Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my many attempts to lose weight, the earliest one I can remember is also possibly the stupidest.
When I was thirteen years old, I attended a health fair expo. At this event, a vendor handed out sample packets of herbal diet pills. Why vendors were allowed to hand packs of pills to minors, I don’t know. I don’t remember a parent with me at the time. It was the mid 90’s so who knows? Different times.
The pills came with instructions. You were supposed to split a dose. Half in the morning and a half at night.
With my brilliant thirteen-year-old logical thinking skills, I deduced that if I took the entire contents of the package at once, I would lose weight even quicker! So smart!
So that’s what I did. On Monday morning before heading off to junior high.
I have no idea what was in those pills. I can’t recall the brand. It could have been some local apothecary or a multilevel marketing product or anything at all. They probably weren’t much different from the fat burner supplements available today.
Whatever the ingredients, by the time the second period rolled around, I felt weird. Like super weird. Light headed. Dizzy. My heart was racing. Something was wrong.
Could it have been psychosomatic? Possibly. But it is also possible that those pills had ingredients in it that my young body was just not used to. The pills promised to burn fat. Fat burners on the market today can contain natural products like caffeine or Yohimbine. A large dose of either one of those could have produced the symptoms I experienced.
Dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. The responsibility for safety and effectiveness is totally reliant on the manufacturer.
When it comes to supplements, it’s every man for himself. Fat burners claim to fire up the metabolism, but so many of them contain caffeine. When they say they boost your metabolism, it seems like what they really mean is they will give you a chemical boost that may increase your NEAT caloric expenditure. That means that you will fidget or get up and walk around more.
But when I was a kid, I thought they magically sloughed fat off your body and that is why I took them all at once.
More likely, they were designed to provide extra energy and that is why I felt hyper and dizzy.
I told a friend about my pill popping and this friend escorted me to the school nurse. The nurse called poison control who told her she needed to call 911. To be honest, I don’t have a totally clear memory of what happened after that. Maybe I went to the hospital in an ambulance. Maybe my mother came to the school and took me in. I probably have drama-induced selective memory because this sort of scene at school was very embarrassing.
Thankfully, my stomach wasn’t pumped at the hospital. Instead, they had me drink charcoal and sent me home. At home, I barfed black sludge into the sink. My mother had my grandmother come over to give me a talk about dieting and the right way to lose weight. Talking to her, I felt so ashamed and so guilty about my stupid error.
I felt even worse the next day when I went back to school and everyone knew what had happened the previous day. And that it had happened because I wanted to lose weight. I never felt more under a microscope. I had always been big but it felt like my public actions had drawn some sort of line in the sand. Now I was the fat girl.
While I never took another fat loss or fat burner supplement ever again, I have made plenty of other mistakes on my journey to wellness.
Here is just a small sample of weight loss mistakes I’ve made:
Sought fast results over lasting results
Once again, I went looking for a quick fix. The fewer calories you consume, the quicker the fat will come off, right? Wrong. I cut myself down to 1200 kcal, and while I could do that for a couple of days, by the fifth or fourth day, I was starving. And then, I stopped adhering. And once I wasn’t adhering, I would binge because why not? The day was “already ruined.” And then I would restrict. And then I would binge. And the cycle would continue.
Did I lose a few pounds this way? Yes. Eventually. But not much and I did further damage to my already complicated relationships with food and body image.
Creating a caloric deficit is the only scientifically proven way to lose weight. Basically, everything else is just a gimmick to try to trick yourself into creating a deficit. The best way to create a deficit is by calculating how much of your intake you can reduce while still eating as much as possible. We’ve been taught that losing weight has to be extremely painful. That dieting is our punishment for having gained so much weight in the first place. But that is a lie and over-restricting is bullshit.
Cut entire food groups out of my diet
I am not lactose intolerant. I don’t have gluten sensitivities. But when I tried going paleo to lose weight, I eliminated dairy and grain from my diet.
Oh, but also, beans and all legumes, refined sugar, processed foods, soy, msg, refined vegetable oils, and any products including corn.
If you are wondering if this diet was hard on my mental health, the answer is yes. If you are wondering if it was even harder on my wallet, the answer is also yes.
But this foray into paleo was not my first experience with restricting food groups for the sake of dieting.
In the mid-’00s, I jumped into veganism after reading the book, “Skinny Bitch” by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouln. Veganism, for those who may not know, requires forgoing not just meat and dairy but all products derived from animals, including honey and eggs.
There are many good and virtuous reasons for adopting a vegan diet. Some do it because of animal cruelty or to reduce their carbon footprint.
I didn’t do it for any of these really good, noble reasons.
I did it because the book I read said animal products were making me fat.
Neither of these diets worked at all. I love cheese too much. Also, neither of them is guaranteed to create a calorie deficit. Even in 2006, there was vegan junk food in the grocery store. Hell, Oreos are vegan. This leads me to my next mistake…
Substituted the food I craved with “healthy” swaps
In 2013, I fell in hard with the Clean Eating crowd. I eliminated all processed food from my kitchen and stocked up on coconut oil and nut butter.
Do you know what has a ton of calories? Coconut oil and nut butter. These are two of the most frequent ingredients I see in clean eating recipes for things like donuts, cupcakes, and cookies.
I tricked myself into believing that because the ingredients were clean, I could eat as much as I wanted.
This, sadly, was not true. Sometimes brownies made out of avocados have just as many calories as Duncan Hines. More nutrients, for sure. But just as many calories.
Back then, I was very into a fitness company that promoted clean eating. On National Donut Day, they encouraged us to make our own clean, protein-packed donuts out of their protein powder. Not wanting to buy their special donut pan, I made mine into muffins instead. Their protein powder was chalky and the recipe sucked. Still, I had been tempted by the promise of donuts. The craving was still there. I ate a half dozen of the unsatisfactory discs.
The next year, I got my free donut from Dunkin Donuts and was perfectly satisfied just eating the one.
I still like trying clean recipes from time to time as typically they are more nutritious than traditional recipes, but if I want a donut, I just eat a donut.
Listened to unqualified people
We will dive more into this at a later date. (You should expect the phrase “check credentials” to be an ongoing refrain on this blog.) But I listened to a lot of very unqualified people in my quest to figure out this whole health thing. The aforementioned clean eating fitness company, did not, at the time of my participation, have a registered dietitian on staff, yet they sold meal plans.
Sometimes these meal plans would have a full day’s menu that would clock in at about 1000 calories. They encouraged participants to do two workouts a day with zero rest days. They also had a huge, thriving online community and no one monitored forums for behavior red flags.
One time in the Facebook group, a young lady worried about meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time at Olive Garden. How could she refuse a breadstick? Some of the advice was practical and sane like, “Just have one breadstick! It’s a special occasion.”
But there was a lot of less sound advice peppered in the comment thread. “Tell the waiter not to bring any bread sticks to the table.” So she should make that decision not just for herself but on behalf of her boyfriend and his parents who she has never met?
And then the advice got a lot more worrisome. “Put your breadstick into your water! Then you won’t want to eat it.” So she should, in front of these people, she’s never met before and wants to impress, take a breadstick and immerse it in a glass of water? I was disheartened to see how many people agreed with this advice or championed some other variation of it.
I started to notice comments like this from the community more and more often. On Instagram, Facebook, and in the official forums.
There was never a mod jumping in to stop comments like that. Never did I see one of the fitness personalities speak up against encouraging disordered behavior.
I’ve heard that this company has since gone through a metamorphosis. They consult with a dietitian and talk about mental health and mindset. This is great because the mindset is so important.
Tried to hate me thin
In college, I was obsessed with one of my guy friends. Just the most crushing of crushes. One problem though: he wasn’t attracted to me. He told me this. And whatever his words were, I interpreted them to mean I wasn’t thin enough.
For that first semester of Freshman year, I watched every morsel of food I put into my mouth. I went to the gym at 6:00 pm every night to do a half hour on the elliptical. I stood in front of the mirror and criticized every area I thought was too jiggly.
I lost weight. But I was miserable. And even at my thinnest, he didn’t love me.
Eventually, the relationship dissolved. The crush evaporated. And my obsession with hating my body into submission drifted away.
I regained the weight.
The problem was never with my body. It was with my mind.
Moved ahead with body composition goals without healing my relationship with food
I struggle with binge eating. I have since childhood. I’ll delve deeper into that at a later date but my relationship with food was complicated.
I had a tumultuous childhood and, for better or for worse, food has always been my drug of choice. Historically, any emotion or event was a reason to eat. Happy. Sad. Angry. Anxious. There was nothing I could feel that I didn’t want to put food on top of.
Whenever I was stressed, I ate. The times in my life when I was most unhappy, always coincided with the times I weighed the most. At those times, it wasn’t really my weight or food that was the problem. It was my toxic relationship. Or being in a shitty work environment. Or a horrible home situation.
My weight, even my binge eating, was a symptom of a larger problem. I was unhappy. I had no self-worth. I was struggling. I was stuck.
I didn’t believe I deserved to be happy. I was scared to make a move.
Trapped me in limiting beliefs
The things I truly believed about myself were what held me back. My limiting beliefs caged me, and while my cage was comfortable, I needed to break free.
Limiting beliefs are things we believe that we hold inside us as truths and don’t question. For example, I always believed that I just wasn’t athletic or coordinated. That I just couldn’t do anything physical. I believed that most of my life until I started taking hip hop yoga classes at a local studio. Now, I could teach those classes. I run. I dance. I hike. I lift. I could have just kept on believing that my body couldn’t do any of these things, but instead, I challenged that belief and grew from the challenge.
It took thyroid cancer for me to start really caring about myself and viewing my life differently. Even after that grim demarcation in my life, the journey to self-love was very long.
I had to believe I was worth loving and taking care of to start loving and taking care of myself. Before I would binge past the point of comfort, knowing I would be super bloated from salt or would have horrible digestive issues, and I didn’t care. But once I started to care about myself, I didn’t want to knowingly do things that would make me feel like shit.
I wanted to develop healthy habits out of love for myself and a desire to live a longer, more fulfilling life.
This impacted not just my health but every area of my life. I now judge myself less harshly and count my victories in different ways.
Put too much stock into the number on the scale
I used to do Diet Bets. You know, that challenge where you actually gamble on how much weight you will lose?
This was a very bad idea. It sounds motivating, right? If you don’t lose 8 lbs in a month, you lose $20! But we can’t control the number on the scale. We can do everything right, be consistent with our nutrition, sleep, and exercise, and still see an unexpected weight spike on weigh-in days due to water, digestion issues, or our menstrual cycles.
Scale-related goals are kind of bullshit.
The number on the scale is just data. Full Disclosure: I weigh myself every day. It’s something I got into during a maintenance period after having already lost about fifty pounds. At that time, seeing the number on the scale didn’t give me any kind of emotional reaction. It was already fifty pounds less than what it had been so it was the perfect time to experiment and notice trends. Doing that taught me a lot of valuable lessons about my body and my natural weight fluctuations. I still weigh myself daily but I don’t place any value on the number.
It wasn’t until this experiment that I realized how much my weight really does change from day to day. One big meal and I might be up five pounds the next day. Of course, that doesn’t mean I gained five pounds of fat. Just that I had one big meal.
In my opinion, health wins shouldn’t be counted by pounds lost but by how you feel. Do you have more energy? Are you more confident? Do you have less anxiety or depression? Are you feeling motivated more often? Yes, these things are harder to quantify than five pounds lost but what is more rewarding? Five pounds that you may lose just by going to the bathroom or positive life changes?
These aren’t the only mistakes I’ve made in my health quest but they are by far the biggest. What about you? Can you relate to these mistakes? Have you made some of your own?