important: this post should not be viewed as mental health advice, if you are struggling and need support, I have made a short list of services that provide mental health support in the UK
continued from the last post, diet culture isn’t dead (yet)
as I began to open up about my eating disorder, I realised something: almost everyone I spoke to had similar feelings and experiences to me. diet culture made it normal to have a bad relationship with food, and to hate our bodies.
around two years ago, I promised myself that I would never go on another diet ever again and I truly believed that I was free of dieting until I came to the realisation that I was still unconsciously dieting. I thought I was eating intuitively, but I was actually using intuitive eating as a diet, to lose and maintain my weight, rather than healing my relationship with food. I thought it was normal to have lots of food anxiety and shame, especially as those around me felt the same. little did I know that I was still stuck in a diet mentality and diet culture still had me in a chokehold (disguised as ‘wellness’ which I will write about in another post, I have a LOT to say about this!!!)
the diet mentality
how I unconsciously dieted:
- ignored hunger cues, I didn’t trust my body – lots of coffee and water
- restricted my intake due to food anxiety, and a lot of shame around food – planned my day around food
- lived in constant fear of gaining weight and was still actively trying to lose weight – I bought clothes that were too small for me to force myself to fit into them, I was afraid to size up
- never drank calories, and when I did, I’d skip meals to ‘save’ calories for them (especially alcohol)
- only ate between certain times, not before lunch or after dinner (even though I wasn’t actively trying to fast)
- ate in secret due to shame and guilt
- avoided food that diet culture had vilified for me, including white carbohydrates, red meat, and desserts
- tried to ‘healthify’ every meal and snack, for example by adding chia seeds, protein powder, nuts, berries, or spinach (I’m aware that this could be seen as a good habit, but it’s the fact that I felt guilty and anxious eating something that didn’t have much nutritional value – I saw food only as fuel, not a pleasant experience)
dieting tells us that we need to eat the same thing every day, and teaches us to ignore our natural hunger cues and disconnects us from our bodies. in this process, we lose trust and respect for our body and we see it as the enemy. but it’s only trying to survive! how could the diet industry possibly know our own bodies better than we do? we all have different eating styles and thats great!! for example I prefer to nibble all day. I snack lots. I used to compare myself to people around me who ate their three main meals and nothing in between. I would feel guilty, why were they able to stay satisfied but I couldn’t? was something wrong with me? no- our bodies are all different, we just need to learn to trust our bodies and find out how we like to eat. some days we don’t have much of an appetite, but other days we might feel insatiable and this is completely normal!! your body knows what it needs, and learning to trust it is so important. learn to trust your body and your body will trust you too.
the method that is the most recommend to reconnect with the body, and make peace with food is ‘intuitive eating’. this framework was introduced by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in the book ‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach’. intuitive eating is not a diet, nor is it about weight loss, it is about “trusting your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and without influence from diet culture.” (Aaron Flores).
the ten principles of intuitive eating, written in the book:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honour Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement—Feel the Difference
- Honour Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
read more about each principle here, but again I would suggest reading the book as it talks about it in detail.
intuitive eating is not just ‘mindful eating’, it’s a powerful tool that helps you learn to enjoy food again, without labelling food as good or bad – and removing the emotional power of food. it helps you learn more about your body, by trusting your body and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
how we can reject diet culture:
- quit dieting forever!!
ok this is a huge step, and it’s your body and you have every right to do what you want. you don’t have to listen to me but learning about intuitive eating has improved my relationship with food and my body SO much… I can’t explain how much the book ‘Intuitive Eating’ has helped me, it’s amazing!!)
- start to question our biases and insecurities
why do we feel a certain way about different parts of our bodies? consider how they’re portrayed in the media, the discourse surrounding them, seemingly harmless comments/ jokes from our friends & family etc. (I realised that I grew up believing that stretch marks & cellulite were ugly because of how they were portrayed in magazines)
- don’t wait until our bodies look a certain way to do something, do it now!!
the diet industry sells us the idea that once we obtain our dream bodies, our lives will really begin. the idea that a ‘bikini body’ looks a certain way or trying to lose weight for a certain event. this is definitely easier said than done, and fatphobia is at the root of this
- avoid commenting on people’s bodies, food choices and eating patterns
and it’s important to try to express our feelings when people make us feel uncomfortable – they might not know so communication is key – if they still don’t listen then cut! them! out!
- educate ourselves about diet culture, the diet industry & fatphobia
recommended books: intuitive eating, the beauty myth, fearing the black body, body positive power, health at every size, beauty sick, anti-diet, the body is not an apology, what we don’t talk about when we talk about fat.
recommended podcasts: food psych, diet culture rebel, maintenance phase
making the choice to reject diet culture is scary, but we can do it together!! let’s forget all the rules we learned and learn to trust our bodies again. you’re the only one who knows your body!!
the hardest part was learning to love and respect my body unconditionally, no matter it’s size. I had to learn to trust my body, realising that it isn’t the enemy. I had to teach myself to ignore diet culture’s messages of needing to control and shrink my body. but maybe the hardest part of all was letting go of my dream body, my future body that I strived for and truly believed that one day I would achieve it. I felt sad that I had spent so much time hating my body and trying to change it, instead of realising that every body is beautiful and unique.
however, I’m very aware of the privilege I have, living in a white, cisgender, able, straight-sized body. it’s much harder for many people to reject diet culture due to fatphobia, especially with the intersection of racism, transphobia and ableism. although I have struggled with eating disorders, my body is not discriminated against. our experiences are very different, depending on our bodies, so my advice may not be very useful for some.
my tips <33
- eat what you want, give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want for the rest of your life. no more “diet starts tomorrow”, give up all forms of restriction. it’s scary at first but it’s life changing
- make a list of rules that diet culture taught you and try to challenge them
- make a list of foods that you want to eat, honour your cravings. buy them and eat them. you might realise that you don’t even care for them, you just wanted them because they were off limits – this is actually really fun, you get to discover which foods you truly love
- get rid of clothes that make you feel bad – sell them or donate them. I have a lot of clothes that don’t fit me because I would buy clothes in a smaller size to ‘motivate’ myself to fit into them? now I just have lots of clothes that have gone out of style that I never got to wear lmao
- also, buy clothes that make you feel good and comfortable! don’t be afraid to size up, the numbers are just numbers- they hold no value
- follow lots of people on social media who promote anti-diet principles and body acceptance, especially ones who look like you. filling my feed with this content made social media so much more enjoyable for me
I’m still learning to love my ‘now’ body, instead of waiting for my ‘future’ body to begin loving it. this is challenging considering the years of diet culture’s influence that we’ve all been exposed to. our childhoods were laced with diet culture and fatphobia, and we grew up already exposed to unrealistic beauty standards with our bratz and barbie dolls, tv shows (nickelodeon and disney shows), and family influence. it’s all we know, but I’m having fun unlearning it all. learning to tune into my body’s internal cues, rather than external cues….. bonding with my body (through yoga, exercise, and finding foods i really love: no matter the calorie content). despite the struggles, it is so very worth it.
(if you only take one thing away from this post, please read ‘intuitive eating’ by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole!! it may seem like I’m sponsored by the book but I just love it a lot and I can’t explain how much it has helped me. I’m really thankful for the authors for writing it, I wish I had found it sooner!)
my next post will be posted on Sunday, it’s all about the history of fatphobia in the west.
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‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach‘ (2020) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
‘Anti-Diet‘ by Christy Harrison (2019)