I always thought it was my fault I was fat
It’s a strong message that we are all familiar with. You need to exercise more and eat less. We’ve heard it over and over.
The current rates of obesity cannot be addressed with conventional advice. It doesn’t work. Many people follow the advice to a T, yet they still struggle with their weight.
In fact, when the current dietary guidelines and the low-fat dogma were fully integrated into our culture in the 70s and 80s, obesity rates skyrocketed. Most women spend their entire lives dieting, hungry, and deprived. Then they get so hungry, they often eat the wrong things, feel guilty about it, and then diet again. And they start to self loathe.
And, we often don’t even realize just how long we have actually been dieting or struggling with our weight.
One of my followers, Cherie, said, “I used to say I didn’t have a weight problem until I had kids (I put on 20 kgs with my first) but now I realise I have always struggled. It may have only been a few kgs when I was younger but it would go up and I would starve myself until it went down and in a few months when it went back up I would have to do it again. It was even worse after kids. Up and down up and down.”
And, the same is true for me. Even when I wrote my first book (first edition), I didn’t even realize just how long I had been dieting and “managing” my weight. I thought it was my own fault I was fat, and the way I described my story was completely different to the way I describe it now.
My history with dieting
I grew up very low-fat. We were extremely poor. We had one income and 9 mouths to feed. We didn’t have a car, so my mother trained me to do the shopping. Being young, it was probably easier for me to do the 50 minute walk to the supermarket and lug the groceries home.
She taught me very carefully to budget (we never purchased full-price vegetables, only the ones that were marked down).
We didn’t eat butter, we ate margarine. And, we threw away our egg yolks. It took me years to fully comprehend how sad this was. We were a family struggling to survive, we really didn’t have enough food on the table, yet we threw away egg yolks!
I remember my mother dieting. I remember her grapefruit diet. ½ a grapefruit for breakfast with brown sugar. ½ a grapefruit for lunch with brown sugar, and a light, low-calorie meal for dinner.
Did it work? Yes, she certainly thought it did. She managed to have 6 children and was always slim. However, I later realized what years of dieting did to her. When we diet, particularly long term, our thyroid slows down, our metabolism slows down, it damages our hormones, and we literally start protecting our fat stores, which reinforces the need to diet. When we stop dieting, the weight normally comes back plus interest, which forces us back into another diet!
Unfortunately, my mother learned dieting from her mother. My grandmother used to say, “No thank you, I have to watch my girlish figure.” I used to think that was quite cute until I realized how sad it was that she spent her entire life watching her weight.
My mother was able to stay slim with dieting, but eventually, in her 60s, she ended up with so much damage that she had to have a parathyroid gland removed, and she ended up ballooning to over 95 kg (209 lbs). She isn’t tall either.
Just like my own mother, I grew up with a culture of dieting. Not only did we throw away our egg yolks, but the fact that we were poor meant we grew up mostly on carbohydrate, hardly any quality protein, and hardly any fat.
We ate foods like boiled wheat for breakfast, we even used orange juice instead of milk (we rarely had milk). We occasionally had meat (we had two boiling chickens between the entire family some Sundays as a treat). We never ate processed food. We had heavy rye bread sandwiches for lunch with peanut butter and jam, we always ate vegetables (those marked down vegetables that I dragged home), so according to conventional wisdom, our diet was a very “healthy” one.
We also rarely ate sugar. The only time we did have sugar was on a birthday. My mother bought ice cream, soda, and made a cake. We ate cake and made ice cream sodas. Six children, one foster child, and two parents. We ate sugar around 9 times a year.
I grew up very skinny. Of course I did, I was malnourished.
At 17, I moved to the U.S. to study and stayed with my Grandparents. My diet changed slightly. For one thing, my Grandparents weren’t struggling to put food on the table, but according to the guidelines, I was eating a very “healthy” diet.
While we didn’t have dessert at home much (because my Grandmother was always watching her weight), we had family functions with close friends, and I remember that they always had a cookie jar. Coming from a family like mine, it blew me away that people could have so much that they could just keep treats in a jar! I found it so indulgent to just be able to grab a cookie occasionally. We also had some sort of dessert at family functions, pecan pie for Thanksgiving, cakes or strawberry pies for birthdays (the strawberries in California are just to die for).
My main diet, however, was cereal for breakfast (whole grain muesli/granola) with light milk, whole wheat crackers for a snack, roast beef sandwich on whole grain bread with mayo and mustard, and a standard sort of dinner with lean meat and veg.
I also started working out. I had never done that before. And you would think that I could easily maintain my weight eating this way, but when I was 18, I remember stepping on the scales at the gym and getting the shock of my life. Now, on reflection, my weight wasn’t even that bad at that time, but I didn’t feel good about it. My boyfriend at the time also felt the need to make comments.
I decided to stop eating cookies, I was careful not to eat too much, I avoided foods like cream, and I would be able to get my weight to come down again. And thus I started my own pattern of dieting.
My weight went up and down for the next 4 years.
When I was approaching the end of my 4 year degree, I got special permission from the dean of the university to take a double load so I could finish my degree in 6 months instead of 12 months. Being a straight A student, the dean gave me that permission, so I embarked on a very difficult semester to say the least. I ended up the lowest weight I had been in years, and in truth I was far too thin, but I thought my weight was fabulous.
I returned to Australia with some brand new clothes and was very proud of my new figure. But it didn’t last. I quickly returned to a more normal weight and couldn’t wear any of my tiny jeans.
A few months later, I hadn’t found a job and started hanging out with my sister, who was overweight at the time, and after years of being deprived and slightly hungry all the time, when we were together, I started to splash out a little.
She worked at pizza hut, and around once a week, after a closing shift, she would bring home pizza and chocolate mousse. We would watch 80s movies and eat pizza, which was previously unthinkable to me.
And, yes, my weight went up. I remember having to size up to bigger jeans than I had ever owned, and I was devastated. And then of course that is when the real dieting began.
We were always starting diets. We would start on a Monday, and of course that meant eating the weekend before! But then we hated the diet so much that it generally was over within a few days. Then we had to start again the following Monday.
And even though I thought my eating habits were “terrible” and I felt guilty, interestingly enough, I was still conforming to the guidelines. Why? Because we still were careful with our fat intake, we ate low-fat and we had a fairly normal diet. And, even the pizza and chocolate mousse fit into the “occasional foods” at the top of the food pyramid.
In fact, the Australian guidelines say “Discretionary choices can be enjoyed occasionally as part of a balanced diet, but only in small amounts. We recommend limiting your intake to one serve per day as a maximum.”
One serve a day!
I was only eating my discretionary choices around once or twice a week, thinking I was a total bad-ass. Examples of discretionary choices listed in the guidelines include:
- sweet biscuits, cakes and desserts
- processed meats and sausages
- ice-cream, confectionery and chocolate
- meat pies and other pastries
- commercial burgers, hot chips, and fried foods
- crisps and other fatty and/or salty snacks
- cream and butter
- sugar-sweetened cordials, soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks
- alcoholic drinks
Around 8 months later, I found a job in Sydney, moved away, and went back to my previous diet, so I didn’t even eat those discretionary foods for long. Yet, I thought I was fat because I couldn’t control myself and didn’t have the willpower to stick to a diet. In fact, when I wrote my first book (first edition) I described my story, I still attributed my weight gain to the fact I ate some junky food for a few months.
Looking back on my entire history, that idea that my weight problems were solely the result of a little junk food was crazy. And it was much less than what the average person considers absolutely “normal.”
When we go to birthday parties, it is expected that kids are allowed to splurge. When we have special occasions, it is expected that everyone indulge in cakes, biscuits, and other “occasional foods.” But the occasional cakes and treats we used to have for special occasions have become “every day cakes.” And our food pyramid sanctions that.
It took me years more research to fully understand that my history of dieting was long; that I had grown up in a culture of dieting, and that I had been “managing” my weight since I was 18.
If dieting doesn’t work, then perhaps we need to do more of it…
I read some books, and decided to get “healthy.” I cut my fat even further, ate leaner proteins like fish, and I wouldn’t even drink orange juice. I remember telling my friend that “orange juice has more sugar than coke.” She thought I was crazy.
But, the weight didn’t budge. For the next few years, I sacrificed flavour for health, but the extra weight remained.
I then decided to go super healthy. I became a low-fat vegetarian. I never ate butter. Instead, I used nut butters or avocado on my whole rye toast. I ate whole wheat cereal for breakfast with soy milk and a banana. I had to have morning and afternoon tea because I was always hungry, but it was always healthy (whole grains, salads, legumes). I would eat something like lentils, brown rice and vegetables for dinner.
Then my weight did start dropping. I thought I finally found the answer.
But, years later, I found out the reason I dropped the weight was because I started suffering from malabsorption. I ended up with IBS, gut issues and digestive issues, which meant I was no longer absorbing all my food. And, in fact, I hadn’t just lost the weight I needed to; I was too thin again.
After a few years on my “healthy” diet, I should have been glowing with health, but I wasn’t. I was severely fatigued, and I also had hormone dysfunction, under-active thyroid, high blood sugar (even though I wasn’t eating sugar), insulin resistance and more. And, I often suffered from hypoglycemia. Actually, I suffered from this right through my childhood too, and I fainted if I wasn’t careful.
When a nutritionist finally saw my blood work, he said that my bloods showed that I was so fatigued that he wasn’t sure how I was still functioning. And, he told me the bad news. It was my “healthy” diet doing the damage.
I was devastated. All the extra effort I put into being “healthy” had made me sick.
Well, I said goodbye to my pattern of dieting years ago. I discovered LCHF (low carb, high fat) when I was 30. And, I haven’t looked back.
Initially, when I went LCHF, I gained a few kilos. Yes, I gained weight. But stay with me.
Was I freaked out? Yes. But, LCHF made sense to me. It seemed like a much more logical way to eat. The science behind it was sound, and I felt better than I had in years, so I persisted.
Why did I gain initially? If we start LCHF after years of dieting, it is important to remember that our thyroid is slowed, our metabolism is slowed, and we are protecting our fat stores. So what CAN happen? For women especially (because we have generally spent our lives dieting) we can either not lose weight, or gain a little. We have to give the body time to heal.
But what happens on the other end of that is priceless. After a while, the extra weight I gained disappeared on its own.
And, now, eating all those forbidden foods (butter, cream, eggs, free-range bacon, crispy duck, pork crackling and more), not only did I heal every single one of my health conditions, but I now never have to think about how much I eat, I never have to count calories, and I never, ever diet.
And, in my mid forties, I feel and look better now than I ever did in my 20s.
Back to Cherie, who I quoted at the beginning of the story, who says:
“I know this is not an exclusively female problem BUT can we just imagine for a second, what this world would be like if no woman had to worry about this stuff anymore. A world of healthy, nurturing, strong, creative, confident, awe inspiring women full of boundless energy and free to help raise the next generation and unleash all their good on the World. Free to put forward amazing ideas because their minds are free to explore endless possibilities. What a World!”
So true. Just imagine just how much more powerful women could be if they could rid themselves of the burden of constant dieting. I often say LCHF is about freedom. And freedom from dieting is one of the best freedoms there is.