Learning the difference between dieting and being healthy

On Friday, flipping through Facebook, I noticed a posting from Rocco DiSpirito about a new book he’d written promoting an 850 calorie a day diet. I became enraged. I loathe celebreties, or social media figures who promote unhealthy ways to lose weight. With so many people trying to kick off goals of losing weight, it feels like you can’t look at any kind of media without being bombarded with ads, stories, fake promises of quick & easy weight loss. If there’s one thing that gets me fired up, it’s feeding off of those with low self-esteem who are trying to make changes in their lives.

This will probably open up a firestorm of hate, I wholeheartedly disagree with using any kind of shake or bar to replace meals as a method of weight loss. Nothing can replace real food for a sustainable amount of time, and I firmly believe that if you don’t learn to eat healthy, real food, you will never take control of your nutrition, fueling your body, or your weight. I know this from about 25 years of dieting experience.

My Food Story
I’ve never been skinny. I have been curvy for as long as I can remember, and remember being on my first diet at age 7 or 8. I’ve hated the thighs I inherited from both sides of my family since before I stopped growing. I’ve gained and lost probably hundreds of pounds over the years (not all at once, but over time, it’s definitely several hundred). Through all of this, I only really remember thinking about (or being told about) being and eating healthy a handful of times.

Growing up, my family didn’t eat much healthy food. We always had vegetables, and I was always forced to eat them, but they could accompany anything from steak and baked potato, to a family recipe my children will never experience, Tomato, Macaroni, and Bacon (it’s as disgusting as it sounds). The family Fry Daddy got good use, and it wasn’t a weekend without pancakes or French toast with either sausage or bacon. This took a toll on my health from an early age; by age 7 or 8, I had high cholesterol and we made some diet changes, but it was only moderately better.
Old Schoolhouse Pic
Always a chubby kid. And always with the ridiculous hair.

In junior high and high school, my dieting was about fitting in a smaller size, preparing for cheering season, or to try to look like the girls who had long, slender legs. Somehow the concept of being 5’2″ was something I could offset if I was only a little bit skinnier. I remember my 15th birthday party was a held at a local college rec center, and amazing my friends with my 6 pack abs, and yet longing to be able to have smaller thighs. I did the whole low-fat diet thing, I did Slim-Fast (although, admittedly I always mixed it with frozen yogurt because I thought it was disgusting), I remember trying fasting, but I was pretty active, so it lasted like a day.
Cropped Freshman Prom Pic
Age 15. Underneath that ridiculous dress is a six-pack. I was doing 500 sit-ups a day.

As I got older, I continued to put on a few pounds here, and a few pounds there, and before I knew it, I was really unhealthy. I look back at pictures of that girl, and I want to hug her and tell how amazing she will be someday.
College Graduation Day
Me at my college graduation. Looking back, I cannot believe I let myself get to this point.

I honestly don’t remember what made me realize it, or decide to change, but I read The South Beach Diet, and decided it was going help me undo what I had been doing to my body for years. It was the first time I really thought about what I was eating, not just the quantity of it. But even with that, once I lost more than 30 pounds, I shifted away from the whole food concept (which I now realize was a big piece of that plan for at least the first phase).

It has really only been in the last year or two when instead of thinking about calories solely, I have a mentality of looking to fuel my body with delicious healthy food rather than whatever kept me under my calorie goal for the day. And even more importantly, how important it is to actually eat what your body needs. 8 years ago, I lived for months at a time eating 800-900 calories worth of food (but probably drinking another 800-900 several times a week) while working out fairly heavily and kept getting frustrated at plateauing. I now know that I was killing my metabolism and my body hated me.
Skinny DC Days Cropped
Me at probably my lowest weight since I was 15. I was eating less than 1000 calories & working out over an hour a day. Terrible idea. It didn’t last long.

Today, while I still try to keep a calorie goal, it’s a guideline, and depending on my workout that day or the next day, I adjust it. I’m focused on eating things that my body needs, and allowing for the occasional treat, but staying as focused as I can on making sure I can perform each time I lace up to go for a run or hit the gym. I can tell when I’ve eaten too many carbs, not enough iron, and can even tell when I’m missing fat now. Does it mean I’m in the best shape of my life, no. Does it mean I don’t allow myself to enjoy a dinner out every once in to while, no. But it does mean I know when I’m making trade offs, and that I can’t expect the scale to give me a happy number if I’ve been less on track with clean eating than normal.

Learning to eat healthy and workout hasn’t been an easy road, but it’s finally settled in, and with that came acceptance. My thighs and hips will never be slender, but they can be powerful. I may never weigh what I did when I was 15, but I’m a lot happier. I may never qualify for Boston, but I still love running, and racing. These things don’t matter, what matters is that I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I love who I am today.

I am not a doctor, a registered dietitian, personal trainer, chef, nurse, or any type of clinician who can provide the science behind what you should eat, how you should be working out, or provide medical advice. This is my story. My personal experience, and that is all. During my life, I’ve tried Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, Green Tea pills, South Beach, low fat/high carb, low carb/high fat, and due to TMJ, lived for 6 weeks on smoothies, over cooked pasta, and soup, and still lost 15 pounds in 10 days. Every person is different and your experience with an eating plan, a diet, or workout regimen will be different based on your body’s needs. However, eating real, whole food, in my opinion, is always a better option than anything in a can, bottle, or box.

My delicious dinner last night

What strange family meals did you have growing up that you’d never eat today?
How do you focus on being healthy?
What healthy habits do you have now, that you didn’t have when you were younger?

6 thoughts on “Learning the difference between dieting and being healthy

  1. kristenk

    Awesome post! I’m currently trying to teach myself how to eat healthier. When I went to college I literally gained 30 pounds due to having no idea how to eat healthy or control my portions, and luckily I’m back down to a much healthier weight now. In college I tried diet pills and had to stop after 1 day because my chest and heart felt crazy and I was scared I was going to end up in the hospital! I’m glad I don’t have any crazy food stories, but that did remind me of the Honey Boo Boo episode where her mom makes spaghetti with butter and ketchup 😛

  2. This is a GREAT post.

    I am at around 200 right now and I am trying to get down to 185. I used MyFitnessPal to go from 220 to 200 in 2012, and it was a helpful tool for me because it allowed me to learn what was in the food that I was eating and it helped me learn how to eat healthily all of the time. MyFitnessPal helped me develop healthy eating habits and it also helped me learn how to craft healthy lunches for myself that were still filling. I had no idea how bad some of the foods that I ate regularly were for me until I started using that! When I was younger, I used to drink tons of juice every day to get Vitamin C and that habit continued all through college and my adult life, and I had no idea that it was so caloric yet not filling.

    Once again, I am using MyFitnessPal to monitor my calorie intake, and I love it because it allows me to budget my calories during the day so that I can enjoy a meal out at night.

    Before I went on MyFitnessPal, I was at the end of my rope with trying to lose weight and I almost went on Nutri-System or whatever plan provides you with all of the food that you eat in frozen food style. My FIL was concerned about my health (he’s a doctor) and he offered to pay for it. The only reason I didn’t do it was bc my wife loves cooking and she wasn’t thrilled about the idea of not being able to cook anymore. I’m so glad that I didn’t do that, because then once I got down to a healthy weight I wouldn’t have known how to keep the weight off because I wouldn’t have learned healthy habits. I can see why people do it because the promise of losing weight quickly without much thought or effort is seductive–heck, Dan Marino’s promise that I could lose 5 pounds in a week on NutriSystem sounded pretty good last night when I saw his new commercial–but I hope that they know that the habits and tendencies that put them in a bad state of health will lead them right back into a bad state of health because they never were forced to learn new positive habits and tendencies to replace the bad ones.

  3. Growing up, my mom made fried Spam sandwiches which consisted of white bread, sliced spam which was cooked on a griddle till crispy, and miracle whip. I cannot imagine eating that now.
    I’ve cut mayo and miracle whip. We usually replace it with sliced avacado.

  4. 11315miles

    Ha! I’m going to share this on my blog today so true. My Dad would grill steaks at least 3 times a week(Texas) and the were barely cooked. Still crawling off the plate. I still eat steak but it has to be well done.

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