Why I'm Done With Diets

I have spent most of the last twenty years on diets. 

If you've met me, chatted to me online or seen anything I've posted, it would very likely have been while I was on a diet of some kind. 

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Here's a quick rundown. 

The Atkins diet helped me lose lots of weight really quickly and I kept it up for about two years and felt in great shape, until I fancied a piece of chocolate for the first time one day on the way home from work and that was it. Sugar levels skyrocketed. And then the cravings began, leading to the inevitable pasta, lasagne and baked potatoes diet -  and the expected (rapid) weight gain. 

I spent a few years yo-yo-ing between being vegetarian and vegan, and it just didn't suit me at all. I kind of got bullied into it from online media and plant-based relatives, and, honestly, I really wanted it to work. It all went well for the first few weeks and I felt buzzing (no wonder, on 3 fruit smoothies a day) but then I started to actually gain weight, get recurrent headaches, lost my sex drive and couldn't walk anywhere without feeling dizzy. Oh and my psoriasis and IBS went crazy. So did my mental health. I found so much pressure was on with vegetarian/vegan diets. There are people I'd known for years who literally stopped speaking to me or who humiliated me with hurtful personal comments when I went back to eating meat once a week to stop the dizziness. Like, how crazy is that? 

Next was Paleo and AIP (the autoimmune protocol). This was amazing, and I pretty much kept it up for around six years. I will be forever grateful for what I learned doing this protocol. Psoriasis healed, my mood improved and I lost all my extra weight. My jeans were getting smaller, I was feeling younger. But for me it wasn't sustainable in the long long term. What you saw on my Instagram feed were salads, grilled meats and fish. And this was truly what I ate most of the time. But what you didn't see was me on the odd day, eating an entire bag of fudge, crying into my caramel mocha and feeling like crap, promising myself 'I'd be better tomorrow.' I managed to stay paleo for a long time though, but I had my days like anyone else. 

Gluten Free. Honestly, while I suffered with IBS going gluten free helped a lot. And I stay about 80% gluten free now. But having tested it, I can truly say it makes no difference to me if I eat a wheat bagel for breakfast and then salads the rest of the day. I know all the science about leaky gut and that the damage happens even if you don't feel it and it can take months or years to heal again. I know people who have awful reactions to even a speck of cross-contaminated gluten. But for me personally, and for the quality of my life, it makes not one jot of difference. 

I tried the Carnivore diet and was skinny again in less than a week. But it gave me the worst upset stomach I'd ever had, and after a few weeks of it not improving or settling down, I gave up. Same for keto, except that left me skinny, with urgent  diarrhoea and covered head to toe in new psoriasis patches. 

So. Basically, I'm done with diets. 

I know that if I eat too many carbs I gain weight and feel bad. But I don't want to be measuring my own self-worth against what I've eaten today, because I've been doing that for a long time now. Or using my really amazing body as a kind of life-long science experiment to see how it responds to different fuels. I'm kind of done with that. 

But it wasn't all in vain.

Some diets (or, eating plans or WOE or whatever, if you don't like the word 'diet') will work marvellously for you. Others won't. One thing all these diets have taught me is that we are all individual and have varying nutritional needs dependent on our microbiome, genetic makeup and activity levels. And as we age, or get pregnant, we have different needs all over again. That's why one person will thrive on vegan, while another will end up like I did - nearly in hospital. We're all different. 

Don't get me wrong. It's good to have an eating plan you can try out if you want to troubleshoot areas of health with your doctor. After all these decades, I have a pretty good idea about how my body works. What it likes, what it thrives on and what it doesn't. All that time wasn't wasted, and I learned a great deal. It's like now I'm just giving up and chilling out with this body that I walk around in. I know it literally inside and out. Sorry if that's a bit TMI, but it's true.  

So what now? 

Having learned what my own body likes to be fed, I have decided on balance. I will have a portion of chips and battered fish by the seaside thank you very much and I will relish every salty, vinegary, crispy bite of it as I fight off the seagulls with one arm. But I'll hang back on carbs for the rest of the week. I'll be mostly gluten free, but not always. I'll be low on sugar, unless a friend surprises me with a lemon-mascarpone sponge cake when I visit her for coffee (which happened last week). And I know to ease off the ripened cheeses, too much salami and the red wine for a whole host of reasons but mostly migraines because they're bloody awful. And vegans can threaten me all they like, my body still won't be able to digest chickpeas, lentils, nuts or beans. But ask me over for avocado smashed on sourdough with runny poached eggs and hot sauce and I'll be all over it

And the strange thing is, while I say I'm done with diets, I'm kind of not. Because having done them all, I've finally now learned what works for me. I'm actually a little bit of all of them. I love coconut milk chia puds, but that doesn't make me dairy free or vegan. I love chewy biltong, but that doesn't make me paleo. I'm kind of a little bit of all of them, and I'm grateful they've taught me over the years what I really need. 

And that's a bit of everything. 

Diets aren't fads. They are the basis of a toolkit you can use if you need to. I'm grateful for what they've taught me. If all my diets were ex-boyfriends, I'd be thankful for what they taught me and leave on happy terms. It's all good. But right now, I'm out. I'm going at it with a new, more flexible approach. And once in a while, that will involve lemon mascarpone cake. Just saying.