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.”
Diet Culture and the Resolution Revolution
I’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.
There’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.
This 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)
Separating 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
Living 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.”
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.