I hate diet culture. Few things get under my skin the way diet culture does. So when I listened to Chrissy King on Forever35 today, my heart burst with joy and I became incredibly unproductive at work because I hung on her every word. I felt seen and strong and affirmed.
Before I get all wound up, I find it important to establish one thing: diet culture and nutrition are not the same thing. Diet culture wants you to think it’s nutrition. Diet culture thrives off us not knowing the difference. But it’s not the same. I care very much about nutrition. I want to burn diet culture down.
Diet culture starves you. It thrives off preying on your self-worth. It tells you that your worth as a person in today’s society is determined by two numbers: your weight and your caloric intake. It wants to make you believe that if you buy its products, plan, formula, fast, whatever – you’ll finally unlock that secret to being a healthy and beautiful you. I’ve never been healthy on a diet. I’ve always been hungry.
Nutrition is a different beast. It’s food pyramids and Sesame Street telling you to eat the rainbow. It’s trusting your own logic and knowledge. Honestly, I learned a lot about nutrition from kids in my life. We feed them whole foods that will help them grow strong and healthy. Most five year olds understand nutrition better than most 30 year olds because they haven’t let the societal bullshit set in yet. Granted, there is a healthy dose of privilege that allows us to gain this knowledge. A family unit with enough time and resources to force veggies down your throat is a large part of what equips kids with the natural instinct to know what is healthy vs. not. I can go on a whole separate rant about how diet culture preys off marginalization but I’m currently trying to type this post discretely at work and we gotta stay in one lane.
I spent about twenty years obsessed with dieting. I had my go-to diets where I knew I could lose 20lbs in a single month. I had diets I leaned on when I wanted to lost 10lbs in a few weeks, and others were I could get under a certain weight by “xyz” trip. I even had this weird one my roommates and friends will remember that involved this weird witch’s brew of cinnamon tea & a daily basil-cucumber smoothie, which I was always too afraid to make at 5AM so I’d run my blender in my closet, while trying to smother the sound with towels so I didn’t wake my roommates up. It resulted in this weird drink that was basically crushed ice and chopped up veggies that I literally gagged down.
It doesn’t take an expert to predict what happened a few months after each “successful” diet. Obsessing over what I ate was as sustainable as keeping so many different foods “off-limit”. I always gained the weight back and then some. Always. On every diet.
About a year ago, I was at a crossroad due to injury and surgeries where I basically had to decide to either be someone who is no longer active, or bust my ass to recover in a short timeframe. As a former athlete, I wasn’t ready to throw the towel in at 27. I also hated every second of my years of limited mobility and couldn’t possibly see myself happy without the ability to play sports. I had to lose weight. Not only was my extra weight putting additional stress on my newly reformed knee, but I was unhealthy. Knowing what “worked” in the past, I turned to a diet. But after one bad day at the gym where I almost passed out because of not eating enough, I knew that I had to take a different approach. I decided to test what I knew in my gut was a balanced way to eat & I’ve been able to keep it up for a year.
As I grew stronger through my workouts, I gained a greater respect for what my body could do. Two years ago, I was in a wheelchair. The amount of energy it took to get off my couch often felt like the toughest day at the gym. I was proud and grateful for what I could accomplish now, even if it was as simple as being able to walk up the hill separating our cabin from the pool on vacation. When I was learning how to walk for the third time, I promised myself that I wouldn’t take the ability to walk without any assistance for granted again. I made a vow that I would do everything I could to celebrate and serve my body.
Once I got to that level of self-worth, I felt dirty when influenced by diet culture. Here I was, physically moving mountains, but I was depriving myself of both food and joy. The amount of energy I spent obsessing over calories and macros was exhausting. And the truth is that the amount of sugar and carbs in an apple was not what made me fat anyways.
Diet culture wants you to feel like an idiot. It wants you to think that losing weight is so hard, you need it’s special formula to accomplish it. If you want a quick fix, sure. There are ways of eating that will make you lose weight fast. But you’ll gain it back – whether in a few months or years. I’ve been down that road again and again and again.
My weight loss is slow. That’s fine with me because honestly I love the way I look. I feel better, never deprive myself, and when it’s family boardwalk time at the Jersey Shore, you better believe I choose both cheese fries AND Kohr’s and I don’t feel bad about not going to the gym to work it off that weekend. It took some rewiring, but I started with two simple steps. First, I promised myself I would stop tracking everything. Then I told myself to just try and choose a healthier option for each meal. I repeated “food is fuel” to myself for months to prevent myself from starving, but also to keep myself from choosing empty calories that would make me feel sluggish. By having a base of whole foods that helped my gut feel good and gave me energy, I was able to stop obsessing over what I ate. When I was out with friends, I ate what I wanted. I was never on a diet. And because I’m not starving myself, I’m losing fat, not muscle. Which means that over a span of a year, I’ve lost what I used to lose in a few months. But I’m healthy and love myself.
As much as I was excited to write this post, I also kept my mouth shut for a year about food for a reason. I think we, as women, obsess over what we’re eating. We have so many more things to talk about. You never have to justify what you eat to me. If you’re swearing off carbs for a month to practice discipline, fine — you do you. If you had a long week and need a skillet cookie tonight — I hope it makes you feel better. Your body is not my body, and what you want to eat or stay away from is up to you. I only care if you’re someone I love and you’re either filling yourself daily with artery clogging trash, or starving yourself, in a way that is shortening your lifespan.
But trust me when I tell you that cleanse will not change your life.