Dieting and I have a long history together. It has been there for me through multiple moves, good and bad relationships, TDY’s, deployments, kids, returning to college, etc. You name it, and dieting and I have probably been there together.
However, recently we had a bad break-up after spending a good 20 years together.
Weight, waist measurements, and fitness mean more to us military families than to our civilian counter parts. There is constant pressure for our active duty members to maintain a certain level of fitness in order to stay in the military. As a spouse, who does not have a certain level of fitness required of her, I still want to support my husband and give him the best chance possible to maintain that level of fitness. I realize that not all households run this way, but in our house, fitness is a team effort.
With health and fitness constantly on the radar, I am always looking for ways to make staying fit easier. Depending on the size of the base and community, military families may have access to a primary care manager, dietitian, exercise physiologist and counselors. However, with those resources being somewhat inconsistent and the need and desire to stay healthy a constant pressure, dieting was the answer I turned to.
Before quitting dieting I worried about what would happen if I wasn’t prepping and cooking meals from a diet plan anymore. Would my active duty husband gain 50 lbs and fail his PFA? Was I risking my husband’s career by saying “no” to diets and the diet mentality? Who did I think I was to toss caution to the wind and eat in an unstructured non-diet way? Diets were saving our family from living homeless on the streets, right?
But dieting just had to go. Like a bad relationship, it just wasn’t good for me.
Let me be clear, I am NOT saying that following Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, counting calories, etc., is wrong or bad. What I am saying is that for ME, it was bad. I could never view these “diets” as something I could maintain long term. I was either ON Weight Watchers or OFF. I was never ever able to apply Weight Watchers, or any of my dieting attempts, in a way where it became a lifestyle I could maintain for the rest of my life.
There was no “aha” moment for me as I stepped off the diet roller coaster. I was simply burnt out from listening to everyone else about what I “should” be doing, what I “should” weigh, and how I “should” eat. I kept thinking, there HAS to be a better way.
As I began to question my dieting lifestyle I came across research by Dr. Linda Bacon. Dr. Bacon is an advocate of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement. HAES “shifts the focus from weight management to health promotion.”
In other words eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, and find movement you enjoy so you look forward to exercising. This doesn’t mean when you are hungry you eat a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough. Instead, this approach asks you to get in touch with YOUR hunger and body.
Ever notice what happens when you eat a lot of processed foods and don’t take time to move your body? When I eat food that comes from a box, I feel like a slug and breakout with a nice colony of pimples in my T-zone. On the other hand, when I eat as unprocessed a diet as possible I feel strong, much more energetic and the pimples disappear.
In my gut, I knew I could not go on another diet, opt for another weight loss surgery, or listen to another professional tell me my blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. were awesome but my weight was a metabolic time bomb. Instead I have created my own Wellness Plan, which incorporates a lot of the HAES philosophy, and it is something I can live with for a lifetime.
Not only that, my husband has improved his health as well. Since I stopped dieting and started living my wellness plan, he has reaped the benefits of eating whole foods and making daily exercise a priority by obtaining some of the best PFA scores he has seen in his military career.
There are some great resources available if you are a chronic dieter like me and would like to step off the roller coaster. “Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth About Your Weight”, by Dr. Beacon and Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food, and God” are both good places to start your personal research.
Letting go of the number on the scale and focusing on living a healthy lifestyle has been a liberating and scary process. I have days where I think I’ve lost my mind and yearn for the structure of a diet, but I have other days where I feel confident in my ability to know what my body needs. No more beating my body into submission with a crazy workout routine and living off of dry chicken breasts and broccoli seven days in a row.
I’d much rather put my time and money into good quality food, yoga training and hiking adventures with the family than waste it on another diet program.
Lana Simmons is a military spouse, mom to two active kiddos, NASM-CPT and Yoga Instructor at Goodfellow AFB. She currently runs a boot-camp (Bad Mother Fitness) geared towards spouses, serves on the Goodfellow Combined Spouses Club Board, and is pursuing her Masters in Sport Psychology. To learn more about her programs and health journey check her out on facebook or the web.