My therapist and I work on food/diet/body issues when I can stand it—it’s really hard to talk about, which then feels so silly because it’s “just food.”
“Oh, it’s just food?” she says. “It’s not like we need to think about food several times a day to stay alive.”
ALRIGHT ERICA. See why it’s hard? 🙂
Something we talk about a lot in school and in at my training site is how so, so many problems that clients come in for—particularly the clients I’m seeing—are systemic, whether that be socioeconomically, racially, etc.
As a privileged, able-bodied cishet white lady, most of these systems have benefited me—but diet culture is a pretty pervasive one, unless you are Kimmy Schmidt and have been living under a bunker with no media.
This morning, my therapist and I talked through some more of this stuff, and I was incredibly anxious and activated as we ended, so I took a few minutes to meditate and journal. (I would like to pretend I always do that after our sessions, but that would be a lie.) I was sick this weekend, so I couldn’t work out, my usual way to dispel post-therapy anxiety. I had to…just, like, sit with my feelings?!
Like many people, I gained weight over the course of the pandemic—and I have struggled accepting that. I have come to some peace, though, that this body got me through a goddamn pandemic.
It was raining here in LA today, which is Big News, and so I went to put on a rain coat as I took my dog out. Well, said rain coat fit me like sausage casing…which was not enjoyable and did not make me feel awesome about myself.
I took a few minutes for a pity party, and then I got angry—not at myself, but for this diet culture that measures us by the number on our scale, by the tags on our clothes.
A jacket not fitting is just a piece of data that says nothing about who I am.
More than anything, it’s just an annoyance—I just don’t really want to have to take the time and money to buy new clothes right now.
I’m sure I’m not alone in internalizing things like that as my “fault,” but diet culture is designed to make us feel shitty about ourselves like that to perpetuate the industries it supports. I’m doing a lot of work to unpack all of that and also find a way to eat that feels right for my health, too—addressing energy issues, headaches and digestive issues.
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.
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.)
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.”
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:
BooksThat 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.
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?”
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.