Why I Gave Up On Diets

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Diet is such an ugly word, isn't it? When I hear "diet", I think, "fad", as if it's just a short-term solution with no real sustainability. And I also think of suffering. Unfathomable human suffering.

I've never been one for dieting. I didn't try Atkins when that was the craze or buy all the South Beach books. But that all changed four years ago when I got back from living in Prague where I was drinking beer by the liter and eating whatever went with said beer, and I stepped on the scale and saw that I had reached my highest weight ever. This is what I looked like. That wasn't a good time.

Maribel Marmol
Image: Maribel Marmol

It took a lot of discipline and sacrifice, but I slowly started changing my habits and diet to lose weight. It took a long time and a LOT of hard work, but I did it, mostly on my own and with a steadfast determination to reach my goals. And now?

Maribel Marmol
Image: Maribel Marmol

Thirty pounds lighter and a realized passion for nutrition and health led me to this blog last year. And so we come full circle. Why this little walk down memory lane?

Well, I think back to about this time a year ago when I started joining groups on Facebook and Twitter that catered to this paleo diet. The first time I'd heard about the diet from a friend, I thought it was a joke. "You eat like cavemen? That makes absolutely NO sense!", I exclaimed. And yet, the more I read about paleo, the more I started to see the advantages. The diet calls for a total elimination of processed foods, which I was already doing because of my clean-eating philosophy. I felt that I wasn't eating enough meat, so following paleo seemed like a good incentive to get more meat protein in my diet. All of this and a commitment to eating the highest quality foods produced organically and GMO-free seemed like a major win. After considering those benefits, I decided it seemed like an easy transition, and I made up my mind that I was going to do this.

It was amazing. I felt like I had more energy. My stomach appeared flatter and I didn't have any problems with snacking or being hungry between meals. I also had a creative streak in the kitchen where I got to experiment with food in a different way. You can see some of those recipes here on this blog last fall. All of that was genuine fun and I didn't foresee any changes to the plan.

Then Hurricane Sandy happened.

Initially I thought it'd be good to try to maintain paleo throughout the week and then blog about it afterward. That lasted for one day.

After day three of no power and no hot water and then an exhausting hunt for food and supplies that took me all the way to the upper east side of Manhattan (a three-hour round trip that day from there and home), I stood in the bread aisle at Fairway and shrugged by tired shoulders. I just couldn't care at that point. Not when I knew I didn't have a refrigerator to preserve the meat and vegetables. And not while my city was falling apart. I had bigger concerns in that moment and none of them involved worrying about "cheating" on a diet. I snagged the rugelach cookies and went home with whatever wouldn't go bad to get us through the week, processed or not.

I was off the bandwagon from that week on. Maybe it was just the overwhelming power of sugar and it's ability to get you hooked like a drug addict. Whatever it was, I started to punch big holes through the diet and the tide shifted. I was no longer held captive by the allure of primal eating. Life felt too short and too precious to me at the time. I didn't want to spend any of it obsessing over what I was eating.

Which, by the way, is exactly what I was doing. Obsessing. Nitpicking. Over-analyzing. I realized a lot about myself during that strange week immediately after Sandy. There are aspects to my relationship with food that are ugly and the roots of that dysfunction are buried very deep. While I've managed to dig out some of that nastiness, I find that my past comes back to haunt me every now and then, and usually when my guard is down.

My experiment with paleo caused a few of those ghosts to come back which was a shock on several levels. I thought I'd shut the door on this kind of disordered eating. Hell, I'm a grown woman writing a blog about this for crying out loud. I'm over it...aren't I?

The truth is, no, I wasn't. I can't blame the founders of paleo for this, and it'd be ridiculous to start pointing fingers. It was a trigger that I guess I was primed for at that particular moment. All of that emphasis on food and diet was like an overload on my system.

Following a diet switches on my obsessive compulsion and then turns the knob to max. I'd read articles where people would claim how paleo was the easiest diet to follow and it didn't require a whole lot of thought to maintain. I always found that so confusing because for me it was far from easy.

I said earlier how I felt great physically and had more energy. A lot of that energy went towards stressing out over what my next meal was going to be. I became obsessed with the black and white nature of the "rules" and what I was allowed to eat. I started feeling panic or anxiety if I was invited to go out and I couldn't find something to eat that was paleo. Food was always on my mind, especially while writing a blog centered on food and health.

What forced me to realize that something was off were several comments made from close friends. The comments were lighthearted initially and I'd reassure them that everything was all right and that I was happy with the change. After some time their patience faded and one friend told me outright that she thought this was becoming an unhealthy obsession and she was worried. It felt like I'd been gutted. I was upset at being confronted so directly and for something that I didn't agree with, but I realized that was all bullshit because really I was just embarrassed, and moreover terrified.

What I was doing secretly and hadn't told anyone at that point was that I started binge eating again. And really, it's less about what you're eating, and more the behavior that gets to you. It's the sneakiness of the act and the shame associated with it that made me just want to ignore what was going on. Once my friends stepped in, I couldn't avoid it anymore. Everything crumbled. I sat there and cried, completely torn apart because I realized that she was right. This was wrong. I'd known it all along but I had reverted to old patterns and ignored it because I didn't want to deal with the fact that I was back there again.

And that was where I broke. I took some time off from the blog and walked away from this world for a little while because I needed to figure out what I was going to do to put myself back together. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I dieted for the wrong reason. It was never about me. It was always about correcting that distorted reflection at whatever cost.

With meditation and my affirmation-based life coaching programs, I've made a concerted effort to take those biases down piece by piece. More importantly, I had to learn to forgive myself, a priority I've devoted myself to entirely. I still believe in clean eating and there are many foods that I don't eat because I'm striving to keep my healthy lifestyle intact for a long time. You'll find me posting recipes that cater to paleo, gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian simply because I don't find fault with experimenting with different diets to try and find delicious recipes that are wholesome and nutritious. The difference now is that I'm not choosing to obsess over just one path.

Maribel Marmol Post-It
Image: Maribel Marmol

Yes, there are times when I second-guess what I ordered at a restaurant or experience regret hours after I've eaten my meal. I don't expect that to go away anytime soon. But each time I begin to experience that anxiety with food, I stop and breathe. I write it down if I can. I keep affirmations on my phone. I talk about it with a friend. I let the anxiety out so that I don't have to hide behind anything or pretend.

All of this is to reinforce what I've said from the beginning: There is no single plan that works for everyone. I've met plenty of people who are on a paleo diet and loving life. And the same goes for other diet plans. But you have to listen to yourself to decide what works for you. You want to lose weight? Awesome. Only why? Get honest with yourself about what your intentions and priorities are before you dive headfirst into a major lifestyle change. Stay true to what makes you unique and don't settle for anything less.

Have a similar story you want to share? Drop me a line and let me know. Keep paying it forward, now and always.

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