If dieting for weight loss doesn’t work and restricting calories, or depriving ourselves of entire food groups leads to UNHEALTHY, disordered behavior around food and your body, why are people still selling us these ideas in the form of “wellness programs” and “lifestyle changes.” Why is our sister, cousin, auntie, or friend inviting us to join a multi-level marketing, pyramid scheme to buy protein shakes and bars and fizzy energy packets and talking about a lifestyle “reset” or 30-day cleanse? WHY?
Because we are STILL buying it.
And because it is the only thing we seem to want to continue buying because the promise that every single thing in our lives will suddenly be miraculously better once we’ve “lost the weight” is STILL more enticing to us than getting free from Diet Culture’s external controls over our lives.
I get that. As I’ve said many times before, we have been sold the idea our entire lives that thinness equals health and worth and lovability. We have also been taught the inverse – anything other than thinness equals lack of health, unworthiness, and unlovability. I get that. I have been there.
And when we are still in that place it seems utterly absurd that there is anything remotely wrong with the way we restrict our food intake, the way we take one or two meals a day in liquid form, the way we go to bed hungry and wake up with a stomachache because we are so hungry, the way we shame everyone at the party for eating all of the foods we wish we could eat, the way we secretly binge on our forbidden foods when no one is looking, the way we feel superior to our friends and family members who don’t restrict their food intake the way that we do, the way we just “eat clean” or “follow a nutrition program” or “eat for health.” Of course there is nothing wrong with doing these things when Diet Culture has told us our entire lives that food is evil and should be avoided, that food shouldn’t be pleasurable, and anyone who enjoys food is a gluttonous, unworthy, unlovable slob. In this culture, it is only natural that we would restrict calories and constantly consume ourselves with thoughts of the size of our bodies. That is exactly what our culture has been designed to make us do.
And we’re still buying all of this for one of four reasons that I can currently think of.
First, maybe we have a naturally slim body type but have believed the Diet Culture lie – that is super easy to believe when one has a naturally slim body – that we are superior to others who do not have our body type. Maybe we DO engage in healthy behaviors in our naturally slim body type. We joyfully move our body. We eat intuitively. We don’t engage in restrictive dieting for weight loss (that much). And maybe because we do these things, we have convinced ourselves that we have worked for our slim body and therefore MUST continue to work for that slim body. And because our body is more naturally slim than we realize, it is very easy for us to feel disdain for people whose bodies are naturally larger than us because this is, after all, the exact disdain that Diet Culture has told us to feel.
We don’t SEE Diet Culture. We see “healthy people” which, in our minds, are thin people and we see “unhealthy people” which, in our minds, are non-thin people. When we hear people talking about Body Liberation, we hear fat, lazy, disgusting, overeaters who can’t get out of their own way or just don’t have enough “tools” or “resources” (read: protein shakes, bars and fizzy energy packets) to know how to be healthy. We feel bad for them; those poor, ignorant, unhealthy fat people. We believe if we could just impart our supreme wisdom of how to live a “healthy lifestyle” upon them, they would magically transform into worthy, lovable, healthy thin people. Et Voila, all the world’s ills would be solved.
Now, I’ve never been naturally slim but I have had that exact attitude before when, through my eating disorder, I was posing as a “naturally” slim person. I too believed, once upon a time, that if I just was able to impart my supreme wisdom of how to live a “healthy lifestyle” I could magically transform people. Not only was I wrong when I thought that – like, biologically, clinically, anatomically completely incorrect – I was also self-righteous, ignorant, and arrogant and I didn’t understand the first thing about body diversity or the social injustices of fatphobia.
The second reason I can come up with for why we are still buying Diet Culture is that we are living in a bigger body and we still believe that weight loss is our only road to salvation. We are still hoping for and seeking this salvation at all costs. We still believe that one day we will find the secret to “losing the weight” and we’ll be thin and worthy and lovable and all of our dreams will come true. I’ve been there too.
And we might be right to a degree. Certainly, when we finally figure out a way to trick our bodies into restrictive dieting for weight loss (aka: early stage eating disorder), we might be able to lose a significant amount of weight and doors WILL open that always seemed closed before. People will compliment us who seemed to never even notice us before. Our colleagues will treat us like we are suddenly more competent in our work. Everyone will want to know our secret. Some people might even be jealous of us. There are sexual positions available to us that we never dared try before. There are clothing options available to us that we would never have dreamed of before. And it will be very exciting and we WILL feel our world changing.
And the biggest change will be the obsessive way we think about food. Constantly. And… the way we exercise to punish ourselves for eating too much or exercise in order to deserve food. The biggest change – which will coincide with the dramatic weight loss we experience – will be the fact that we have to become an obsessive fanatic in order to stay there. And, in the meantime, we will become terrified of re-gaining the weight and losing all of the validation that we received from all those people who suddenly behaved as though we were better, we were finally lovable, we were finally worthy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We are not there yet. Right now, in this second possibility for why we are still buying Diet Culture’s bullshit, we are living in a bigger body and we want desperately not to be. And, I don’t blame us. Again, Diet Culture has been telling us our entire lives that we can’t be fat and happy, we can’t be fat and lovable, we can’t be fat and healthy, we can’t be fat and worthy at the same time. So, absolutely, it only makes sense that we’d still be looking for that program, that shake, that 30-day cleanse, that one thing that’s going to turn everything around in the direction of approval and acceptance. Because, everyone wants to be approved of and accepted. And, you’re right – it’s NOT fair that there is only one body type in this world that is allowed that approval and acceptance.
The third reason we might still be buying Diet Culture is that we have an eating disorder. Eating disorders often start with dieting for weight loss. When we are in an eating disorder, Diet Culture seems to be the only thing that makes sense in the world because it validates every disordered thought our ED is feeding us. If you think you have an eating disorder, please seek professional help in the form of a registered Health At Every Size licensed therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If you think you have an eating disorder, you might be at the stage where you are willing to do something about it to save yourself. Eating disorders can be dangerous. Please get help while you still can.
The fourth reason I can think of for why we are still buying Diet Culture’s bullshit is that it’s just easier. It’s just the easiest thing to do. Whether we are fat or thin or somewhere in between, dieting for weight loss is what people (women especially) talk about and DO with their whole lives. Sooner or later, any gathering of women turns into a conversation about what each is doing in order to diet for weight loss. Who is dieting for weight loss successfully and who isn’t is what some women will talk about -- ad nauseam -- to their partners and friends. Women judge and talk about other women’s physical appearance with religious fervor. Diet Culture, for WAY TOO MANY women, is a substitute for a personality and a life – and for many, a career as well.
And Body Liberation is a little bit hard to understand. And Body Liberation requires deep emotional and mental work. Body Liberation requires honesty and courage and a willingness to see beyond the obvious and even rebel against a system that upholds Diet Culture. And, doing this work is fucking scary at times. It also feels super lonely at times. And it is so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so much easier to buy the fucking protein shake, the bar, the fizzy energy packets, the 30-day cleanse and just keep buying.
I don’t blame us. I am not trying to shame us. Diet Culture has had hold of all of us since day one. We are doing what we need to do in order to survive within it. Honestly. This is where we are. And it’s okay. It’s okay to want to be thin, or thinner. It’s okay that right now we are still buying Diet Culture or can’t even understand what the hell Diet Culture even is because it’s just the water we’ve been swimming in our whole lives.
I just wish I could help us understand the underlying assumptions that we are buying into whenever we buy Diet Culture; the fine print that comes at the bottom of all Diet Culture. Every single Diet Culture concept or product or program that you buy into comes with these words printed in bold underneath:
YOU ARE UNACCEPTABLE.
YOUR BODY IS A PROBLEM.
YOU ARE NOT WORTHY THE WAY THAT YOU ARE.
YOU ARE NOT LOVEABLE THE WAY THAT YOU ARE.
IN ORDER TO USE THIS PRODUCT TO ITS FULL POTENTIAL,
YOU WILL HAVE TO HATE YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY.
THERE IS ONLY ONE GOOD, LOVEABLE, WORTHY BODY
TYPE IN THIS WORLD AND IT IS NOT YOURS, AND IT WILL
NEVER BE YOURS, NOT REALLY.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH
WITH THIS PRODUCT, YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH.
In the midst of MY, PERSONAL obsession with thinness, dieting for weight loss, and deep, nearly-religious belief in Diet Culture’s lies, someone turned Diet Culture on its head for me and showed me this fine print. And while I had accepted all of these truths for so long, it was eye-opening to see them written there in black-and-white. And though it was easy FOR ME to believe these things about MYSELF, I couldn’t believe them about my daughters. I couldn’t believe them about my friends, my sisters, my nieces, my mother – all of whom bought the same Diet Culture programs and products to differing levels and in differing ways. None of their bodies are unacceptable. None of their bodies are problems. They are already worthy. They are already loveable. They are already good enough exactly as they are.
It dawned on me suddenly and harshly that in my own buying and selling of Diet Culture I was creating a world in which these women who are dear to me – MY OWN DAUGHTERS, my nieces, my sister, my dear friends – could not see, accept or believe in their own inherent worth. By confusing thinness for “health,” and calling my eating disorder “clean eating;” by making it clear that obsessively chasing thinness was the exact same thing as “living a healthy lifestyle,” I was a clear and influential role model of damaging dysfunction. In short, I was teaching the women I loved to hate themselves.
And then, when I realized THAT… I stopped buying… and selling, Diet Culture.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.