20 years in Diet Jail

serious plus size women resting together

And my Intuitive Eating Escape Route, by Dena Reynolds

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

How do we break free from Diet Jail? What is Diet Jail? The fabulous lady, Dena Reynolds, shares her journey and how Intuitive Eating gave her an escape route.

a woman holding a flower, contemplating breaking free from diet culture

In a culture where starting to diet is a respectable rite of passage, and Fatphobic messages outweigh body neutrality, does anyone really have a fighting chance at a normal relationship with food? Or with their body image?

I blamed myself for ‘being fat’ (with all the baggage that entails) for so many years. But with some compassionate hindsight, I now see that the cards were never stacked in my favour.

The holy grail of extreme, ‘easily maintainable’ thinness was never meant for me.

My body was happiest at a UK dress size 14, my natural size and default setting. But the messages I received told me this size/weight wasn’t good enough. And so began a fight to shrink my body, which developed into a decades-long war of attrition. I got the keys and well and truly locked myself in Diet Jail.

It’s been a rollercoaster journey but against all odds, one with a happy ending.

I escaped from Diet Jail, and found myself healthier and happier than when I was striving to hit a ‘Normal’ BMI.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Extreme behaviours around food ruled my life, as I pursued thinness at any cost. I tried so many diet and ‘lifestyle’ plans, with varying results.

Even if I didn’t succeed in keeping the weight off, I thought that by constantly trying to shrink myself, I was at least being ‘good’ and responsible. After all, if I could only find the one diet that would work for me, I’d be golden.

I just had to keep going, and find The Right One. I’d then live happily ever after on this lifestyle diet, and be socially acceptable and deserving of all the things I was currently denying myself, because I was ‘too fat’.

Dieting could’ve easily been filed under ‘special skills and interests’ on my CV. I was very good at it, with an all-or-nothing mentality that saw me religiously follow eating plans, to the exclusion of social events and holiday treats. That was, until I finally cracked, and the inevitable first binge started. Then the floodgates opened, and I’d admit defeat and break up with the diet. All my fault of course, for not having the discipline to keep going.

These binges frightened me, and I leaned into the notion that they happened because I was flawed. I read books on Emotional Eating, paid for hypnosis sessions and even joined Overeaters Anonymous. With hindsight, I now know I was binging simply because I wasn’t eating enough. My heart breaks for 20-something year old me, who was convinced she was at fault.

I could briefly maintain a size 10 (and be ‘Normal’ on the bloody BMI chart), if I took amphetamine tablets from an expensive private clinic and lived off Diet Coke, ciggies and Weight Watchers box meals. But this kind of went against the ‘Healthy’ goal of being slim, didn’t it? My GP was happy with the figure on the scales, so maybe it was OK…

It’s a Big Fat Lie! Diets do not work!

My catalyst for admitting that I was exhausted with dieting was when the world turned upside down in 2020. It was like an unending game of Snakes & Ladders. I always slithered back down to the beginning of the board, even as the end was in sight, but always just out of reach. After over 20 years of futile attempts to look a certain way, I was finally starting to understand that a size 10 (with accompanying perfect proportions) wasn’t realistic for me.

Some ‘truth bombs’ had helped me change my perspective. For instance, I’d realised that if a diverse group of people followed identical eating plans, for the same period of time, they would all have different results, and look different at the ‘goal’ weight. I now understood that even the models on magazine covers didn’t look like that in real life. Due to Photoshop editing. Celebs who sold exercise DVDs and eating plans had ‘extra help’ to transform from their Before body to their After body. And don’t even get me started on the unreliable weight guideline that is the BMI chart! (For details of why the BMI chart is so horribly flawed, I’d recommend this article by Aubrey Gordon.)

I’d been sold a lie, encouraged to transform – at any cost – into a form that wasn’t naturally achievable for me, to fit a superficial ideal. This hoax quest had stolen years of my life, and absorbed a ludicrous amount of financial and mental resources. I was Done! I ordered Caroline Dooner’s The F*ck It Diet and Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating to start with; many other helpful and inspiring titles followed, and I grew bolder with each one I read. I also chucked out my all of my Diet literature – pausing only to take a photo to remind me of what I didn’t want to go back to; a life in diet-chains.

woman wearing white corset posing, she has escaped diet jail and found intuitive eating

Escaping the Matrix – Escaping Diet Jail.

I began to practice Intuitive Eating and gave myself unconditional permission to stop dieting. I was worried that I might just eat everything…forever though! And yes, there was weight gain, but nothing as extreme as I’d anticipated. And before long, the ‘forbidden’ foods that I couldn’t have in the house, that were binge triggers, stopped holding any fascination for me. I could take them or leave them. I was actually disinterested! After years of obsession and self-censoring around food, this was an INCREDIBLE revelation.

From the first tentative beginnings, it took around 2 years to chip my way free of Diet Culture and have a relaxed relationship with food. My body is gradually reducing, although this is by no means a guaranteed result of Intuitive Eating. But I feel that, now my body understands that another ‘Starvation Period’ isn’t coming, it is gently releasing some of the protective weight it gained. It is responding well to my healthy happy eating and my joyous movement sessions.

I don’t feel any desire to weigh myself, but I note that my clothing is becoming a little looser. My body is moving closer to it’s own healthy set-point weight. I don’t know what this will be now; I suspect all the years of Yo-Yo’ing will have messed up the original set-point. But I’m finally in a happy place with food and body image, and that’s what’s become important to me.

I’ve achieved so much since I broke up with Dieting. I’ve got so much more physical and mental energy, and that has surprised me. It seems contradictory that I can feel more confident in a larger body, than I did at a smaller dress size. But that’s the power of Intuitive Eating. Once you start to gently reclaim your body through your eating, your world can change for the better in so many unexpected ways. Step away from the Diet Matrix, and into a new world of freedom and possibility.

Learn to Trust Your Choices, escape Diet Jail and find your freedom in Body Image Fitness’ Intuitive Eating Course.

Intuitive Eating course, a lady holding some melons

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