Everyone is on a diet, always, or thinking about their next diet, or thinking about going back to the diet that they lost 30 lbs on ten years ago. The amount of brain energy we use to think about better ways we can restrict food is absolutely insane.
Dieting shouldn’t be our “normal” state in life yet for most adult women, it’s something they are frequently thinking about. It’s rare to meet a woman who has never been on a diet or who doesn’t desire to be smaller. It’s disarming to be in a room with a woman who seems to eat freely, without concern for calories, carbs or how other people will perceive her for eating whatever she desires. Try going to the average exercise class full of women and I will bet you $100 that the instructor will say something about working harder so you can wear a bikini in a few months (the assumption being your current body isn’t fit to wear a bikini). Try watching TV for an hour and not see a commercial that promotes either a device that will help melt off fat, a procedure that will make you slimmer or an exercise program or medication that will help you finally lose weight.
Women grow up knowing what dieting is, long before their bodies are done growing. We understand the need to manage and manipulate our bodies in order to receive approval. At a young age we don’t understand why dieting is so important but we learn that it’s just part of being a woman and we really want to be adult women.
We hear our Moms and their friends, or other women in our family talk about how they need to stop eating carbs, or how they just can’t control themselves around sweets or bread. They pinch their stomachs and say “Look at this! Can you believe how fat I’ve gotten?” and laugh. They order diet cokes and salads with fat free dressing when the family goes out to eat. They comment on other people’s bodies too. They say things like “She’s too big to wear that” or “She’s totally let herself go.” We also hear “Have you lost weight? You look so beautiful!” or “Wow, that’s a very slimming dress on her.”
We take it all in. Just as we learn everything else. Big = bad. Fat = bad. Pretty = good. Thin = good.
We grow up watching the women around us push food around their plates instead of putting it in their mouths. We watch the women we love hold onto clothing hanging in their closets that are 3 sizes too small but they keep because of a dream body that still lives in their seams. We learn that dieting is just what women do and because we are desperate to be a grown woman long before our bodies and minds are ready, we too start to regulate our food intake.
We tell our own girlfriends that we’re no longer eating cookies or that we’re watching the carbs. We tell them how we’re going to start exercising so we can lose a few pounds. We aren’t even sure what a pound is or how many of them is enough, but we know that we should have less of them.
We say all of this so proudly and we wait for their eyes to light up with envy, with awe, with approval and love. We know how grown up “dieting” makes us appear and that idea makes an electric tingle go through our bodies starting from the glittery headbands on our heads down to the suede ballet flats on our feet. We feel more bonded to our friends and other women in our lives when they share their diet plans or secrets. We bond over vilifying fat and celebrate our accomplishments when we can squeeze into a dress that was too small a few weeks ago. Food becomes an enemy to never relax around and being willing and able to go hungry for long periods of time becomes a badge of honor.
Little girls learning that they have to be small, pretty and perfect to be loved is not ok.
It’s not ok because they grow up to be women who accidentally teach the same ideas to the next generation.
It’s not ok because all of these women limit their potential because they’re so bogged down by the issues attached to weight, size and controlling their bodies.
It’s all so crazy and sad. And we have to start changing it.
We should be outraged that this has become the normal. That it’s completely accepted that we should all be vying to be as small as possible and that anything else is wrong.
I just want to say for a second that there’s no one to blame here. I’m not blaming mom’s for their daughter’s learning this stuff and you’re not a bad person if you say, think and do the things I’m talking about here. You learned this stuff somewhere too. My own mother constantly told me that I was capable of anything and also that I’d look beautiful even in a burlap sack. But her own words about her own body was a different story and I absorbed all of it as just something women did.
This is a bigger cultural issue (diet culture) we have that goes so deep and is supported by every single one of us taking part in it. I still find myself occasionally thinking or saying things (especially as a joke about myself) that support diet culture even though it goes against everything I believe and teach today. Some things are so ingrained, it’s hard to realized how far, except when they seem to appear out of nowhere. I’m still working on my own deep beliefs about my body and food. It’s a process and one that will take years to undo the damage our diet culture does to all of us.
Diet culture teaches us that we can’t trust our own bodies to tell us how much to eat. It teaches us that we are wrong and sneaky. It teaches us that we need calorie counts, points or portion sizes spelled out for us in order to know how much to eat. Diet culture teaches us to silence the signals that are already available to us in our own bodies, until they’re so faint we can’t hear them anymore.
I can’t stress enough that we don’t need diets or meal plans to tell us how much and what to eat. Unless you have a medical condition that requires careful policing of certain nutrients or food categories (diabetes, celiac, kidney disease etc), you probably don’t need some other authority to tell you what and how much to eat. And if you feel so far removed from trusting your own hunger cues, I can help you get back in touch with them. The best authority to check in with to determine how much food your body needs is you. Your body. Your knowledge of yourself. If you feel good and you’re healthy, if you have ample energy to do all the things you want to do, then odds are you are eating the right amount of food that you need. You don’t need to follow a diet.
This might mean that your body is meant to be a little or a lot larger than you want it to be. This also doesn’t mean you have to be unhealthy. You can eat well, exercise, get good sleep, manage stress and do all sorts of other things in the name of health. You don’t have to necessarily manipulate your size or weight to be healthy. Being slender does not equate health and being heavier does not equal being unhealthy.
Constant dieting is like being at war with yourself and you can’t make peace with food if you are at war.
You may not be ready to give up dieting or know how to stop taking part in diet culture the first time you are introduced to it (whether through a blog post like mine or somewhere else) but what you can do is try to become more aware of your thoughts and beliefs and ask yourself where that came from. Here are a few questions to ask yourself or use for journaling to bring up your beliefs about your body and food:
- What do you believe about your body? Is it too big, too small, just right? Why? Why is it one of those things? How do you know?
- Think back to your childhood and teen years. What types of things did the people around you say about their bodies, your body or other’s bodies? How do you think their viewpoints affected you?
- What do you believe if the right way to eat? What foods do you eat regularly and which do you never eat? Why? Why do you think you choose the ones you do or don’t?
- What thoughts and feelings do you have about other women’s bodies? Are there certain attributes you are aspiring to? Are there attributes or features that you are trying to change? Why?
- When do you feel your physical best? Why do you think that is?
- Do you have judgemental thoughts about food? Do you believe some foods are good or bad? Or that you are good or bad for eating them? Why do you think this is?
- What do you admire and appreciate about your body as it is right now?
- When was the last time you ate a meal and received pleasure from eating it (without judgements)? Can you try to receive pleasure from food more often?
I have so much to say on this but I don’t want to bog you down with yet another 2500 word blog post (haha) so keep an eye out for my next blog post which will be on how health coaches are contributing to diet culture and how I’m trying to do things differently!
Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!