Our Complicated Relationships With Dieting and Weight: Readers Share Their Stories

My mother started me on diets when I was 12 and barely overweight. I would lose weight and gain it back and then more. Finally, I gave up. I don’t diet. I try to eat a varied diet and not go overboard on anything. I exercise. What I don’t do? I don’t put up with being treated like garbage anymore. I fire doctors who treat me poorly. I live my life. I go on vacation. I wear a bathing suit in public. I don’t worry if people see me eating a doughnut. Being thin will never make me happy, but not caring about other people’s opinions has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself. Alexis, Mechanicsburg, Pa.

A Never-Ending Battle

Some readers shared that they will always be fighting their weight.

A few years ago, I lost 50 pounds. Every day of that journey was effort, but looking back, that was nothing compared with the struggle of every day since then. It was like discovering that you could run a marathon, and then at the finish line realizing that every day for the rest of your life, you had to keep running that marathon pace. Every day I will have to keep managing a chronic situation and keep having to make choices. It can be draining. Larry, Palo Alto, Calif.

I counted every calorie. I took up running, and then triathlons. I ran 13 miles at a stretch, hours of working out a day. But the weight kept rising. I became depressed. I was so upset and angry and heartbroken that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I did, the weight kept creeping back up. So I ran more. I added more weight training. When my body broke down, I switched to yoga and hiking. The weight kept creeping back, faster and faster. If I was going to work so hard and feel so bad, what was the point? I still don’t have answers. I’m still seeking them. But I will tell you what I’m tired of: being made to feel bad about myself, or lazy, or undisciplined, when I know how hard I’ve worked. Robyn, Asheville, N.C.

Weight Loss Didn’t Bring Peace

Other readers said that even after losing weight, the stigma surrounding their bodies endures.

When you lose 100 pounds, people will comment, congratulate you. They will frequently tell you how much better you look, because previously you looked “horrible,” “unprofessional,” “like you didn’t care” or memorably that you looked like a “cow.” These “compliments” reveal exactly what people thought of you before your weight loss. When the yo-yo goes back up, you don’t forget these comments because you now know exactly what people think of you. You think of all that you have achieved in your life, and you wonder why your weight loss is the thing that gathers the most comments. Janet, Bel Air, Md.

Years ago, I lost about 50 pounds. Even when I could shop in the normal-people stores, I couldn’t see the weight loss when I looked in the mirror. When you spend your whole life wishing, hoping and trying to become a different person, you sort of expect your heart and mind to change along with your body. And they don’t. At least they didn’t for me. I still saw a girl with tree-trunk legs and a flabby stomach who wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast. That was two or three Weight Watchers memberships ago. Emily, Salt Lake City

When I came home after weight loss, I was surrounded by food and by a culture that didn’t like someone who ate almost nothing and exercised constantly. My family and friends who pitied me for being fat were off-balanced somehow by my extreme weight loss. I lost friends, a boyfriend and a job. I was no longer the passive, helpful fat girl so used to accommodating everyone else’s need. I was the assertive, even demanding woman who wanted a new life. Jean Renfro Anspaugh, Fairfax, Va.

The Mental and Emotional Side

For many readers, the toughest battle has been mental rather than physical.

In 2008, my brother was killed in Iraq, and I ate it. I ate all of it. I soothed the rage with Coke Slurpees. I choked down lo mein as if I might digest the insatiable grief. I gained 35 pounds in four months — and then I started Weight Watchers online. I was strict all week, eating cottage cheese and green peppers for lunch, then I’d binge on pizza all weekend. Sunday nights I’d write in my journal: “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I’ve been high, clutching my protruding hip bones at 132, and I’ve been low, frantically stroking my double chin at 175. I substituted the pain of my brother’s unjust, unnecessary death with the chase of numbers and flesh. America promised my brother’s death was a great sacrifice: tragic, but productive. I ate until America could promise my own body was tragic, in unproductive ways. Samantha, Columbus, Ohio

One night, I was trying to sleep but found myself going over my caloric intake of the day over and over in my head, planning my meals for the next day to balance out a cookie I had had that day. When I realized how problematic this was, I decided to quit calorie counting cold turkey. I stopped tracking my food altogether and deleted the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. Unfortunately, my mind was so well trained at that point that it only made my anxiety worse. Unable to see my calories on my iPhone screen, I would constantly be adding up the content of my meals, so much so that I couldn’t concentrate on school and found myself dazed when with my friends. Now I try and think about my disordered eating as something separate from me. I work hard every day to squash the monster. Sofie, San Francisco

I’m a registered dietitian, and weight loss is an area of my profession I avoid, to be honest. Because I don’t have answers. I strongly believe that cutting calories results in weight loss. I also recognize that this strategy is hard to act on and maintain, creates unhealthy relationships with food and exercise and can often cause more harm than good. I know the years I spent losing and then regaining weight may have hurt my metabolism. I know I have disordered thoughts left over from seeing food as harmful. But I feel more confident that I can (and am working to) fix my relationship with food. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can ever remove the damage of being “the fat girl.” Katie, Durham, N.C.

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Our Complicated Relationships With Dieting and Weight: Readers Share Their Stories

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