Diets and Life and Why I'm Going to Grad School

I've been on a bit of a crazy ride lately. Literally crazy, or, you know, craziER.

After a few years of learning everything I could learn about holistic nutrition, I had determined that I wanted to go to school, get a degree in holistic nutrition and open a practice coaching people around their relationships with food. I'd seen in my own life how a whole foods, plant-based diet had so positively impacted my life and I really wanted to share it. I read up on all the various modes/theories around eating--Paleo, Whole 30, Zone, Hormone, Intuitive Eating, Eat for Life --all of them.

And then last October, I joined a diet program that seemed like the perfect fit for me.  It was centered around research done around how the brain responds to certain foods, and it was based on a 12-step program that created "bright lines" against sugar and flour. I'd done a lot of research and had used my own body as a testing ground for how sugar and flour affect me, and this program really seemed to be speaking to me. I kind of wanted to lose a little weight, but mostly, this program promised me PEACE around food. The idea is that you automate your food so that you don't think about it anymore and suddenly, your life opens up. I was sold.

I've been searching for that peace for a long time.  From the outside, I look pretty normal, but my head was really full of The Crazy when it came to food. I'd just accepted it, the way I accepted that I have a disabled foot.  I had an eating disorder as a teen and all through my 20s, and even after I entered into recovery, I was just never free of disordered thinking around food.  It's like an alcoholic in recovery --you're never NOT an alcoholic; you're no longer drinking.

So anyway, I joined this program called Bright Line Eating. The founder, Susan Pierce Thompson, is a psychologist and a likable, articulate personality. The program has weekly video modules, and online community for support, and a very strict structure. You weigh and measure all of your food which you plan out the night before. You eat three meals, no snacking. The program is full of these pithy sayings: "Hunger is not an emergency." and "No one ever starved to death between meals."

So, I lost about ten pounds really fast and then I stopped losing weight. My body, after 17 years of abuse as a bulimic, tends to go into starvation mode at the drop of a cracker. At one point, I calculated that I was taking in about 1,100 calories per day, and this while averaging about two hours of yoga per day. It's so clear now that I was just...starving. Literally.

I kept waiting for the peace to arrive. But you know what? Peace doesn't come when you are actively undernourishing your body. I kept playing wth my food plan, restricting more and more, but I still wasn't losing weight. Finally, one day, I was making some herbal tea and I looked down at tea mixture and I was so hungry, so starved, that I started EATING it. And then I ate a lot of other things. And then I thought about purging --for the first time in almost 20 years.

Which led to a full-on panic attack. I reached out to the leadership at Bright Line eating and was told to just "stay the course." Which is not very helpful when you feel like your recovery of almost 20 years is slipping through your hands.

I withdrew from the program. I unsubscribed from the videos. I left the on-line support community. I set about recovery all over again. It was heartbreaking and it was really, really hard.

I'm still not back to where I was. It's just really hard work.

Because here's the thing about diets: they don't work.  I mean, there are always examples of a group of people who do well in each program, but long-term, diets don't work. There's all kinds of data on this. There is no one answer for everyone. And people with a history of eating disorders need to be particularly careful when choosing a weight loss plan.

I think I've figured out why diets do not work long-term. It's because weight loss is actually an inside job. It begins with understanding that, for some of us, food is just a physical manifestation of our mental health and self esteem. You can't start with the external and hope it changes you on the inside. There are a lot of people telling you to change your behavior, but I believe that, for a lot of us, behavior when it come to what we eat is just a symptom. To really address the symptom of disordered eating, you have to find the root cause.

So I'm going grad school to get my Masters of Arts in Counseling. I still am really interested in the healing properties of food and I'm hoping to find a way to dovetail the knowledge I have with the knowledge I am hoping to gain about the human psyche so that maybe I can help people find true peace around food. As always, I will share my knowledge with you and keep you posted.

So much love,


hokgardner said…
Best wishes on your journey. I look forward to hearing more.

Anonymous said…
What an ambitious hug from you to your future clients. They will be lucky you are committing to this. May it prove to be right for you and may it make you happy and stable.

tanita✿davis said…
Oh, Barb. I had started with Bright Line, and yeah. I feel you. A good concept in so many ways, but no. I, too, felt like I was paying way, way, way too much attention to my food, and it just so easily becomes obsessive.


My friend, I wish you peace surrounding food, surrounding your choices, surrounding your journey. You've been a help to so many, and I'm sorry that you're struggling.

It's so funny that I've been considering a PhD lately - I'll be fiftysomething before I'm done, but I feel like I need a new language to navigate the world. My interests are more sociology than psychology, but I'm a little relieved someone else is kind of in that headspace with me.

Judy Lee said…
I'm inspired! You remind of a line from one of the recovery books: "Physical progress follows spiritual progress. It never precedes it." It really is an inside job.
Tenna Draper said…
Hi again, Barb. Last year, my husband and I started going to Medical Weight Loss Clinic. For the most part, it works, but of course, they make their money selling you shakes and puddings and goodie bars that are better for you than the average cookie, plus they have some really good pills. On the whole, it really does WORK.

IF you can keep at it. You get bored eating the same thing, day after day after day. Trying to maintain a schedule for your food, when you are a really busy human being. And when the other half expects you to do all the cooking and cleaning, it can be a major undertaking, especially if you are the one who is ALWAYS on the go, here, there, everywhere. There aren't too many days I'm sitting at home doing nothing. Makes it difficult, but once you commit to something--you know?

Anyway, things were going great guns, and I lost about 60# and only had 30# more to go before I was at my goal weight, and I plateaued. It was DEADLY. Nothing seemed to work. I was even exercising, trying to get things going again, and then


We took a long term trip to Florida. There was a wonderful BBQ pulled pork restaurant that was well within our budget (see *cheap*) AND THE TASTE. Drool.

Needless to say, I have gained back half (so far) of what I lost. I'm discouraged about it, but unwilling to go back to the tasteless diet. The worst part is that hubby has gained ALL of his weight back (of course, he didn't even try to stay on the diet, and decided when he reached a certain point, he would maintain--a lot earlier than I did--and it ticked me off that he was giving himself little treats here and there--pretty soon it was a whole box of those bars or a whole bag of Carmel corn rice cakes, which got WAY more expensive, because eating well is NOT cheap).

I know at some level, I will have to go back to eating cardboard. Ugh.
psam ordener said…
I am so sorry it didn't work for you. I admire your continuing search for peace and look forward to hearing about being in college as a real adult! I've thought of it but it just doesn't appeal to me. I'm learning new languages on Duolingo instead.

I have found that the less I think about eating - the less time I spend obsessing over how many times a day to eat and what to eat at those times, the easier it is to maintain and even lose a pound now and then. That's what works for me. YMMV, of course.
I've tried so hard, so many times to lose weight. Some of the programs were religiously based, including the one that worked best for me: The Weigh-Diet by nutritionist Gwen Shamblin. She encouraged people to eat REAL food (butter is not evil) but to pay attention to your body signals that it is satisfied (not FULL but SATISFIED). My ultimate problem is that too much dieting and too much stuffing (food on top of emotions) has made it difficult for me to "hear" or notice my body's signals. And then there's rebellion: why yes, I think my body does want a V-8 right now, but *I* want a large cup of coffee and some biscotti. (I just described my morning at work yesterday.)
My last efforts at a weight loss program was with Positive Changes hypnosis clinic. It made a lot of sense, but the time required to listen to the hypnosis tapes (must be resting with eyes closed for them) was more than I really wanted to give, and my messed-up feet spasming kept me from focusing during the sessions anyway. *sigh*
I wish you the ultimate blessings on your journey to health and wholeness, and congratulations on finding a new path to take you there!
As I read this, I had a jar of Nutella (with a spoon in it) sitting open on my desk. I am on a deadline for some paintings and experiencing some mental blocks that I clearly feel will be opened if I consume to contents of that jar. I put it away, ate a mandarin and just got on with other work. Food is hard. It is connected with so many emotions. I am one of those who eat in response to being happy, sad, bored, excited.....frankly, working from home has been hard! The pantry is close.

Thanks for starting the blog again. I'm listening