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How giving up diets repaired my relationship with food

PHOTOGRAPHY BY BILL CHEN

WORDS BY MARY MADIGAN

Ditching diets for good.

I gave up diets last year, and I made the move less from a place of empowerment and much more from a place of exhaustion. I was sick of standing in grocery stores and reading the back of every packet to make sure it aligned with whatever diet I was currently on.

I wanted my time back, and I wanted my relationship with food to be healthy. I’ve been on some kind of diet for as long as I can remember and I’ve done all of them. No carbs, high protein, liver cleansing, you name it – I’ve probably got the book, and if it’s a celebrity-endorsed a diet, then I most definitely have the book!


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Once you start dieting, it’s tough not to start seeing food through the lens of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and even more confusingly, all diets will tell you something different, and in my case, all food just started to seem like it was bad.

Here’s the thing – some diets will tell you no sugars, even the sugars you get from fresh fruit, and other diets will tell you to live solely off fruit and that certain sugars are good for you. It’s a bunch of mixed messaging, and it led to me spending years feeling bad for eating grapes (yes, grapes!). See, that’s the problem with dieting.

It makes certain foods feel bad – almost dangerous – and even when you quit a certain diet, it’s so hard to change your thinking. Think about it. You’ve spent weeks avoiding high sugar fruits because your diet tells you to stay away from them. Even when you give up on that diet, you will feel guilty every time you enjoy a piece of fruit, and food shouldn’t make you feel guilty. It should make you feel full and satisfied and all those good things.

Of course, this is why it is so bloody complicated. Most diets tell you to give up on the obvious stuff – chocolate, lollies and ice cream – but they also dig into any kind of food you enjoy. Even some vegetables can be put on the no-eating list.

Then you’re stuck in this never-ending cycle of feeling guilty for eating perfectly normal foods. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, and it really takes the joy out of ordering off any menu at any cute cafe.

The truth is any food is fine in moderation, even those delicious cookies from Subway, but diets don’t tell you that. They ban food and eliminate it from your diet and it’s impossible to forget about those cookies from Subway and you spend all this time dreaming of eating something as simple as a cookie. What I’ve learned is you should always just eat the bloody cookie.

So last year, I just stopped. I got off the merry-go-round, and it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve experienced a radical change in my approach to food. I pledged to myself that not only was I going to stop the current diet I was on, I also wasn’t going to try and start a new diet in the near future. I wasn’t going to buy diet books, watch weight loss positive TikToks, or follow Instagram accounts where the influencer discussed weight loss.

I was just going to eat the food that felt good, and I was going to try to stop looking at food as desperately ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I was just going to see all food as fuel, and yes, that includes Mars bars. Once I stopped depriving myself of certain foods, I found I also stopped craving and bingeing on foods as much.

Suddenly you don’t want to eat three blocks of family-sized chocolates when you know you can just eat some chocolate whenever you feel like it. I’d often binge on food because I’d tell myself blatant lies, like ‘This is the last time I’m ever going to have a Mars bar, so why not eat 10 of them!’.

When I was dieting, I tended to deprive myself until I hit my breaking point and then I’d binge. Afterwards, I’d start a new diet because I felt ashamed about binging. I’d just rinse and repeat that cycle endlessly.

Of course, 12 months on my relationship with food isn’t perfect because I have years of diet culture to work through, but it’s better. I can walk into a grocery store now and happily browse the aisles throwing all sorts of things into my cart in record time because I’m not squinting as I try and read the back of a jar of mayonnaise to see how much sugar is in there.

While I perhaps made the decision initially from a place of exhaustion, I can say now that beginning to heal my relationship with food has been utterly empowering.

Want to know more about disrupting diet culture? Try this.

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