Weight: 247 pounds
Total Weight Lost: 6 pounds
“I eat healthy not to lose weight but to feel great. With all this energy, I can take on the world!”
Every time I read about someone who’s changed their diet, this is the recurring theme. Whether they’ve just finished Whole30 or joined MyFitnessPal, it’s always the same: “I feel great now! Why would I possibly ever put that garbage food into my body again?
So… when will I start feeling great? Do I have to wait two months? Ten months? Fourteen years? Because right now, I feel like a bag of trash, I’m not happy about it—and this is not the first time I’ve felt terrible when trying to eat well.
I’ve been watching my calories and eating mostly lean meats and vegetables for about a month now. My stomach has been hurting, I feel nauseated, and the idea of any hard-to-digest food is making my gut shiver with disgust. And this kind of sickness seems to pop up every time I try to eat healthily.
When I did the Eat to Live diet—which is basically being vegan but with limited grains and no oils or salt—I was nauseated all the time. Not just the first few days, but for six whole weeks.
That magic energy from eating clean? I don’t experience that—or haven’t yet, anyway.
During that six-week period, I was so truly drained that some days I would wake up, get out of bed, and have to lie back down because I was so dizzy and tired. Then, after over a month of eating just vegetables with no oils and no salt (which, frankly, is a sin against God), I gained three pounds. Feeling like hell and gaining weight was a bridge too far, and so died my attempt at the Eat to Live diet.
Of course, that diet was a lot more extreme than what I’m doing now. But to eat right and be rewarded with feeling worse just plain sucks. Because here’s the truth about any diet: It’s not fun.
I’m not saying diets are bad, and I know there are many benefits to watching what you eat, which is why I’m doing it. But going to a picnic and watching other people enjoy tortilla chips while you nibble on a bunless chicken sausage and a carefully weighed-out one ounce of cheddar isn’t… great. You know what is great? Eating whatever the hell you want!
Time and again, I’ve heard people talk about how good they feel after a strict detox—and they usually tell me this as they dive into a cheeseburger and fries.
And that’s not because they’re lazy or don’t understand the magic of eating clean, it’s because junk food tastes good, and the seductive power of the freedom of choice with a side of salt, sugar, and fat is hard to resist.
So when I spend my week prepping low-calorie, whole-food meals and end up feeling like a saggy sack of crap instead of a glowing green goddess, I’m understandably annoyed. Think of all the pizza I could have eaten!
I know processed and junk food is bad and makes you feel much, much worse in the long run. And I also know that I have unhealthy emotional ties to what I eat, and I’m trying to change them. But for now, I’m just annoyed that I never feel the glorious energy that seems to come to other people when they clean up their diet.
So, after eating carefully for the past month and feeling totally drained and bloated, my body gave me an extra fun surprise:
I gained 2 pounds.
Despite weighing all my food and documenting every morsel, I still managed to gain weight, goddammit!
Now, here’s the reality of the situation: As I got on the scale that day, I was on my period, and my intestines were playing Texas Hold ‘Em with any potential poo. I knew my weigh-in wasn’t going to be spectacular.
At first, when I first saw the gain, I didn’t panic. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t even that sad.
I thought, “Well, that’s how it goes. Be patient, keep being healthy, and blame your period.” I’d lost some weight the week before, so I was still down a pound overall. But slowly, all those negative thoughts—”Why even try? You can’t lose weight. Why are you doing this when you do everything right and feel worse?”—started creeping back in. I definitely didn’t want to give up, but my hope for success began to fade.
Still, I didn’t turn to food for comfort and stuck with my plan. I felt more tired than ever, my stomach hurt all the time, and the idea of most food was disgusting, but I figured it was just my body getting used to things.
By the end of the week, I was able to eat more than a string cheese and some blackberries for lunch and dinner. I wasn’t exactly feeling positive about my body, but at least all the pissy failure voices were taking a brief vacation away from my brain.
So, what did I do in this moment of extremely fragile body neutrality? A photo shoot!
I guess I like to torture myself. Like that time back in the day (two weeks ago) when I joined a softball team at the exact moment I was feeling the most socially weird and physically incapable. Or years ago, when I went from having never dieted to doing The 4 Hour Body.
Quick tangent: The 4 Hour Body sucks. You can’t eat fruit, sugar, dairy, or grains, AND you have to eat beans with every meal! That means beans for breakfast, and I’m sorry, England, but that’s just not right. Oh, and you’re also encouraged to binge-eat until you physically feel sick on your cheat day once a week. The combo of beans and binge-eating is a recipe for insanity, and I don’t recommend it to anyone in the world!
Anyway, it seems like I tend to seek out really difficult personal challenges and try to get over them while I’m at my weakest. And the hurdle I chose to jump this time was getting lots of pictures taken at a time when I was really not feeling great about my body. This wasn’t a brand new experience—I used to be an actress, so I know the drill. I mean, I was never stalked by paparazzi, but I’ve done headshot sessions and know it’s a tiring, often very annoying process. I was prepared for a rough couple of hours.
Now, I wasn’t just being a masochist; there was a real reason for the photo shoot. I’m starting a business teaching people how to sing and need a photo of myself on my website to prove I’m not some spambot from Russia. And of course, I’m not going to hold off on taking the next steps for my business until I lose weight because that’s an objectively bad idea… so I had to suck it up and smile for the camera, despite feeling pretty much my worst.
The shoot didn’t start off great.
Every time the photographer turned the camera around to give me a preview of the pictures, I was so sad. I know I’m not Chrissy Teigen, but sweet God, how did I look like such a bland, ugly blob?
But I knew that if I tried (or even pretended) to have fun, some of the photos might turn out. So I twirled, posed, and swished my skirt (I wore a big floofy skirt because I knew some West Side Story-style swooshes would make me feel better). It definitely helped that the photographer was super nice and didn’t mind my melodramatic poses and desire to shoot near the gauzy “Total Eclipse of Heart”-style curtains.
I still didn’t feel great, but I did end the session with a better attitude than when I started. Still, I spent the rest of the night wishing I could eat ice cream, while I instead logged my cauliflower rice and chicken breast.
Then the photographer sent me 300 pictures from the shoot—and I prepared for the horror of seeing my fake smile hundreds of times over.
But the pictures actually turned out really well.
The bad pictures weren’t horrible, and there were quite a few that I thought were really beautiful. Sure, there were some where I looked like an alien trying to mimic the art of a human smile. And one where I looked like an evil child.
But the twirls were full-on Chita Rivera glorious—and I look so glamorous in the ones by the gauzy curtains:
Photo: Annie Lesser
It hasn’t been an easy couple of weeks on this journey, but I’ve gotten over some photophobia, and most importantly, I was never tempted to give up. I’m still really messed up about food and body image, but I’m trying—it’s going to be a long process, but it’s worth it.
Next week, find out if the scale wins in its efforts to make me cry and how a goth-looking succulent influences my fitness regimen.
Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing A Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @Ambernpetty.