Down With Diet Culture

My diet does not start today.

Or tomorrow.

Or Monday.

Or EVER again.

Because not only is there a wealth of evidence proving that diets don’t work (and actually lead to weight gain in the long term) but the diet industry especially profits off of convincing you to feel bad about yourself so that you get “better”. And somehow, they’ve managed to convince everyone that better = thinner.

Which is funny because thinner =/= healthier.

dietculturewtf.png

It’s funny because thinner =/= more willpower.

It’s funny because thinner =/= kinder.

thinner =/= smarter

thinner =/= more athletic

thinner =/= saner

thinner =/= happier

And yet, losing weight is the number one resolution that people share.

I don’t judge people for falling victim to the diet culture. I understand why they do. For my entire life, I did too. And when I say my entire life, I mean from the time I was probably 7 or 8 years old, I hated myself because I was fat. I was convinced that everything in my life would be better if I was thinner.

I remember that I would read “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books about people developing anorexia to lose tons of weight and while the message was “don’t do this! it’s dangerous!” all I took from it was “starve yourself! you’ll lose weight!” And so I did.

When not eating didn’t work out for me (because holla, food is GOOD), I tried the bulimia approach. But I’m not very good at throwing up either. So for years, I either starved and binged or got myself on a regular schedule of “self-disciplined eating” which was essentially me just starving myself.

See, when I look back on my life I can clearly divide it into the times I was dieting and the times I was not. The times I was dieting were times that I was genuinely proud of myself for being malnourished. I survived on a diet of fruit and granola bars (sometimes >200 calories a day) and ran 3-5 miles a day. I would drop about 40 pounds in 3 months and you know the response I got? Praise.

People thought I was making “healthier” decisions just because the way my body looked was conforming more toward what society said was acceptable.

My worth was the number on the scale and the reflection in the mirror. My feelings about myself revolved around whether or not I was proud or ashamed of what I ate and if I had worked out that day. So no matter if I was in a dieting phase or not, I was always punishing myself. Punishing my body by starving it, or punishing my mind by believing I was worthless.

But then in 2019, I found Tiffany Roe on Instagram (@heytiffanyroe) and, honestly I am not exaggerating when I say that my life changed. Not only is she a therapist, but she’s also in recovery from an eating disorder and a major advocate of intuitive eating. She taught me some invaluable truths.

  1. Mental health is greatly impacted by one’s relationship with their bodies and with food. Think about it–you can’t survive without food. You have to eat several times a day to remain properly nourished, and yet a complicated relationship with your body affects what foods you put in it, and your thoughts about those foods affect how you feel about ingesting them. Say you really like the taste of chips but your mind has classified chips as bad. Now, when you eat chips, you feel ashamed, because you have established that complicated relationship. Then you get caught in a shame spiral every time you don’t have the “self-control” to avoid foods that your body likes and your mind doesn’t. It’s a damaging cycle.
  2. Foods only have the moral value that we assign them. She used the example of french fries. A lot of people will say “oh, well fries are obviously bad because they’re unhealthy,” but she says that to her, fries are good because they were something she couldn’t eat when she had an eating disorder. No food is inherently good or bad and labeling them as such just fosters a poor relationship with food.
  3. You do not have to have an eating disorder to engage in disordered eating. Just because you don’t have a diagnosable eating disorder doesn’t mean your eating habits aren’t disordered. Many, if not all, diets are examples of disordered eating.
  4. Unconditional permission to eat is crucial to healing your relationship with food. Restricting leads to binging. Binging leads to shame. Shame leads to restricting. The cycle continues. In order to break the cycle, you must lift the restriction and heal your relationship with food.

Now, when I get on my diet culture soapbox and talk to people about my experiences, they sometimes accuse me of using an anecdotal fallacy. That my experiences, while unfortunate, do not “prove” that there is a problem with diet culture. But my experiences are not isolated to me and a few other people with personal testimonials about how diet culture is deceptive and dangerous. And if you’re unsatisfied with the links I’ve provided and want to fight, let’s fight. Because I’m sick and tired of people justifying thin supremacy in the name of “health.” People do not exist to aesthetically please you and you cannot tell just by looking at someone if they are healthy.

And it’s just sad, yknow? How we have these bodies that are capable of climbing mountains and making music and building cities and creating human life and here we are concerned about how they look. Not about how they serve us. Not about how we can use them to serve others. But about how. they. look.

This is the first time in over a decade that I am not putting weight loss on my list of new year’s resolutions, because every time I’ve lost weight, I have not gotten healthier because of it (lol one time I had to get my gallbladder removed because losing weight so fast gave me gall stones so try telling me that’s healthy). So I commit to getting healthier in 2020. I commit to getting therapy. I commit to getting outdoors more as part of (half of) the 52 hikes challenge. I commit to training for and running a marathon (!!!!!) and I commit to taking CARE of myself. But I’m not committing to losing weight, and I’m not praising anyone else for their weight loss, and I’m not encouraging anyone’s weight loss. Ever again.

Because what are you really saying when you praise someone for their weight loss? Congratulations on taking up less space? Thank you for being easier to objectify? Your body was a problem to be solved and now you’ve solved it so good job? Whatever illness you had that got you here was worth it because now you look better?

Come on. How about we look a little deeper and comment on things that matter going forward?

The best compliments I’ve received have had to do with my abilities or my personality. I love it when someone can tell me that they think I’m funny, or that I’m talented, that I have a way of making people feel comfortable around me, that I’m intelligent, that the way I write has the ability to make them feel understood.

In fact, my least favorite compliments are those that comment on the way I look. It’s lazy and says nothing about the value I contribute to your life or the world.

beauty

What’s really rich, though, is the people who can agree with everything I’ve written here and then say “well, if you’re not thin, people (men) won’t find you attractive and that’s just the way it is.”

Well, that’s ok. Because being shallow isn’t attractive either.

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