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Tag: Health at Every Size

The New Year Post (or how I’m opting out of Diet Culture in 2019)

You can already feel the momentum building. You can literally see it online. People are pre-planning their New Year’s resolutions, preparing for the clock to strike midnight. For many, this means starting yet another diet. Especially in January, “diet culture” is alive and kicking.

Give it whatever name you wish – wellness program, healthy-eating plan, a holistic lifestyle adjustment – it’s all the same. Collectively, we’re looking forward to a time when things – when we – will change. Somehow, we’ll become better.

In public – often at parties with family and friends – we set forth ambitious annual “health” goals. Secretly, we all add the same silent sentiment:  “…and then I’ll be happy.”  

“ Diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

Diet culture doesn’t just mean “being on a diet,” because you don’t have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting.”

Christy Harrisson of Food Psych podcast.

 

Diet Culture and the Resolution Revolution

Peach Rose Taken By Heather DugganI’m talking about more than weight loss here. Not everyone sets out to slim come January 1st – though many  still make this their top personal goal, year after year. Regardless of what we choose to work on , the intention behind New Year’s resolutions stay the same: 

You must do – or stop doing – something if you want to be accepted; to potentially be seen as “good enough”.

In other words, if you break away from expected norms, you risk rejection. Or its cousins: loneliness, humiliation, and even shame.

This “New Year, New You!” sentiment is almost impossible to avoid.

Case in point: Infinite twixmas Weight Watchers advertisements, punctuate my festive viewing. Notably, it’s been rebranded as “WW: Wellness that Works” to appeal to a modern-day dieter. Heck, they’ve even got Robbie Williams alongside owner, Oprah, for their glossy new promotions.

If I’m honest, it’s tempting, even for a seasoned slimmer like me; one who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt in multiple sizes.

Whatever the original outcome, however, all previous attempts at weight loss have brought me back here:

Wondering when – if – I’ll ever feel good enough.

And I’m tired of feeling this way. It’s time to step out of diet culture’s vicious circle. I’m taking a different approach this New Year.

New Year, New Me?

Instead, my focus in 2019 is on how I feel. Specifically,  I’m working on feeling good about myself, irrespective of my current weight or appearance. Contrary to what diet culture tells us. 

And it’s not just me who’s fed-up with the whole Groundhog Day goal-setting routine that comes around every January.  

Mel Wells Author of The Goddess Revolution: Anti-Diet CultureThere’s a growing social movement of people like me looking to create a different relationship with food, fitness, and their bodies. One that’s based around prioritising feeling healthy and happy, rather than what we look like. Amazing, inspirational teachers and leaders are emerging from my peer group. Wonderful women like Laura Thomas PhD, Isabel Foxen-Duke, and Mel Wells are standing up to speak against diet culture, instead espousing Intuitive Eating (IE) and Health at Every Size.

Take Mel, who’s come a long way since “Hollyoaks”. She’s the youngest author with Hay House book publisher of my self-help dreams! She’s also organising the UK’s first Self-Love Summit in 2019. Earlier this week, Laura (who hosts popular podcast “Don’t Salt my Game” ) has been on the cover of “The Times Magazine” promoting her forthcoming IE book.

Even popular glossy women’s magazines are joining the revolution. When I opened my copy of this month’s “Red”, I was delighted to see they’ve cut out the stereotypical diet and exercise articles. The editor openly acknowledges their evolution, from encouraging readers to  “be a better you” to  simply “just be you.”

I think this is awesome! Clearly, I’m not alone in wanting to get off the weight-loss resolution roundabout. To kick diet culture to the curb. But how exactly can we step off? 

HeatherED’s Top Three Tips to Counter Diet Culture

Like I’ve said, it’s everywhere we look and near impossible to avoid completely. So here are my ideas for three step-off strategies to steer clear of self-destructive diet chatter:

 

Tip #1: Opt-out of Perfection Propaganda Publications

Magazines, newspapers, books – not to mention online media – all go goal-setting gaga at this time of year. Don’t get me wrong – I adore magazines and subscribe to at least three monthly publications at any one time – , but for this month, it’s a case of if in doubt, opt-out.

Intuitive Eating Book: Anti-Diet CultureThis includes impulse-purchase favourites and sneaky peaks at the Sidebar of Shame. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all do it.) A comprehensive knowledge of the cast of Love Island‘s weight fluctuations does not win any prizes. (At least, none you’d actually want to take home.)

I’m literally not buying into any diet-related materials in January. Instead, I’ll channel my curiosity into other, more positive publications. Right now, I’m reading Tribole and Resch’s book on “Intuitive Eating” and I’ve a ton of other texts lined up, including “Health at Every Size”, “The Goddess Revolution, and “Quiet“. 

Tip #2: Get Selective with Social Media.

My reasons for staying on Facebook far outweigh those for getting off. I’ve built deep and meaningful connections online, both with strangers and friends, by being vulnerable and sharing what matters. Which is why I’m unwilling to follow the trend for turning off technology.

Whilst I won’t be going cold-turkey on social, I will be spending less time on Facebook. Mostly, I want to avoid the January junk feed; save my brain from being bombarded with messages around what we “should” be, “must-have”, and “ought” to do.

Thankfully, I’m not on Instagram, otherwise I’d be limiting that, too. These heavily image-focused forums head to new heights when it comes to pushing unrealistic #bodygoals. We know these images are curated to within an inch of their life; artificially staged before being edited to death. Yet we’re still affected by them.  They infiltrate our daily lives, filling our social media feeds (and brains) with bullish*t beliefs.

Realistically, I recognise we can’t control this particular cultural change. However, we can choose how much time and attention we give it.  Namely, less of it than we do already! 

 

Tip #3: Workout (but only if it works for you)

Purple Hydrangea by Heather DugganSeparating how my body feels when I move from how my body looks is my top 2019 fitness goal. 

Resolutions around dieting typically go hand-in-hand with exercise. Many people only workout to control their weight – for a long time this was me ,too. Success measured by calories burnt, we mentally associate fitness with food. 

Interestingly, I first joined the gym for reasons beyond body size. I needed something – anything – to relieve the pain of depression. So desperate, I was willing to try exercise in hopes of feeling a bit better. Amazingly, it worked!

Still, I’m sometimes reluctant to go, which is when I’ll drag myself to the gym. I consistently come out feeling more like myself. When I workout I find my flow; body and mind on the same page. It’s a way of pulling myself back together, so to speak.

When I go back to work, I’ll go back to the gym, despite it being the most popular time of year for new members. Being busy, I’m sure I’ll find myself feeling anxious and angry at times. Yet I plan to push through because I know – from experience – exercise is one of the most helpful things I can do – for my brain and body.

 

One more time, what really matters is…

And that’s my plan to avoid being sucked in by the “wellness” industry this January. Admittedly, it’s not much but it’s a step in a more positive direction than going on another diet.

Nevertheless, I’m still tempted by the promise of weight loss. A voice in my head continues to coax me back:

Just one more diet – one more time – might be the answer to everything…

 

Except that it’s not.

 

I know this, you know this. And still we feel the tug of thinness. 

Rationally, I know the size of my body doesn’t affect my happiness. Some of my darkest moments have been whilst I’ve been objectively in my “best” shape. Yet still I’m drawn to diet culture. As a reasonably intelligent human being, it’s incredibly frustrating. 

I’ve done dieting so long, at times it feels like I don’t know what else to do.

But this is just another thought. It’s hard, but I can change my thoughts.

It’s Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 101. And if I can do that – if I can change what I think – then eventually, I can change what I believe, too. 

“We are what we believe we are.” C.S. Lewis

 

Becoming Better

Pink Rose by Heather DugganLiving our best, most beautiful lives has got to be about something more than what we weigh.

Something we can’t measure in inches or kilos; something far more valuable than any number on the scales.

Even well-respected leaders in the wellness industry are beginning to buy into the idea that we’re more than our weight. Joe Wicks, the so-called “Body Coach”,  for example, calls the scales the “Sad Step” – and for good reasons!  

What I understand as “becoming better” is evolving.  Focusing on what truly matters, rather than what I’m led to believe is important. Breaking the rules of diet culture by making life about more than what we eat. 

 

I’m getting back to recovery basics in 2019. More than ten years in, I’ve hear the same messages over and again:

“It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale.”

Geneen Roth

Somehow these words washed over me before. I’ve never really taken them in – at least, not to heart. I always hoped diet culture would deliver in the end. I figure it’s about time I listened – body, mind, and soul. 

Self-worth comes from more than what we look like or what size jeans we wear.

I’ve got more important things to think about in 2019. And so have you.

 

The Break Through Post (or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

Hello! It’s been a while, right?

Well, before I hit publish, my pride pushes me to caveat this by telling you that I’m intentionally sharing this relatively unedited piece on my website. I desperately want to overcome my anxieties around writing here. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to face my fears – and just go for it.

So I’m asking you to forgive me in advance for my imperfect post – my imperfect self. I shouldn’t need to do this, but bear with me. As you’ll read, I’m working on it!

Here goes nothing.  

The Break Through Post

(or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

I gained weight this year.  For the first time in five years, I broke my hard-won “healthy” habits.

It began when we moved into our new house back in November 2017. Expected disruptions  meant I wasn’t in complete control.  Having held on tightly for so long, I was scared of relaxing my regime. What disaster might unfold?

Turns out, relaxing my rules wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, my new-found freedom around food and fitness came as a pleasant surprise! I enjoyed the novelty of an impromptu dinner out with C, or a slice of homemade cake, without having to plan for it days in advance.

Sure, I gained a few pounds, but my clothes still fit. For the most part, I adjusted to my body’s new status quo. Mentally and emotionally, I was holding it together. I felt okay.

Then it all went awry.

When my beloved cat, D, died in September, something snapped. Already home from work mid-mental meltdown, on truth, I wasn’t exactly in the best headspace to begin with. Which explains why I spiralled so quickly into a “f**k it” mentality around food.

After all, what’s the point of dieting when –  at any time – I could lose someone I love?

On some level, this way of thinking made sense. Obviously, the people – and pets – in our lives are way more important than weight. Yet logically, there’s no rational connection between grieving and eating. Emotionally, I didn’t care – I simply needed something to soothe the pain.

Because I was hurting. Badly.

D might have been a cat – a scruffy, shouty one at that – but when he died I lost more than my best buddy. I also lost my most reliable source of happiness. No matter what, D could make me smile. Whenever I looked at his face, I’d wonder at the perfection of nature; at how something so cute could ever exist! And then suddenly, he was gone.

A guaranteed source of comfort, I turned to food. It’s been that way throughout my life. Love – at least from humans – has not been so reliable. So it makes sense that I’d look for something consistently soothing: Enter my faithful friend; food.

As my anxiety spiralled, I also stopped exercising. I lost confidence standing front-and-centre in my gym classes. Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable around anyone anymore. I withdrew. At first I took a few weeks’ break, but the longer I left it, the scarier it became. Eventually, I felt so much body shame, I didn’t want to go back to the gym at all.

I was well-and-truly “off the wagon”.

Turns out, I’ve been dieting all this time.  

Only now as I slip and slide through another weight cycle* do I realise this.

Only now am I starting to accept that I’ve lived another half-century restricting to control my weight.

* I recently learnt this  modern terminology for  “yo-yo dieting”.

Whether a super-strict version of the Weight Watchers’ plan, or basic calorie-counting to maintain my BMI, it was a diet. My “balanced lifestyle” meant meticulous meal management and pre-planned workouts to counter calories. All the while becoming ever-more disconnected; unable to even enjoy the body that cost so much – in time, money, and sheer sweaty effort. Especially time – oh, the time I’ve spent thinking about this sh*t! I’m heartbroken and exhausted even thinking about it.

Frankly, I’m embarrassed.

Yet again, I’ve fallen prey to diet culture. How gullible am I?! I can feel my Inner Critic, rolling its eyes at me as I type.

Because I’m still “in it” in so many ways! Literally and figuratively, being thin is a part of my psyche. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my ultimate – sometimes only – aspirational goal. To me, being thin is a sign of success. The logic goes: If I’m thin, I’ll be attractive, and therefore acceptable.  It’s been my personal Holy Grail.

Thinness is a physical manifestation of being “good enough”.

It’s about more than the weight (gain).

I noticed negative self-talk sneak up on me as I gained weight. Hideously ugly feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred abound. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), I can’t ignore it this time. Years of therapy, personal growth work, and self-help have me hyper-aware of what’s happening inside.

I recognise these feelings from before. Looking back, my memories of the last time I gained weight after a loss are hazy. I’ve blanked much of that traumatic time. I don’t think other people commented on it – at least, not to my face – but I felt certain that behind closed doors there’d be whispers. After regaining thirty-plus pounds, I found myself standing on a Paris train platform willing myself to step off. To end the battle inside my mind.

For as long as I can remember, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me how much happier I’d be – if only I were thinner. Thing is, I’ve been thinner. I’ve objectively had my “best body ever” whilst still feeling depressed and anxious. Nothing ever changes – at least, nothing real.

It’s all superficial. I’m still me irrespective of my body size. 

Pre-Paris, I’d lost a huge amount of weight, only to look in the mirror and see myself as fat. A fleeting glance in the mirror, I saw my body was finally thin. Yet I was about as unhappy as I’ve ever been.

The disappointment – more accurately, devastation – was so utterly unbearable, I brushed it away as quickly as possible. I looked back and there I was again – fat. It felt safer, somehow, to continue to believe I’d always be big; someone who could afford to lose a few pounds. Only then could I be happy.

Back to binge-eating

Within a few days, I’d started bingeing again. I remember the first sneaky bag of cookies, eaten in secret. They were delicious. Simultaneously, sheer relief and utter disgust washed over me as I swallowed the last bite. 

I still feel confused and conflicted.

Thoughts around food and my body continue to infiltrate my daily life. Sometimes overwhelming, my obsession with appearance veers from all-consuming to an annoying nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I’m not yet free of diet culture. Perhaps, living in the world that we do, I never will be 100% free of feeling bad about my body.  

Weight gain feels so shameful; it feels like a devastating personal failure. Which is why I found myself bemoaning my body to Mum via WhatsApp this week. She says I have a beautiful body, and in the same sentence, tells me all about her recent weight loss. Apparently, pre-diet she’d been at her heaviest; a number she shared that still falls below my personal heaviest by a good stone. Urgh. 

Even with the acute awareness of body issues I have today, this hurts my heart.  I know it’s not Mum’s fault; it’s not mine either. This is a societal problem whereby we, as women, are raised to relate via this kind of body bashing.  That our weight – quite literally, the force of gravity we have on this earth – is a topic deemed interesting enough for discussion is baffling. Whilst it’s hardly a shock in a culture where thinness equals goodness, it’s still super sad. 

It got me thinking:

Do I really want to get to my sixties, like my Mum, and still be thinking about my weight?

Do I really want to spend another thirty years or more of worrying about my body? Thinking I’m not – nor likely ever will be – thin (read: good) enough?

Or would I rather get on with living my best life, irrespective of the body I do it in? Even if that body happens to be bigger than that which – in an ideal world – I’d effortlessly maintain?  

Honestly, I’m now questioning whether that “ideal world” is even mine to begin with, but this is beside the point, which is:

Do I want to be thin – at any and all costs – or do I want to be happy, in the body I have, right now?

I surprised myself by concluding I want to be happy as I am.

I am decidedly sick of feeling shitty about myself.

 

And that’s enough encouragement for me to try to find another way of being in my body – and with food – in 2019.

 

I don’t want to wake up in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time and find myself having another mental meltdown because I can’t fit into my jeans. Forcing myself onto yet another diet would be like kicking myself in the teeth when it feels like I’m already in the gutter. (And yes, it feels this dramatic.)

If not a diet, then what?

Which is why I’m exploring intuitive eating, health at every size, and body positive culture.** I’m effectively coming full-circle since heading into recovery. Back then, Geneen Roth’s books spoke of similar curiosity and self-compassion.   

Still, entertaining thoughts of giving up dieting forever scares me sh*tless. I don’t honestly know any other way of being. Even in recovery, I secretly believed that once I’d fixed my brain, I’d get “back on track” and “fix” my body. Eventually, I’d be thin.  

But I don’t like who I am in this relentless pursuit of perfection.

Case in point:

  • It adds to my anxiety, changing how I feel about myself.
  • My insecurities grab onto any sign of “success” (read: weight loss). I develop a “superior-than-thou” persona to cover up my nerves.
  • I’m increasingly afraid of people whilst hyper-aware of their food and fitness habits.
  • I’m no fun to be around.
  • If you think I sound judgemental towards others, then you should hear the sh*t that goes around my head about me. I’m most cruel to myself.

Those of us with disordered eating issues know that the awkward, difficult, and downright mean person we seem to be on the outside is nothing compared to way we behave inside.

And I don’t want to be that person. Not anymore.

I’m thirty-four – nearly thirty-five – and this has to stop.

There are too many good reasons for this.

I have two simply fabulous young nieces who look up to me – and I don’t want to let them down. Then there’s you. If you’re reading this, then I know you’re looking for an honest insight into what it really means to become better.  And then there’s me – and I truly believe I deserve to give myself the gift of respect.  To become better.

Even if it doesn’t look exactly as expected, I know happiness feels fantastic.

 

 

**If you’re curious about these topics yourself, then I list below some of the resources I’m exploring right now, or have been useful to me thus far in disordered eating recovery. I hope these help you – let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

The Geeky Corner

“Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating” by Geneen Roth 

My first ever book on eating disorders; the one that changed everything. A must-read. She’s a regular on Oprah and I’m sure you’ll find her in online knock-offs of the Oprah show. 

“Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live” by Megan Jayne Crabbe. 

I’m currently listening to this on Audible and I’m really enjoying Megan’s story. She is really relatable – and I adore that her online name is bodyposipanda! Makes me happy just to say it aloud!

“The Goddess Revolution” by Mel Wells

Recommended to me by a friend, Mel reminds me of Geneen only for a new generation. You can see her in her awesome TEDX talk

Isobel Foxen Duke

Specifically, her “Stop Fighting Food” web series (free when you sign up for her email list) really hit home for me. That, and this article, are what led me to: 

“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

The original IE how-to guide, I’m about to embark upon this book myself. 

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” by Linda Bacon

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