With the New Year coming up, many of us will resolve to lose weight. But why? There are very strong forces at work in our society – a phenomenon known as “diet culture.” Diet culture equates thinness with health. It promises happiness, success and longevity if you meet the ideals, but there is another side. While being “thin” is idolized, other ways of eating and being are oppressed and even, at times demonized. Even worse, diets have a 98% fail rate. This culture is so embedded in our society, media, and lives that it is barely recognizable to most. Here are some of the myths of diet culture:
1. Thin = Healthy
This is simply not true! There are plenty of thin people who have major health issues, just as there are plenty of people who are not in the ideal weight range but are very healthy indeed. In fact, studies have shown the restrictive and even obsessive behaviors of diets – over exercising, starving oneself, eliminating entire food groups, etc. may actually cause more adverse health effects. One of the major issues is sustainability. As a result, people get stuck in a weight cycle where they will lose and gain weight overtime. Weight cycling is associated with metabolic disorders, cardiac issues, and depression. Therefore, thin does not necessarily equal health.
2. No pain = No gain
Being active is really good for you. At least 30 minutes of intentional movement 3-5 times per week is the recommended amount of exercise for most adults. Diet culture tells us to push ourselves and if you are not sore, your workout was not effective, which is not true. As a result if this false ideology, many people become entrenched in unhealthy workout regimens and may cause unintentional injury. So um, no, sorry being in pain is NOT healthy nor should exercise feel obligatory. Find a way to move that feels good to your body and what you truly enjoy – dance, chase your children or grandchildren, twirl, stretch, do some yoga. Whatever movement it is that you like and feels good, do that!
3. People are responsible for their weight
No one makes diet choices but us, right? And most of the world does not have a personal chef or nutritionist working with us to teach us how to feed our bodies properly. Our unique genetics mean that different foods have different effects on different bodies and metabolisms. Food is a very tricky thing. While it’s true that no one held me at gun point when I chose to eat that cupcake on Christmas, when we limit ourselves and tell ourselves we CANNOT eat certain things, when we do decide to break down and eat them, we generally binge because they are “forbidden,” even eating in secret which is totally unhealthy! We eat foods we enjoy, that are part of our culture, and most especially what our wallets allow. The fact is that most people do not know how to feed their bodies properly or if they do, they feel they cannot afford to. In addition, people may have health or metabolic conditions that are genetically related such as high cholesterol, thyroid issues, etc. which make meeting the thinness ideal almost impossible, even with diet changes.
4. “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change”
This is the most common lie masked as encouragement. There is absolutely no way to avoid certain things unless you bring your own food everywhere or better yet lock yourself up with only fruits and veggies. It’s not realistic. Plus I love French fries LOL and why should I have to give them up in the name of “thinness?” It’s not realistic and let’s be honest with ourselves, it might work for a little while but not forever. At one point or another, there will be a French fry staring at you and what will you do? Shame yourself for eating it? Oh that’s healthy! Our societal culture supports diet culture but also eating is how we interact and form connections with people. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “breaking bread.” Not only that, but restrictive diets – what to avoid, what to eat, what not to eat is constantly changing. Health gurus and their followers will evolve with the changing tide and jump on the next “bandwagon” health fad! “Wheat is good – no wait it has glycophosphates so it’s bad” its bad” or how about “caffeine is bad - no wait you should have some” or “milk does a body good – no wait, we are the only mammals that drink another mammals milk which is bad” … It can get cumbersome and confusing. Even the billion dollar Weight Watchers franchise has rebranded to WW: “Wellness Works” claiming that they are more “holistic” now. Yeah, right. What they don’t talk about is how many people enroll in January and drop out by February. While WW has a higher success rate than most programs at 11%, thanks but no thanks. (And for the record, I’m a lifetime member, I’m no where near my “goal weight” and I’m much healthier and happier than I was when I was in that program!) While people see nothing wrong with spending their money on supporting the suppressive diet industry (that we’ve established doesn’t work), they could be spending these resources on buying more healthful, clean foods, that they perceive they cannot afford.
Crazy, right?! But I’m here to tell you there is hope. There is a way out of the madness. I’m here to testify that I am a diet culture survivor and you can be too!
This year instead of a diet, consider:
· Cleaner eating (most of the time!)
· Increasing your water intake (helps hydrate and detoxify the body)
· Start or increase joyful movement
Instead of shaming yourself ask yourself?
· Why do I want to lose weight? Is it to meet a societal ideal or is the real goal to be healthy?
· What is it about my body that I don’t like and why do have this distain for the amazing vessel that brings me through life daily?
· Are there any health issues I currently have that I want to address?
· How can I improve and increase healthier habits without subscribing to oppressive diet culture?
Best wishes for a Healthy & Happy 2021!
She, Her, Hers