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Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Warning About DietBet

Note:  This post may be triggering to folks who have eating disorders or certain addictions, particularly gambling addictions.  It contains very detailed descriptions of eating disorder like behavior I just came out of.

I'd written a few days ago an update about how I stopped using DietBet as a catalyst for losing weight, despite my former posts (and there are a lot of them) talking about this program quite cheerfully because for the first three or four DietBets I was losing weight very easily and with it making back the money I put into it.  It was rather an exciting thing to do for that couple months.  Then I hit... the plateau.

I don't know if I've hit a real plateau or if it's an issue of dietary creep (this is when you start eating more and more foods outside of your diet and exercising less and less, gradually, without realizing it) or changed metabolism.  What I do know is that I haven't lost weight in quite a while now.  I lost my last DietBet and will probably lose my next one.

That one will be my final one.

And it's not because of the stall, really.  There was always a chance I'd start losing and it would become financially unfeasible for me to continue on that path, and so I would probably just be able to moan about it a bit were it not for the fact that this sort of competitive app really started triggering some eating disorder bullshit in me.

The worst part is that I knew better. That's really how it goes, isn't it?  You intellectually know something isn't going right, but you're really into doing it and so you just ignore the problems.  I was going to go ahead and just post this and just let the other posts stay the way they were as a sort of record of what had been going on, but I decided after a couple of days of soul-searching that I can't do that with a clear conscience as I have no idea who will stumble on this and possibly emulate my behavior.  So what's going to happen in the next few days or so is I've already put every post except for this one mentioning DietBet into draft mode and will be going through each one one-by-one to add more robust warnings and take out parts I think are likely to encourage particularly destructive behavior, perhaps even just straight up delete posts that have no redeeming qualities in hindsight.  I'd rather that descent all be in this post where people can see it as a warning rather than believing whatever was going on in my head when I originally wrote those posts.

So here's the warning:  Diet competitions (and that includes DietBet as well as those Biggest Loser knockoff contests so many workplaces are doing under the guise of "healthy living" programs and literally everything even vaguely similar to that) encourage eating-disorder-like behavior, and I strongly encourage you not to get mixed up with them.

What happened to me in a nutshell was that I started off this DietBet thing at 270 pounds after a pretty long stint of repeated binge eating.  I decided to go back on my paleo diet--something I started because it eliminates quite a few foods that do legitimate damage to my body, like wheat--and prevents me from binge eating.  In all transparency:  I love paleo.  I don't preach diet, but I do strongly believe in eating a paleo-like diet.  But paleo wasn't the problem, it was combining it with things that are quite frankly quite far from a paleo philosophy.

So I joined DietBet.  This is an app where you bet money that you can lose 10% of your body weight in about a month.  Everyone who makes weight gets a share of the pot.  You prove it by taking pictures of your scale with code words.

Here's the thing about weight loss:  It starts out easy and gets harder.  But winning money while also losing a lot of weight gave me a rush that clouded my brain a lot.  I was setting these lofty expectations, like that I could reach my goal weight in less than seven months if I just kept up my current progress.  I thought this stuff even though I knew--and I do mean knew--that this initial weight was probably mostly water.  But I looked thinner!  The scale was lower!  I felt great!

I hit a stall after around 20 pounds of weight loss.  Had I been diligent about losing weight without DietBet, I'd probably just view it as a temporary setback to wait my way through, re-read my favorite paleo article on weight loss plateaus, and get on with my life.  But I'd put down actual cash money on this that I was going to lose, and so I started strategizing in a way that was, in retrospect, extremely self-destructive.

I started replacing meals with shakes strategically.  I'd already been making shakes for myself because I don't really have an appetite in the morning, but I started doing it explicitly to start losing pounds during key weigh-in times.  I even made the base liquid coffee for the diuretic and laxative effects and would not weigh myself until I was sure those effects had occurred.  This led to me more than once going to work--where I work twelve hour shifts--and consuming nothing but a protein shake all day in hopes of shaking a few pounds off by nighttime.

This worked great for those first two months when I had a lot of water to lose, but afterwards it stopped being so reliable.  I'd try it anyway, only try it worse.  I started doing things like avoiding certain exercises because I was worried about gaining too much muscle or retaining water, just in case it interfered with the number on the scale.  The number would still not budge.

These are all eating disorder level activities.  If you've ever gone to pro-eating-disorder websites (and please don't), this is exactly the sort of strategy they talk about.  So in the end I had to stop.

I railed long ago in my other blog about the Biggest Loser knock-off contests that workplaces keep doing.  This was because one year, when I was doing contract work at a hospital that had a contest like this, their repeat winner always won by fasting and taking laxatives only to gain the weight back again when the competition was done.  I've watched lots of people get serious anxiety from this sort of thing, including my mother who entered a lot of them and lost a lot of weight only to become depressed when it suddenly wasn't easy anymore and the quick money was gone.

I'm OK.  I've nipped this in the bud before it took over my life (at least I think I did).  But since it's been such a big part of this blog I wanted my readers to understand where those buds all went.

Like I said, I'm not giving up my eating style.  Even if I fail sometimes (or a lot), I love paleo and similar diets.  I believe in it as an overall biologically appropriate lifestyle, not just a weight loss strategy.  Paleo has been great for me even if I lose exactly zero more pounds in my life.  In fact, part of why I'm giving up DietBet and other high-stress strategies I've tried is because they're so bafflingly unpaleo to me.

It's not paleo to work against your body to lose undifferentiated body mass for some ridiculous contest.  It's not paleo to obsess over the number on a scale to the point where you start panicking over it.  So I'm revising my strategy.  A lot.  I'm revising my exercise.  I'm revising my diet.  And the kicker:  I'm not going to try to lose weight anymore.  I'm going to work on my overall health, and if I lose weight, good, if not, I'll at least be healthy.

Until then, happy trails,
-- Jackson