Mental Health and the Crash Diet

Disclaimer: weight loss can be a difficult subject for anyone. I keep it snarky, but I also keep it real. If you’re not in the mood, it’s OK. 

In late December of 2017, I made the boldest move of my 28 year existence.  Keep in mind, I once played in a 24 hour rugby game.

After discovering that bridesmaids dresses have a discriminatory “fat tax” that starts at size 20, I ordered my strapless gown a size down. I had two options: pay more than the “fat tax” to have the dress let out, or lose the weight. It needed to happen for other reasons – the extra inches were a reflection of my unhealthy relationship with beer, my sidepiece french fries, and a secret weekly threesome with Ben & Jerry.

After a few months of eating salads for a week and then living on wine and Panda Express the next, I decided I needed to come up with something that actually resembled a plan of action. I researched a few diets – Whole30, paleo, keto, Weight Watchers, “just go to the friggin’ gym”, “just stop drinking” (thanks, mom), and “you’re beautiful, stop worrying about it” (thanks again, mom).  I finally decided on the ketogenic or “keto” diet after reading the sentence “I couldn’t afford veggies this week, lost weight living on bacon and eggs.” Keto just means putting your body into ketosis by restricting carbs, forcing your body to burn fat instead. 

I almost failed immediately when I realized keto involves a lot of math. Not only do you have to make sure you’re eating at a caloric deficit to lose weight, you have to make sure you’re eating less than 20 “net” carbs a day. Just calculating a net carb involves math! My first night, I measured a head of broccoli, googled how many carbs were in it, subtracted how many dietary fibers were in it, and cried because I was starving but still not sure how much of the head of broccoli I was allowed to eat, I downloaded an app to track my food for me. Seriously, if you’re thinking about dieting, just download a food tracker and get used to it now. Otherwise, getting your dinner to your face may leave you crumpled on your kitchen floor eating raw broccoli and cheddar cheese slices. 

After this emotional moment with my cruciferous vegetable, I dove deeper into the online keto community to see what else I had missed. I immediately found perspective: at least I was not the person drinking straight avocado oil to make her diet more high fat. Cosmopolitan apparently told her drinking a liquid that has 100 calories per teaspoon was going to make them take up less room in her jeans. People often mistake keto for a high fat diet because you can eat cheese. This does not mean you can eat baked brie topped with a cheddar parmesan crust and a side of mozzarella sticks and expect to lose weight. You can eat that way and still consider yourself keto, since that would keep you under 20 net carbs a day, but you will not lose weight.

I also learned that in order to simplify things, some people just eat meat, cheese, and eggs. There was even a man, who I hope was the invasive species known as the internet troll, who recommended living off of sticks of salted butter. Another ketoer claimed to be skipping through metaphorical fields of sunshine and rainbows, but can you really believe someone who says “I’m so happy, I’ve lost 50 pounds! But why have I been constipated for a year?”

Indeed, ketoers are adorably public about everything from their blocked-up butts to their diarrhea. Quite a few ketoers experience what is called “keto flu,” though I was spared the agony. Despite these physical setbacks, a common phrase you see on the online keto community support groups is “I love keto! I lost ten pounds in a week! Why do I feel like death?” I was rocked by the realization that people are measuring their health by how they look, not how they feel. The psychology major in me became obsessed with the online world of keto-ers, wondering if I too was just another sap convincing myself I was happy with the diet, blinded by my desire to not pay for a bigger dress.

The farther I went down the rabbit hole, the more I succumbed to the minefield of triggers, anxiety, and shame.  I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, but I’ve certainly suffered from being a woman who is not a size 2 whose two favorite shows are Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. Read about enough people claiming “I went from a size 10 to a 0! Thanks Keto!1!!!” and even the most Badass Empowered Feminist™ will start wearing the weight loss tunnel vision goggles.

I became so obsessed with restricting both my calories and my carbs, I once consumed only 600 calories in a day after eating my daily allotment of carbs in a handful of blueberries for breakfast. Miraculously, I was still full because I kept eating scrambled eggs. At first I made a promise to myself to go get some mozzarella sticks the next day so I’d have something more caloric to fill me up, but then I heard that sinister little voice: you’ll lose weight so much faster if you keep this up.

Ironically, I was saved by another black hole created by humanity’s drive for self-torture: WebMD. After googling what happens if I don’t get enough protein, I stumbled on an article that suggested my muscles would literally melt off of me and that I definitely would get cancer in the next six months. I’m trying to lose weight, but I know I have maintain my muscle mass to keep my most prized asset: my ass.

I was also saved by the simple fact that I don’t own a scale. While telling people I don’t own a scale makes them look at me like I just said I don’t like avocados, my single most important piece of advice if you’re considering dieting is to throw that archaic instrument of psychological torture out the damn window. Force yourself to feel the real benefits of eating healthy – increased energy, improved mood, clothes fitting better. Force yourself to face facts if you feel like crap, because there’s no number to give you a false sense of health.

So yeah, I have no idea how much weight I’ve lost. But the dress? I’m going to have to pay for it to be taken in. That’s a problem I’m happy to have.

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