Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Before I started The Anti-Diet Project, breakfast was a very simple matter: a cup of dry, fiber-based cereal, and a cup of coffee. The important thing was to start the day right — and by right, I mean spartan, "healthy," and portioned to the approximate size of a cat bowl. That way I'd be setting a standard for the rest of the day. "Today, I will be good. Look at how wonderful I am with my mini-bowl! Perhaps I'll Instagram it and then everyone will know how wonderful I am." Cereal, coffee, and I was done, and also wonderful. Until about 20 minutes later, when I wasn't done anymore.
I write a lot of the food stories on Refinery29 and because of that companies send me a lot of food hoping I will do an expose on, say, Pasta Chips. While it all gets shared with my hungry office mates, most of it piles up under my desk until I'm virtually sitting atop a pyramid of snacks all day. And, after that initial high of wonderfulness wears off, the pyramid begins to loom large. For some unfathomable reason, I'm hungry again. Imagine. After exactly 22 pieces of miniature shredded wheat. Dry shredded wheat.
But, it wasn't just that. It was that I had been so good. For almost half an hour, I was Kelsey, Patron Saint Of Dry Cereal, and yet no one had showed up to applaud for me. Something inside me said, "So, have some f*cking Pasta Chips, you goody-goody. That'll show 'em."
This voice, I later learned, was The Diet Rebel. In Intuitive Eating, The Diet Rebel is the voice that doesn't want to listen to all your diet nonsense. This is the girl that rolls her eyes when someone tells you that you shouldn't have more than a cup of cereal, or that dairy is poison, or that cavemen never ate Pasta Chips so you shouldn't either. Send her those signals, and she's going to whisper in your ear until you're sitting at your desk at 10 a.m. eating ALL THE PASTA CHIPS BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, WORLD.
Yeah, that's how breakfast used to go. Then it was time for lunch.
Here was my second chance to get back on the straight and narrow. Since I'd lost the breakfast battle, I'd go into this meal guns blazing. In my arsenal: kale, cabbage and quinoa, and maybe some sushi if I promised myself I'd go to yoga later. I'd scan Seamless for the lunch that would redeem me from the Great Pasta Chips Debacle. If I was quick enough, I'd order those puritanical greens for lunch — but, if I lingered longer, The Diet Rebel would come back from her cigarette break and start clicking on the pizza. I'd fight her: "But, but, can I at least get a salad on the side?" She'd smirk, "Sure. Mozzarella sticks, too."
In moderating this battle, I was averaging 30 to 90 minutes just to decide on lunch, so by the time it arrived, it didn't matter what I had ordered — I just needed to shove it into my face. This pleased The Diet Rebel, quieted my famished stomach, and made me feel like a monster. Clearly, I was not capable of handling the responsibility of lunch. The only solution was to promise myself I wouldn't have dinner. And, really, stuffed as I was with the meal I'd just downed in under 30 seconds, that sounded perfectly reasonable. Sure, I bungled this battle so far, but there was still hope in sight. I just had to get through the afternoon and go to bed hungry, and I'd win this thing.
That's when The Diet Rebel started hitting on the office candy bowl. Let me be clear: I'm not talking about some rinky-dink jar of jelly beans. No, in his largesse, the Refinery29 office manager keeps a bowl the size of a beach ball perched on our reception desk, which, generous maniac that he is, is typically filled with full-sized candy of the chocolate variety. It's so big and bountiful, I'm sure that neighborhood children are casing our office in order to steal this thing. I've certainly thought about it.
Right around 3 p.m., when my lunch-stuffed tummy begins to recover, The Diet Rebel started making eyes at that thing. "Today it's Reese's cups. When's the last time you've had one of those?" I'd glance at the bowl, then shush her up: "Excuse me, I'm trying to work here." She'd raise an eyebrow. "Right. I'll just sit here and keep an eye on those cups." Soon enough, I'd be staring across the office at the office candy bowl like it was the only man I've ever loved. Game over.
Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
It's days like this that made me realize something really needed to change. And, the second I gave up on dieting, it did — instantly. Two days into this project, after my first Intuitive Eating session, I was walking to the office when a lightbulb went off. It was egg-shaped. I impulsively walked into the Pret A Manger across the street, thinking, "Eggs! I want eggs!" It was the first time I'd actually asked myself what I wanted for breakfast, as opposed to what I should have for breakfast. I bought myself an egg & tomato sandwich and ate that thing with actual relish, and without being rushed. It was simple and perfect and exactly what I wanted. I finished up and got back to work.
The next time I looked up, it was 12:30 p.m. With The Diet Rebel nowhere to be seen, I took a moment to consider lunch, then went ahead and ordered without her. I fussed and haggled a bit — after all, a habit isn't broken overnight. But, without that drama queen hanging over my shoulder, I managed to get my ordering time down to 20 minutes. I ate my lunch (a sandwich, roasted vegetables, and a cookie), then once again got back to work. Then, suddenly, it was time to leave.
Without even knowing it, I'd "gotten through" the day without a thought about the great pyramid of snacks, nor my long lost candy-bowl lover. By starting the day with a breakfast I wanted, I had set another standard for myself. This time, though, it wasn't about being perfect. It was about being full and satisfied. And, to my great surprise, it was about trusting myself. When given the chance to trust my gut, my gut granted me a pretty balanced breakfast filled with sustaining protein, healthy fat, and energizing carbohydrates. I actually forgot to have coffee.
This is the closest I'll ever come to a diet tip: Breakfast. Is. Everything. All this time, everyone's mom was right! But, it's not just about listening and responding to the needs of your body as it kickstarts itself for a full day. It's also about sending yourself the message that you won't be deprived. You'll be listened to. You can be trusted in the presence of Reese's cups. The Diet Rebel can go hang out in the parking lot with her deadbeat boyfriend — you don't need her anymore.
I know many of you out there might not be fully on board with this whole Anti-Diet thing. That's fair. It took me 29 years to get here, and I still have moments where I catch myself side-eyeing that candy bowl, wondering if I'm really, truly over
him it. But, just once, I dare you to reconsider breakfast. Take a moment, check in, and see what it is you really want. If it's eggs, great. If it's cereal, great. But, be honest, and give yourself the breakfast you truly desire. Then, see how your day goes. I bet you all the Reese's in the candy bowl, it's a great one.
The Anti-Diet Project runs every week in January! Catch the next installment next Monday. Until then, you can follow my progress at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject on Instagram and Twitter – and join in! I'd love to see your sweaty gym selfies and not-crappy breakfasts too!