I was an awesome dieter. I could stick at diets for years. Years, I tell you.
But after each diet, a huge hunger-wolf took hold of me.
After a while, my dieting efforts became fewer and farther between. It became more and more difficult to summon the strength to begin (again) and my despondency grew.
A summary of the diets I followed
At seventeen, I was able to abstain from eating breakfast and lunch on school days, without anyone noticing. Restricting eating to a certain window of time each day is known as intermittent fasting, popularised by diets such as Eat Stop Eat (affiliate link). It was lucky that my parents did not have a scale in the house, or I am positive this would have escalated.
At nineteen, I embarked upon my first serious diet. Despite excelling academically, I had little nutritional knowledge. There was no internet to conduct research; I had no money and was too embarrassed to borrow weight loss books from the library. From popular magazines, I learned that fat had more calories than carbohydrates or protein and was informed that restriction in both calories and fat was the answer (it is not). This diet involved severe calorie restriction. I didn’t think of myself as ‘on a diet’, however: I was simply eating less. For breakfast, I poured a drizzle of trim milk upon my cereal and stirred it around so that the dry bowlful became mildly damp. I purchased scales, drew a graph and tracked my weight loss weekly. I lost 17 kilograms (37 pounds) in three months. This left me at the very bottom of the normal BMI range. I was not thin enough to qualify as anorexic, but I no longer menstruated, needed a heater even in summer to maintain a warm temperature and was so fatigued that I once passed out in the shower.
The next diet, at age 20, was vegetarianism, combined with strict calorie counting. I had read that 1200 calories was a good target for a dieting female (it is not) and had some idea that fruits and vegetables were ideal. Wanting to ensure that I didn’t exceed this calorie target, I decided to eat 1200 kilojoules instead (this is approximately 290 calories). I rationalized that this would also help me lose weight faster. I became intimately familiar with the calorie value of virtually every food. For obvious reasons, consuming a daily target of 290 calories was doomed to fail and I periodically binged upon any edible item I could lay my hands upon. For example, I could consume an entire loaf of freshly baked bread or an entire batch of homemade muffins in one sitting.
I played out versions of the above, over and over again, until age 23, when I introduced exercise. At one point, I ran every single day for 409 days, often up to an hour at a time. Sometimes my eating would be ‘under control’, sometimes it would not (my growing income now allowed me to purchase binge foods, such as pizza, cookies, and chocolate). I read frantically, devouring every kind of diet book I could find. I also read many books about those with eating disorders and discovered the terrifying notion that I might have something wrong with me. I also broadened my reading to cover books about depression, addiction, and other behavioral issues.
At age 28, I thought I had stumbled onto the holy grail. I finally understood the value of nutrition and that feeding my body wholesome, nourishing foods would allow myself to eat until satisfied while maintaining an awesome physique. I also devised my own bodyweight exercise regime and running schedule. I consumed what would nowadays be called the Paleo diet, although I drank whole milk and small quantities of whole grains. Much of the knowledge I had gained by this stage was valuable, but I had the enemy squarely in the wrong corner. I had pegged the problem to be refined carbohydrates, and I had acquired the belief that I had no control over these things. Like an addict, I believed that if I consumed just a little, I would be out of control and eat much, much more. I believed this because, on the rare occasions that I consumed these, this is exactly what I did.
At age 33, about a year after the birth of my first child, I lost weight again, this time eating normal food, combined with reasonable quantities of whole food and fresh smoothies, but I restricted my intake so that I was often hungry and after I had lost all of the weight, as with all of the other diets above, I put it right back on.
Somehow in this madness, I acquired a binge eating habit: something that gripped me in a way that felt like an addiction. Two years after the birth of my second child, I was at my highest weight ever and had an immense tug of war in my brain.
Finally, after decades of intense research and personal trial and error, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I wrote the concept out, in bullet point form, and stared at it. The simplicity of it made me want to cry – but also scream from the rooftops with joy. So, here I am, standing atop this corner of the internet and communicating the solution via the keyboard, in case it helps you too.
Please note: I am not a scientist or doctor. I have no formal training in human nutrition (I have undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in a completely unrelated area).