You are made for so much more than all of this
One of my favourite non-diet dietitians and podcast hosts, Christy Harrison, uses this very accurate term when referring to diet culture, which can be defined as "...a system of knowledge, values, and meanings within society that focuses on weight, shape, and size over health and well-being, and supports interpretations of personal health choices as moral character". Living in a society that worships thinness and celebrates weight loss above all else very quickly takes away our joy and zest for life, and can make us feel like failures when we don't meet 'perfect' standards, even though there is nothing wrong with us.
We can become so caught up in pursuing weight loss, manipulating our bodies, and eating 'perfectly', that pursuing any other dreams or goals in life feel out of reach. Diet culture can take away our passion for things that bring us joy, it can take up so much brain space and time that our drive to do anything other than strive to lose weight diminishes completely. Pursuing weight loss as our primary goal in life can also begin to affect our relationships with others, as thoughts and preoccupations around food and our bodies prevent us from actually being present with those we love and living this wonderful life we have to its fullest.
This line from an article written by Hannah of All In Good Health holds so much truth - "Diet culture exploits some of our deepest insecurities and desires. It twists “health” together with love and acceptance. It makes us believe that our weight or size will measure our worth". Diet culture takes away our understanding of self-worth, telling us that we aren't good enough the way we are and coercing us to use products, sign up for programs, and do everything in our power to change what we look like in order to fit the 'perfect' ideal. Not everyone in this society will end up with an eating disorder, however, a shocking number of us are driven by diet culture towards disordered eating behaviours where we cut out food groups, passively restrict our intake, and even find ourselves caught up in the nasty binge-restrict cycle that can hold us captive for years.
Dieting doesn't work
I have previously written a comprehensive post highlighting some of the reasons why diets suck. In case you need a quick reminder, dieting with the primary outcome of weight loss can be incredibly harmful in the long-term both psychologically and physically. Diets have a pretty mind-blowing failure rate, and much of the weight loss research out there is problematic. Many of us hop from one diet to another as we manage to 'be good' for a period of time, then fall off that bandwagon and feel like a failure. Your life is so much valuable than this. You were not made to spend it fighting against your body, trying to force it to fit a specific size or shape and reaching a 'goal' weight on the scale through restriction and deprivation. Dieting and the pursuit of weight loss don't deserve the time that they steal from us. Diets don't work, and yet somehow we still feel we’re the ones to blame. This is what makes diet culture so awful, it makes us feel like failures when in reality people actually rarely ever “succeed". You deserve so much better than to have your life stolen by diet culture. You deserve to accomplish those important things that bring you far more joy and fulfilment.
You are enough
There is a song that I listened to recently called Beautiful by MercyMe that warmed my heart and reminded me of a few things. Firstly, I am (and you are) beautiful not because of the shape, size, or appearance of your body, but because of who you are inside, your loving heart, your strengths and weaknesses, your hopes and dreams, and so much more. Secondly, you were made for so much more than feeling inadequate and unworthy of love and acceptance.
Perhaps you know all of this in your head already, but it's not something that your heart has or wants to accept. Well, today I just want to remind you once again that it is true, and that your life is far too precious to spend every waking minute striving to change your body.
Here are some tips that have helped me
find my way as I've learnt to let go of diet culture:
1. Break up with dieting for good
For many of us, being on a diet (or 'watching what we eat' or 'following an eating plan') is something that has been normal and almost expected for most of our lives. The thing is trying to lose weight through restriction rarely improves our health - physical AND mental - especially when we get into the cycle of weight loss and weight re-gain. As I've already mentioned, diets suck and are rarely the answer to long-term health, and this is why breaking up with diets and diet culture is so important.
2. Cultivate self-compassion
It can be messy and rather difficult to climb out of the clutches of diet culture, even when we are so aware of the damage it is doing to us. As you transition from focusing on weight loss as your primary goal you may be met with thoughts like “Am I letting myself go?”, which need to be acknowledged and worked through as you assess the idea of health more clearly. Having self-compassion for yourself, as well as others who may be still caught up in the diet culture mindset, is so important as you begin to focus on the things that matter most in life and start to really take care of yourself.
3. Learn to tune out the noise
In a society where weight loss, dieting, and being 'good' or 'bad' around food comes up in so many conversations, it can be difficult to tune out the voice of diet culture. Even though it can be incredibly difficult at times, it is possible to live a life free of dieting in this crazy world. I love this article by Crystal Karges that looks at some easy things that you can do as you learn to tune out the noise and create a lifestyle that is no longer dictated by diet culture. Spend more time offline, and start to rid yourself of social media profiles that focus on body appearance, before and after photos, #fitspo and 'perfect' eating. If necessary, walk away from toxic conversations and allow yourself to work through the thoughts and judgements that pop into your head before they spiral out of control.
4. Repeat after me...
I am worthy of love and acceptance. My body is worthy of respect and compassion. I am allowed to love my body just the way it is. I do not have to feel guilt or shame for my body shape or size.
I am bold, I am brilliant, I am beautiful, and I know that my body is good, regardless of how it looks. My body is worthy of care.
I am not defined by my body. In fact, I am more than just a body. My body is powerful. It is capable of doing amazing things and I should be allowed to use it as an instrument, not an ornament.
Food is not the enemy. I am allowed to eat all foods without feelings of guilt. I am allowed to find joy in the simple pleasure of eating a meal without having to analyse everything I put in my mouth. I am allowed to enjoy all foods, without judgement.
A few worthwhile reads
There are some resources that have found to be incredibly useful as I have slowly but surely learnt to leave diet culture behind.