Let’s talk about regrets, dieting and… dying.
Great way to start a post, isn’t it? Totally uplifting.
So here we go.
There’s a wonderful woman called Bronnie Ware who worked as a palliative nurse for many years. As she was tending to the needs of people who were dying, she started recording the regrets that these people expressed to her. She collected them. Thousands of them. And she subsequently wrote about them. Her book is called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”.
Most of us have heard of them, and most of us even gave the list some thought, but then… life happened. The daily grind.
Let us refresh our memories, shall we?
Here are the Top Five Regrets the dying expressed:
# 1 … They wish they’d had the courage to live life true to themselves
# 2 … They wish they hadn’t worked so hard
# 3 … They wish they’d had more courage to express their feelings
# 4 … They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends
# 5 … They wish they had let themselves be happier
„Yes. But what do these have to do with dieting?“ you ask.
„Only everything“, I say.
I’m assuming, of course, but let’s say, you’re one of those people who – like me – spent decades trying to lose weight, suppress weight or maintain weight, engaging in excessive exercise even when injured, feeling guilty for eating “too much”, feeling shame for “losing control” and binging, not ever feeling comfortable in your skin, obsessing about calories, the scale and the size of our pants, declining invitations to social gatherings for fear of “eating too much of the bad foods”, not having birthday cake because you’re trying to “be good”, pinching your stomach, hating your thighs and following every piece of diet-advice that is being thrown around in the media. Let’s assume, you’re one of those people who – like me – risked illness in the name of health, wrecking your hormones and metabolism, in other words doing everything in order to avoid weight gain.
And, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume for a minute that we’re all lying on our deathbeds. Can you picture yourself?
Now, let’s have a look at those regrets through the dieting-lens.
# 1 … They wish they’d had the courage to live life true to themselves.
(—Sadly, a perfect match.)
Because no, we didn’t have the courage to live life true to ourselves. We were very much concerned about what other people expected us to do, and what they expected us to look like. In fact, we internalized society’s arbitrary beauty standards and tried our damnest to conform to them. Exit “live life true to yourself”…
# 2 … They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.
(—Well, it looks like CARPE DIEM flew right out of the window when we started our quest for thinness, right?)
Maybe the first diet was comparably easy, and we were high from all the compliments we got. So when the weight started to creep back up, we doubled down on our efforts, and we loved being showered with praise for our “discipline” and “willpower”. But then, our bodies started to fight back against our attempts at starving it, and flooded us with crazy cravings, which eventually made us binge. And from there, it progressively got worse, didn’t it? Now desperate for control, we cranked up our efforts to keep our weight “in check”. Over time, weight-suppressing turned into a full time job, and we spent half of our mental bandwidth obsessing about food, weight, and how “broken” our body was. Adding the hours, days, weeks, months or years we spent dieting or rigidly weight-suppressing, we end up with a heart-wrenching amount of time (decades?) spent hating our body for not meeting the current beauty ideal. When we truly think about how much time we spent obsessing over our appearance – time that is forever lost – … it makes us want to cry. Possibly forever.
# 3 … They wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings.
(—Oh funny, another match.)
Dieting is an addiction. Dieters are afraid. By dieting, people numb out by obsessing over calories, scales, their pant size, “good” and “bad” foods, meal plans, “health” blogs, diet advice, excessive exercise and therefore not having to really participate in the mess that is LIFE. Afraid of loneliness, rejection and sadness, we often end up manifesting just that. What do dieters really mean when they say “I feel fat”? What kind of truth are we masking by putting all the blame on our body for something that hasn’t got anything to do with its size? What if we did, instead, express how we truly feel? How about saying “Hey, I feel really vulnerable, insecure, sad, angry or confused right now”. What if we stopped pointing the finger at our weight and stopped hiding behind this admittedly cheap and cowardly deflection.
# 4 … They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends.
(—Damn. Yes. That one, too.)
This one, I find particularly painful… I’d be lying if I said that this doesn’t apply to all the years when I was trying to maintain my lower weight. I am still recovering, as you know, but already now, I can see just how many social invitations I declined, how many friends I stopped going out for dinner with because I was worried about the food, and about losing control. Just how much my constant worrying was keeping me imprisoned in my own mind, how it seemed so much “safer” to stay alone, to eat my “safe” foods, to binge alone, to exercise alone, to prioritize all my weight-obsessing above everything else. When I didn’t exercise, going out and doing something else was out of the question, and I would squeeze it in, no matter what.
# 5 … They wish they had let themselves be happier.
(—The most punch-me-in-the-gut-match of them all.)
Oh boy. All those years. All those decades… I was doing what I was doing because I still believed that “once I reached a certain weight”, then I could be happy, I could date, I could RELAX, I could enjoy life. And it took me forever to see that all I did was maneuver myself further away from happiness. Further and further away from the idea of “real intimacy”, carefree laughter, midnight cake or lazy Sundays. I didn’t let myself be happy. I thought happy was around the corner.
Ha, funny how these regrets of the dying all apply so perfectly to us dieters, isn’t it?
Only, it’s not funny at all.
There is no “around the corner”. All we have is NOW.
Let us let ourselves be happy.
Let us reach out. Let us laugh.
Let us eat cake.
Let us jump for joy.
Let us cry.
Let us do your own thing.
Let us acknowledge our innate awesomeness.
Let us throw out the diet-books and that motherfucking scale.
Let us live.
We only have this one ride.