Taking Aim at Diet Culture

It took a pandemic and my 40th birthday but it has finally clicked: I am done with diet culture.

If only it were that easy. If I could just flip a switch, and POOF! All my hang-ups about food and my body disappeared.

It’s not that easy, but I am capable. And I am committed. Because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that life is too damn short and I am tired of beating myself up about eating, overeating, bingeing, not tracking points, going over points, feeling out of control, feeling powerless, making “bad” choices, falling off the wagon, eating too many carbs, eating too much sugar, eating too much fat, eating too much dairy, eating too much Halloween candy, eating too much Thanksgiving pie, eating too much Christmas candy, eating too much Easter candy, eating too much ice cream, not eating enough veg, not eating enough fruit, not eating “clean” enough… need I go on? Because I could.

Back when I was beating myself up about my drinking (and my eating, but at the time my drinking was the worse vice), reading Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind changed my life because it empowered me to change my brain. I started, little by little, rewiring my noggin. Forging new pathways instead of the well-worn trails that connected wine to stress relief, reward, pleasure, confidence, and so much more. Once I stopped drinking, I started bingeing on sugar and feared I had a new “addiction.” I tried cutting sugar out of my diet only to binge on it as soon as I let it back in. I read several books about sugar and how badly it impacts the human body, hoping the knowledge would make me want to stop eating it. But while one can forgo alcohol, one cannot, alas, forgo food. And sugar lurks everywhere, even in fruit and other “healthy” things. So cutting out sugar the way I cut out alcohol was never going to be the answer. Plus, I love cake.

Junk food has been my number one enemy since I stopped drinking, and I never found a way to crack the (pea)nut (M&M).

It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. I was looking at junk food as my foe. Now I realize that the real villain, ranked right up there with the wine witch on my shit list, is diet culture.

Diet culture, you are going down.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate my time spent on Weight Watchers (now WW). Losing weight in 2017 helped build confidence at a time when I was flailing in the trenches of motherhood. My time on WW also crystalized my gray area drinking, and I’m not sure I ever would have had the courage to take those early breaks from alcohol without the WW social network, Connect, and in particular the #sobersisters group – a bunch of beautiful strangers who supported me with empathy and without judgment.

As one of my most amazing IRL friends messaged me the other night, “It’s ok to acknowledge that a tool that was once helpful isn’t anymore. You can be grateful for the huge role it played in your life and also decide it is no longer helping.” That, in a cracked nutshell, is how I now feel about WW. Time to cut the cord.

So I did. The other night, I wrote the following farewell message on Connect:

My dear #sobersisters, I am not ready to do what I am about to do. I will never be ready, yet I know it is the necessary next step for me in my journey. I am going to cancel my WW Lifetime membership.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, but never acted on it because, I thought, WW helped me so much with my goals. I hesitated to sever ties with my tracker. How else would I stay accountable? How else would I stay thin?

But then: 2020. One of the few gifts of this pandemic has been the paring down of life, and the mental decluttering. This time has forced me to reflect on all that was on my metaphorical plate. And that plate, I realized, was divided like a toddler’s into three areas: what fills me up, what poisons me, and what fuels me. As I move forward into my 40s, for the duration of this pandemic, and into the future that awaits us on the other side, I am trying my best to clear my plate of all but what truly fuels me; or, to stick with the metaphor, to move from a toddler’s divided plate to a grown-up plate.

Being a kickboxing instructor filled me up. I spent hours curating playlists, planning classes, and teaching. I enjoyed it, I was superfit, but I never felt in my gut that I was meant to be in the fitness industry. Kickboxing, as fun as it was, filled up my days and weeks until I had little room for real fuel.

Drinking poisoned me. Thanks to the incredible support of the #sobersisters, I took a month and then a couple of months and then a year off booze – and I have not looked back for 883 days. Being here on Connect helped me believe that alcohol freedom was possible, and I am forever indebted to each and every one of you who left me an encouraging comment and supported me along my path.

Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that diet culture is also poisoning me. Try as I might (and I have!), I cannot progress toward attuned eating and radical self-acceptance as long as I am a WW member. I need a clean break from WW and my tracker, and I am honestly heartbroken that in severing these ties I will also be saying goodbye to Connect.

Simply put, my goals have shifted. Instead of aiming to be a certain weight, I am aiming to accept my body at any size. Instead of counting points or cutting down on sugar or carbs, I am learning to listen to my body and give it what it wants.

Since joining WW in 2017, I lost weight (which I regained) and gained sobriety (which I have not lost). Connect has meant the world to me, and to this day I marvel that a group of strangers took the time to read my writing and offer words of comfort, empathy, and support. Connect is the most special place and my life will not be the same without it, without all of you.

Before I started writing this farewell message, I went onto Instagram to write to my friend Nancy, whom I met on Connect. I told her how scared and sad I was to cancel my WW membership and sever my ties with Connect, but that I know it’s the right thing for me right now. I sent the message and returned to my feed, which refreshed to show a post with this quotation:

“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” -Té V. Smith

Ain’t that the truth!

Thank you, my virtual friends, my #sobersisters, for making this chapter of my life one that I will never forget. Wishing you a safe and healthy end to this crazy year, and a brighter 2021 for us all.

I clicked “Post” and the next morning I canceled my WW Lifetime membership. And damn, if it didn’t feel like a giant weight had been lifted. Pun intended.

So, whereto from here? I have two guiding lights in this process. The first is a book called The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, by Judith Matz, LCSW and Ellen Frankel, LCSW. I’ll be writing a lot more about this book in the coming weeks (let’s face it: months, considering my kids have been in and out of quarantine and writing time is short these days).

My other guiding light, really more of a super badass secret weapon, is an eight-week program called “‘Tis the Season to Ditch Diet Culture,” hosted on the “Run, Selfie, Repeat” podcast by Kelly Roberts and Kayla Reynolds, MS. These ladies have rocked my world. The program includes a bunch of journal prompts, so I’ll be tackling those soon.

After years of feeling powerless against my sweet tooth and emotional eating, I finally feel like I am focused on the right foe: diet culture. I am geared up and ready for battle. This blog has chronicled my journey to alcohol freedom, as well as my struggle with food and body image. I finally feel hopeful that these virtual pages will soon be filled with my journey of diet culture survivorship and the creation of lasting appreciation for and peace with my body. Let’s go.

Sober Holiday Strategy: What If You Had To?

As Thanksgiving comes waddling at us, I have to say I am very much looking forward to another booze-free holiday season. I also realize that two years ago, the thought of enduring the stress of the holidays without booze would have filled me with gut-churning anxiety (please note that holidays are a lot less stressful without booze in the first place, but I digress). For those of you who are pondering an alcohol-free holiday season, or have committed to staying dry but are dreading it, here’s a thought: what if you had to?

What if you had to be sober? What if you were on antibiotics or pregnant or had some other medical or religious or spiritual or physical reason that took booze off your holiday table?

If there were a hard and fast rule, more than a well-intentioned whim or sheer willpower, that kept you from imbibing, would that make you approach the holidays differently? Instead of seeing not drinking as the mother of all bummers, would you perhaps instead be open to this new sober holiday experience, and maybe even be interested in seeing how you could make the most of it?

I first encountered this “what if you had to” mindset on my Peloton bike during a ride with the incredible Christine D’Ercole. On the bike, these words help me push myself beyond what I believe I can do. What if I were really cycling up a hill, and my kid was at the top, and I had to make it up to her as fast as I could? I would effing haul ass.

These five words are versatile and applicable beyond the bike that goes nowhere. For a rule follower like me, these words hold a lot of power, too. Yes, you have to surrender to your imagination. (For those of y’all who aren’t down with that, I have another mindset you may find helpful – stay tuned for an upcoming post.) But once you do, you can explore the feeling you create. Try it on, see how it feels.

See how it feels to imagine that you cannot consume alcohol over the holidays for some steadfast, set-in-stone reason. You don’t have to decide whether or not to drink, or how much to drink. Drinking is not an option, so there is no decision to be made. No draining of your well of willpower. No brainpower spent debating with the wine witch. That might feel pretty good, right?

Spoiler alert: it does. It really, really does.

Quiet Liberation from an Unwanted Libation

I was planning to go out with some lovely mom friends tonight. One of them was going to host at her house, but then she decided that we should all just meet out at a bar instead.

I was going to go, I swear. I can totally go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and hang with wine-drinking mom friends and have fun. Totally.

But then last week happened – a pre-Christmas visit from my dad and stepmom, which was fun but busy and there was more alcohol poured in my house in four days than there has been in the last four months.

And then this week happened – on Monday, my son had his tonsils and adenoids out. A routine procedure for the expert ENT surgeon, a scary and anxiety-producing morning for us. Then my poor hubby worked past midnight the last two nights. So I basically haven’t seen him since I was sobbing into his sweater as he held our 60-pound four-year-old who was thrashing and writhing and screaming his way out of anesthesia on Monday morning.

I was going to go out tonight. Really, I was. But what is more important to me right now is having some time with my husband and getting a good night’s sleep so I can continue to take the best possible care of our son.

Excuses, all of the above. I admit it.

Because while I CAN go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and have fun with my wine-drinking mom friends, it still takes a lot of energy to psych myself up for it. Energy that, right now, I ain’t got.

What energy I do have, right now, is best directed toward helping my son through his recuperation.

So I chose energy conservation and husband time tonight (he had to get on a work call at 9 but we squeezed in some good conversation before that). My mom friends were very understanding, of course.

I don’t feel any FOMO or any regret, not being out tonight. It’s just not the right time. And that’s ok.

What I do feel is a quiet liberation. I don’t have the wherewithal to fully process it right now. I won’t be shouting from any rooftops. But here’s what is true: I not only had no desire to go out to a bar tonight, I had no desire to drink AT ALL. Not there, not here. There was no wine witch whispering, “Just one glass, or maybe two, and you will feel so much happier and more relaxed.”

There was just me, examining the situation and making the best decision for me. A deceptively simple achievement, that. Because therein lies the freedom I once thought I’d lost forever.

The Wine Witch Returns

I had one of the strongest booze cravings tonight that I’ve had in a very, very long time. I’m happy to report that I surfed the urge like a boss, but it was nevertheless unsettling.

Today was a loooong day. “No-school November,” as we call it around here, is a challenging time. The kids don’t have a full week of school until the last week of the month, so our tenuous fall routine has once again fizzled before my eyes, leaving me with two stir-crazy siblings-turned-frenzied-frenemies.

We managed a few successful diversions today. Kickboxing class for me (brought to you by the iPad, which kept my kids entertained for those precious 45 minutes); play date for my daughter (bless the mom of her friend, who let the girls frolic in a giant leaf pile); and a birthday party for my son (bless those parents who hosted the party at one of those bouncy castle places). But any time they were in our house my kids were either at each other’s throats or just plain rude, to each other and to me. Ugh.

By the time the witching hour finally rolled around, I had a sink full of dirty dishes with which to do battle as I attempted a new recipe which I must have botched because it turned out pretty nasty. I felt defeated by culinary chaos and exhausted from the resolve it took to not just scream my head off at my whiny, ungrateful children all day long.

My frayed nerves must have given the shriveled wine witch newfound life because all of a sudden, there she was. “You know what would make this better? Wine. A cold, crisp glass to help you escape this craziness. To help take the edge off. You deserve-”

Nope. Not happening. Scat! Go back into your hole! Bye, Felicia.

She retreated. And I began to “surf the urge.”

Why was I craving alcohol? A mountain of dirty dishes plus a particularly soul-sucking day of parenting? Welcome to Trigger City, where the streets are lined with sauvignon blanc and tequila grows on trees.

Would alcohol make anything better? No way. That’s an easy answer these days. It would have made me impaired, numb, dehydrated, and even more short-tempered than I already was. Most importantly, I would be showing my children that the answer to stress relief is alcohol. I don’t want them to grow up with that message like I did.

What could I do to improve my state of mind instead of boozing? Eat! My kids and I sat down to dinner and even though mine was pretty gross, my son ate his sugar snap peas without whining (!!!) and we ended up having a rather civilized and even – gasp! – enjoyable family meal.

But the dish mountain remained. To ward off the emboldened wine witch – well, first I ate a piece of chocolate in the pantry in the dark by myself (keepin’ it real y’all). Then I asked Echo to play the “Doing the Dishes” playlist – which is full of catchy pop music – and I got down with my dish pile while my kids funneled the last of their crazy energy into a rather adorable dance party.

I quashed the wine witch and I rallied to create something positive out of this slog of a day. And I’m proud of that. My kids are sound asleep and I am heading up to bed as soon as I finish writing. Tomorrow (a new day! Hallelujah!), I’m spinning at 6am and then I have my monthly weigh-in. So this mama needs to recharge her superpowers. That sounds better than getting my beauty rest, doesn’t it?

Either way, I am going to sleep with clean dishes and a clean conscience. Take that, wine witch!