Diets are getting a bad rap these days. There is an anti-diet movement underway that aims to end the toxic culture of unsustainable results leading to feelings of utter failure and I am for one, am here for it! Go into any bookstore and you will find shelves and shelves of books touting the easiest and fastest way to weight loss. There is BIG money to be had in our feelings of inadequacy. According to a recent article published in the New York Times, the diet industry was valued at $78 Billion in 2019!
I recently came across some comments on a Facebook page where folks were arguing that it was totally fine to be motivated to work out and count calories to change their bodies. They were tired of being told they were a victim of the diet industry. It got me thinking. Pushing back on diet culture isn’t about abandoning a healthy lifestyle. It’s about rethinking your motivation for wanting to be healthy. Is it okay to want to fit into your favorite jeans or look in the mirror and feel good about who you see? Of course it is. But it’s also about recognizing that who you see staring back at you may not fit the image you’ve been immersed in most of your life. If all your energy is spent trying to chase that and you’re left feeling like crap no matter what you do, it might be time to rethink that.
For women especially, the pressure to conform to a specific body type using any means necessary is particularly strong. This was my entire adolescence. I distinctly remember my relief going to middle school and no longer being the tallest kid in my class. I was clearly the wrong size and while I couldn’t control my height, I could certainly control my weight. I didn’t recognize myself as lean, and focused solely on the number on a scale which, because of my height, was higher than my shorter peers. To say things went off the rails for me is an understatement.
This experience plays out over and over again for millions of women and men. The focus is on a number on the scale and nothing else matters. The diet industry has done a masterful job at playing into our vulnerabilities and is laughing all the way to the bank while the rest of us scramble to find the next quick fix, hungry, not only for a real meal but also a sense of peace within our own skin.
When I finally understood that I was a victim of this culture (from a very young age) as were most of the people around me, my first instinct was to be angry. So much of my life energy has been spent trying to fit into a mold that is sold to us in a million different ways! And rather than feeling satisfied with myself, instead I felt discouraged, resentful, less-than compared to all the images of what I was “supposed” to look like.
My next step was to decide to do it MY way. That started with pushing back on the messaging. Recognizing it for what it is. Marketing. That’s it. Then, it was to get clear on what I really wanted for myself. In my case, that led to distance running. Running was a chance to get to know my body differently. To see its strengths and capability mile after mile. It led to choosing a plant based diet that fueled my running, made me feel better and aligned more with MY values.
The result? I am more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I have a sense of freedom I never could have expected. When I am choosing things that make ME feel my best, there is considerably less guilt and worry. I rarely feel controlled by food anymore.
There is something magical about charting your own course. It builds a sense of trust in yourself that the diet industry is sincerely hoping you’ve lost. You and you alone, know what will make you feel your best.
Turn down the volume on the quick-fixes and the need for perfection. Your body knows what it needs. Start listening.