You Haven’t Failed, Part 1: Your Diets Have Failed You

This post is the first in a series of five posts from my forthcoming book on Mindful Eating and EFT Tapping, to be published by North Atlantic Books in Spring 2019.

I’ve learned to never trust a four-letter word when the first three letters spell ‘DIE
— Taryn Brumfitt, in her documentary film Embrace

It’s funny for me to write about dieting. Because the truth is, I’m in that slim minority of women who have never dieted. Really. Never. Not a single day in my life.

My mother never dieted. My sisters never dieted. Neither did any of my aunts or cousins on the Sicilian side of my family. My matrilineal heritage is of sturdy, stocky, “uneducated” immigrant women who sewed their own clothes and grew their own food and had no concept of their bodies as anything more than vehicles for work. And other than my sister Patti calling me “thunder thighs” as I rounded the corner toward adolescence, I was never body-shamed inside my family of origin, either.

In my early 50s, however, the combination of peri-menopause and a new relationship with a man my body knew I had no business being with conspired to produce a 20-pound weight gain that formed the dreaded “muffin top” over my jeans.

 I looked at my body with aversive fascination. Whose plump face was this staring back at me in the mirror? I wasn’t a full-on fat girl, but when people began asking if I was preganant, their faces would recoil in an O of shock when I replied, “Well, no. But there is this thing that happens around menopause. It’s called, uh, weight gain?”

I had enough body-positive awareness to just breathe through it and love myself, but still—I wasn’t used to my vulnerability being in such plain sight to the rest of the world. There was no way I could pull my shirt low enough or my sweater tight enough to cover that gut. There was no way to de-puff my puffy face. And I was utterly inept at camouflaging the problem with baggy clothing.

Because I had no prior reference point for being overweight, I likened it to the $22,000 of debt I ran up in my late 20s. Neither condition happened overnight. Both crept into my life like afternoon fog in San Francisco, on “little cat feet,” in the words of poet Carl Sandburg. A dollar at a time, a pound at a time, until one day I woke up and thought, “Whoa! How the hell did this happen?”

With that shock then came the onerous task of getting out of the undesirable predicament, be it the creditor calls or the visceral flab hanging over my beltline.

 In conventional society, the approach to such situations is to fix them through some kind of penitential austerity program. Shovel all your money into that infernal hole of debt while you live on cat food. Eat celery sticks and drag your sorry ass to the gym six hours a day.

 Which brings me to the topic of dieting. Like budgeting, dieting has its roots in deprivation. The word budget comes from the French bougette, a tiny drawstring purse you can never carry enough money in. The word diet originates in the Medieval Latin dieta, one meaning of which was “a day’s journey, work, or wage.”

What’s So Great About Dieting?

It’s beyond the scope of this book to talk about money, but I hope you get the idea already—or you’ve already concluded through your own experience—that trying to fix your food and body-weight problems by dieting is, in most cases, an abysmal proposition at best.

In the words of Jes Baker, self-proclaimed Fat Chick and Body-Positive Activist,

“[Diets] are mostly unsuccessful, they are usually soul-draining, and they tend to f*ck with your body in negative ways. And they have been something that has caused a lot of emotional and physical suffering my entire life.”

Restrictive dieting, in reality, is just a binge waiting to happen.

How come?

In the next four posts I’ll take a look at each of Jes’s points in turn. Stay with me; you’re going to learn something.