When lead paint, asbestos, cigarettes and BPA were found to be harmful to ourselves and our children, we made every effort to minimize or eliminate them or at least post warnings about them routinely. Diet culture is another nefarious intruder that we need to protect ourselves and our children from.
Diet culture is like carbon monoxide, killing us silently in our sleep. Which is why I want everyone to wake up. At a minimum, diet culture kills our ability to accept ourselves. It kills our confidence. It kills our dreams and our desires.
Intentionally restricting food in the name of weight loss or health has devastating consequences that we don't even realize are happening. And then we blame our feeling crappy on not being diligent enough with our food and fitness. It's an ironic twist.
There are many physical consequences to restriction. Our movements get slower. We have less strength and endurance. We feel cold. Our metabolism slows and our body is not functioning optimally. Our pulse slows and we are not able to work as hard. A woman might lose her period. She might lose her hair. Our mental alertness decreases. We may lose weight only to gain it back and this cycling can cause cardiovascular, hormonal and metabolic issues. We start to binge on foods and lose touch with our sensations of hunger and fullness.
There are many psychological consequences to restriction. We become depressed and apathetic. We are preoccupied and obsessed with food. We base our worth on our weight or our size which is always changing which is unsettling and makes us anxious. We end up talking to ourselves negatively on a daily basis which erodes our confidence. We lose our sense of joy and playfulness. We may start shopping or drinking or gambling in order to feel better. Our sense of body dissatisfaction increases.
There are many social consequences to restriction. We become serious and lose our sense of humor. We don't have anything to talk about other than food. We may stop going out because food is too stressful. We isolate and lose our connections to others. We lose our sense of spontaneity. Everything feels like a hassle.
Restriction can be deliberate and obvious (I'm not going to eat carbs) or it can be more subtle (I guess I should have the salad tonight).
Restriction can be physical (I'm not going to eat carbs) or it can be emotional (Damn, why did I eat that cake?).
Sometimes we don't even know the harm that we are doing to ourselves when we restrict (see consequences above) and as I said, we end up thinking we are not restricting enough or doing it right and that is why we feel so badly. We are inviting diet culture into our own homes and we don't even know it. Would you give your 10 year old a pack of smokes?
When you don't feel like you can stay on your diet and you are a failure and you should be eating "better" and moving more, and these thoughts are with you on a consistent basis, you are in danger. Even if you are not on a specific diet, if you are still beating yourself up daily for what you eat, please know this is diet culture talking, and you don't have to listen.
Instead of thinking that you are doing it wrong, it's time to start thinking that the drive to behave this way is the thing that is wrong. Why do we do this? Where did it come from? How do we not see how it's harming us? Why do we think we should keep doing it when it's making us miserable and it's not even getting us where we wanted to go in the first place?
The notion that food will save us is like Little Red Riding Hood talking to the wolf and expecting it to be Grandma. We are putting all our eggs in one basket. It's time to diversify.
Your sanity will be restored and you will be healed when you are eating enough food for your body. You will be healed when satisfaction becomes your main goal when choosing a meal or activity. You will be healed when you include a wide variety of foods in your diet. You will be healed when you are moving in ways that are fun and full of joy and therefore are fairly regular. You will be healed when you get enough sleep.
You will be healed when you address the stress in your life instead of the size of your thighs. You will be healed when you find spiritual rituals that support and uplift you (there are so many to choose from whether you are religious or not.) You will be healed when you make connections and find purpose in your community. You will be healed when you stop beating yourself up day after day and you embrace self care and self compassion over self flagellation.
You will be healed when weight stigma and discrimination are no longer tolerated. Your suffering is a collective issue, it's not your fault this is happening to you. You will be healed when you take back your power from diet culture and put it squarely into your own hands. It's something we can all do. It may take time and practice, but it is a solution available to us all without a huge investment in anything other than ourselves.
It's time to turn on our oppressor and stop drinking the diet culture Kool Aid.
It's time to wake up so we can all start to heal. In a saying by Confucius, "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."
So grab a stone and let's get started. We have a fucking big mountain to move and there is no time to lose.