You wanted so desperately to be thin, but you only managed to stay there for such a short time, because once you achieved your goal, you discovered you wanted to eat calorie dense food more than you wanted to be lean. It seemed like overnight all your will-power, discipline and good habits just disappeared.
You are now once again carrying more fat than you feel comfortable with, but the only way you know how to get back to where you were is a low calorie diet that leaves you hungry, drained and depressed, along with hours of exhausting exercise. You can't go out anywhere because the lure of food when you are constantly hungry is irresistible and you don't have any spare time after all the cooking, measuring, logging and training anyway.
How do you come back from the brink of dieting hell?
1. Understand that you are normal
Having issues with binge eating after long term calorie restriction is completely normal. It is not an indication of some mental illness or full blown eating disorder, it is a biological result of under-feeding for so long.
... a psychiatric syndrome, called semi-starvation neurosis, which had been noticed before in people of normal weight who had been starved. They dreamed of food, they fantasized about food or about breaking their diet. They were anxious and depressed; some had thoughts of suicide. They secreted food in their rooms. And they binged.Semi-starvation neurosis syndrome and had been famously documented by the Minnesota Study. Please click here to read this great summary because I guarantee you will recognise yourself in the behaviour of these subjects who were on a 1600 calorie diet for only 3 months.
Understand that you are not crazy, forgive yourself for over-eating and constantly thinking about food, and remember that you are completely normal.
2. Stop Living By the Numbers
This is difficult I know, but throw away the scales and stop counting calories. You are so much more than a number. You have been on this weight loss journey long enough to know if you are getting leaner or not and you don't need some stupid number to mess with your head every morning (noon and night).
You can still weigh your food (I weigh peanut butter and my protein) but forget about weighing everything else. Eating too many vegetables never did anyone any harm.
3. Change Your Goal
If your entire focus is just on your outward physical appearance, then you have probably achieved fat loss through methods that are not particularly healthy. You eat diet products that have been stripped of all their nutrients and are far removed from their natural state. Your dietary choices have been based completely on the calorie count of food.
Change your goal to that of getting and staying healthy. No more chemical laden fake food substitutes. Choose organic food if you can get/afford it. If you want something sweet, have some fruit. Try your tea without sweetener and if you just can't get used to it, add a small amount of honey. Eat full fat yogurt instead of low fat ice-cream. If there are more than 4 ingredients on the label or if it contains a chemical or preservative don't eat it. Make having the healthiest body possible your new goal.
4. Figure Out What Your Body Really Wants
Figure out what types and quantities of food, and what types and quantities of exercise make you feel the best (before, during AND after eating or training). If you are exhausted and hungry most of the time, then something is wrong.
Improve the quality of your food and lessen the frequency of your training until you find the place where you are full of energy and joy. Life is to short to be miserable because you are 'trying to lose weight'. You may find that the fat disappears by itself once you figure out what makes you feel good.
5. Try Something Completely Different
Don't follow some nutrition or training plan set up by someone you don't know and who doesn't know you. Follow your instincts. If you've always wanted to be a vegetarian, give it a try. If you love low carb but it stops you eating vegetables then simply decide that plant derived carbs don't count. If you love fruit but think you always have to have protein with it, then change your mind and just eat the damn apple! If you hate interval sprints then walk instead or take a fitness class.
Make you your own rules based on your tastes and experience. You are wiser than you think.
6. Expect to Fail
It will go all horribly wrong and you will want to scurry back to the safety of a familiar diet and training regime but resist the urge. Don't expect to get it right at first. Make adjustments as you go.
Set new guidelines that take into account your weakness. If you tend to binge, then let yourself eat as much as you want as long as it is whole food (including high calorie items like nuts and dried fruit). If you want chocolate, just have the 70% high quality dark stuff rather than caramello. If you have to go to the gym everyday, then shorten the time you are there or get a massage instead of training.
7. Deeply and Completely Love and Accept Yourself
There is nothing wrong with being you -- you don't HAVE to change. You are perfect right at this moment. Your body is part of you, so love it and treat it kindly. Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend, your child or your partner.
8. Focus on Your Victories
Think about all the things that you do already that are wonderful healthy habits and be proud of them. Spend time at the end of each day writing down all the things you did well that day -- that you ate a healthy breakfast, that you went for a long walk, that you helped someone out, that someone complimented you on how nice you looked. Don't even think about the things that you stuffed up -- forgive yourself and move on.
9. Be a Detective
You wouldn't follow a get rich scheme written by someone who is poor. So don't follow a plan written my someone who has always be lean and athletic and never been overweight or who doesn't have your attachment to food. Search out people who have lost weight, struggled to keep it off and then found a solution. Try Marna Goldstein or Andrea Albright for starters.
10. Never Give Up
It is tough, it is frustrating, but you can do it. As long as you keep trying and never give up, you haven't failed. If you would like to find balance and peace with your eating and training, make living healthy your goal every single day, then you will gradually find each day becomes easier and easier.