Forty Years of Yo-Yo Dieting

I've been promising for awhile that I would write about the way I've been eating lately.  I've already shared with you the positive effects on my health and my weight.  I haven't sat down to write before now because it feels important to start at the beginning, and the beginning was a LONG time ago.

I went on my first diet when I was a slightly chubby four-year-old, on the orders of my pediatrician.  So I have spent a lifetime feeling fat (even though there were many periods in my life where I now believe I looked just fine), and have been off and on diets ever since.

Me at age two, before hopping on the diet treadmill
Me at age two, before hopping on the diet treadmill

What that first diet was I don't remember, and I had plenty of treats as a child.  What I do remember is always having the sense that I wasn't supposed to be eating them, and feeling guilty when I did.  I remember weighing in at the Diet Workshop every week, and eating things kind of like brownies made with Sweet 'n' Low and drinking Alba 77.  As I entered high school there was the Scarsdale Diet and then the Change-Your-Metabolism-Diet.  Some of them worked better than others, but I never lost ALL the weight.  I never weighed the magic number the weight tables told me I should.

That's me in the middle, when I was about ten, and always on a diet
That's me in the middle, when I was about ten, and always on a diet

After gaining the Freshman 15 in college, I came home for the summer and went on the rice diet.  Only instead of the recommended two weeks I did it all summer long, along with walking several miles each day, swimming laps at the pool, and doing 150 sit-ups and crunches every night after working full-time as a Cracker Barrel waitress (a brutal job).  I went back to school weighing 142, my lowest adult weight, but still unsatisfied because the Met Life table said I should weigh 130. (The rice diet allowed me one piece of fruit for breakfast, and one piece of fruit plus either three rice cakes or a cup of plain rice for lunch and dinner.)

Fall 1986 after the rice diet--please excuse fire-damaged picture
Fall 1986 after the rice diet--please excuse fire-damaged picture

I continued dieting all through college, eating very little a lot of the time but what I now know to be all the wrong things (bagels, giant corn muffins, sandwiches, pizza).  After I graduated and got married I found another diet in an old magazine--I can't remember what it was called but it was mostly vegetables.  I lost 30 pounds in six months (I was still far from 130 but I look good in pictures from back then!), then got pregnant and gained 70 lbs.  I used that diet again after Emily was born and lost almost all the baby weight, the only time I ever came close to doing that!

Leslie's Graduation
1989 - college graduation

Right around this time the low-fat craze started.  I read a book that said you couldn't gain weight unless you ate fat.  If you avoided all fat, you could eat anything else you wanted and you couldn't help but lose.  I fell for this hook, line, and sinker, and ate carbs like crazy, avoiding cheese, meat, and french fries, and gained instead of losing.  At some point I did Jenny Craig.  There were a couple of stints in Weight Watchers, one of which helped me lose 60 lbs. in time for my sister's wedding, at which point I got pregnant for the fifth time.

When Lorelei was little I stopped dieting.  I told myself when I was ready I would join a gym and do Weight Watchers again, but that what I needed to do was live life without constantly feeling guilty about food and bad about myself.  And I do believe I needed to do that.

Me holding Lorelei in a four generations photo taken in 2006
Me holding Lorelei in a four generations photo taken in 2006

In the meantime, while not avoiding the occasional treat, I ate what I considered to be healthy:  beans and rice, whole grain bread and oatmeal and other whole grain cereals, lots of fruit and vegetables, very little meat or cheese because they were high in fat.  Of course, I had my vices:  coffee with cream and sugar, Mountain Dew Monkey Ice from Weigel's, a shared dessert while eating out, but although I went through fast food drive-thrus with the big kids almost daily, I rarely indulged.

I didn't weigh myself for many years, and while I did not balloon when I stopped dieting constantly, I did slowly add pounds.  And I got older.  Finally, my weight began to affect the way I felt.  A friend not much older than I had a close call.  My left leg was swollen and painful, and walking upstairs made me breathless.  I could tell my blood pressure was getting high (after a lifetime of being subnormal!), and I started to get scared.  I decided that in 2014, as soon as I had access to medical care, I would have everything checked and then start a journey to better health.

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