Last year, I did something unheard of: I gave up dieting.
This may not seem like a big deal, but in a society that fosters body-shame backed by a $66B weight-loss industry, it IS a big deal.
I’m not going to give you the false impression that giving up dieting was easy. In fact, giving up the hope, and desire for, weight loss has been harder – for me – than losing weight itself. So why bother? If I can lose weight, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I at least try?
No. It’s a slippery slope and I’ll tell you why:
If you’re not “good enough” now, you’ll never be.
Dieting is not a means to self-acceptance; in fact, dieting is the quickest way to give yourself a potentially dangerous complex. You’ll notice that you start thinking of yourself as “good” and “worthy” when you eat less and weigh less and “bad” and “unworthy” when you eat more or weigh more.
Worse – you’ll begin this thing that I call a “weight-centered contingency plan,” i.e. everything in life from travel plans to pursuing a romantic interest to wearing certain cuts of dresses will be put on hold until you reach a certain weight.
The problem is, once you get on this contingency plan, the end goal becomes fluid. You’ll find that if your goal weight was x and you reach it, a new lower weight goal will probably replace it.
So, you may be wondering, how does one give up dieting?
The most helpful thing for me to do when I decided to stop dieting was to ask myself critical questions. I’m going to list some of them below, in bold, with the answers I came up with after truly digging deep. You’ll see that by asking these questions I was able to get passed some of the falsities and fears that were embedded in my head. I hope that this exercise will help any of you who are dieting and would rather make peace with your body:
- How is dieting working for you? It depends on what we mean by ‘dieting.’ Dieting itself has not helped me get healthy; becoming curious and empowered about nutrition and fitness along with a host of other things, like stability in my home life and finances, mental work on self-perception, etc., have worked in unison to make me healthier. Dieting is not sustainable because it requires that I see food as a means to weight-loss/weight-maintenance rather than the complex and wonderful source of energy that it is. In other words, I’ll just diet myself into poor physical and mental health if I’m always gauging how and what I eat based on my weight.
- Do you want to do this for the rest of your life? Do I want to count, measure and restrict for the rest of my life? No way! My body is going to continue to change as I grow older, potentially have kids, potentially get sick or injured, as my schedule changes, as my interests change, etc. I have a world to conquer and so many awesome things to achieve – a certain size or weight is not one of them b/c there is no intrinsic value there! In other words, the only “value” I get from weight loss in and of itself is value that society bestows upon me for getting closer to the mainstream conventional standard of beauty, which is, arguably, unobtainable in a healthful way. The way to free yourself from the “standard” of beauty is not to try complying with it, but rather to identify it for what it is: oppressive, unrealistic and shallow.
- How important is your weight really? It’s not the sole determinant of my health, or even a good proxy for my health. Weight is correlated to health, but not causally related. Weight is correlated to health, just like where you live, who your family is, how much money you make, whether you went to college, what your job is, etc., is correlated to health. If we are looking outside of health, then, yes, we see that being thin (and thin-pretty) carries a tremendous real-world value in our society. We also see that people are continually stigmatized and discriminated based on weight. I would be lying to say that weight does not/cannot dramatically affect your life. However, just because society places value (and restricts rights) based on weight does not make it right and does not mean that the answer to discrimination is attempted compliance! The truth of the matter is that healthful habits make us healthy (see Matheson et. al, Wei et. al. and The Cooper Institute studies). Even Michelle Obama recently said that health is “not about size or weight.” Way to go, FLOTUS!
- What do you really want and can you get it by focusing outside of your weight? I really want to love myself, and my body, without any contingencies, including weight-based contingencies. I want to love and relish in my body throughout all of its stages. I want to treat myself well and be well. I actually have to focus outside of my weight to achieve these things.
- Can dieting actually be harmful? Dieting IS harmful. When dieting, I have to ignore my biological instincts, hunger and satiation cues. When dieting, I stop listening to what my body craves. When weight is the focus, I see exercise as punishment for eating or as a “necessary evil.” Dieting forces me to detach from my body. Dieting means my energy and focus is on my weight rather than on doing fun, positive and wonderful things for and in this world. Dieting makes me angry, tired, and resentful. It takes the enjoyment out of food. It makes eating a stress-based activity. It makes me see food as the enemy rather than as a life-giving source that is my ALLY in making me healthy.
- What’s holding you back from quitting dieting? Fear. If I stop dieting, I will gain weight. Hm. But will I? (NO, not necessarily. If we are eating mindfully, our body gets to its optimal and healthy size). Is living a fear-based life the path you want to take for the long-haul? No. I would rather do the work now to learn to love my body in all its stages than to spend the rest of my life dieting.
- What’s the worst that can happen if you stop dieting? I could gain weight. Is that a valid a concern? All concerns are valid because you feel them, but should we reframe this? Yes. Maybe you should start asking, “What GREAT things would happen if I stopped dieting?” The benefits blow the potential, and fallacious, cons out of the water.
- Is this a diet? It’s not a “lifestyle change” if it has weight as a measure of “success.” If weight is a measure, it’s a diet (don’t fool yourself!).
I Gave Up Dieting; You Can, Too
Are you ready to stop dieting? Here are 3 quick ways to get on the path to a diet-free life:
1) Answer all of the critical questions above honestly. Write down your answers and refer to them whenever you feel the urge to go on a “spring cleanse” or the urge to get “bikini ready” (p.s. you ARE bikini ready!)
2) Fill your brain with allies. Read weight-neutral books, size acceptance books and Health At Every Size® books (some of my faves include If Not Dieting Then What?, What’s Wrong with Fat? And Health At Every Size) and size-acceptance blogs like Dances with Fat, Fit and Feminist, and Deah Schwartz (there are SO many good ones!).
3) Remember that feeling shame in your body will never lead you to good health or a slimmer figure. Remember that there is a $6B industry out there that is doing everything it can to make you hate yourself so that you can pay them for a “solution” that doesn’t exist (in other words, if anyone had a true & sustainable solution for weight-loss, the industry wouldn’t be worth $66B and there would be no fat people).
The Cranky One
Annabel Adams writes about her journey from unhealthy to healthy…served up with a side of snark on her blog Feed Me, I’m Cranky.