I quit weighing and counting calories a long time ago. These practices were never helpful and often harmful. I quit basing my value on the values of the diet culture. They always made me feel like there was something wrong with me. And, I quit looking in the mirror and being disappointed at the signs of aging or other “non-acceptable by societal norm” changes to my body and face. Aging and the signs of aging are inevitable to a person who ages. The idea that one can be “ageless” is impossible. The only time you’ll stop the aging process is when you die.
Where Did Diet Culture Come From?
Some people trace the diet culture’s history as far back as ancient Greece. There was a belief system that ancient Greeks had about balance and fatness was seen as an imbalance to be “corrected.” Though that perspective fell out of vogue for centuries after the fall of Rome, early evolutionary biologists around the turn of the 19th century started to point to fatness as a mark of “evolutionary inferiority.” And guess what? Disenfranchised groups like women and people of color, who had more fat on their bodies, were demonized.
In the medical world, patients started asking to be put on diets at the doctor’s office and the emerging life insurance industry started medicalizing weight stigma. For more detail on this horrific history, read the book, Anti-Diet, by Christy Harrison.
The Reality of the Dieting
The resulting diet culture is a collective set of social and cultural expectations telling us that there’s one way to look and one way to eat and that we are a better, more worthy person and we’ll be loved if our bodies are this one certain way. Yet what we see in the research is that up to 98% of the time when people embark on weight loss efforts, they end up regaining all the weight they lost within five years, if not more. In fact, up to two-thirds of people who embark on weight loss efforts may regain more weight than they lost.
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and she was telling me about her vacation. She talked about how many steps they got in every day (because she tracks them, of course). And, because she got so many steps, she said “I didn’t even have to count my calories at dinnertime. I could have whatever I wanted.” While my mind was running numerous responses, my mouth couldn’t form the words I wanted to say in response. I realize that this is the reality for millions of people, but it is not mine and it doesn’t have to be yours.
Responding to the Diet Culture
What I wanted to say was “you can have whatever you want all of the time.” When you limit what you can have, you are more likely to be subject to the “restrict-binge cycle.” This is when you won’t let yourself have something and when you do (which you will), you go all out—having more than you feel comfortable having and then feeling guilty about it as well.
What I wanted to say was “you are beautiful just the way you are.” You don’t have to be a self-improvement project all of the time. It is exhausting, isn’t it?
I also wanted to say that when you say those kinds of things to other women, they will start to feel inadequate. They will start to feel like they need to be watching and counting and doubting themselves too. Let’s not do that to each other. Let’s lift each other up and tell each other how wonderful we each are—not because you walked a certain number of steps or ate a certain number of calories, but because you are my friend and I love you.
6 Steps to Reclaim Your Body
- Pay attention to your body’s signals. Your body is wise and is telling you all of the time what it wants and needs. We have just forgotten to listen because we’ve spent so much time listening to everyone else telling us what and how to eat. Give your body the rest, food, movement, and love that it asks you for.
- Look in the mirror and smile. Begin the journey of appreciating your body. While this might take a while, you can befriend your body every time you look in the mirror—smile instead of frown. Look for the things that you appreciate, and shift from self-judgment to self-love.
- Ask others not to judge you. If you have people in your life that judge the way you look, set appropriate boundaries with them. It is not okay for people to comment on your age, size, wrinkles, etc. (Teach your children it’s not okay too.) Tell them to keep their opinions to themselves.
- Don’t join in the diet culture conversations. Women are particularly guilty of talking about calories, the food you “shouldn’t” eat, and being judgmental about their weight and looks. Please don’t join in and let others know it is not okay to talk that way in front of you.
- Move and live with joy. Your body does miraculous things every day to keep you alive and keep you strong. Do your part to help your body by moving it in ways that feel delicious. Everyone can do something. Discover your body through mindful movement. Check out my yoga videos to learn some moves.
- Eat for pleasure and nourishment. Tasty food and nourishing food are not mutually exclusive. Find ways to both satisfy your taste buds and give your body food that helps it be energized and feel good. Food is to be enjoyed and celebrated! Your body is a temple to be appreciated. Honor them both.
Your body and you will be together for the rest of your life. Take the time to make that relationship healthy and strong. For more help, read one of my books. Or, sign up for my Eat for Life Class starting mid-September. You won’t ever regret the journey to reclaim your body. It is the path to pleasure and love.