Ask the author about the cake incident.
Eat whatever you want and lose most of the ten pounds that had been driving me mad for so much of my life? Why didn’t anyone tell me it could be that easy?
I’ve been watching my weight since I was 12 years old. I didn’t like the way my jean skirt fit, so I decided to count calories using the tiny booklet my mother kept in her purse. I’ve been on all sorts of diets over the years — low-fat, low-carb (remember Atkins?), clean eating — all with varied degrees of success. My first low-carb diet seemed like a miracle at the outset, but it ended badly when I found myself at a wedding reception eating countless pieces of discarded cake from the garbage can (ahem).
The trash can episode did not convince me to stop dieting, but what did was the experience of telling that story on stage. I’ve performed that story many times and, without fail, someone in the audience will always approach me afterwards and say, “Um, you know you’re not fat, right?” So I started thinking about how to tweak the story a little, to acknowledge that, yes, my struggle with weight pales in comparison to that of plenty of other women out there. Then it dawned on me that, aside from when I was pregnant, most of my weight gains and losses have all been centered around the same 10 or 15 pounds. Really, more like 10. That means I’ve spent decades obsessing over 10 lousy pounds. Jesus. What a waste of time.
So I stopped dieting altogether. I didn’t want to waste time anymore and I also discovered that the science of nutrition is kind of bullshit. It’s hard to get good, reliable studies on humans because humans are pretty much unreliable, so most conclusions are an overstatement of the evidence or just plain made up entirely. I’m looking at you, Grain Brain and Wheat Belly.
From then on, I decided to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. It was so freeing! I ate French fries again, and dessert for breakfast. (Confession: I had to hide dessert for breakfast from my kids, otherwise it would be complete pandemonium.). I would eat a snack at 5 p.m. because that’s when I’ve always been hungry (not at 6 p.m. when I ordinarily served dinner) and then I’d skip dinner entirely. I was so far from deprived that I ate a lot less overall, and I actually lost weight. It was fantastic! Eat whatever you want and lose most of the 10 pounds that had been driving me mad for so much of my life? Why didn’t anyone tell me it could be that easy?
Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. Weeks of living on nothing but homemade salted caramel led my dentist to take one look at my teeth and gasp, “Have you changed your diet? Your teeth are brown!” “Of course not, I said, “I mean other than...Oh.” It turns out that eating whatever you want does have limits, at least if you want to keep your teeth.
My exercise routine had changed too. I’d started a challenging new workout plan and I actually loved it. A few years ago, I had the same Oprah-esque revelation about exercise that I was now having about my diet. I was slogging through one miserable boring workout after another because I thought it would make me skinny, when I discovered that many experts argue weight loss doesn't work like that anyway. So why the heck was I making myself so miserable?
Once I realized you couldn’t work the weight off like that, I quit altogether and promised myself, if I ever started exercising again, I would only do what makes me happy. Something about that clicked for me. I started to run and walk again, but I stopped counting distance and time. Suddenly, it wasn’t a slog — it was actually peaceful and meditative. Eventually, I started taking classes at the gym that emphasized strength and allowed me to focus on building up my body rather than tearing it down. Over time, I came to love exercise and even love and accept my body.
What a perfect ending, right? Well, not exactly. Recently I put on a few pounds and immediately my mind snapped right back into that old dieting mindset. Was I eating a bit too much here and there, missing a few workouts? Just getting older? What’s going on and how can I fix it right this second? I panicked.
I started counting calories but that just made me feel angry and defeated. Wasn’t I past all this? Why not just focus on the positive? I’m lifting more than ever and pushing myself through some pretty grueling workouts. I’m strong! Why isn't that enough?
I don't know what the answer is. I just know that I can't go backwards. Watching what I eat is a time-sucking drain on my soul.
It’s been freeing and empowering to gain back that time that I used to spend worrying about calories and carbs, and I won't give that up. I can’t go back to losing again — not my time, energy, or myself.