I learned about dieting when I was 14-years-old. I went away to summer camp and came home 12 pounds heavier. It was the first time I'd gained weight. I didn't like it so I consulted my mother. She explained that certain foods are unhealthy, i.e. everything I loved, and that most skinny women eat them in moderation.
"It's not fair," I retorted. I was angry at my body. Angry that I couldn't eat whatever I wanted. "Sweetie," she said, "life isn't fair." That was the first time I realized that if I wanted to look a certain way I had to eat a certain way and that being a woman sucked sometimes.
I scoured the internet and bought diet books. By 15, I could explain why sugar kicks up insulin levels and how that leads to fat production, and why eating only fat and protein forces the body into ketosis. I tried every kind of diet there is, from Atkins to South Beach. Suffice to say I was miserable.
Dieting became an obsession. By the time I turned 18, restricting my food was almost all I thought about. It was exhausting.
Eventually little diet cheat days turned into binges. I was still grasping at new ways to eat and new plans to follow, but it didn't help. I gained weight, no longer able to resist all I'd denied myself for so long. I gained almost 30 pounds. At first, I was mortified, but then something strange happened: I stopped caring. What I thought had been my worst fear, gaining weight, had come true, and it wasn't a bad thing. On the contrary, it was actually the best thing that could have happened, because I allowed myself to relax around food for the first time in my life.
I stopped pretending to deny myself the carbohydrates that I used to hide in a drawer and eat when no one was looking. I stopped Googling "supermodel diet" and reading books written by toned gurus. I just ate. I ate all the things I'd avoided for years. Sometimes I ate too much of them, but eventually the excitement wore off and I began to eat normally—not too restrictive, not too indulgent.
I was so happy to not be thinking about food all of the time. Being active and allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted served me better than any diet. I barely noticed at first, but over the course of two years, the weight I'd gained came off.
I haven't been on or even considered going on a diet since the day I relaxed around food. I eat what I like and what makes me feel good. I eat healthily for the most part but don't deny myself things. The beauty of not dieting is that nothing is forbidden fruit. Nothing is alluring if you can have it whenever you want. I've finally found what I was looking for for so many years — a way to feel good about myself—and that way is not following anyone's plan but my own.