In this country, to be a woman and say that you’re not currently dieting is to make yourself an outlier. People will wonder what’s “wrong” with you and what “secret” you must have in order to not do this. It’s so normal to always be on a diet and always be “watching” what we eat that people who dare to say they’re not going to do it anymore are a touch weird, maybe even a little scary, right? It’s like that scene in Office Space, when Ron Livingston’s character Peter Gibbons tells Joanna, a cute waitress he’s having lunch with (played by Jennifer Anniston) that he doesn’t think he’s going to go to his job anymore. He doesn’t like it and he’s just not going to go.
Watch the scene here:
The idea that someone is just not going to go to their job (and not planning on getting another one and doesn’t seem worried about it) is such a foreign a concept in our society that Joanna asks him question after question in an effort to figure him out. You can see the confusion and shock on her face (that she hides with humor) as she tries to understand his angle. But there isn’t one. Thankfully they bond over kung fu movies and can move on from the confusing job subject.
What I think confuses people most when you say you’re not dieting is that they think that means you are going to throw all concerns of health out the window, that if you’re not intensely watching what you eat (like it’s out to get you!) based on some form of restriction, that you can’t possibly care about your health or be doing other things that contribute to being healthy.
That’s all crazily wrong. And it comes from a deeply held belief that dieting equals health. We think losing weight always means a healthier person.
That’s just not true.
Dieting does not automatically make you healthy.
Reducing your size does not always equal better health. There are plenty of people out there dropping pounds using incredibly unhealthy measures – eating crap food, over-exercising or taking dangerous speed-like supplements to reduce their appetites. And if you think there are no negative consequences to weight loss, you are misinformed. Here are just a few health consequences that can come from dieting:
- Fast weight loss can have big health consequences like gallstones
- Fast weight loss increases loss of muscle mass
- the pressures weight loss ideals put on us can lead to eating disorders
- weight loss can lead to bone loss (this is even more pronounced in women who are in early menopause)
- yo-yo dieting increases the risk of death, heart attack, diabetes and stroke for people with heart disease.
And that’s not really touching on the mental and emotional risks that can come with dieting. A whole culture full of dieters is so concerned with what they are putting in their mouths and the size / shape of their bodies that they can’t live and enjoy their lives. They feel stressed out, depressed, anxious and alone for a huge chunk of their lives. Why?? Because they’re trying to squeeze into a socially accepted idea of what a body is supposed to look like and the only way to get there is to do the opposite of what their bodies naturally want to do – eat and be nourished. That’s a big burden to carry emotionally for years and even decades of one’s life.
If dieting doesn’t automatically give us good health, then we have to realize that the reverse is also likely true. Not dieting doesn’t mean you don’t care about your health and it doesn’t mean that you can’t be healthy. I’m not discounting the science that shows that our weight contributes to certain health conditions (or makes them worse). I’m just asking you to think about the fact that not everyone who is overweight is a couch potato who is eating nothing but twinkies all day long and that there are plenty of slender people who have a lifestyle that is unhealthy.
There are a ton of ways you can not diet and still live the healthiest life possible.
I can list some of them for you below, but to be really clear and brief as possible – it’s really simple!! You can live a healthy life by doing all the things the supposedly “healthy dieters” do but without dieting. Same stuff, minus one thing (we remove weight loss as the motivator).
Move your body. Do it frequently and choose things that bring you joy. It should feel good (and it’s ok if it’s really hard at first or is hard on some days and easy on others). Do things you enjoy doing – it doesn’t have to be exercise for the sake of exercise. It can be play (outside with the kids, playing frisbee, rollerskating, dancing, charades etc). It can be meditation (walking, hiking, yoga. It can be competitive (sports, races etc). It can be high intensity (like HIIT, running, boxing etc) or it can low intensity (pilates, yoga, tai chi etc). It can be the stuff you just have to get done (gardening, yard work, house work etc). It can be restorative (stretching, yin yoga, foam rolling etc). Don’t think too much about whether you’re doing the right stuff. Work your body hard when it wants to be worked hard, be gentle when it asks for gentle. The important thing is moving frequently and safely for your particular body and choosing things that will keep you able to be as active as you want to be for your whole life.
Eat trusting your body and it’s knowledge. Your body knows exactly how much to eat for it’s needs. It also knows what foods make it feels great and what makes it feel terrible. It knows how to take the foods we eat and use it to nourish, repair and replenish our body so we can live another day. Dieting removes our ability to feel this trust and intuition (so if you’re in a place where you think you need dieting because you can’t trust yourself – you are not alone!) but it is something that we are born with and you can get back there with a bit of work and time (contact me if you need some help with this).
This doesn’t mean we discount nutrition. Just because you’re choosing to walk away from the dieting lifestyle and mentality, doesn’t mean you don’t eat with some awareness of nutrition. Choosing to listen to your body means just that – listening to your body. You may think your body is telling you that it wants to eat cupcakes all day, every day but that’s really your mind telling you that. It’s the mind of someone who’s been told their whole lives that cupcakes are bad, fat is bad and that they’re bad if they eat them. When you’re not dieting and no food group is off limits or “bad”, those foods that previously made you feel out of control, now feel much more neutral. When you know you CAN have something if you want it, it’s got a bit less appeal and power than something you CAN’T have. Eating from a more trusting and intuitive place means eating a wide variety of foods, prepared various ways. It means enjoying food but also not letting that enjoyment override the nutritional needs of your body.
I LOVE chocolate, tortilla chips, cheese and ice cream but I also LOVE fresh and cooked vegetables and in general I prefer how whole foods make me feel for the majority of my diet. I can only say that because I have given myself full permission to eat whatever I truly want. Ironically, what I want most days are the foods that make me feel great (and the foods that make me feel great are primarily nutritious). I figure out what’s right for me meal by meal, by asking “What would make me feel best in this moment?”. It’s always changing.
As much as eating too much of any one type of food can be unhealthy, try to remember that being afraid to eat entire categories of food all the time is equally unhealthy (on a mental and emotional level). Trust that your body does know what it needs (the real question is: Are you listening?).
Make managing stress a priority. Stress is one of the biggest causes of health issues in this country and yet we choose to brush it under the rug and ignore it unless we hit crisis mode. Because it’s a tangible thing to do, it’s much easier to manipulate our food intake under the guise of “health” through weight loss than it is to regularly take part in self-care activities that reduce stress. Stress is a part of everyone’s life – there is no getting around it – but we’ve come to see it as badge of honor to brag about how we can keep soldiering on despite how stressful our lives are. This is not healthy, sexy or something to be proud of. It’s way healthier to find a handful of things that bring you real stress relief and make them a priority. You don’t need to lose weight to do that.
Commit to loving and accepting yourself as you are. Not the person you were 10 years ago (though you should love her too). Not the person you’d be if you got that promotion or if you do finally fit into those jeans. Not the person you wish you were more like. You. As you are. In the body you are in right now with all her flaws, beauty, stretch marks, strong muscles, cellulite, freckles, acne, unmanageable hair, imperfect teeth or whatever else you think is a problem. It’s way healthier to be in a larger body that you love and care for than in a smaller body that is hated, distrusted and shamed. Do whatever you can to be more accepting, loving and tolerant of the body you are in and the person you are. She’s all you have (this is something we can work on together too) and if you’re good to her she will repay you back tenfold.
A few others healthy things that will contribute to your health that have nothing to do with the size of your body . . . Take supplements if needed (a nutritious and varied diet helps but sometimes we need a little help). Get regular check ups. Work on your thinking (if everything is negative? Why? What role could you be playing in that?). Have sex regularly (you don’t need a partner) and work to make it more fulfilling if you’re not happy with it right now. Give and receive human touch (even more important if you are single – make room for massage and be a hugger! We all need the physical connection. Reflect on your life with gratitude. Foster social connections that nourish and make your life feel balanced.
The healthiest people in this world are healthy because of a variety of factors, not just due to the size of their body.
I’m not writing this to make you feel bad about a history of dieting, your current diet or even your desire to seek out another diet (God knows that I have been on as many as the next person). Instead, I just want you to think about some stuff:
- What problem dieting is actually, truly solving for you? And has it been able to solve that problem in the past?
- Might there possibly be other things you can do to be healthy that are separate from intentionally manipulating your size?
- What would your life look like if you weren’t always watching what you ate?
- Can you have the life you want without changing your weight? Why or why not?
Hey I know it’s tough to change your relationship to food on your own. That’s why I created “You Have What it Takes“, a guide full of questions to help you improve your relationship to food using different qualities you already have. Download your copy at the link here.