A few months ago, I wrote a post for The Plaid Horse, called “I Am a Fat Equestrian and I’m Never Dieting Again.” This is not required reading, but gives a lot of background and context to what I’m about to write. The short version is that somewhere along the way, the idea that plus size equestrians could never be as good as thin (I won’t even say street or midsize because body shaming is very intense in the hunter/jumper world) riders baked firmly into my belief system. All my life, I’ve both limited myself because I thought I couldn’t accomplish as much while simultaneously trying different extremely restrictive diets to yo yo weight up and down, up and down. I’m 36, and I’ve been entrenched in diet culture since I was roughly 8 years old.
I’d probably still be on this pattern of believing that my life would “start” when I was skinny if it weren’t for two things:
- I lost a bunch of weight, and it didn’t solve my problems. Yes, I rode better, but I also had a super trained horse and great training program at the time. Even at the thinnest I’d been since probably high school, I still spent a ton of mental energy looking for things to fix on my body and obsessing over food.
- I’m so, so tired of this. Mentally, I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.
Like many of us, I gained weight during the pandemic. That came at the end of doing Keto for about 9 months, gaining all the weight I lost back after I merely looked at a breadstick. Mentally, I didn’t handle it well. I tried to get back on Keto off and on for all of 2020. Super frustrated, I started working with a nutritionist (who is also an equestrian). She started me on a more intuitive, but still restrictive diet, and I found that while I felt better I still struggled with all of the freedom. Turns out I have no idea at all what I should eat if I just allow myself to eat food. My entire life, I’ve ever been following a strict set of “good foods” or saying fuck it and completely over-indulging on the “bad foods” until I felt awful. Then I’d start a diet again. Over and over.
After a few months of trying to get into a “good” pattern with the nutritionist, I finally told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I can’t diet. I can’t put myself through the mental anguish. I can’t focus on weight loss. She said the only reason to ever lose weight is for health reasons or if I am unhappy. Turns out, I was unhappier trying to lose weight than I was being fat.
Since January, I’ve been trying to eat intuitively. Basically, I listen to my body, give it what it wants, and try not to obsess about food. The key word here is try. I’ve been controlling food my entire life, either through a diet or through a phase of “I’m going to eat everything I don’t usually eat and I don’t care if I gain weight.” To let go of that control kind of broke me at first.
Walking into a grocery store and saying to myself, Get whatever you want felt crazy. I didn’t know what to do. Abandoning the idea that thinner = healthier and the BMI being garbage was difficult for me, because it’s been so ingrained in my education. My nutritionist recommended a science-based book, Unapologetic Eating, and I’ve been slowly getting through that (it’s dense). It says to follow cravings, and not restrict yourself, but also learn to listen to what your body really wants. Are you actually hungry? When are you full? It seems so simple, but when you’ve been artificially controlling your food for your entire life… it’s difficult.
At first I wanted sugar. So. Much. Sugar. But I didn’t dive into a diet of pizza, fries, and ice cream 24/7. I like vegetables. I like cooking. I found that searching for any recipe I wanted without worrying about carbs or calories was a delightful change. I started cooking 10x more than ever before. On a good week (see, I still love to use good as a label for food and eating) I would make 1, maybe 2, complete meals and do the rest of takeout, fast food or pre-made stuff. Now I cook 85% of my meals at home, mostly from scratch. I’ll freeze half of a big recipe, and usually have 2-3 homemade options in the fridge for leftovers. This makes late nights after riding very easy, because I just pop whatever I feel like from the selection in the microwave.
When I crave something, I eat it. It sounds fool proof, but it’s not. The first few months I was super frustrated, feeling uncomfortable without the control over my diet. I felt like I gained weight, which made me second guess everything. Don’t confuse my abandoning of diet culture as a complete and total acceptance of my body. I still want to be smaller. I think I will always want to be smaller. Trying to work on it, but it’s not easy. Especially for an equestrian.
Now about 3.5 months out, things have leveled out more. I still eat sugar, but not with an insatiable appetite. I still get frustrated and upset with my food choices, but it’s usually when I fall into old patterns instead of listening to what my body wants. I’m more active than I was in 2020 when I was trying to diet. I still struggle to accept my body, but most days I hate myself a lot less. And although I thought I gained weight with the lack of control, a recent doctor’s visit (I don’t keep a scale at home) proved otherwise. I actually lost a little bit since last summer, and am currently in the same 10lb weight range I’ve been most of my adult life.
This is going to be a lifelong work in progress. I think it’s always something I’m going to have to work at. I’ll probably write about it more, but for me it’s the right path. And I think it’s an important thing to share and talk about, because disordered views of eating and diet are all around us. I’m not telling anyone what to do. Food and diet and exercise and body are all personal choices. But if any of this resonates with you, it might be worth thinking through things a different way.