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What changes when you give up dieting?


Kelsey Miller, Anti-DietAs the creator of the wildly popular Anti-Diet Project column on Refinery 29, Kelsey Miller has become a poster girl for the movement away from fad diets and body shaming and towards balanced, holistic living and body positivity. Her new book that details her personal journey, Big Girl: How I Gave up Dieting and Got a Life, was published this week. In this excerpt, Miller details how mindfulness played a part in her lifestyle transformation.

How are things different now that you’ve given up dieting?” The question sounded garbled through the conference-room speakerphone, but I didn’t need her to repeat it. The nineteen-year-old interviewing me for her student newspaper was not the first to ask me this. Almost every day the topic came up. I sometimes imagined this must be what it felt like to be Jennifer Aniston, constantly having to tell reporters that she was fine, just fine, thanks, and she promised to have a baby ASAP. (Except, I wasn’t Jennifer Aniston and this wasn’t Vanity Fair. It was a bi-monthly insert in a free campus newspaper; more copies would be barfed on than actually read.) Still, I let myself have the self-important daydream as I answered the same old queries: Had I lost weight? Was I in better shape? Those answers I’d gotten down pat. Then came that last question and I choked, every time.

“It’s nice to be able to eat pizza without freaking out,” I replied. Groundbreaking, I know.

I wrapped up the interview and headed back to my desk, grabbing my lunch out of the office refrigerator on the way. I was on a purple cabbage kick, so I filled a plate with the crunchy salad and leftover chicken thighs I’d baked with apples and onions the night before. The office seemed more occupied than usual, as everyone had skipped their Starbucks runs and off-site lunches to huddle inside against the endless winter, now bleeding into spring. Rather than find a free corner for a distraction-free lunch, I decided to eat at my desk, utilizing the original site blocker: a scarf over the computer screen. But first, I Instagrammed it.

It’s virtually impossible to succinctly summarize the transformative joy that begins when you jail-break out of the cage that’s kept you anxious and miserable and self-defeating for your entire conscious life. So when pressed for a straightforward answer about how quitting dieting had changed my life, all I came up with was the pizza quote.

I don’t know when or why I picked that food as my personal emblem. It was my first instinct, but it wasn’t the whole truth. I said “pizza” because I was fairly certain that no one wanted to hear the real answer: mindfulness. That’s what I talk about when I talk about pizza. If it sounds boring, it’s because it is—atomically boring. It was that extreme boredom that turned my whole life upside down.

Anti-Diet, Kelsey MillerPeople often conflate “mindful eating” with intuitive eating, but that’s just because they both sound kind of Zen and tedious. Intuitive eating is a multilayered approach that helps maniacs like me learn to eat like normal people. Mindful eating plays a role in that process, but it is simply the practice of eating mindfully. And, when I say simple, I mean the hardest fucking thing I had ever had to learn.

In my early days of intuitive eating, it was simple. It meant turning off the television, taking out my headphones, or stepping away from the computer for at least one meal a day. The difference there was instantly apparent: I tasted more, I needed less, and I actually felt the experience of satisfying hunger and fueling my body. On the one hand, it was incredible! What a novel experience, being so singularly focused and aware. On the other hand, it was awful. And, soon, that hand balled into fist and banged onto the table, making a racket throughout every damn dinner. I was antsy and irritated, every single time. I forced myself to slow down and chew with consciousness, but it took all my effort not to shovel down the food and get back to anything else. How about picking up that essay I’d started writing two years ago? Or I could change the litter box! My kingdom for a creditcard charge to dispute. But I’d strong-armed myself into this promise to eat just one meal per day with only myself for company.

Anyone who’s ever meditated understands the importance of riding out that itchy restlessness. But I’d never lasted for more than one meditation class, and I’d never met an itch I hadn’t scratched.

I did my best. For months, I sat there with my plate and breathed through the irritation. Wasn’t it worth it for all the benefits? Without mindfulness, I’d never have been able to neutralize French fries in the great Battle of Brunch. But, by now, it had become routine and boring. My lunch break had become less break and more just lunch. Looking back on the one hand—the rational one—I knew that was the whole point of this undertaking. But, on the balled-up-fist hand, that didn’t mean I had to like it. That didn’t mean I couldn’t sit down with my steak salad, furious with it for being nothing but meat and spinach—a lunch I desired but still nothing more than lunch. And, after each of those quiet, conscious meals, I got a glimpse of something unfamiliar and inevitable: Mindfulness was sneaking off of the plate and into the rest of my life.

This is an excerpt from BIG GIRL by Kelsey Miller. Copyright © 2016 by Kelsey Miller. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Feeling inspired? Check out these two simple exercises to practice mindfulness until you master it.

(Photos: Harry Tanielyan, Grand Central Publishing)