The Self-Love "Diet": How I Lost 50 Pounds

 Photo by Michael Melendez

Photo by Michael Melendez

If you’ve been desperately trying to lose weight and have stumbled upon this post, I’m almost 90% certain the title alone has pissed you off on some level. And I only make this judgement from my own experience. If I had seen this post about 5 years ago, I would have scoffed and been pissed off too.

“Ugh! Another person telling me to just love myself. I’ve tried EVERYTHING. If I just love myself, I won’t ever change.”

About five years ago, I “woke up one day” realizing that my weight had crept up to a little over 200 lbs. Which was very much overweight for me historically and for my height. I had gained over 50 lbs. in about two years. And I say “woke up one day” because that’s how it happens. There’s a truly sobering moment when you’ve realized your body has undergone a change like a drastic amount of weight gain.

Those thoughts arise like “How did this happen?”, “Is this real?”, and most of all “What the hell am I going to do?! I have to fix this NOW.”

How did it happen?

I had become emotionally dependent on food as I was coping with two back-to-back, long-term, toxic relationships. Food was my escape and it helped me process the immense amount of emotional content I was processing. It helped me feel worthy, loved, and made me happy. It brought me everything my relationships couldn’t.

It brought me everything I couldn’t give myself or that I believed I deserved.

Food wasn’t just helping me cope with those current relationships. Those relationships mirrored the relationship I had to myself. They reflected the amount of worthiness and love I felt towards myself.

I chose to be in those relationships because I did not believe I deserved better. And those values and core beliefs around our worth and why we choose the relationships we choose, are instilled in us at a very young age. They are developed from our primary relationships and are even impacted by the relationships we have with others around us like our peers, coaches, teachers, spiritual leaders, etc.

For two years, subconsciously, I could not handle the anxiety, trauma and depression that these romantic relationships were causing to surface in my psyche. And from a young age, food is how I learned to be best cope with such uncomfortable feelings.

So, when I reached that “oh shit” moment, a couple things happened.

I realized something needed to change. I felt miserable. I didn't feel like me. 

First, I had ended the relationship I was in at the time that was causing me so much distress, anxiety, and suffering. This process is definitely a whole other blog post down the road but for now, I knew I needed to completely cut this person out, in order to regain some emotional balance again in my life. The emotional rollercoaster, ups and downs, made it really challenging for me to be present. And I was choosing to be apart of it. 

 I needed to learn how to have a relationship with myself and be alone.

Then, came the confronting the actual weight loss part.

I knew I didn’t want to go on another BS diet. I was tired of the rules, do’s, and don’ts. Weight Watchers? Ugh. Jenny Craig? No thanks. Atkins? WTF.

I felt like there had to be a way where I could just eat “normal” and lose the weight.

One day, in my search to find some type of maintainable healthy lifestyle, I stumbled upon the blog Summer Tomato, which led me to read the book Foodist. I felt like someone was finally speaking my language. Dr. Darya Rose’s philosophy helped me during my early stages of rebuilding and reshaping my relationship to food and to my body.

With this resource, I reprogrammed the way I viewed food and how I ate. I took small measurable steps to change the way I ate (this is key!). For the first few weeks, I cut out processed foods. Then I began to eat less dairy. Soon, I experimented with eating less gluten. I majorly cut down the amount of sugar I was consuming. And alcohol. Which was quite a bit of both.

And my focus wasn't on losing weight. If I focused on numbers or the scale I would have gone insane. Sure, I ultimately hoped for the weight to drop but my focus was on my relationship to myself. 

How do I want to feel? What will make me feel the way I want to feel?

Eventually I found a sweet spot where I felt comfortable with food. I felt balanced. I didn’t feel restricted. I felt like I was honoring my body by nourishing it. And I didn’t restrict ANYTHING. I implemented moderation (cliché, I know, but it’s the truth!). I had dark chocolate every night. Hell, sometimes even a glass of wine.

I wasn’t counting calories or macros. I wasn’t logging points. I just ate what felt nourishing to me. And stopped when I was full (truly full). I make this sound very simple in a matter of a few sentences but this was MONTHS of re-training my brain and body to eat in a more balanced, healthy way. Months of understanding the difference between restriction and making CONSCIOUS choices from a place of love towards myself.

Which has turned into years of maintaining a healthy relationship with my mind, body and food. Just like any human relationship, it takes work, commitment, and love.

And it took discipline. It took tapas. That fire you feel when something is challenging but the long-term outcome is worth it, without seeing results immediately.

What was really underneath the reasoning why I CHOSE (there’s power in choice) to do all of this?

Self-love.

I realized by feeding my body with crap and stuffing my emotions, I was inadvertently telling myself I was not worth taking care of. My emotions weren’t worth surfacing or being felt. It wasn’t safe or acceptable to feel them. I either had to binge and over-indulge to feel good or restrict and over-exercise to punish myself for trying to make myself feel good. Two extremes.

I didn’t deserve to feel. I didn’t have the right to feel.

Another huge component in rebuilding my relationship to food and my body was beginning my yoga asana (physical) practice. When I started taking yoga classes, I began to experience how it felt to be truly connected with my body and understood how to quiet my mind.

When my mind became quiet, I became in-tune with what it needed. I felt my feelings and held space for them. I could be PRESENT with what was surfacing and not repress it with food.

Yoga allowed me to be present. Mindful. Aware.

This combination of awareness, balanced/mindful eating, with an underlying foundation of self-love, is what allowed me to effortlessly drop 50 lbs. And I genuinely mean effortlessly because it didn’t feel like work. I enjoyed it!  I enjoyed the act of taking care of my emotional and physical body. It was a happy, healthy relationship with myself. 

Now, I'm going to throw out the realism card here folks--this took time to cultivate. About a year until I really felt solid. No quick fix. No magic drink or pill.

Just steadfast, self-love. Returning to myself everyday and recommitting to my intentions. And that was to love myself and take care of myself, no matter what.

I didn’t have any crazy weight-gain back lash like research has proven happens in most post-dieters. I had discovered a long-term approach to eating and taking care of my body. And of course, this practice fluctuates. There have been times when I feel those old patterns creeping in. Sometimes lasting for just a moment, a few days, or even a few months.

The reality is that we’re human. And we’re easily effected by change, transition, and life events. Both the positive and negative. Life isn't linear. It's cyclical.

And our relationship to food, self-care, self-love, really everything is cyclical too. 

But when we feel ourselves creeping back into those old patterns, we have to remind ourselves of that deeper intention. We have to be gentle and forgiving of ourselves. 

This journey isn’t about being perfect. Perfectionism is the opposite of self-love. This journey is a process. And all journeys have their ebbs and flows. With time and practice, we learn how to better cope with the ebbs and maintain a longer flow.

When I lost all that weight I had so many people ask “How did you do it? What’s your secret?”

It was always amusing to answer because I didn’t have some exact regimen that they wanted to hear. I didn’t have the magical answer. Far from it.

I would just respond, “I learned to love myself.”