We are a diet culture. I bet if you pause for a moment you can name at least half a dozen people who are on a diet right now. I’m also willing to bet that most of them have been dieting for as long as you’ve known them, and they’ve tried several different strategies. According to a report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 49% of American adults surveyed between 2013 and 2016 reported trying to lose weight during the prior 12 months. Further break down shows 56.4 % of those are women. These stats weren’t even during the peak of “keto season” so I can only imagine how those numbers have inflated since then.
It’s not hard to understand our universal lack of acceptance of our bodies. As a child of the 70s, I grew up in the 80s watching movies with stars like Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Jennifer Beals (Flashdance). Misogyny was alive and well and as a parent now myself, I feel we were much too young for the combination of such highly sexualized characters and parents who weren’t shy with running dialogue about how these were the perfect women. I grew up understanding this is what I was supposed to look like. Only, I didn’t. Most of us didn’t.
Still, we enter puberty punishing our bodies for betraying us. Our chronically dieting female role models ill advising us, destructively but well-meaning on what we should and shouldn’t eat – mostly that we shouldn’t. Some are put on Weight Watchers by their mothers and some are sent to – yes, “Fat Camp”. Some are purchased clothing that is too small and told they better fit into it or they’ll have to go school naked. Some are told they’ll never find a boyfriend if they can’t slim down because no one wants to take the fat girl to prom. These are actual stories that clients have shared, by the way. One is mine.
My mother told me I should eat less. So, I did. I was good at it, too. I ended up in the hospital in 2004 in a 4-month program to recover from Anorexia. The specialist who diagnosed me told me I was months away from a fatal cardiac event. I would rather die than be imperfect – whatever that was.
This is diet culture.
You might wonder why it is that I now have a business where I help women lose weight. I will tell you. There are several approaches to weight loss and most of them depend on the individual hating their body until it’s “perfect”. They rely on their achievement of fat loss to finally achieve self-esteem and self-acceptance. The problem is that there is no perfect – and here is the real problem for this population: you cannot hate your way to self-esteem or self-acceptance. You must love your way there.
When I was in the hospital, I learned that in order to be at peace I had to love my body and my body would take a form that reflected how I felt about it. When I was sick, I was frail, grey, tired, weak, my hair was falling out of my head and growing on my body. I was constantly agitated and obsessed with what people might think of me, what they see when they look at me, what my body looks like when I sit this way, stand that way, wear this or that. It was completely exhausting. I didn’t have joy. I was consumed with self-hatred.
I have clients who come to me with these very same experiences though they’re within average weight for their height/age or overweight, while they aren’t suffering from an eating disorder – they’re still very much suffering. They have families, homes, careers, friends, people who love them unconditionally – but they are suffering because they feel like they are not enough. They are measuring themselves against an impossible standard placed subconsciously in their heads decades ago by people who didn’t know any better at the time. This lack of self-esteem makes it impossible for them to be present in the moments that matter because their brains have been wired to measure, measure, measure.
This is diet culture.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to change your body composition and there are plenty of healthy reasons to want to do that. It’s not always about self-esteem. The problem is that diet culture tells us you gain self-esteem when you lose the weight/reach your goal. The truth is, you reach your goal when you gain self-esteem. THAT is why I have this business.
The most important thing you can do to exit diet culture to relentlessly pursue self-acceptance. Maybe you’re 50lbs overweight right now and you need to lose weight because you’ve been told you’re pre-diabetic. That’s a very good reason to get serious about weigh-loss sooner rather than later. You have two choices here.
- Tell yourself you’re going to be 100% compliant every day all day for the rest of your life and any deviation from the plan is just weakness. When you do deviate (because you will with this black & white approach) you enter a shame spiral and belittle yourself and enter a weeklong binge/restrict cycle, repeating terrible things to yourself because you feel like a failure.
- You take a deep breath; you make a plan that meets you where you are. You do your best and you focus on what you’re doing well and make improvements gradually. When you make mistakes, you remind yourself that you’re doing a great job. Reflect on your slips and in the same way you would not berate your child for falling off their bike when they’re learning, you do not berate yourself. You pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, you give yourself a big hug, an “I love you and you’ve got this, babe”, and you get back out there will a full heart.
Fat loss is a vulnerable process. It requires habit change and that requires close examination of our behaviours and those are built often as reactionary strategies from things like FEAR. Digging into that is a minefield and you don’t go stomping into a minefield. Well, you can – but it’s going to be a very short trip. We’re not looking for a short trip here, are we? This is lifelong wellness and that’s not a 2-week, 12-week, or even 6-month journey.
When we relentlessly pursue self-acceptance, we begin to recognize and prioritize our needs. Most of us have been socialized to be last and need the least – that is not self-acceptance. That is conforming. When we begin to prioritize our needs, that’s where the magic happens.
Here are my Top 5 Strategies to Relentlessly Pursue Self-Acceptance:
- Accept your imperfections – they’re called “character” now. Embrace them!
- Develop a curiosity about failure – dive in and try to find the root. I bet it’s generations old.
- Stop comparing yourself to anyone, anytime, ever again.
- Validate your emotions – they’re real!
- End the negative self-talk by replacing with positive as soon as you see it.
Remember – you get 100 years on this spinning globe – if you’re lucky – don’t spend it dwelling on what you think you’re not. You are enough just as you are <3.