The Anti-Diet Success Story

Post written by Susan Lacke.

You won’t read this post and discover how a vegetarian “diet” will help you drop weight.

You won’t learn how many miles you need to run every day to lose weight, gain muscle, or otherwise alter your body. There will be no shocking before and after photo, nor will you unlock the secrets of dropping ten pounds in one week.

I can tell you I used to be a lot heavier than I currently am, but I couldn’t tell you how much of a difference there is between now and then — I haven’t stepped on a scale in months.

I spent most of my college years trying to find a balance between my desire to be a size zero, my “need” to drink beer and eat pizza, and my lacking motivation to drag my hungover ass to the gym on a regular basis. Since I wasn’t willing to give up the booze, junk food, and sedentary lifestyle, I resorted to other measures:

  • A week on a diet that consisted solely of diet coke and apples.
  • Laxatives.
  • Phases of 500 calories of food per day and 1000 calories of beer at night.
  • Diet pills.
  • A relationship with cigarettes that began when one of my (very thin) friends told me smoking burns calories.

Listen, I said I was in college, not that I was smart.

These poor choices affected me not only physically, but mentally. When I found one thing wrong with my body, the floodgates opened to criticize other parts. I was tired. I was hungry. I was frustrated. I was fat.

I was a lot of things — but happy wasn’t really one of them. By defining myself by the shape of my body, I had been cursed with a serious case of the “not enoughs:” I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough.

Enough of ‘not enough’

I’m not really sure what caused my shift in thinking, but one day I decided I was tired of “not enough.” It was time to make a change. Even though I wasn’t sure I was capable of running three miles without stopping, I signed up for my first 5K race and started training.

I ran. It was hard.

I ran some more. It got easier.

I did a 5K, then a half-marathon, a marathon, and an Ironman triathlon…and with each race, my body changed.

But this isn’t a diet success story.

I didn’t sign up for my first race because I wanted to lose weight — I signed up because I wanted to cross a finish line. By being “enough” to accomplish one goal, I was “enough” to accomplish others. There’s a certain sense of empowerment that grows with each mile run and each finish line crossed.

The weight loss was a happy byproduct of this process. Though I’m thinner now, running and triathlon didn’t give me a waif-like, model-thin body, or even a ripped, muscular one.  I have a little cupcake belly, not a six-pack.  You won’t see me on the cover of Competitor Magazine, unless my editor decides it would be a hysterical April Fools’ joke.

But — and this is a big but (not butt) — I’m happy.

Running helped me see my body in a different light. I no longer get frustrated with my body for how it looks, but instead am in awe of what it can do. My little cupcake belly is the fuel tank that gets me through training and racing. My legs, which TV tells me can never be quite small enough, are what I trust to keep powering me up hills when they have every reason to quit.

My body may not be as chiseled as most of the athletes I race with, but it has the power to cover the exact same course as they can. And though I’m not cover-model material, I don’t really care. For the first time in my life, I’m happy with who I am and confident in what I can do. I finally feel like I’m enough.

This isn’t a diet success story. Stop looking for one.

When a person stops focusing on how the body looks and starts truly appreciating what it can do, it becomes obvious how those thoughts of “not enough” have limited the release of so much potential, in so many ways. It’s as simple as using the body you have to accomplish what you think it can’t. Exercise can change how the body looks, sure, but the effects on the mind, self-concept, and confidence can be so much more powerful.

There is no magic pill. There is no secret diet. There is no miracle that will get you to a perfect body.

There’s just you and what you’re capable of doing.

And that’s more than enough.


In addition to serving as No Meat Athlete’s Resident Triathlete, Susan Lacke writes a monthly column in Competitor Magazine and a new blog post every Thursday on She likes carrots…especially those found in carrot cupcakes. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke



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  1. Susannah says:

    Wow. This post really hit home. I haven’t been able to put my finger on the reason that I am just not motivated to get healthy/fit. I am so unhappy but afraid to do anyhting about it. I did sign up for a 5k earlier in May and while I didn’t run the entire race, I ran more than I have in my life. And then I joined my neighborhood running group where I ran two miles! I have been sick for over a week now, which has hindered my good eating habits and exercising. This post is such a blessing. I’m going to save it and re-read it until I realize that it’s not about “being enough” of anything. Thank you so much!

  2. Definitely can relate to your feelings of “not enough.” It’s a long clumb out of that mentality, not without its occasional slips, but know it’s a good day when people look more to athletes than celebrities!

  3. Oh my gosh. What a brilliantly written post!! I feel the exact same way!! I have recovered from anorexia, then went through a very unhealthy period in grad school of starving/drinking/being miserable/not exercising and FINALLY I’m at a healthy place, physically AND emotionally! I just finished my first marathon, too! 🙂 Thank you, body, for allowing me to live my life, even when I didn’t treat you right for years. I’m sorry for that.

  4. Yep.

    I recently decided to “stop chasing skinny” and I have a healthier body and mind as a result of it.

    I race. In bigger clothes. So what?

    Great post, Susan! You already know I think you’re a rock star. Now even more so.

  5. I LOVE THIS POST. I agree with EVERYTHING in here. I feel like women especially feel the pressure to look “enough” and if they don’t then it makes them a BAD PERSON (not that guys don’t face it as well, they do, just I think ladies get it a lil rougher in this area). We should value ourselves and what we can do, not our size and what we look like.

  6. That was terrific. Thanks for writing it. :^)

  7. Love this post. I completely agree– we need to start celebrating what our bodies DO for us rather than focusing on the external appearance… which really. does. not. matter!

  8. Great post as usual, Miss Lacke. I had my fair share of unhealthy habits (e.g., drinking copious amounts of alcohol every night) during college as well, and it wasn’t until after college when I became sedentary and continued eating poorly that I gained 30 lbs. Let me tell you, looking in a mirror was depressing. I can relate to how you felt. Initially, I ran to lose weight and I did, combined with severe caloric restriction, until I lost 45 lbs and weighed as much as I had in high school! Not good. I was starting to love running and endurance sports, but mentally, I wasn’t allowing myself to fully reap what they had to offer. It was always a matter of running X distance to burn Y amount of calories – any less was not enough. Thankfully, my mindset has shifted after year of such negative thinking. I’m back to a healthy weight and finally ENJOYING endurance sports for what they’re worth. I ran my first 50K in April and it was an “holy s@$t!” moment that made me realize that my body can do more than I think. Oh, and after reading your Ironman Wisconsin post, I got bitten by the triathlon bug. I’m doing my first 70.3 in September and hope to do Ironman Coeur d’Alene next year. Thanks for keeping me inspired, Susan!

  9. What a fantastic post. I think this is incredibly inspirational and eye-opening that we should all give up on the ideal of what our perfect body looks like, and instead try to get to what our perfect body FEELS like. The kind that can accomplish races, whether it’s a 5K (like meee!) or an Ironman (like NEVER me.) 😉

  10. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Yup. Us guys can fall into the same tailspin. I never hit the cigarettes and beer (3 amd I was wasted in college, and even today) as much but food is my downfall. I have a marathon this weekend and this time around to take the pressure off myself I haven’t gotten on the scale in at least 6 weeks. If you feel good on the inside then you are looking good on the outside no mater your size and shape. My wife still struggles at time with body image ,even though I tell her how sexy she is and how much I love her all the time. I work in health care and I can tell you that women are much tougher than guys. I give a shout to all you ladies! Y’all rock!

    • It’s always great to hear this from a guy’s perspective. I was very conscious of how I wrote this post — I didn’t want to make this a “girl issue” when it’s really not exclusive to this one population. Many of us have struggled at some point with weight or body image or feeling like “not enough,” regardless of gender.

  11. Well said, Susan! You are an inspiration.

  12. What an amazing post! Thank you so much for sharing. I have had a similar experience as yours and am always glad to hear of someone who came to a healthier body by having a healthier body image.

  13. maribeth says:

    This is a great article that articulates what I think so many of us try to “tell” (in my case with NO success) our friends (and ourselves). I used to work out basically for the sake of working out, with no real point to it other than my goal of not out weighing my husband. Now, I eat better (Yay! Almost 1 month vegetarian!) and work out so that I can accomplish goals I never thought even remotely possible (finished first half marathon in January 6 months after giving birth!). It is so much more rewarding and motivating when I know there is a reason to kick my butt outta bed in the morning. Oh, and now that I’ve shifted my thinking I DON’T OUTWEIGH my husband! High fives all around!

  14. Thank you for this post. I continually struggle with body image issues, and I’m recovering from an ED. I probably will always struggle. I try to turn off that voice that says “you’re fat” when I look at a picture of myself after a PR race, but it’s hard.

    Again thank you. There are so many negative voices in the running community, so much pressure to be thin.

  15. susan,
    how did you know that this morning, i was looking at my half~marathon legs & trying to figure out how to get them to look like carrie underwood’s. Thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking & then telling us also what we need to hear…..i was reminded today that im an athlete not anoresic & these legs of mine just ran a half marathon in 45 mph wind & ill keep them!!

  16. This is a great example of why I want to start running. Focusing on food keeps me focusing on food. I started focusing more on exercise, and the rest seems to flow in line.

    I’ve decided this year will be the year I run a half-marathon. I currently weigh about 290, so the prospect of it is quite daunting. But I’m signing up, so I’ll do it one way or another.

    They won’t even let me run if I can’t do it in 3 hours. I have an upper goal now.

    I started my training in April by working on a 5K two weeks ago. This Saturday I’m doing my second 5K. In June I’m doing a 4 miler, and I’ll probably hit up at least one 10K in July or August.

    I’m not focusing on losing weight. I’ve changed my diet to facilitate running easier, and I’ve started running and strength training on a regular basis. By the time I start the half marathon in November, I won’t be 290 anymore, but it will be a happy by-product of the training.


  17. Fantastic post. I have been struggling lately with letting go of the number on the scale and focusing on what my body can do. I want to start measuring success by how many miles I can run and how much weight I can lift rather than how much weight I have lost. It’s a tough pill for me to swallow but each day a get closer and closer to changing my perspective on health and fitness.

  18. I love love love this post. I’m a recovered anorexic and few things have made me LOVE and APPRECIATE my body as much as running has.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!!

  19. ohhh college and the crazy things we did! I went through a phase where I ate 2 bagels a day+coffee, so that I could go out at night! I was also in college…not necessary smart ;). Such a great post.

  20. Susan, I so identify with everything you shared! I was a chubby kid and fat teenager. In my late teens I developed an eating disorder and spent the next 20 years of my life battling with my body. When I was 39 I started running and it has literally changed my life. It’s helped me see food as fuel and enabled me to view my body as an instrument rather than an ornament. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder ad more excited than the day I ran my first mile, which seemed like an unachievable goal, and now I’m training for my first marathon. Running consistently will change your body, but even more powerfully, it will change your mind. Thank you for such an inspiring post!

  21. marijka says:

    As a former band nerd and lifetime reader/crafter/thinker, I’ve never felt very confident physically, even though I’ve always been strong. But I’ve ramped up my hiking in the last few years, regularly walk 13 minute miles, and finally feel my body itching to speed up even more. I’ve given myself two more weeks at my new job to get used to the schedule, and then I’M GOING TO START RUNNING! I myself have tried to focus on my body’s strength, not what jiggles when I move or whether the passing drivers thing I’m ridiculous. Thank you, thank you for such a wonderful post, and for a reinforcing kick in the butt. I felt it! 🙂

  22. LOVE this post!!!! Thank you!

  23. I must confess I started running to lose weight. Starting couch potato to 5k was all about losing weight. As soon as I was running 5k three times a week I thought about other running goals.

    18 months later I did actually lose fifty pounds. It was mainly a combination of running, I ran 2 half marathons, and sorted my diet out. Yes I juice a lot but not every day.

    The weight came off when I was chasing running goals..a 10k, a 10 k in one hour, a half marathon.

    I gave up alcohol for 15 months, not to lose weight but to be a better runner…you have no idea how much of those pounds I lost was due to that alone.

  24. Susan you are a shining light in the wasteland of humanity. Ok, it can be a cupcake shaped neon light. Love your posts. Cheers 🙂

  25. Susan, great stuff as usual. So true – people that limit their calories and try to train like demons to achieve what they “think” they should look like are only risking hurting themselves. Your parting shot of “there’s no magic pill…..there’s just you…” is spot on.

  26. Thanks Susan. I am learning to come to terms with my extra 10. Thinner, I think I look better, but my performance goes down the tank. A bit heavier, and I am self-conscious, but my body delivers on whatever I throw at it. My climbing partners don’t seem to care whether I am 10 extra pounds. They only care that I can keep up, contribute to breaking trail, and that I’ve got their back. I don’t need permission from anyone not to look a certain way. However, as I get use to this new reality, your affirmation certainly helps. Thanks! Here’s to celebrating “cupcake” power.

  27. I have to say, I read this blog daily, mostly for recipes and the inspiration to stick with my vegetarian diet. I haven’t posted any comments yet, but you inspired me to take the plunge. I can relate 100% to your story. I started my running career at 13 and was the top runner for my high school for 4 years. Then I went to college and it all fell apart. I was more interested in being skinny than being competitive. I can remember staying up all night doing sit-ups to punish myself for the dessert I had. My arch nemesis has always been my abs. I want washboard, model looking abs. You know, that kind that don’t without plastic surgery or air brushing. I was willing to sacrifice my running career with cigarettes and booze in my 20’s because I wanted to look good. Today, I am back into running and feeling better about my body for the most part. But I can’t say that there aren’t day when I don’t agonize over the scale or spend time staring in the mirror wondering what I can tone up. It’s sad, really, that women don’t have more confident in their bodies. I have to say kudos to you for blogging about it!!!! You just reminded me why I get up and run everday (because I love it and because it gives me inner peace and satisfaction that no diet has even given me). Women are more than just a magazine cover!!!!

    • That is a touching comment, Mandy! One thing I’m seeing with this article is that there’s a LOT of us out there who have felt this same pressure. It’s led me to start looking out for whether these same issues affect my friends, family, or training partners.

      Thank you for commenting for the first time, Mandy! Don’t be a stranger, okay? 🙂

  28. Susan, I’ve come to love your inspirational posts as much as your humorous ones! I love that the focus is on health, not size. Whether your are fit or not, we are so fortunate to have lungs that breathe and hearts that beat! I’m not going to waste that gift!*

  29. I seriously love this post, and I can relate to it so much…
    Since I have started training for races, I find it amusing that I have actually put on a few pounds, but I am in the best shape of my entire life! It is so much for important to appreciate what your body can do, not how your body looks!

  30. Adriana says:

    Hello Susan! I think this was the most inspiring/insight post I’ve ever read!!!! Really. For the first time it actually made me think and look at my body a different way. We are always complaining and wanting it to look better, and so on. But this… this is what i needed to hear (read)! Great, great job!!!! I’ve never been this fit my intire life, with running and triathlon, yet I was still not 100% satisfied with my body. But I feel so much lighter now, after reading this! We have to appreciate our body and everything it has affered me so far! Thank you so much! Keep shining!!!! Take care and be well!

  31. Susan, you are like the snarky Bob Dylan of triathlon. Bringing it to us real and intense. I get giddy when I see one of your posts go up. Thanks again for your brilliance.

  32. THANK YOU! This is what I strive for – to be happy that I just ran 8 miles (a new PDR!!) and not bummed that I’m not a smaller size.

    The scale doesn’t matter. I am healthy! I am strong!

    THANK YOU for sharing your story.

  33. This post just made me cry. Much needed, thank you so much!

  34. fantastic post with a great message.

    you’re right- a big shift occurs when you get fit and start seeing your body for what it can do, not how it looks or what size it is. i’m recovering from addiction and an eating disorder . . . training for and completing numerous marathons, one ultra, some tris (i’ve got my first ironman coming up in 3 months!) has given me a love for and sense of pride in my body that i don’t think i could have developed otherwise. and you know what? i’m currently the heaviest i have EVER been. or at least i was the last time i stepped on a scale a couple months back (i’ve stopped weighing myself). but my size no longer dictates how i feel about my body- and by extension- myself as a whole. i now find so much more worth in being able to run 20 miles or ride for 5 hours straight than seeing a small number on my jeans’ size tag.

  35. Awesome post!!! It really does become more about meeting goals than what you weigh or “being on a diet.” Last year I started changing my diet and working out more to lose weight, but I realized that now I rarely step on the scale amymore. I am more focused on what my next fitness goal is than my weight or clothes size. Finding a new challenge and working toward it is so much fun, and you don’t hsve to be perfect to do it! The motivation to make heathier choices just starts to come naturally.

  36. This message needs to be shouted from the rooftops! I love, love, love this post! I feel exactly the same way, especially after becoming so obese that I my range of motion was severely curtailed.

  37. What a fantastic post–so glad I stopped by to read. It was incredibly inspiring. Thank you!

  38. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds a lot like my story.

    However, here’s my issue. When running marathons is the thing that makes you feel better about yourself, what happens when you can’t do it anymore? I have an injury and my future running career is pretty much toast. Then how does that make me feel.

    Answer: like crap.

    I am in the process of finding an identity for myself that is beyond “Liz the runner”. It needs to be “Liz the person”. And just being that person is what makes me ‘enough’.

  39. This is such an awesome post – THANK YOU. I loved this in particular, “I didn’t sign up for my first race because I wanted to lose weight — I signed up because I wanted to cross a finish line.” This is EXACTLY why I signed up for my first race, and what has since prompted me to sign up for my second (my longer) race – I wanted to feel what it was like on a very physical level to push through all of the “can’t, shouldn’t, not possible” thoughts that I had and complete something I had barely ever allowed myself to dream about before. xo

  40. A wonderful post, Miss Susan! I found myself in similar shoes, reached past all the noise, and found blissful peace and quiet and satisfaction with who I am. Well, not entirely. I always believe I can do more. Maybe not right this minute, but next time! And I always do 🙂

    I wish I could get my coworkers to read this post, but perhaps I can pass on some of this wisdom the next time they’re asking me how I can eat so much food (if I could have an orange tree at my desk, my life would be so much easier!) and still look I do. When I tell them how much I work out, not to stay like this, but for fun, really, a personal challenge, they just can’t believe they could ever do the same. They think it’s too much work. Hopefully someday soon they’ll get past the “work” part, as well as realize that self-image is more important than body-image 🙂

  41. bob foster says:

    became a vegan 7 months ago, taken off two rxs, lost 12 pads and find myself biking every morning with new found mind has been suggesting that i come back to running. morning exercise before my brain discovers what i’m doing.

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