A week before the COVID19 pandemic made its way to the U.S., I decided I was going to heal my relationship with food. Little did I know I would be trapped in my home to deal with my feelings alone while simultaneously being bombarded with “at-home” workout videos and memes of how much weight everyone was going to gain during quarantine (otherwise known as the “quarantine-fifteen”). This was also the time I started stress baking banana bread and chocolate chip cookies daily. During quarantine I ordered the book Intuitive Eating by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and thus began my journey to heal my relationship with food and never diet again.
The saying goes “once you have seen something you cannot unsee it.” For me, this became diet culture. Diet culture is the mindset and pressure society puts on (mostly people who identify as female) to look a certain way to be deemed worthy. These attributes include: thin, white, fit, able-bodied, “traditionally pretty” and young. We are encouraged to live up to these ideals. The problem is most of us are not all or any of these things. How did I not realize we are all swimming in diet culture bullshit? Friends/family constantly talking about counting points and “diet starts Monday”, coworkers saying they are being “bad” when they eat a break-room donut while simultaneously talking about their low carb diets, my mom optioning for liposuction and injecting her face with poison because society told her she needs to be thinner and younger, being harassed by ads for weight loss diets, pills, workouts, and now detox teas that will make you poop your pants in order to reduce “cellulite and armpit fat”, and let’s not forget damaging sayings we spew out our mouths like “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” or “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” or dangerous compliments we give to people like “You look so good, have you lost weight?”
It is no wonder people hate their bodies. We are taught to hate them. I cannot remember the moment I decided my body was wrong, but I remember moments throughout my childhood and adolescence that set the tone. For me, I remember a girl in ballet saying I had a large stomach, so I made sure to suck it in during costume fittings. I remember my father being “concerned” about me gaining weight and making multiple statements about what I ate when I was in middle-school, so I hid food under my bed to eat privately. I remember a boyfriend’s friend telling me his sister referred to me as “[Boyfriend’s name]’s fat girlfriend.” I remember my mother talking about how much she hated her body meanwhile people unwittingly told me I looked like her. I remember my (now ex) boyfriend who said I would be a 10 out of 10 on the girlfriend scale if only I lost 20 pounds…
I cry as I write this. The memories still bring pain. People have had it worse, sure. Perhaps they were relentlessly mocked for their size, put on diets at age five, and starved, binged, and/or purged themselves relentlessly trying to control their bodies and make themselves small. Still, my story is another example of the relentless monster that diet culture is. Diet culture is similar to the COVID19 as in it does not care who you are, it comes for you. Socioeconomic status, race, weight, gender, it does not matter, it finds us and tells us we are both too much and not enough. Most people do not get through life unaffected by diet culture and are left with painful scars. I have done multiple diets, including my first one at age 14 where I drank a “master cleanse” tea that kept me on the toilet most of the day and at the end of the day I hid in the garage and ate cookies because I was starving. The fact that I traded years of self-love for hatred, hunger, depression, and shame to try to fit into society’s belief of what a woman should be makes my heart ache.
It is funny how quickly your view on things can change. Just a few months ago I did 30 days without sugar and grain believing I was being healthy, but really I was depriving myself. I missed out on shared meals with my friends and eating homemade deserts that I would have otherwise enjoyed had I not been on this “diet.” I thought it was a “lifestyle change”, which is still essentially a diet if it requires cutting out whole food groups. It was not sustainable. I had dreams about carbs and the moment the 30 days were up, I gorged myself on so much pizza that I was unable to sleep that night due to stomach pains.
Most of my life I assigned moral value to foods: “good food” and “bad food.” Whatever food I ate was associated with my moral value. If I ate the “good food” then I was good and if I ate the “bad food” then I was bad and would spend the rest of the day filled with guilt. If I allowed myself to eat anything on the “bad food list” then I would “make up for it” by working out extra hard and looking up the next “clean eating” diet/cleanse. I remember as a teenager pasting pictures of thin celebrities on my water bottle to “inspire me” to workout. The photos were not only photoshopped, but the shape of the bodies of these celebrities was not something I could obtain even if I tried my hardest, due to my genetics.
According to Traci Mann, a researcher and teacher of psychology at the University of Minnesota who has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years found that only 5% of dieters keep the weight off for a significant period of time. So essentially, dieting has a 95% fail rate. Can you imagine partaking in a medical procedure with a 95% fail rate? That would be insane! *You can read the full article here, which includes where to find her book Secrets From the Eating Lab.
Here is the thing: I am the 5%. In 2012 I lost a very significant amount of weight. I am not going to say how much weight because it does not matter. Since 2012, I have only gained a very small portion of it back in almost nine years. I was coming out of a deep depression and had found yoga and other types of movement and had started doing other things instead of using food to cope with emotions.
But here’s the kicker: even after getting to my “goal weight” I still hated myself. I hated myself even though I finally could shop “straight sizing” (sizes carried in most stores) and people kept complimenting how good I looked. Despite this, I was still a cluster of insecurity and upset that the weight loss did not deliver what it promised. I spent the majority of my time and mental capacity obsessing over which foods would cause cancer and weight gain and which ones would allegedly save me from them.
Weight loss promised me happiness, body acceptance, and health. I did not gain any of those things when I lost the weight. I temporarily felt happiness when my clothes were too big and when people complimented the way my body looked, but the feeling was fleeting. I still felt tired and sad. I still looked in the mirror and disapproved of what I saw. Even after the weight loss, I still had cellulite on the backs of my legs, stretch marks on my boobs, hips, and thighs, and still had curves in places society deems unacceptable. I still slunk under the covers to hide my body from my now husband when we had sex, sucking in my stomach and praying he would not see my thighs jiggle. I spent so much time overthinking of how he would perceive my body that I could not actually enjoy the intimacy.
Weight loss did not cure my negative body image. Even now after working on healing my relationship with my body and food I still do not love my body every day. However, I am grateful for all the things it helps me achieve and I accept that my body is the way she is and she will change with time based on a myriad of different circumstances. Since starting this journey I have seen improvements in my health that diets promised, but never delivered. For example, I just gave platelets two days ago and my iron levels were in the middle-average range for the first time in my life. My body knows what she needs and it is my job to finally start listening. I give her what she asks for which includes eating for nourishment and satisfaction, moving when she wants to and resting when she needs, building healthy relationships, and taking care of myself as a whole person, not just weight. Speaking of healthy relationships, something important is having a wonderful partner who has never once in our relationship said a negative thing about my body. However, the real acceptance and freedom comes from me. This journey is about me and what I decide and I have decided to give diet culture the middle finger for good.
Here is a (non-comprehensive) list of resources for more information about Intuitive Eating, body acceptance and Health At Every Size (HAES).
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
- Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon
- Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
- Big Girl by Kelsey Miller
- Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann
- The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
- The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
- Just Eat It by Laura Thomas
- Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
- Eat to Love by Jenna Holl
- What’s Wrong with Fat? by Abigail Cope Saguy
- Body of Truth by Harriet Brown
- Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker
- The Eating Instinct by Virginia Sole-Smith
- Food Psych with Christy Harrison
- Iweigh with Jameela Jamil
- Redefining Health and Wellness with Shohreh Davoodi
- Food HeavenPodcast with Wendy Lopez and Jess Jones
- Nutrition Matters with Paige Smathers
- RD Real Talk with Heather Caplan
- Love Food with Julie Duffy Dillon
- You Can Eat With Us with Cara Harbstreet
- Nourishing Women with Victoria Myers
- Intuitive Eating for the Culture with Christyna Johnson
- Intuitive Bites with Kirsten Ackerman
- More Than What You Eat with Rachel Goodman
- The F*ck It Diet with Caroline Dooner
- How to Love You Body with Jenna Free and Lauren McCaulay
- Don’t Salt My Game with Laura Thomas