Complicit in Diet Culture

I have been thinking about this post for a while—on why diet culture is unhealthy and my role in it.
(tw for weight loss/diet culture talk)

If you’re new here, this blog started as a weight loss blog. (LOL that that about page says “crap, I’m 30.” Reader, I am now 38.

why is diet culture unhealthy

I wanted to lose 50 pounds before a friend’s wedding in Aruba. I lost 35 before the wedding and the last 15 in about six months after that.

I thought I looked great, and I was happy*, and my mom took me shopping to “celebrate” my weight loss. I got lots of great comments here. I started getting interviewed all over the place about my weight loss as my blog grew.
(*My therapist questions “happy” since I was still drinking my face off but that’s another topic for another day. Maybe.)

I was absolutely rewarded and treated differently because I’d lost 50 pounds.

I have been struggling deeply with my body image lately*. I gained weight during the pandemic, and a lot of my clothes don’t fit, and it’s hard when you have this record of your life when you were smaller on the internet.
(*My therapist would also say always/for a long time but I am just now truly acknowledging it.)

preppy runner weight loss junior league

I see a picture like this, and I know I am too thin for my body here—and I also miss looking like that. And also can see what an ASSHOLE I look like for sticking my elbow out so far into my friend’s space in my attempt to look skinny.

Why Is Diet Culture Unhealthy?

The more I learn about diet culture and realize how a $71 billion dollar industry (and media, of which this blog was a part of in broad definitions) is designed to sell us the lie that we’re not good enough in the bodies we’re in, and if we just pushed a little harder, bought this diet, bought this workout plan.

And I was complicit in that, too. As this blog grew and brands wanted to start working with me to get access to the eyeballs on this site, I wasn’t super picky (weight loss pills were never OK in my book though), and I definitely did campaigns with Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, some shitty-ass meal delivery service that was absolutely frankenfood. I did all kinds of mental gymnastics to make these OK in my head.

I also said a lot of “if I can do it, you can do it” kind of things. The more I learn about privilege, I realize how much that played a part in all of this too. I was 26 when I started this blog with little responsibility other than going to work 9-5ish—and, to be honest, my parents paid for that twice-a-week trainer I had. That time and money are not resources everyone has.

But back to today. My weight is approaching the original weight it was before I lost all of that weight, and that doesn’t feel good to me. I built an entire identity (and a good chunk of income) around/from that weight loss. It feels really embarrassing to have “failed.” But 80% of diets eventually “fail”—as in, people gain the weight back. Most “diets” work at first—if you’re restricting calories or food groups, you’re probably going to lose weight—but if they’re not lifestyle changes, the weight comes back.

To lose the weight, I essentially did pretty close to Paleo. Whenever I have thought about trying to lose weight, my mind goes back to some kind of restriction like that. “Then that’s not a lifestyle,” says that lovely lady I pay a bunch of money to and then get indignant when she says the things I need to hear. The deeper we dig, the more we find a lot of fucked up things I think about myself, my weight, my body.

If you’re savvy about diet culture, you can probably still see some thinking in here that’s not healthy. I asked her if she thought I had an eating disorder. I’m honestly not sure if she heard me say “had or have” so I’m not sure if she means now or then, but she said, “I don’t think an eating disorder, but definitely some disordered thinking.”

I feel a lot of guilt that I peddled a lot of that mentality on here, when I had a decent amount of influence, to other young, vulnerable women—and I can also hold that it was what I knew at the time. As Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

griffith park running

I’m not gonna lie that I scrutinize every picture of myself right now. BUT, I truly love this picture from yesterday because I look strong. (I’m the one in the flowered shorts with the aggressively swishing blonde ponytail.) I would also like to know what the fuck I’m doing with my arms and that trailing left foot, but that’s another question for another day.

I am a massive hypocrite, because I absolutely tell clients things like “it’s just a body” (or meat sack, I have been pretty partial to that one lately). I absolutely believe intellectually that all of this is true about bodies—but have I internalized it? Absolutely not.

But I’m a work in progress. (Aren’t we all?)

Here’s some stuff I’m reading/listening to related to this:

Books That Show Why Diet Culture Is Unhealthy

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach—my therapist is a very direct woman, and I love that about her, but she is rarely directive, as in, telling me what to do. The other day, she pretty much demanded I buy this book. As we hung up, “so you’re going to go order that now, right?” OK YES LADY. A lot of my RD friends swear by this. I’m not going to lie—intuitive eating sounds pretty scary to me. My intuition is usually telling me to eat tacos, so I don’t trust it.

Intuitive Eating Workbook: It contains exercises (emotional ones, not physical ones) to go along with the above book.

Body Talk by Katie Sturino—do you follow Katie on Instagram? She is a plus-sized influencer and body positivity advocate, and she wrote this book about learning how to embrace our bodies for what they are. The first line in the description really stands out to me: “Can you imagine how much free time you’d have if you didn’t spend so much of it body shaming yourself?”

Self Compassion by Kristin Neff—

Podcast

Maintenance Phase—this is a fascinating podcast that deconstructs a lot of the junk science we’ve been peddled and the unhealthy messaging. The episode I was listening to that kind of inspired this post was their episode on Oprah.

Beating Yourself Up About Self-Care Is…Not Self-Care

I woke up this morning already feeling anxious. (Yay!)

My standard iPhone alarm is set for 6:45, but I prefer to get up a little before it and get some shit done. I am most productive in the mornings, and I like to ride that wave. It also means I can be at my coffee shop right when it opens. A positive of the pandemic is that most of the coffee shops on Main Street in Santa Monica are walk-up service right now (with a table at the doorway), so I can make walking Lucy in the morning a little less boring when it involves coffee.

But today I woke up right at 6:45, and it was well after 7 before I got moving, which made me feel behind the eight-ball already. I have a client at 10 and then a housekeeper coming for a deep clean, so I felt like I had a 10am deadline.

Seeing therapy clients (during a pandemic!) has really made me realize how important real and true self care is. I can’t be there for others if I can’t be there for myself.

Before 10am, I wanted to:

  • get coffee and walk Lucy (non negotiables)
  • and also go for a long walk!
  • or work out
  • call my aunt
  • grocery shop
  • get my 5 min of meditation in on the beach
  • shower and dry my hair
  • get some reading done for class
  • and maybe catch up on my client notes

(I know that if you have kids or an intense job, it might be hard to do any of those things in the morning. I get really lonely as a single person living alone sometimes but there is absolutely a certain freedom to it.)

There was literally no way I could do this all before 10, and I started beating myself up for not being able to do those things. But I’m listening to the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff and learning so much about the weight of our negative self-talk.

It’s helping me be a little more present. On a run the other day, for example, I really noticed my negative self-talk, comparing myself to a younger, faster me who could run much more easily.

Meanwhile…I was out running. In a pretty gorgeous place. But I could have been anywhere because I was so in my head. We carry emotions in our body, and no wonder running feels hard if I’m carrying that weight of comparison. I reminded myself I don’t have to run, I get to run, and I reminded myself how much more enjoyable the run would be, if I could just be present through the shitty first 15 minutes or so AND when it felt good.

And I employed that this morning: a short workout is better than nothing, meditation is non-negotiable, I can order groceries online, I can compromise with myself by sitting outside on a park that looks at the ocean rather than on the actual beach (I know this last part sounds silly but it did save me a good 10 minutes when I was feeling stressed about time.)

Self-care is realizing that something is better than nothing. Self-care is not doing one of these things and beating yourself for not doing them all—or trying to race through a list of things meant to take care of yourself while not at all being present.

Self-care is not writing a post like this and talking yourself out of posting it because you think it feels silly in the scheme of things. Are these things I’m stressing out about inconsequential in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely—but this is just an example of how the self-talk about the small things can begin snowballing to the bigger things.

Self-care is writing a post like this even though it wasn’t on your little list of things you should be doing this morning to take care of yourself. It just felt good to write this this morning, and like with anything I write, if it helps one person a little bit, even better. Self-care is not doing all the things you know how to do to optimize this post but you hate doing.

What’s one thing you’re doing today to take care of yourself? Not because you feel like you should—but because you know it will just bring you a little more joy today?