it lays dormant. When we explore the root cause of binge-eating, we are able to release suppressed emotion and heal from within.
Love is the access point to breaking free from the diet/binge cycle. Lack of love toward ourselves is the root cause of a lot of pain, suffering and stress. Love will set you free. We move toward self-love simply by observing our inner dialogue. Speak with love and kindness, and notice the trajectory of your emotions shift. Connecting mind and body, head and heart requires a foundation of love.
When we are dieting, we are searching for love; we just go about it in a convoluted and mixed-up way. The weight will take care of itself, and sustained transformation will be the result when you operate from a place of love, not fear.
Your body is an incredibly intelligent vessel—much more than your mind. Trust it with all your soul.
Author: Samantha Skelly
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Helga Weber/Flickr