Society and culture

My decade of diets, plus five takeaways

In this episode, Claire revisits the personal history that lead her to found Flourish and shares her top five takeaways from her experience.

Claire Siegel smiles at camera

Show Notes
Program note: Hey, glad you’re enjoying the podcast! In this episode, you might hear Claire talking about Nutritional Freedom and Foundations. Since we launched the podcast in 2020, we've undergone a makeover to improve the membership experience. For more, listen to our "And we're back! All the updates!" episode.

Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Flourish podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, founder of Flourish. We're on a mission to help women get healthy for good. Join me each week for a new episode that'll help you sustain healthy habits and nourish your body so you can Flourish in life.

When it comes to nutrition, does it feel like you know what to do, you're just not doing it? Or maybe you find yourself stuck in this annoying all or nothing cycle. If it sounds like I'm reading your diary, well, that was my diary for a while too. And it's also the story of the thousands of women I've personally coached.

That's why I created Flourish, the nutrition and body image support app made for women. If you recognize that diets don't work, but "just not dieting" isn't helping you feel your best either, download Flourish today. Your first live session with one of our credentialed nutrition and psychology experts is totally free, no credit card required.

From there, you'll continue your journey with personalized accountability and support so that once you graduate from Flourish, you'll never need another nutrition program again. So head to the show notes and download Flourish for iOS or Android today.

Coming soon!

We are in the process of adding transcripts to our entire back catalogue. New episode transcripts are typically available within 24 hours of the episode release.

Claire Siegel: Well hello, and welcome back to the Flourish podcast! Ah, it's nice to be here with you. I am doing something a little bit different. I'm actually recording this podcast on video as well, which I hope goes well. (giggles)

It feels a little strange to be alone on video in my office talking to myself, but talking to you at the same time.

But I'm hopeful that we can get some great clips from it, and, you know, it can just add a little extra special touch to the podcast to actually have the visual component as well.

But, who knows? We may just release this in audio and leave it at that. Regardless, welcome. Hello. I'm so delighted to be here with you.

Today we thought it would be a great idea to revisit my story. I know we have a lot of new listeners, and I just wanted to help kind of contextualize what it is that we do at Flourish, what we're all about, and how it came to be... Why, why we are the way that we are starting with my story of my body— I should say my relationship with my body, my relationship with food, my decade of dieting, and again, how, how that has informed the approach that we utilize within the Flourish membership. And also just kind of some general takeaways for, for you listening at home.

Now, before we get into it, I do just want to issue a trigger warning. In this podcast, I will be sharing my story of chronic dieting and disordered eating behaviors.

And so if listening to that type of content is not supportive for you, then I will see you next week with a brand new episode. So pause while you make a decision there. And if you've stuck around... hey! So glad that you're here. Two reasons why I think it's important that I share my story: Number one is that I've learned from speaking with now thousands of women, about their history with food and body image... most of us are really suffering in silence.

I know I certainly did.

I remember the first time, you know, in my early twenties that I kind of like broke down and told my mom the level to which I was struggling. I don't think my friends really knew the level to which I was struggling. But yeah, I felt very alone and I felt very ashamed.

I thought that I was the only one I knew who struggled with food or struggled with body in the way that I did. And the sad truth is that is actually kind of a norm in, in our society, and so there really is no need to suffer in silence. There really is no need to feel that sense of shame. And really the antithesis to shame is, is connection.

Um, so in The Gifts of Imperfection from my girl, Brené Brown— highly recommend you all check out that book— she has a beautiful quote. I'm going to read it to you.

She says, "Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it. It can't survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes."

And that was certainly the case for me when I was going through this experience. That's actually why we have a regular call that we do inside the Flourish membership where we go around the room, and every woman who is, you know, open to it shares her story. Her... the story of her body and her relationship with food.

And it is this beautiful and vulnerable and brave way of owning that story. Right? Owning it rather than hiding from it or denying it from that place of shame. And not only that, it is such a sort of symbolic commitment to moving forward in a new way.

And so my hope for you is that by me sharing my experience with dieting and body image struggles that you feel seen, you feel heard, and you feel understood in a way that can really lift some of that shame. Right? Maybe you'll leave this episode feeling empowered to share your story with, again, to quote Brené Brown, "someone who's earned the right to hear it."

Or maybe, if you don't have that person in your life— which is the case for many of us— that you'll feel kind of the calling to, to seek that community out. And maybe it is inside the Flourish membership where you can explore that. Okay?

So that's the number one reason. Again, just to kind of create that feeling of connection and start to dissolve some of that shame if this is something that you have experienced or are experiencing.

The second reason I wanted to share—or in this case reshare my story—is that I want you to know that if you are struggling in this way with food, with body image, I want you to know that it is not a foregone conclusion that it continues this way forever and ever and ever.

I want it to be very clear to you that it is possible to move forward, that you don't have to settle with those struggles, and that you can actually grow through them and grow past them. Because I know, again, that when you're in just the thick of it and the messy middle of it all, it can feel like status quo. It can feel like the way it is, right?

It can feel normal to obsess over food every single day, to feel like your brain and your body are just in this constant battle around food, to feel like the scale is the end all be all in terms of determining the quality of your day. All those things can start to feel so normal.

And even though it's not working for you, it can start to feel like, "Well, I guess this is just the way life is." And if that's the path you want to choose, by all means go ahead. But if you're open to the idea of something more and something different, then I hope my story can kind of help reveal the possibility. Okay? (deep breath) Let's get into it.

Gosh. So I shared my story at the very beginning of the podcast, and I remember feeling so nervous, and now I'm just grateful that I get to do this. And I feel grateful that you're here and you're listening. And, again, I hope that this provides some, some feeling of connection for you.

So. My story starts from a very young age. I mean, just about as early as I can remember. Growing up, I was always one of the biggest girls in my grade, or again, at least as far back as I can remember. Um, I remember a few distinct incidents of, you know, getting made fun of for my size. Um, I remember once on the bus in sixth grade there was an eighth grader who sat at the front with the sixth graders cause he was like a troublemaker, and he commented on my double chin and he compared me to miss piggy. And I was just so extremely hurt in that moment.

And it's just one of those things that sticks with you, right? And again, there are a few other moments like that of getting teased for the way that I looked. And there's so many things I don't remember from my childhood. So many things I don't even remember from college. Like so many things I don't remember from last week, but those moments are ones that, that really have stuck with me. So I was really struggling at the time with how people saw me, but I was also really struggling with how I saw myself. So there were times that, you know, my mom would take me shopping at the mall.

We go to Limited Too—this was, I guess, the... would have been like the late nineties, early 2000s. And I'd want to wear the jeans and like the layered camisoles and like those... remember those tiny shirts, um, at Limited Too? They were like the popcorn shirts and they were like, I think they were like one size fits all, but they would be like tiny, tiny, tiny, and then you stretch them on.

I just never liked the way I looked in any of them, or I didn't like the way that they fit me. And I would have just these temper tantrums in Limited Too or Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle, right? Like all of these, you know, gosh, quintessential early 2000s stores with my mom there.

And my mom... she and I are so close now, and I mean, have always loved each other dearly, but we have such a wonderful relationship now. But during that time, it was really strained because you know, of course, she would see me crying in the dressing room and she wanted to help me. But my mom didn't share that lived experience with me, meaning my mom has always been in a smaller body. She's a very petite woman.

And she also has like a very kind of black and white way of, of looking at things. Or, or maybe not all things, right? But in this case, she certainly approached with her, her logical brain. And now, again, looking back, I can see, okay, she had three kids, she was a busy professional... like she probably didn't have a lot of time for my shit, frankly. Um, but for her, you know, in this situation, like one plus one equaled two, you know? And so when her logical brain kicked in and saw, "Okay well, Claire's sad because she thinks she's too big. If she got smaller, lost weight, she wouldn't be hurting so much. so, you know, we know (at least we thought we did it at the time) that to lose weight one should just eat less and move more. So let's figure out how to help Claire eat less and move more."

Fair enough, right? Like, again, there was so much tension in those days. And now looking back, I can recognize how these decisions got made. It was a very different time.

So long story long, that is how I ended up on Weight Watchers by the time I was thirteen. And at the time Weight Watchers was not a cool app. We didn't have smartphones. I was going into meetings and writing down the things that I ate in like a little notebook and weighing in with, you know, women much older than me and buying all the Weight Watchers Cheeto snacks and all the things, right?

And this set off—I didn't know it at the time, but it set off over a decade, over ten years of dieting. And when I say dieting, I really mean just about everything under the sun. I remember when I was fifteen, I got dropped off at driver's ed, and around the corner there was like a drug store and I snuck over and bought green tea diet pills.

I remember, um, a little bit later towards the end of high school, I was working at a bookstore in, um, my hometown in Houston. And I remember sneaking and kind of covertly purchasing the South Beach diet book. And I bought it with my employee discount. I did juice cleanses. I did keto. I did all those nonsense like seven day diets that you'd see in, you know, Health magazine or Women's Health magazine or Self. Um, and then, you know, really towards the end of my journey with diets, it was really just about trying to eat as little as possible and really control food.

And this really continued through college and even my journey to becoming a registered dietitian, which now in hindsight I can recognize was really motivated in a large part by my desire to like solve what I perceived as my own weight problem.

And so, again, at my lowest point with dieting, I was restricting my calories, I was counting my macros —which meant that I was weighing and portioning everything I ate— I was tracking it in MyFitnessPal. And keep in mind, I'm in college at this point, right? I'm in my early twenties, I'm in a sorority, I'm living with like six other girls, and engaging in these very unhealthy behaviors. You know, I was working out heavy six, six days a week.

For me, food and exercise at that time existed... I had a very like transactional relationship or they were existing in a transactional relationship. Like they were, they were currency, right? I would pay for my food with exercise. Or I'd punish myself with exercise if I felt that I'd been out of control with food. And I felt out of control with food quite a bit. Right?

Because, again, think about the environment: Monday through Friday I'm in class, I'm prepping and planning and rigidly controlling food.

And then on the weekends, I was a college kid: I was going out with my friends. I was going to sorority formals. I was partying. And, you know, especially with the addition of alcohol, right? Those inhibitions would go away, plus like just the biological urge to eat because I'd been under eating all week would take over. And so I had this feeling every single weekend, like I was just losing control. And there were so many nights, again, it's like late nights on the weekends that I would just, I didn't recognize it as such at the time, but I would just binge.

And it was in a, in a lot of ways, very normalized, right? Because we were all kind of bingeing, Um, weird. So, I would eat to the point of physical discomfort almost every single weekend. Usually this would happen either like at restaurants or, you know, at, at home late night munching with friends or by myself in some cases. (sigh)

And so I kept going in this cycle. And there was a point that I did eventually like hit my goal weight. I was the smallest I'd ever been in my adult life. And yet, I was still so insecure in my body, and also who I was. I was not this like confident, bold person that, you know, some of you may know now.

I still thought that— you know, at this point, I don't, I don't think I'd really ever had a boyfriend. And at that time I, 100% attributed that to my body and my size. Nevermind the fact that I was like, again, incredibly insecure. And that insecurity kept me small and shy and guarded... may have had something to do with it, but no, I thought it was my jean size or my weight.

I even worried about my ability to do my chosen career. In, in short, I didn't think I was small enough or skinny enough to be a dietitian. So I was just, oh my gosh, carrying just the weight of this in such a significant way.

So from this place, I kept dieting. Right? I hit my goal weight, but I still wasn't happy. I still had all these insecurities. So I thought, "Okay, well, I guess I just need to lose more weight." So I kept dieting, but eventually my weight loss began to slow and then plateau, and then even like start to reverse a little bit. And this was all, just to be very clear, like despite my continued efforts.

And so it was interesting, right? Because in the midst of the damaging, like, psychological effects of dieting that I was experiencing, I then started to experience some of the damaging physical effects as my metabolic rate started to slow as it does. And that was like the moment of clarity that I needed. Right?

I was so used to the insecurity, the food guilt, the anxiety, the shame that dieting brought on. That was so my norm that until the scale stopped responding, I didn't see a reason to stop. So it was at that point that I made two very interesting choices. And again, I only realized sort of like the tension here in hindsight.

So I did two things. I read two books. I read Intuitive Eating, and I read It Starts With Food. And I would say this is kind of the moment that started my very slow journey to non-dieting. Okay? Um, so if you don't know, It Starts With Food is like the precursor to the Whole30. And if you don't know, the Whole30 is basically a 30-day elimination diet.

And despite having read Intuitive Eating. And now knowing like really what Intuitive Eating is about and how it in many ways it conflicts with the Whole30, the Whole30 is what I did next. Okay? And I look at this as kind of, for me at least, taking a few steps forward, but also one step back. Okay. So the steps forward here that I experienced during the Whole30 is it was the first time in probably a couple years that I was eating intuitively at least in terms of the amount of food that I was eating, right? So while I wasn't eating all foods, because the Whole30, again, it's an elimination diet. So I wasn't eating all the food. I was not restricting the quantity of food that I was eating.

And that felt to me at the time, again, like a safe next step. Again, in hindsight, I probably wouldn't recommend that to others, but for me at that time, it felt like a safe next step. And so over the next few years, I, I graduated college, I, you know, moved into like my adult life. I started my career. I started building like my own life in Houston. And I kind of unintentionally started making a lot of progress in my self-confidence and my relationship with food. But what happened next is, is a really clear example of how this work is just, it's not linear. So in 2017, I'm a few years out of college... and we could do a whole episode about this, but almost out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

And I'll pause and just say, I am incredibly fortunate to have gotten my diagnosis as early as I did. I am happy to say that it is incredibly well-managed to the point where I don't think about it very much. I support myself with medication and in lifestyle, and I see my neurologist about every, you know, six months and all those things. So I just feel very, very grateful for that.

And in many ways, grateful for how this diagnosis actually turned out to be such a major blessing in my life. But first there's the step back. Remember I said that? The Whole30: one step back. This is really where that took hold. Some underlying food fears came up for me in light of this diagnosis, and in the midst of, you know, sort of the uncertainty and the fear I took that step back towards looking at my body as a problem, right? Even though, and when I say my body's a firm, I just wanna be very clear, I met my weight, right? I was looking at my weight as a sign of inflammation. And inflammation is an aspect of autoimmune disease, which multiple sclerosis is.

Just to be clear, my doctor had never said anything about my weight, but I went there. Because again, it was a very familiar neural pathway for me. Right? And all the fear and the unknowns surrounding my diagnosis, it was familiar for me to revert back to this old way of thinking and an old way of controlling what I thought of as my health.

So I was eliminating foods, weighing in regularly, like doing, doing a lot of the same things that I had been doing before. But because I had had that experience and because I really recognized the ways in which like controlling food, trying to control my body, didn't actually work, I was able to snap myself out of this, you know, pretty quickly once I noticed that I was falling back into, into some of those old thought patterns and, and just ways of being that I knew I wanted to leave behind.

Okay. So from there, I really had to define my own path and to navigate what we often refer to in Flourish as this, this gray area. So this gray area between micromanaging my nutrition and health to the point where like that is all my life is about. That's one end of the spectrum or the extreme. And then the other is saying, you know, "Screw it!" And just throwing my hands up and giving up on all my health habits.

And I had to find again, how do I, I sort of blend some of, some of those two extremes to find like my version of the middle. And what that looked like for me was a recommitment to my health in a way that I'd never really considered before.

So for a long time, what I thought of as like my health habits and my choices, they were all about my physical health, which for me the sort of manifestation of my physical health was my appearance. Like basically I thought that my weight was like the number one metric of health, right? Or my Jean size was the number one metric of health. I thought the size of my body and the weight of my body is what tells me if I'm physically healthy or not.

I had completely conflated my health and my weight, even though the habits that I was engaging in to control my weight were actually really unhealthy for me. They were unhealthy for me physically. They were unhealthy for me mentally. They were unhealthy for me emotionally, socially. And yet I had sort of convinced myself that it was all in the name of health.

And I didn't see at the time that, that tension or that, that contradiction, but here we are. That's okay.

So I had this diagnosis at this point that really made me confront my health in a way that was both broader and deeper. Okay? So broader in the sense that I began to see the ways in which mental, emotional, social, spiritual health are just as important as my physical health. And in fact, like they all work together, right? We can't just like compartmentalize things. So these are all actually blended. They work in conjunction, right? So that was kind of the breadth that I started to understand as it pertains to health.

But then also the depth. There was depth here in the sense that I was no longer just pursuing health for the sake of aesthetics. That pursuing health for me was about something much more meaningfully. And maybe not even pursuing health, because that's what that implies is that there's some like milestone at the end.

You know, there's some like goal and here I am, I've achieved health, and now I can just forget about it... or I've, I've achieved health and that's just, that's not the way it works. Right? Health is like a value, it's a pursuit, or an ongoing process, an ongoing engagement.

And so now I was prioritizing and pursuing this value of health for something that actually means a lot more to me: my quality of life, my longevity. Right?

And I just want to pause right here because the vast majority of you listening here probably don't have MS, you probably don't have a chronic condition of any sort, and this is still true for you. Autoimmune disease or not, right?

And I just want to note this really explicitly because it took this for me. Right? Like that's what it took for me to have this like "Aha!" moment and this awakening and this epiphany, and I hope that if any of my story resonates with you, I hope it doesn't take that to have that same "Aha!" moment. Right? Like, I hope that perhaps this, this podcast could be that "Aha!" moment for you. Okay?

As I said, now, I look at this diagnosis as one of my greatest blessings and something that I'm really grateful for, for so many reasons. But if I had to kind of summarize, I think one, it... my personal experience here gave me some perspective on how to implement lifestyle changes and other like health tools in a way that's both moderate and sustainable, right? That actually applies to everyday life, and the way that most of us want to live our everyday lives. It also helped me see that chronic disease or not, again, most of us don't want to live our lives in a way that just like revolves around our health. Right?

For most of us, we value health somewhere, you know, somewhere in kind of our spectrum or collection of values, because we see the ways in which will, will enable us to experience the rest of our lives more fully, right? Like I don't care so much about health as much as I care about my energy levels, my ability to move my body with comfort.

Right? Sleeping soundly, mental clarity. All the things, right, that are sort of, I guess, symptomatic of health. That's what I care about. And, and, you know, if you're someone who identifies as someone who values health, I would ask yourself, why? Like why does it matter? Why does the, the intention of, of getting healthier, being healthy, engaging in health habits... like what's in it for you?

It's an important question to answer, especially if you are engaging and investing time, money, thought, energy, in prioritizing healthy habits. Why? What are you looking to get out of that, okay?

So I thought I would kind of bring this all home with a few lessons—Five, actually... more than a few—that I've learned along the way that I hope are valuable to you. Even if, again, they're aspects of my story that maybe don't don't resonate.

So the first is this concept of decoupling weight and health. This can be really, really useful for you if you've been struggling for some time. So for me personally, at my lowest weight was actually when I was the least healthy mentally, physically, socially than I've ever been before. It was also when I was the most insecure. Okay?

So by just decoupling the two and, kind of, like—weight and health, I mean— and looking at them as like distinct topics and like exploring your journeys, um, in pursuit of either or both can really offer this new perspective for you and open you up to new approaches that support that, that broader and deeper and more meaningful and more sustainable understanding of what health actually is for you. Okay?

Number two, short and sweet: If you're doing something for your physical health, that costs you your mental health, your emotional health, or your social health, it is too expensive. I'll leave you with that.

Number three: You can not hate yourself healthy. You can not hate yourself thin. And I'll leave you with that. Self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-respect are far better fuel than self-loathing or shame or guilt or regret will ever be.

Number four: There is a middle ground between being obsessive about your health and not caring at all. Okay? This is basically what we talk about on the podcast. It is what we work hands-on with our members on inside of Flourish. But high level, it includes a kind of implementing a supportive structure that implements the consideration of, of self care, of self-discipline, and again, self-compassion. Okay?

Number five. And this is what I'm actually leaving you with, um, to wrap up this podcast. And if you get nothing else from this, I hope it is this. So if you've been multitasking, if you're a bit distracted, I want you to come back.

Number five. And I literally I'll tear up if I talk about it for too long, um, I really wish I could go back and tell a 13-year-old me this, I would have saved so much time. But I can't do that, so I will do this instead.

I want to tell you— oh my gosh, I'm like actually getting teary eyed saying this. I want to tell you, a fact about you is that you are inherently worthy. It took me starting Flourish and speaking to thousands of women to realize that low self-worth is actually the throughline in most if not all of the work that we do.

Diets and diet culture and oftentimes society at large really tricks us into believing that we'll be worthy when. We'll be worthy when we're in a certain dress size or pants size or when there's a certain number on the scale that reflects back at us. Brené, my gal Brené, calls this "hustling for worthiness." and the thing about it is that it always leaves you falling short because that's not how worthiness works.

No matter where you are in your journey, no matter your struggle, no matter your size, the truth about you is that you are worthy.

And with that truth in mind, I encourage you to reframe how you approach health habits, right? Whether that's going on a walk or getting adequate sleep or incorporating variety into your, your nutrition, adding more vegetables to your day, right? Whatever those health habits look like for you at this given time, use those health habits as a way of celebrating your inherent worthiness, not as a path to arrive there, because again, the truth is you are already there and you always have been.

So that is my story.

Woo. I was not expecting that, uh, at number five. I've been, I've been doing a lot of worthiness work here on myself, and I think that's why I choked myself up a bit because by the way, this, this work is ongoing and there are so many other places that we place our worthiness, not just the scale and how we look. We place in other areas, too. And sometimes we all need that recurring reminder of our worthiness, so.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for being here. If any of my story resonates with you at all, I would really and truly love to hear from you, so feel free to send me a DM on Instagram. My... handle, that's the word, will be linked below.

I see you. I hear you. I've been there. I'm with you. If you have questions, comments, please let me know. You're not alone.

I'll see you next week.

Claire Siegel:

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Flourish podcast. If you enjoyed it, please take a second to leave us a five-star review or better yet, share it with a friend. And if you're ready to start your own journey to get healthy for good with accountability from expert coaches and the support of an incredible community, head to the show notes to get started on your Flourish journey.

I'll see you in the next episode.

Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.

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