How many times can you have your heart broken before you finally say, enough is enough?
Dear Diet, it’s not me it’s you. I think we should break up. And no I don’t think we can be friends.
We’ve been together since my teens, when I think about it we’ve been together forever. I watched my mums relationship with you when I was little and I knew you and I would have the same relationship when I got older. That’s just what women do right? Go on diets and bond over body complaints.
I broke up with you many times but somehow I ended back up with you via your friends “clean eating”, “healthy choices”, “portion control”, “calorie counting” and “lifestyle change” they seemed so different, so new, so healthy. But they were just you in disguise.
You promised me so much
- The dream body
But what did you really give me?
A complete mistrust of my body and food – I think about food 24/7, and if I dare to eat the food I like I give myself such a hard time that I end up eating it all because “I might as well because I’ve stuffed it now anyway”.
The perfect, healthy body? What did I get? Weight cycling, every time I lose weight I regain more, I’ve read this increases my risk for diabetes. Every time I restrict my food, I make my body more efficient at storing energy. Less muscle mass and more insulin resistant. So much for healthier. And health is more than physical, its psychological too. I cannot begin to explain the body shame you’ve given me. I can’t tell you when I last had a blood test and it’s been well over 10 years since I had a Pap smear, so who knows? I just can’t bear to hear the criticism from my doctor!
Connection, Love, Popularity? Ha! I’ve avoided more social events than I can remember – pool parties, beach trips, dinners, birthdays, girls’ nights out all because of the worry about my body and food. Seriously it’s amazing I still even have friends. My best friend announced that she was getting married and asked me to be her bridesmaid, all I could think about was how was I going to lose weight in time for her wedding, I don’t even think I congratulated her! And Love? I can barely tolerate myself! I can’t trust that someone else loves me. And when I have met someone and had a relationship I never know if they love me for the size I am now, what if I gain weight? Will they love me or like me then? It makes me feel crazy.
So Diet we are done. Thanks for nothing. I know you think I can’t get by without you, that I need you for guidance and structure and sanity. But I don’t. It’ll be tough because EVERYONE (my parents, some of my friends, my doctor, my ex, society) thinks you’re amazing and if I’d just tried harder we’d be a success, but they’re wrong. It’s not me it’s you. It was always you, there was never anything wrong with me and never any need for you in my life. Why did I think I lacked willpower? I have 2 masters degrees, 150 staff and head up the national office of a global business, I think that might demonstrate my ability to get results, prioritise, plan and execute strategies!! Yeah it’s not me, it’s you.
If you want to know where to forward my mail, send it to me via “Non Diet Land” where I will be relearning how to listen to and trust my body, I will be feeding it and moving it with compassion and joy using both my intellect and my intuition. I’ll be exposing myself to a deluge of body positive messages and a wide variety of bodies in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and abilities. I’ll be doing my best to stop comparing myself to others and to be kind, genuinely kind to myself. And that’ll mean going and having those checkups with my GP and really getting a handle on my health. It’ll mean paying attention to my body’s need for movement, rest, food and sleep, and after all these years of ignoring my body that will be tough work.
This is how I imagine a conversation between diets and dieters everywhere might sound. There might be hands on hips, a foot stamp and even a resounding slap. And I would applaud, weep joyful tears and provide the biggest supportive hugs as dieters walked away from the dreadful diets that have held them enthralled and caused them so much pain for so long.
However this will have to stay in my imagination for a little while longer I fear. Diets are seductive things, not only do they promise weight loss, but our culture has determined that along with the weight loss will come happiness, success, respect, even love, because surely only the thin people deserve those things (REALLY??).
And the health profession has added further pressure by blaming all health concerns on weight – well maybe not all health concerns but a lot! What we do see is that when weight is a primary issue for healthcare providers that often patients avoid seeking healthcare or preventive tests.
The thing is with dieting, ie intentionally changing how you eat to influence your weight, shape or size, it doesn’t work. It is the diet not you. But the diet industry, including weight focussed healthcare has hoodwinked you to believe it’s you. You and your lack of willpower, you and your love of cake/biscuits/cheese/chips/food, you and your love/hate relationship with exercise that is the problem. But it’s not. It’s dieting.
Dieting doesn’t work and we’ve known this for a very long time. Even if you call it clean eating, or a lifestyle change, it still doesn’t work. By “doesn’t work” I mean it doesn’t result in permanent weight loss. The failure rate of diets is often quoted as 95-97% and the changes to dieters behaviour and thinking are often blamed on the dieter and regarded as “loss of willpower”. However, the seminal starvation study, “The Minnesota Starvation Experiment”, conducted in 1944/45 showed that increased preoccupation with food (during and after starvation), depression, social withdrawal, decreased libido, decreased basal metabolic rate and emotional distress are all features of the starvation and not of the starved person.
There is another way. I don’t mean another way to lose weight! I could scream when I see Mindful Eating, Intuitive Eating and Body Positivity co-opted by the diet industry. There is another way to think about food, eating and your body. First step is to gently loosen the ties of weight and health. When we can separate weight from health we can start to imagine ways of looking after our health. The truth is we do all come in different shapes and sizes and our health behaviours are the pathway to better health, whether they result in weight loss or not.
Susan has written a number of other fabulous blog posts on a similar theme: