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Why the diet never works

Hey there, just a quick one as this is something I've experienced (re-experienced) very recently. Some of you will know that I recently got engaged and have a wedding to plan for next year. As well as all the planning madness, the guest list isn't the only thing I felt I ought to whittle down. No sooner than I had surfed over the peak of engagement bliss, did an old frenemy surface from the deep, but not fully, just lurking below the surface, where tricks of the light make accurate perspective difficult.

I say 'frenemy' (although it makes me cringe), because she initially seems like a great pal who wants the best for me, but behind the facade is pure sabotage and chaos. The 'friend' in question is the urge to diet. The weight-loss phantom. The self-loathing leach. We all know her, maybe you call her something different. I call mine Karen.

Although I am in my 11th year of eating disorder recovery, and the sailing has most definitely not been plain, I still welcomed Karen back in with open arms, believing that this time would be different, because I had gotten to a place in life where I was in charge of her, of my weight, and had the power to override my body's most basic needs. Sure!

This time round was just like every other, just another way to dress up not eating carbs and sugar, and as a result, adopting dis-regulated eating patterns to accommodate a restrictive, nutrient-lacking diet within the context of my very active lifestyle. Because of the inevitable caloric deficit I experienced, I was hungry a lot of the time and therefore thinking about food more than usual (which anyone with a history of an ED knows is already a lot). Forget about what diets do to you physically for a moment and consider just how much brain space they consume, not just from thinking about food and what you can and can't eat all the time, but also the brain fog that ensues from an imbalanced and incomplete spectrum of nutrients or lack thereof. I have to say, this is the part of dieting that always makes me the saddest; the way in which it occupies brain space that was ready and primed for other, more nourishing things like creativity, aspirations and relationships, to name but a few.

I was 2 weeks in with this latest diet and I was feeling incredibly 'in control', which, as my partner who navigates his own recovery said, is when you are actually most out of control. Control is a bit like an elastic band, the tighter you pull on it the more suddenly it will spring away from you when you finally have to let go. Sometimes it will even snap. Being on a restrictive diet requires you to plan everything, but of course, I'm too busy for that and I was certainly too busy and also too intent on being 'normal' that I suddenly waved bye bye to Karen when I got on a plane recently to visit a friend for the weekend. During that weekend, I ate in a way that I considered normal and relaxed, i.e. I indulged accordingly without bingeing, which was all well and good in my mind, but naturally, my body did not wish to comply.

And why should it? Eating in a restrictive way for a period and then reverting to 'whatever you want' is not a normal thing for the body to endure. The great thing about doing yoga is that it puts you so deeply in touch with your body that you know instantly when it isn't happy with you. What you then choose to do with that knowledge is up to you. I chose to override the signals for a week. My blood sugar all over the shop and my sleeping patterns adversely affected; my poor body's cry to my brain. Instead of listening and healing, I overrode her cries with excessive sugar and caffeine consumption, hoping the giddy artificiality would send her into a stupor. That's actually quite dark when you think about it.

This is the point where I might start to feel what Brene Brown calls the 'vulnerability hangover', because as a yoga teacher and wellbeing advocate, how on earth could I let this happen?! Why on earth would I want anyone to know?! There have been many times before when I've kept it all in the shadows where it feels artificially safe, but the thing is, when you don't look towards your blind-spots, they end up creeping up on you even when you think you're at your most robust. Not only do I feel ok with this recent episode of disordered eating, but I feel the need to share about it because it might help someone.

The other day I felt my system ease back into intuitive eating and it was bliss. I had to facilitate this through my own inner work and recalibration, so it didn't happen by itself, but man did it feel good. It felt good not just because I could hear my body saying thank you in all its magical ways, but because I now had this sprawling savannah of headspace; the magnitude of which you never appreciate until you've had it momentarily hijacked by your Karen and other frenemies.

All of this is why you will never hear me giving any kind of diet or nutritional advice, and I would caution you to be wary of anyone giving such advice who isn't a registered nutritionist. Charlatanism is rife on social media and the loudest voices that seem the most authoritative are often the emptiest.

A word on intuitive eating...

Earlier I mentioned intuitive eating and I want you to know the meaning of this. Part of it is eating a balanced and plentiful diet whereby your body will be able to function in a way that hunger signals become genuine. Part of this balance is getting enough sleep and certainly drinking enough water. Whenever I feel a sudden pang of 'hunger' I always first down a large glass of water or two, to see if it's actually dehydration, which surprisingly often, it is.

The other side of the intuitive eating coin is emotional self regulation and this is the hard part. For your intuition, quite literally your 'gut' instinct to work well for you, you need to be able to practice emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is gradually bringing all the facets of yourself that you prefer to leave in the shadows into the light. This can be done through a dedicated yoga practice, therapy, journalling etc. there's so many ways and you ultimately have to find what works for you best, but once there's nothing to hide from or to hide, your inner compass becomes so much stronger and how you navigate life changes.

With that last bit in mind, I think the fact of getting engaged threw me off. Why would such a happy life event throw me into chaos? I'll tell you exactly why; because marriage was always a deep desire of the unloved parts of me as a means to finally becoming whole. I thought I had overcome that limited and fragmented view of myself, but my recent slip up says otherwise. And thats ok. There will be more slips, but each time they occur, I courageously and compassionately invite another part of my shadow into the light, and each time I grow stronger.


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