The Diet Ritual No One Talks About

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
This week, I'm bouncing-off-the-walls excited to share with you an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, Big Girl, coming January 5 (Sidebar: GET ON IT). Writing this book was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'd never have had the guts to do it if not for this column. So, it is a true honor to share a part of it with you, in this space. Holy bananas, I hope you like it. — Kelsey

Hours after my grand decision to quit dieting, I sprawled across the unmade heap of rose print sheets on my bed, flipped open my laptop, and ordered Intuitive Eating — using my boyfriend’s account to exploit his free-shipping perk. (All couples do this, yes?). I hit "Confirm" on the order and texted him to send me the confirmation e-mail IMMEDIATELY, please, love you.

Hey there, he replied. Are you back?

Yes! Can you send?

Yeah, forwarding now. How was the trip?


Are you up for dinner or are you beat?

Too beat, need an early night. Call you in a bit?

I had dinner plans already — and no one was invited.

I knew this wasn’t a diet I was starting. Yet the excitement and thrill of a new plan was still there. Despite the fact that I wasn’t going to be starting Jenny Craig or CalorieKing tomorrow, there was a "tomorrow" to look forward to. And I wanted to have my night before. I wanted my Final Pig-Out.

I don’t know what you call the night-before-new-diet ritual, but for any dieter, there is one — and those are the best nights of our lives. For a brief window, there are no rules. The idea is actually to break all the rules at once. You order a pizza or greasy Chinese. You buy a tube of cookie dough and maybe some wine. If you do it alone, you put on the junkiest TV you can find, because no one wants to watch Charlie Rose while eating pudding out of a mixing bowl. If you do it with a friend, then the friend becomes your partner, goading you on and nodding with real and gleeful horror when you say, "Fuck it, mozzarella sticks, too."

It’s a last hurrah, and in a way it works. You wake up the next day bloated and ashamed, and the idea of living on green juice forever sounds just about right. But that feeling lifts somewhere around noon when somehow you’re hungry again, and suddenly you have to tangle with food on a diet rather than food on a binge. By then you’re riding high on the New Diet Buzz, and that carries you through the early days until you plateau — then you stumble, then you fall. Then it’s time to start over again, and that means calling the pizza place.

I’d been Final Pigging-Out since my first diet, but I didn’t have a name for it until somewhere around my 20th. During our senior year of high school, my friend Sydney and I planned to start a low-carb regime right before graduation. This was the spring of 2002, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as universally reviled as a basic carbohydrate, except maybe Osama bin Laden.

"Should we go downtown for dinner, then?" Sydney asked as we plotted skinny-girl plans in her room. She lived in a dorm across campus from mine on the cozy grounds of our small boarding school.

"China Village?" I asked hopefully.

China Village was the gross but good place that almost no one ordered from. But their lo mein was outrageous and, after all, Sydney and I were going off all carbs tomorrow. Tonight, I was going to get some outrageous lo mein in my face, plus dumplings and General Tso’s.

Sydney barely hesitated: "YES. Lo mein. Now." She was my partner. We bounced down the hill and into town, high on the thrill of badness.

Over dinner, we talked about how amazing this diet was going to be for our summer plans, and eventually our college experiences and lives in general. Low-carb was the way to go. Our bodies didn’t want all this (OMG, delicious) processed garbage. Our bodies wanted to go into ketosis and burn fat and protein, or something like that. It would feel so good. I don’t recall exactly what we ate that night, only that we ate everything. "The Final Pig-Out," one of us declared, surveying our heap of empty aluminum containers. Then we walked across the park, stuffed and lethargic, to order ice cream sundaes at the Candy Cone.
Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Back in my apartment, clicking through dinner options online, I kept interrupting myself with thoughts of that night with Sydney. It had felt so fun and so icky, but more than anything it had felt necessary. It bonded us together as a team and bound us to the diet we’d start in the morning. And of course there was no greater taste than the food we’d soon be quitting.

I called a local bistro and ordered my favorite burger with American cheese, sautéed onions, mushrooms, and a side of fries. And onion rings. I was going to do it one last time. When my takeout arrived, I turned on Netflix, which suggested I might enjoy watching Fanny and Alexander. (Of course, I never would. I just couldn’t delete it from my queue, for the same inscrutable reason I couldn’t unsubscribe from The Economist.) I scrolled past TED Talks and ’90s Disney cartoons, finally settling on a 30 Rock rerun because the show felt like the right mix of silly and grown-up — and probably also because it stars a binge-eating woman. She’s a binge-eating woman who’s, like, a size 4, but Tina Fey can have that one.

My food was there and then it was gone. I’d eaten every bite right down to the lettuce and flavorless tomato slice. I was stuffed in a familiar way, but I knew that tomorrow something would change. Something had already changed, and this dinner was the dying breath of something else. It was nostalgia on a deep, dark level. The child and teenager and young adult who’d gotten so used to this routine whispered, "Please, please don’t give up. Let’s eat more cheeseburgers and watch television and Google ‘Nutrisystem’ until we fall asleep."

But I didn’t have it in me anymore, and the discomfort in my gut reminded me why. I didn’t want my life to be a series of nauseated spells or hunger pains. I wanted to turn off the television, or at least be able to turn off the television without worrying what might happen in all that silence. I finally had a real life in my hands and I wanted to hold onto it. That meant letting go of food. It wasn’t a new beginning. But it was a beginning nonetheless.

Excerpted from Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got A Life, by Kelsey Miller, coming from Grand Central Publishing on January 5, 2016. Available for preorder now.

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