Have you ever pondered this question? Even though we know that diets and dieting doesn’t work, it can be so challenging to not try another one. After the initial high, diets usually leave us feeling miserable, defeated and perhaps even heavier than before we started…
I can honestly say that I lost about 10 years of my life to dieting. Much obsessing around my eating and my weight with on-off, yo-yo dieting efforts. My efforts neither made me happier nor healthier. Besides a preoccupation with my body and binge eating episodes, I also ended up with digestive issues and fatigue.
Science tells us that intentional weight loss pursuits don’t work for the vast majority of people and that dieting is a pretty good indicator future weight gain. They tend make us MORE preoccupied with food and our bodies, not less… So why do we keep coming back for more?
Why on earth is it so difficult to let go of dieting?
I’m not claiming that I have all the answers here, what I would like to do is offering you some reasons to why it may be so difficult to let go of dieting, that are worth reflecting on. You are not wrong for wanting to lose weight. And there’s nothing wrong with your body if your attempts to lose weight hasn’t worked out either. It is the Culture we live in that is wrong.
Dieting gives us an illusion of control.
When life feels unmanageable it is so easy to use dieting as a way of trying to regain a sense of control. Planning, counting, restricting can all give us a sense that we are “in charge” and “doing something”. When in fact what we may actually need is some kindness and care and space to recognise that life IS hard. What we need are tools for self care and self compassion, not fuel to hate ourselves more.
It also gets tricky when dieting is done under the disguised as “a lifestyle change”. I have used brackets here because if your lifestyle change carries a main focus on making your body smaller, then it is in fact a diet. This is NOT the same thing as eating foods that makes you feel good, work on reducing stress or moving your body to feel stronger. Doing all of these things can support your health and wellbeing independently of change in body size.
Dieting is packaged and sold as the path to happiness.
Just have a look around at the endless messages that the multi billion dollar Diet Industry that are flung at us everywhere we turn. We are being told, and sold, that the pursuit of weight loss is the gateway drug to happiness.
We are also being told essentially, that we are not good enough as we are. A subconscious message that is all too often clothed as “female empowerment”. But that in truth is anything but. How can we become truly empowered when we are being told to spend our precious time, energy and money, to make ourselves anything but what we already are? Empowerment comes from owning the truth that we are already enough as we are, right now.
The final myth / lie that falls under dieting as the path to happiness is the sneaky one that convince us that if we could just get dieting “right”, then the rest of our life would just magically fall into place. This lie can make it particularly difficult to challenge when we are in the midst of a weight regain period. Please don’t beat yourself up if you’ve find yourself stuck here, time and time again. It’s cultural conditioning.
We get treated different when we are thin(ner).
To be honest this is not a myth, this is a fact. It is something that is continuously being upheld and perpetuated by fat phobia and weight stigma. Even if someone has lost weight due to a serious illness, they will get congratulated by other on how “well they look”… We also continue to up hold the Thin Ideal by assuming a person’s health, simply by looking at their body size.
Because we all live in this fat phobic culture the result is that those in a larger body desperately try to get thin, and people who live in smaller bodies live with a fear of getting fat. This does nothing to create an environment in where we can foster self care, but rather drives us further apart and disconnect our trust in our own bodies.
If you have done a multitude of diets, and are still searching for the one (that will work), please don’t be hard on yourself.
We’ve all been conditioned for almost all of our lives that thin = health. That we are “better people” if we could just learn to control our weight and that if we can’t, then the fault is our own.
I also appreciate that even if you have reached a place where you simply cannot do another diet, it may still be very difficult to put any weight loss desires to the side. That’s ok. It is difficult to live in this dieting culture. Be gentle with yourself.
Just know that letting go of dieting is not the same as letting yourself go.
Letting go of dieting is an opportunity to cultivate self care, body respect and body trust. It is an opportunity to end the war with your body, free your mind from obsessive thoughts about food and put your time and energy into things that will truly enrich your life.
This is not an easy blog post to write. In fact, even though I have a clear idea of what I want to write here, it doesn’t come all that easy. Maybe because I know that this is a difficult topic to write and talk about. It is also both counter cultural AND will most likely upset some (many?) people.
I have decided that this year, I am going to be braver and speak and write about what I stand for and what is aligned to my values, as well as my professional mission. After some deep dives into what is driving our eating behaviours, what the obstacles to having a healthy relationship with food, eating and body are and how we cannot pursue whole self health without also healing our relationship with the same, I am ready to share my thoughts, learnings, observations and resources.
This year, my intentions are to truly let this space evolve into a place where you can come and find some sanity from diet culture and hopefully inspiration on your own journey towards food freedom and body liberation.
Over the past 15 months or so I have spent a lot of time with colleagues who are doing very courageous front line work and advocacy for the right to health, respect and care of people of all shapes and sizes. It has opened my eyes in ways where it is now impossible to turn the other way… Hence why this post is only the first of many. Brace yourself!
My TRUTH is tugging at me to invite you to some exploration around how we see our own bodies, how we regard (or disregard) them. How we speak ABOUT our bodies and how we speak TO them. In order to heal our relationship with food and eating we also need to examine and heal our relationship WITH our bodies.
Beyond how we speak, think and perhaps judge our own bodies we also need to wake up to how we and society at large speak, think and judge other people’s bodies. But let’s park that conversation for now. I will definitely return to the topic of weight stigma and weight bias in the future, as the impact both have on not just emotional health but even physical health are new revelations to me, perhaps most likely so because of my own thin privilege.
Why is it important that we remove weight loss as the main focus when it comes to the desire for lifestyle changes and why can’t we heal our relationship with food and eating if we don’t let this go?
I have experienced my own fair share of body dysmorphia / distorted body image.
Looking back at my relationship with food and eating, I could see that much of my disordered eating stemmed from a trigger comment of the size of my body (which in fairness at the time was still well within what society is considering “normal” & “healthy”). And so it begins for many others, with disordered eating or eating disorders.
In the 7 Systems of Health we speak of the ROOT as the system of Safety, Survival and Trust.
How can we anchor ourselves in these, if we are constantly at war with our own body?
Not trusting that it is telling us what it needs, in form of food, rest, play and connection.
How can we feel safe if we are trying to force our bodies into some societal norms of what bodies “should look like”? Always trying to fix them and make them conform, so that we are acceptable and fit in. The desire and external pressure to do so is what is known as Diet Culture. It is a very insidious way of being bombarded from all angels that we are not good enough as we are.
Somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. They are unruly and need to be controlled, often at all costs. Regardless of what body size our bodies actually are, this message all too often becomes internalised and we decide to do something about it. I.e. diet.
Diets, by design are restrictive.
Often it is about cutting calories, or portion sizes. Or food groups. With the intention of trying to control the size of our body. Sometimes it is even disguised as something we do in the name of health. But as long as you are following a plan, set by someone else that has a bunch of food rules and is aimed at helping you lose weight it is a diet.
Here’s the thing; How can we move beyond surviving into thriving if we are not honouring our physical needs in the first place?
Is it really possible to establish a sense of belonging, if we are always trying to make ourselves and our bodies into something they are not? Yet this is much of the cultural messages we are constantly bombarded with…
Then there’s the real desire to lose weight. I get it. It is ok to want it. We all live in this Diet Culture.
Weight stigma is real. Internalised weight stigma too. And it has been shown to affect our health (and not in a positive way) Yet at the same time actively pursuing weight loss is such a futile, life sucking pursuit, which longterm is a pretty good predictor of weight gain.
We definitely need to acknowledge the internal voices of fat shaming we have going on, as well as what it is like for someone to live in a body where society feels like it has some right to judge and criticise based on a particular body size. Especially if this have never been our own lived experience.
We need to be careful with the words we use, because as we know words hold tremendous power…
Shame never helps or heals. Kindness does.
So perhaps if we want to begin with some healing at the ROOT, let the invitation be; to note how we speak, see and value bodies, our own as well as others.
To hold a safe compassionate space where ALL bodies are welcome to heal, worthy of care and to be blessed with health.
To let go of the oppression perpetuated by Diet Culture through actively pursuing weight loss.
When it is about health and not about weight, all of our behaviour changes hold merit and value, whereas when weight loss is the main focus and goal, it becomes all too easy to let go of these if the number on the scales doesn’t budge, or worse if it goes up!
So isn’t it better to pursue healthy behaviours rather than trying to shame yourself into change?
You are a worthy human being just as you are.
(Photos from Unsplash.com)
Do you long to let go of obsession around food, eating and weight? Would you like to feel freedom and peace around meals and beyond, but need some help and support to get there?
It would be an honour to walk with you on this path. Please email me HERE to set up a free 30 min consultation to explore how this may be possible for you too.