I was 16 when the family doctor advised my parents that I needed to go on a calorie restricted diet as soon as possible because, if I didn’t lose weight immediately, it would significantly increase the odds that I would die young. My parents trusted that the doctor knew what was best for my health and consented to his diet plan.
I had been a fat kid all my life. Some of my earliest memories were of being teased and bullied because I was fat. So when my parents told me they agreed with the family doctor that I needed to lose weight, I too thought it would be a good idea. I was tired of people being mean to me and excluding me because of what I looked like. I just wanted to fit in.
And so, I started eating 1000 calories a day, recording everything I ate and seeing the doctor every two weeks to be weighed and go over my food journal so the doctor could provide nutrition education (or what I think of as pointing out everything I was doing wrong). I stuck with the diet for 6 months or so and did lose some weight. But within a year I had gained all the weight back plus a few more. I didn’t know then that restricting calories was more likely to result in weight gain and the development of eating disorders/disordered eating than long term weight loss, so I thought I was the failure, not the diet.
Fast forward 48 years — my first medically supervised diet started a lifetime of struggling to lose weight, failing and ending up fatter than when I started. Along the way I developed some very disordered eating patterns that interfered with my ability to nourish myself and triggered extreme self loathing. I hated myself, my body and my life, wanted desperately to lose weight but couldn’t figure out how to do it because every time I went on a diet, I ended up heavier than when I started.
Once I recognized how disordered my eating had become, I was able to take steps toward healing my relationship with food and have learned that curiosity and self compassion will help me understand my behaviour better than judgment and self condemnation. I still struggle with remnants of my disordered eating all these years later and have to be watchful at all times that I don’t slide back into diet thinking.
Despite all the doom and gloom warnings of my imminent demise that health professionals have been giving me my entire life, I just turned 64. I’m older now than I ever thought I would be and I’m still fat AF. I’m still struggling to deal with my anger at a medical system that continues to prescribe a treatment with a 95% failure rate and the harm it has caused.
Being fat in this world is very hard. Being fatter than I likely would have been had I been left alone is harder yet, and knowing that my parents and I were given such poor medical advice when the doctor said dieting is safe and fat is bad and will kill you is even harder. Doctors are supposed to “First, do no harm”. I was harmed and that harm has had consequences that have followed me my entire life.
When that meme asking what we would tell our younger selves knowing what we know now pops up on my computer, my answer is always the same, “Don’t diet. Doctors are wrong, diets don’t work long term, and yo-yo dieting is more harmful to your health than staying fat and being at peace with food, exercise and your body.”