How a non-dieter deals with a down day

I bought bigger jeans this weekend, and I nearly had a panic attack. It’s been two years, three months and maybe four-ish days since I stopped dieting, and most of the time everything's pretty OK. But then there are down days. And they’re usually the result of every single piece of my orderly life going to complete shit.

In years past when this would happen, I’d blame my body for everything that’s going wrong, saying things like, You wouldn’t have lost that guy’s interest if you’d just been in 4s instead of 6s. Those employers were probably looking at your knee fat the whole time. If you’d just stick to your healthy eating plan, everything else in your life would literally actually be perfect forever from now on.

When I reach a down day, the first thing I do is think about going back on a diet. Most of the time I’ve been scrolling through my old “fat” Facebook photos, so I’m already primed to consider the Diet Fairy’s latest offer. But then two seconds later I snap back to reality and remind my BTB (Beautifully Thriving Body) that we are here for the long haul and if Einstein can refuse to memorize telephone numbers, then we can refuse to go on a diet.

The next thing I do is remind myself about what life was actually like when I lived to comply with the Food Rules. When I had Food Rules to follow, I had energy for nothing else. I could work for 8 hours and hold my breath between meals, and that was basically it. Being alive, feeling joy, laughing effortlessly—I had no room for those because if I took my eyes off the Food Rules for one second, I was doomed.

After that, I tap into my philosophical side and remind myself that we’re all living in a society that rewards compliance, not self-compassion. A society that is all too eager to praise us for ignoring our instincts and praising us for spending gads of money on the latest arbitrary trend or fad. I remind myself of all the Food Rules I’ve followed in the past and how they all reached a point of no reward. Whether it was low fat, high fat, low meat, low carb, dairy free, strict Atkins, moderate-after-Mr-Atkins-had-a-heart-attack-Atkins, everything-must-be-homemade Rule, only-protein-in-the-morning, Paleo, Whole30 or Mediterranean (to name a few), none of them delivered on their promise. There was always a point where I wanted to break up with these Food Rules. Every new Food Rule (not matter how wonderfully intentioned) has a built-in, guaranteed dead end.

I know my down day is rounding the corners to a happier place when I remind myself that everybody misses bread on a diet. Nobody loves not eating pasta. Nobody loves counting the carbs in tomatoes. And I am no exception. And no matter how much I’d love just one more tiny sniff of that I’m in Charge cocaine, the real tonic to my down day is found somewhere completely different.

This is usually when I scroll through all the wonderful memories I’ve had the last few years—eating food I love, being held close by my husband, spinning around carelessly in my kitchen with new herbs, spices, pasta and chicken. And I do my best to remember what those moments felt like and how I want nothing more than more of that for myself, for our family, for our future children.

I remember what is true for all of us: that we experience deep, abiding joy more often when we let ourselves off the hook than when following someone else’s rules for happiness.