I used to think it was impossible. Shedding fat over the holidays, I mean. Not only did I think it was impossible, but it was also rather, ahh, stupid. Why restrict yourself to chicken and brown rice when the yummiest time of year doesn’t come by everyday? Yes, I’m a proponent of flexible dieting, but there’s something a little absurd about carving out the tiniest sliver of grandma’s apple crumble because you don’t want to go over your macros.
I tried dieting over the holidays once. It was hilarious. Not only did I miss out on my mother’s home cooking, but I also put on some weight. (And by “some” I mean 15lbs in less than a month. Such a joyful time.) I deprived myself so much and drove myself crazy being around all the cookies and holiday treats that I completely depleted my willpower storage and ended up secretly binging in the kitchen night after night. There’s nothing happy about happy holidays if you’re spending it alone with your head stuck in the fridge.
How’s that for ironic?
So the next year, I tried something different. I’m bulking! I declared to anyone and everyone within earshot as I very purposely shoveled tiramisu down my throat. I obviously had to eat all the food before someone else could so much as lay a finger on the goodies because I had gains to chase after, for crying out loud. Bigger portions, more carbs, more often! I was in a one-person eating competition and I was afraid I was going to lose.
Needless to say, I again put on more weight than I should have. I went from lean and strong to chunky and marginally stronger. None of my clothes fit anymore and I was embarrassed to see my friends. But I’m… bulking. Surely that’s justification enough to continue my gluttonous ways, no?
It comes as no surprise, then, that with each passing year, I’d experience increasing anticipation and even more anxiety over the Christmas cookies. This time around, though, something was different. The heightened stress I’d felt before was no longer there. Interestingly enough, I had more to be nervous about than before: meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time followed closely on the heels by my brother’s wedding, in which over 700 guests would be in attendance. All the while drowning in sugar. I had a lot to feel pressured about, and yet I felt none.
It was funny, really. Ever since early November, I kept telling myself that I should probably tighten up a little bit to look somewhat cute at my brother’s wedding. After all, I’d be seeing people I hadn’t seen in up to 20 years. And yet each time I intended on weighing my food, saying no to this and that… I’d make it about half a day before I’d put my food scale away and grab a handful of caramels. Three weeks to go… mehh. Two weeks… but I’m just so relaxed! One week… no dice.
By the time mid-December rolled around, I’d retired any thoughts of dieting – because I knew it was unrealistic – and of course, the notion of bulking had long been laid to rest by that point. I realized about five years too late that the holidays should be a time to maintain your physique and weight and focus your energies on more important intangibles, such as inside jokes with loved ones and card games in the living room.
To that end, Christmas came and went, I had a wonderful time in Pennsylvania with my boyfriend’s family, and my brother’s wedding was a raging success. After bouncing all over the world for over a month, I finally returned home and got on the scale one morning to see the damage that had been done.
Down 7lbs. Huh.
But… why? Maybe this was the manifestation of my I-don’t-care-itis. Or perhaps it was screw-it-all-syndrome.
I thought back and realized that I’d done a number of things drastically different this time around. Here’s how I (accidentally) did it.
I stopped fighting myself over food. I didn’t allow any kind of I can’t language in my vocabulary this time around. If I wanted to eat something, I did. This allowed me to enjoy full-fat cappuccinos every morning, cookies of all varieties, and ice cream cake on my birthday (and then again the next night and the night after that). I eliminated the concept of “cheat meals” in my mind; nothing was off-limits. Knowing that there was no restriction freed my mind from venturing over to the “eat-it-all-now-while-you-can” mentality. The key? Tiny ass portions. Savor, then move on.
I let go of most of my food rules. Though I’m an intermittent faster, I temporarily ditched that practice by the time I got to Pennsylvania. I didn’t want any kind of fuss made over my eating habits and just went with the flow. That meant I ate when I was hungry and that was it. The hunger didn’t hit very often at all – and when it did, I was satisfied with just a few bites of my food. There were so many more interesting things I wanted to do than to sit at a table nibbling away at candy. I ate breakfast. Then lunch. Then a snack. Then dinner. Then a cookie or two. Many times, this meant that I’d leave a sizable amount of food still on my plate, and it was fine. I was done eating as soon as I stopped enjoying my meal. (And lo and behold, children in Africa were not affected in the slightest.)
I didn’t care about calories. I stopped giving a shit about macros. If I had no protein in a meal, I didn’t bat an eyelash. Not once did I attempt to calculate how many grams of carbs I’d consumed that day. I did pay attention to how I felt physically and mentally, and that meant that I’d often find myself gravitating toward whole foods anyhow.
I was kind to myself. No negative self-talk. I felt no guilt or shame whatsoever. I didn’t have to sneak around the house in the dead of night, quietly trying to open the kitchen cabinets without waking someone up and being questioned about the chocolate cake halfway down my piehole. I got to the gym when circumstances permitted, but didn’t bend over backwards for it. This meant I sometimes only exercised 3 days a week and spent the rest of my time cooing over my new puppy and learning how to make stromboli from my boyfriend’s mother. I had no obligation to anything – and it felt marvelous.
Notice that there was never any kind of denial. I shed fat because I did not deny myself anything and did not bind myself to any rules. If my body or my mind fought against something in any way, I let it go. I ordered buffalo wings as an appetizer every time I went out to eat and I didn’t pick the skin off of it for once because hell, the skin tastes damn good. I sucked down a blackberry mojito and then another one because – well, because I could.
As I write this, I am sitting comfortably at 5’2″ 110lbs. I’ve lost zero strength (a solid indication of muscle retention), and though I’m back to training more frequently now, it’s all fun. (And I still do zero cardio.) My self-worth does not depend on the scale in any way, shape, or form. I don’t remember the last time I binged. Nothing is considered a “cheat” anymore because there’s no diet for me to cheat on. I say yes to just about every social opportunity as no food or drink is inherently evil. I laugh more now than I ever have before.
I am happy.
Is this sustainable? Yes. My willpower is intact. Am I back to my happy size? I believe so. I’d much rather stay lean year-round and still get to enjoy my life than to be squishy for the majority of the year and photoshoot-ready for a whopping 3 weeks. Yoyo dieting is old news, my friend.
That’s it, that’s all. This is my big hush-hush secret: the diet I went on was no diet at all.