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Illustration by Brittany England

Content Note: This article contains details of weight loss efforts.

“What could you be doing instead of dieting, exercising, and thinking about food?”

My dietitian’s question completely stumped me. I didn’t spend that much time in the pursuit of a perfect body, did I?

Sure, I’d been dieting for years. I had, at times, taken it too far in high school, when I would go days eating barely anything, but “dieting” was different. Nothing in my extensive dieting history really compared to what began in January of 2018, though.

I’d just gotten back from a year abroad and started gaining weight. I was desperate to lose it all (and then some). I tried more diets than I want to admit, including keto, veganism, juice cleanses, and calorie counting, all while exercising four or five times a week.

Dieting all the time, I thought, was normal.

My dietitian knew all this. She knew that, before I started seeing her, I probably would’ve listed dieting as one of my hobbies.

And to clarify, my gynecologist tricked me (with good intentions) into seeing a dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery and Health at Every Size. After I brought up my diet and exercise regimen and hormone issues and mentioned that I was having trouble losing weight, she recommended this dietitian and, in desperation (to lose weight), I made an appointment.

I thought my dietitian was going to teach me the secret to thinness, but instead I learned the secret name for my chronic dieting: an other specified eating disorder. I thought what I was doing was normal, but I didn’t realize (until very recently) how much of the richness of life I was missing.

I spent so much time obsessing over thinness. I weighed myself more than once a day. I kept food journals, logged meals in fitness apps, and scheduled four or five high intensity workouts a week. I created accountability group chats, hoping my friends would keep my calorie count in check.

What I didn’t share was the shame I felt during late night binges or the hours I spent working off those calories.

Now that I’ve given up intentional weight loss, I have all that time back.

I’ve started writing, which means I might take a few nights off from working out to send pitches or research an article. Exercising my mind through writing has been a wonderful use of my time and a great creative outlet.

And instead of texting my friends to shame me out of eating, I Facetime them to plan trips together or complain about something other than my diet. I went to Greece with my best friend this spring, where we ate the most delicious foods and had the time of our lives.

The time I spent on fitness apps has been redirected to budgeting apps. This new obsession is more fun, more educational, and healthier — especially for my wallet. Weird how health foods cost a lot of money.

After ditching an obsessive exercise routine, I had the freedom to go to happy hour with friends without trying to reschedule a workout. The flexibility to do what serves me and my happiness has been life-changing.

When I was in the worst place with my body, I saw movement only as a punishment for eating. I forced myself to do intense cardio every single day, believing it was the key to losing weight. I never tried weight training and did yoga only when it involved cardio portions in very hot rooms.

Since ditching weight loss, I’ve been freer, able to try different types of exercise and to do them when my body is craving movement. I’ve tried so many different types of yoga I didn’t even know existed! A relaxing yin class on a Sunday evening is the perfect reset for both my body and my mind before a workweek, which is also when I do spin classes and some weight training.

All movement is good — even if it’s only walking from my desk to the cafe down the road for a sweet treat.

This freedom has also allowed me to try things I was previously afraid of (like sweet treats). I threw out my scale and haven’t weighed myself since November 2018.

I’ve posted photos of myself where you can see visible cellulite or fat rolls. I have the freedom to be who I am now — instead of being trapped in a mental prison that I wouldn’t free myself from until I lost weight.

I was lucky to be referred to a dietitian whose specialty was not intentional weight loss. Her practice was steeped in teaching clients to eat intuitively and enjoy health at whatever size they were. Working with her for just a few weeks revealed my body was in starvation mode.

It took a bit of time to teach my body how to eat normally again. I needed a vitamin regimen to get my physical energy back. Restriction had left me deficient in several key vitamins, like vitamin D and B-12 (both orally and subcutaneously), which are both linked to energy levels.

Once I started nourishing my body, I became more energized than I had been on any fad diet I’d tried, including keto. But what’s been even more transformative is the change in my emotional energy.

It takes so much out of you to hate your body and torture it daily. Feeding myself the narrative that I wasn’t good enough took a toll. I didn’t really know it yet, but I was tired of living like that.

I am still working on being OK with being in a larger body, but having the capacity to spend my emotional energy on bettering the world instead of “bettering” my body has been a positive change I’m so thankful for.

Radical acceptance” is a term my dietitian taught me. Every day, I challenge myself to acknowledge the way I feel about my body and just accept it. It helps me meet myself where I am rather than spend all my waking hours longing for an ideal I’ll probably never reach.

I accept the fact that dieting never worked for me and never will. I accept my body the way it is right now, the way it was yesterday, and the way it will be tomorrow.

Sometimes the emotions associated with my body aren’t positive, but when I practice mindful acceptance of them, it makes processing the pain easier. By acknowledging my pain, I can focus on coping mechanisms rather than starve myself as a numbing technique.

This concept of radical acceptance has served me in other ways as well. It has been an incredible tool in my relationships and my career.

There are so many things we cannot and should not try to control. When I accept those things, I can put my energy into focusing on the things I can change, making my relationships healthier and my work more fulfilling.

I was spending all my time and energy on diet and exercise, but with her help, I’m not doing that anymore. Going into my second year without resolving to lose weight is exciting, though I know it will be challenging.

On those challenging days when my eating disorder is trying to trick me back into my old habits, I’ll remind myself of all I’ve gained since I stopped pursuing weight loss.

Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine-to-five. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, Wear Your Voice Mag, and Rantt. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for endless hot takes and photos of her extremely cute cats.