No. There is no magic bullet.
No. There is no shake or cream or pill or special meal plan that will keep “the weight” off forever.
No. There is nothing – no plan, no program, no personal trainer, no diet, and no miracle – that will help you “get your body back.”
You have heard the phrase “Body Diversity” and you think that it’s for “other” people. You think it’s fine for “other” people to be who they are in THEIR body but that your body SHOULD comply with Diet Culture’s narrow, contemporary idealized beauty norms. But you are wrong.
Body Diversity means that every single body is different. Let that sink in.
Body Diversity means that every single body is born to be, meant to be, bound to be DIFFERENT. It also means that as you go through your life things happen to your body that change it. If nothing else, it ages. When you throw in accidents, illnesses, disabilities, pregnancies, traumas, motherhood, manual labor, and all the other things that a body amazingly sees us through in our lifetime, your body changes – BECOMES DIFFERENT FROM HOW IT USED TO BE – exponentially, in order to survive!
Let’s talk for a minute about why you even have that thought in your mind that you should work toward “getting your body back.” Do men routinely, and generally speaking, obsess about trying to make their body look like it did when they were in high school or before they had kids? Do men – again, GENERALLY speaking -- become depressed or develop eating disorders because they don’t have the same body they did at 16? No? Oh right, that’s because (I know you’re saying), “men age better than women.” But that is absolutely not objectively true. As Carey Fisher said, “Men don’t age better than women. They’re just allowed to age.” Men don’t pine for their high school bod because Diet Culture’s contemporary idealized beauty norm for men doesn’t look like a 16 year old boy. But who’s expected to stay very young and lithe and small and easy to control? Women. So “getting your body back” makes diet and beauty products very easy to sell to women. Obsession and depression and eating disorders and anxiety springing from the manufactured desire to “get your body back” makes diet and beauty products very easy to sell to women.
Let me suggest an alternative. Allow your body to be what it is right now because it changed to save your life and keep you alive and get your through every damn thing your body has been through up to now.
And now you’ll say, “so you want me to just give up?”
WHAT??? Give up on WHAT??? No! Suggesting that you allow your body to be what it is right now is in no way suggesting that you just lay down somewhere and never get back up. No. I would NEVER suggest that you “give up” on anything that is meaningful to you. Do not give up on your passions. Do not give up on your life. Do not give up on your love. Do not give up on your ambition. Do not EVER EVER EVER give up on your BODY OR YOUR SELF!
But… yes, give up on Diet Culture. Stop believing Diet Culture’s lie that you are only valuable if you look like a skinny, 16 year old little girl. Or, hell, if you naturally look like a skinny, 16 year old little girl, stop believing that THAT is what makes you valuable! STOP believing that your body has betrayed you or hates you or has something against you because it won’t “go back” to what it was before. You never lost your body! Your body has been with you all this time – keeping you alive and strong and vital and it had to change to do that. Stop believing Diet Culture’s lie that the changes your body has gone through are bad or unnecessary or undesirable. Diet Culture doesn’t know your life! Nor does Diet Culture give a shit about your life – or your survival for that matter. Diet Culture wants one thing from you – your clear submission through your purchasing of its products. So, yes, yes, yes, GIVE UP BUYING WHAT DIET CULTURE IS SELLING.
BUT – you say, because you are so entrenched in Diet Culture that you will continue to argue with me – MY BODY IS “UNHEALTHY!” Okay. I need another entire blog post – or maybe a whole book – to explain to you how untrue that probably is. In fact, if you want to know how untrue that probably is (YES, even if a medical doctor told you so!) go read Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon immediately. She’ll set you straight.
But, okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that you ARE unhealthy, that your current body is, in fact, “unhealthy.” Even though it has changed to help you survive the things you have already survived, it is “unhealthy.” Say, for example you are currently battling cancer or living with ALS or in active congestive heart failure, yes, most humans would agree that you are currently “unhealthy.” So, let me ask you this: if any of these things are true for you, do you think it is going to help you to concentrate on how “bad” and “wrong” your body is and how much you hate it and wish it could just be like it was before the illness? Do you honestly think it will help to follow a diet scheme or a diet shake regimen or a weight loss focused meal plan in any of these cases? Because it won’t and neither will a negative attitude towards your unacceptable body. Only an attitude of being proud and amazed at how your body is continuing to survive every day despite this illness is going to help. Only “giving up” on Diet Culture’s bullshit beauty standards is going to help you focus on SURVIVAL.
Now, let’s say you are generally “unhealthy” because of your weight. Maybe you feel heavy, you feel slow, you feel less energy, you get winded easily, you feel lethargic, you feel less capable of just engaging in the regular activities of daily living than you used to. Okay. Again, I ask you: how is a purely weight loss centered focus going to help you through that? How is focusing on how bad your body is and how unacceptable it is and how you wish it LOOKED like it did when it was younger or healthier going to help you through that? IT ISN’T.
ONLY embracing your body’s amazing capacity for change and being proud of your survival to date will put you in a frame of mind to make the REAL life changes you want to make to get “healthier” – NOT skinnier, healthier. These are not the same thing. If, in this state of feeling unhealthy, you “lose the weight” by going Keto, or going Vegan or going Paleo, or drinking a Beachbody shake for every other meal instead of eating real food or intermittently fasting or taking the latest diet pill, you MAY get thinner, you may lose weight and you may temporarily feel “healthier.” But if you are weight loss focused, I have bad news for you, THAT weight will not stay off. You will most likely NOT be one of the very small (under 5%) percentage of people who actually keep the weight off. And if you are among that tiny percentage of people, you will most likely have developed a very UNhealthy eating disorder in order to be. So, when the weight does come back on, your body will be in starvation mode and you will gain MORE weight than before and that weight will be mostly fat weight because your body is trying to SURVIVE.
Getting thin/ thinner DOES NOT mean getting healthier. In fact, MOST of the ways that we become thinner (many of which I have already mentioned) actually decrease physical and mental health. But Diet Culture has told you that around the next corner there is a magic bullet waiting with your name on it and it will make everything okay so you keep using these methods anyway. You keep thinking that thinness and health are exactly the same thing anyway.
If you are generally unhealthy or feel unhealthy because of your weight, I recommend embarking on the journey toward becoming an intuitive eater because Intuitive Eating is the only therapy that has been proven to give people LONG-TERM relief from food and body image issues. I also recommend becoming very familiar with the types of movement your body enjoys and then engaging in that movement as often as you want to.
Diet Culture has told you the lie that only certain bodies should do certain movements or only certain bodies are acceptable to be seen doing certain movements in public. Diet Culture has told you that certain movements are better than others or more real or more “effective” than others. None of this is true. So, maybe in order to discover what type of movement your body enjoys and then in order to engage in that movement, you’ll need to get over some shit.
The journey toward Intuitive Eating and Joyful Movement – the journey toward Body Liberation – is not a program or a diet or a scheme or a plan, nor is it the kind of bullshit “lifestyle change” that Diet Culture is selling these days. The Journey toward Body Liberation is a deeply personal, emotional, life-changing paradigm shift that requires you to “give up” on Diet Culture and its many products and invest instead in yourself and YOUR survival and YOUR life and YOUR needs. It’s not easy and it’s not fast. It’s no magic bullet. It’s no promise that your body will never change and it sure as hell is not a journey back to the body you had when you were 16 years old – because you are so much stronger and wiser and more resilient than that 16 year old ever could’ve been.
BUT the journey toward Body Liberation IS the last road you’ll need to travel on and it is the ONLY road to that leads to freedom.
Ten years ago today, my mother died.
It turns out the time after a parent dies takes on the same pace as the time from when a child is born. That is, as a parent, I am always saying, “how did my daughter get to be 11 already?” or “how did my kid get to be 16 already?” And now I’m thinking: How is it possible that I’ve lived for ten years without my mother? How is it possible that it has been THAT long?
When my mother died, I was 35 years old and I resolved to stop hating my body. I resolved to stop dieting and tracking every food I put into my mouth, as she did more often than not. I resolved to stop wasting time worrying about my body and instead I resolved to live my life. I did not keep any of these resolutions for long. Just as it had during my mother’s life, Diet Culture stepped in hard on those plans and forced me back into body hatred, back into the incessant tracking, back into being so obsessed about my body that life went on without me – because I was somewhere, always in the back, counting calories or macros or fat grams.
A couple of years ago, my obsession with thinness and my old belief that thinness is synonymous with health became intolerable. In the pursuit of thinness and “health,” I had become mentally ill, mired in disordered eating and I could eventually no longer keep going down that road. And so, gratefully, I tell you that I have found a certain freedom from all of that bullshit; a freedom that, to my knowledge, my mother was never able to find. And on this tenth anniversary of her death, I am ready to reestablish my commitment to self acceptance and body liberation.
In our culture, all people are herded as soon as possible after birth, into the prison of Diet Culture (which is now sneakily masquerading as “Health Culture”). There are at least two tiers to this prison and the lower, more punishing, tier is reserved for those of us who identify as female. This is the place my mother lived in all of her life. It is the place I have lived in for most of my life. This is not the place I want my daughters to live.
In this prison of Diet Culture, my mother and I learned that the only thing that makes a woman valuable, worthy of love, or acceptable in this world is how much her physical appearance complies with contemporary ideals of beauty. We learned that my mother’s body was unacceptable and disgusting. We learned that my body was unacceptable and disgusting. And these lessons forced both of us into a lifelong pursuit of trying to make ourselves acceptable and lovable to the world.
But here are some of the things I’ve heard people say about my mother in the last 10 years:
“She was so kind.”
“She always had room in her home, in her life, at her table for another person in need.”
“She was always volunteering to help in the community.”
“She was always so good with kids.”
“She could always make me smile!”
“She loved children.”
“She was so creative.”
“Her gardens were so gorgeous. She had such a green thumb.”
“Oh my god! Her cooking! I loved her cooking!”
“Her beautiful smile! I miss her beautiful smile!”
“She loved being a part of the choir at church!”
“She was such a beautiful person.”
“She had such a beautiful soul.”
“She was so beautiful.”
People who knew my mother – family members, friends, and acquaintances alike – have said these things about her. Only ONE time, in TEN years, has any person expressed any sentiment about my mother’s weight and that was a family member that was extremely close to her who said, “Yep, she struggled with that a lot. It’s too bad that she struggled so much with that.”
It IS. It is really TOO BAD that she struggled so much with her weight and her body and the vast difference between what Diet Culture told her her body SHOULD be and what it actually was BECAUSE… her body was a gift given to her by the universe, the vessel through which she touched all these lives that remember her as “beautiful” and the lies that Diet Culture told her, it told her just to make a buck. Diet Culture isn’t even REAL! My mother’s life, my mother’s beautiful smile, my mother’s ability to grow thriving gorgeous plants from seed, my mother’s kindness to children and elders and everyone, my mother’s compassion, my mother’s cooking, my mother’s soul was REAL. And she wasted (we all waste every day) PRECIOUS TIME in the bullshit prison of Diet Culture worrying about how our bodies refuse to comply with invented (for profit) contemporary beauty ideals. And that is really TOO. BAD. It’s bad.
In the ten years since my mother’s death, I have realized that so much of who I have always been come from the lessons that she was always teaching me by example.Be kind. Have compassion. Help out. Help things grow. Do those things that make your heart sing. Keep your heart open. But I have also learned that really living in these lessons with all of my heart requires escaping the prison of Diet Culture, requires believing that these lessons and these attributes of human existence are far more important and worth paying attention to than whether my – or anyone else’s – bodies comply with contemporary beauty ideals. I have learned to value what is REAL in this life and to question and ultimately, defy, those things (like Diet Culture and its capitalist, ableist, racist, misogynist, fatphobic, transphobic beauty norms) that are not real.
After ten years, my mother is still REAL and here with me and with every person her life touched. I believe the impact she made on my life and everyone else’s will still be REAL even 1,000 years from now because that’s how the world really works – one person touching a life that touches a life that touches a life that touches a life and so on. And I WILL honor my mother and the life she gave me, by continuing on this journey of Body Liberation for myself and for every person that MY life touches.
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.