Yep…I’m taking on a colossus this week.
I have a lot of thoughts on this and it is messy and big so bear with me.
Diet Culture sucks a big hairy toe. Yep. It sucks, it’s lame, it’s dangerous and it’s everywhere.
It’s in all of our advertising and on all of our social media. It’s in the way being on a diet as been normalised and why the diet industry is such big business. It’s how even our doctors use your BMI as a major indicator of health (do NOT get me started). It’s how magazines tell you you can ‘get your body back’ 324 million ways like your body was ever lost and even though the images of the models aren’t real. It’s how when you walk into many gyms as a woman they offer you weight loss programmes as standard. It’s how little girls describe chocolate first and foremost as ‘calorific’ and ‘fattening’. It’s all of these things and a gazillion others.
If someone was constantly telling you that you weren’t enough or that you were too much or that you needed to change to be accepted based entirely on what you looked like, you’d call that person a dick…at best. Abusive at worst. And you’d walk away from that person if you could. You’d be out.
That’s diet culture. Its a dirty, stinky, mean pile of poop. And I have given it far too much of my time, energy and self worth. I’m done. For the sake of my health, my happiness, my son, my loved ones, my time and energy. I am out.
We are all surrounded by it and we are all affected by it, whether we are completely aware of it or not. And it is all about making money. A very high proportion of people who go on diets (and most of us have) quit or gain back the weight or gain back more. Perfect repeat customers. Are we all lazy? Are we all failures? Nah…I don’t buy that anymore. It doesn’t work because it’s not really meant to.
Diet Culture has contributed to a societal belief that:
- Thin is good/ fat is bad
- Thin is healthy/fat is unhealthy
- Thin is happy/fat is unhappy
- Thin is dedicated/fat is lazy
- Thin is attractive/fat is ugly
- Thin is success/fat is failure
- Thin is praised/fat is ignored
- Thin is loved/fat is despised
- Thin is safe/fat is feared
- That ‘being fat’ is practically the worse thing you can be
- And so on
Because. It. Sells.
And all of those contradictions are straight up bullshit. Not any of that is an absolute. I know people with less fat who are unhealthy and unfit and unhappy and I know people with more fat who are fit and healthy and happy. And I know folk at every stage of that spectrum. And I know folk who travel up and down that spectrum of being depending what’s going on in their lives.
But honestly…at the end of the day, how much fat your body has is literally the least interesting thing about you. I could care less. I could care less what your body looks like. Get fit, don’t get fit, diet, don’t diet, lose fat, don’t lose fat…I don’t care. I do care if you feel happy and if you feel good. I do care if you are a good person and what kind of amazing things you are getting up to.
Okay, so I said I was out like it was a definite thing…what I probably should have said is that I’m going to do all the work to get out. Right now my logical brain is out but the part of my brain that is tied up in my story, my history and my emotions is so confused and scared and sad. It’s screaming, ‘What does one do if one is NOT on a diet or NOT hating their body. That is NOT how it works. Get back in there and give it another good go. It’s the only way it works!’ But it has never worked. It NEVER worked. I mean it worked for a bit but then all the weight was gained back. All of it and more. And I am not a lazy, unmotivated person who lacks dedication and willpower. But I was made to feel like I was. I often felt like I was.
Here are some gifts that diet culture has given me:
- The gift of believing that my appearance was the most important indicator of my health.
- The gift of thinking I had to take on every new diet so I could ‘fix’ myself.
- The gift of hiding food and binge eating.
- The gift of wishing for an eating disorder so I didn’t have to try so hard. (Ha!)
- The gift of speaking poorly about other people’s bodies so I didn’t have so much attention on mine.
- The gift of working out for up to 5 hours a day or doing 4- 5 different sports/workout activities (some of which I HATED).
- The gift of feeling disgusted with my body especially after having TD. Disgusted. After giving birth. GIVING BIRTH!
- The gift of feeling like my body was against me and my happiness.
- The gift of believing that to be thinner was to be better and that would mean being happier.
- The gift of having had a relationship with Weight Watchers since I was a young teenager (so when I see they are targeting, sorry, offering teens free memberships, it makes my skin crawl).
- The gift of believing I was too big from the time I was 12. I was the tallest in my class, even compared to the boys and I was swimming competitively. I was strong. And I was an anomaly. It was ‘wrong’ to look like me.
- The gift of desperately searching for someone, anyone out there who looked remotely like me so I could feel ‘normal’.
- The gift of truly believing that my self worth was connected to how I appeared to others, in particular to men. To how desirable I was.
I can recognise that I am not responsible for the messages I was given as a child by my society or family or circle of people around me. I can see that, as an adult, I am responsible for how I see, think and feel about my body now. I feel responsible for how I engage with my body now. I feel responsible for contributing towards a different option for those around me. I would like to contribute to that in a positive way.
I just watched a film by Taryn Brumfitt called Embrace. For me it is a must watch as it is just magical when it comes to this kind of thinking. Taryn has the most beautiful quote about body confidence and embracing your body as it is. She says,
‘My body is not an ornament, it is a vehicle to my dreams.’
Such simple truth. I think a huge problem is that we are bombarded with this weird unattainable and unrealistic sameness. One of the ways I counter this is to follow people on social media who are advocates for body, race, ability and age diversity. Or people who promote a way of life and health outside of dieting. Eating for health, energy and life…yes. But not through dieting. This list is a real mixed bag of ladies from different backgrounds, interests and fitness levels but they all inspire me. They all believe there is another way than the one we are sold. I have also stopped following a lot of folk that were promoting a culture of dieting and body shaming that made me feel uncomfortable. Some of the people I do follow are:
- Healthy Habits Happy Moms and the ladies that run it; Annie Brees, Lauren Koski, Jennifer Campbell. I’m working through their Balance 365 programme just now which, at its core, is diet deprogramming and building healthy habits.
- Erin Brown (Iamerinbrown)
- Taryn Brumfitt (Body Image Movement)
- Jade Beall Photography
- Jess Baker (Militant Baker)
- Lucy Sewell
- Turia Pitt
- Harunaam Kaur
- Be Nourished
- Melissa Toler
- Girls Gone Strong
And to be clear, being body positive does not mean ‘promoting obesity’, whatever that means. Like being fat is the worse thing you can be. In fact, since starting to work through the points below…and not being so at war with my body, I have started to lose a little bit of fat in a safe and healthy way. Not that it matters. But I’m feeling better and that does matter. Hating my body and trying to lose weight has never worked. Being in a diet culture and taking on board the messages that I was too much or not enough never worked. And we all know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Hello insanity! So for me, it’s time for something different. A different way. Here’s what stepping away from diet culture looks like for me.
- I no longer participate in conversations that involve judgement about my body or others (this includes the conversations in my head).
- I don’t laugh at or share body shaming memes or gifs though I probably wont call you out if you do because confrontation is icky for me (but that’s a post for another day).
- I appreciate what my body can do and not place so much judgement on what it looks like.
- I don’t workout to ‘earn’ food but instead I do movement that I love. Right now it’s lifting weights and walking. And that’s enough at this point.
- I engage with and work with people in the fitness industry who are happy to help me see what my body can do and not assume I just workout to become less.
- I train to push myself and see what my body can do, not just so it’s attractive to others.
- I don’t see foods as being good or bad. Food has no moral value. It is just food.
- I listen to what my body needs and feed it in a way that makes it feel good…most of the time. I include protein and veggies at most meals.
- I don’t beat myself up if I can’t workout or if I eat food that doesn’t make me feel great.
- I fill my social media feeds with body positive, inspiring women of all backgrounds so that I can normalise body diversity.
- I take lots of photos of myself and my beautiful life to show appreciation for what I have and am capable of. I will celebrate this vehicle.
- I don’t avoid activities or situations I love or am curious about because I’m worried about what my body will look like.
- I minimise the value that both negative AND positive comments about my body have on my self worth.
- I no longer compliment my friends’ bodies. I will compliment them on how happy they seem, how kind they are, how gorgeous their souls are.
- In the words of my mom, I will ‘stand tall and be proud!’ no matter what my body is doing and looking like at any point.
These are the goals. I’ll mess up loads because the culture is a tough one to break free from and it’ll take time. I’ll give myself a little self compassion if I can in this department. It’s going to take time but I think the effort is worth it because at the end of the day, it’s just time for a change. At the end of the day we need to live in these bodies for the rest of our lives. The message we send our children can be a different one. One where their bodies are a ‘vehicle to their dreams’ but also a means for living a beautiful life. And actually not the most important thing about them. Can you imagine? I wish I could have grown up in that kind of culture.
I’m not criticising those that want to push themselves and their bodies to see what they can do, how much they can lose, compete in extreme sports or body building shows or who make a living from the fitness levels of their bodies…amazing! It’s just that our society seems to promote that lifestyle as the be all and end all for everybody. And it’s just not. Good for you, it’s just not for me anymore.
If you can’t see your way away from diet culture that’s okay. I totally understand. It has always been a part of our lives and it is powerful. But I just want you to know that there is another option out there. And I just want you to know that it’s not you…it’s our society. Just remember…