I was discussing anti-dieting and intuitive eating with a friend over the holidays. I could tell he didn't really get it and the kicker was when he said "I think there is value in trying to stay fit, even if it's hard." (I'm pretty sure he meant "thin" when he said "fit".)
This statement suggests if we simply worked harder, we could all be thin. In reality, this is one of the main misconceptions that keeps people trapped in the dieting cycle for so long. For my friend who said this - he works out and eats "healthy" and stays thin so he thinks everyone can. This is what many people believe in our culture and it is why the diet industry is booming and why fat shame exists. People ask themselves, if everyone else can lose the weight or maintain a healthy weight by society standards then why can't I?
For my friend, he has a workout he enjoys that is not punishing or excessive. He also has cultivated healthy eating that is satisfying and nourishing. Does he restrict himself? Yes. I have seen him hold back from eating things he wanted to and I know he avoids eating certain things because he has mentioned it. I think that's what he means by working hard. It's not always easy for him to restrict but he does it anyway. I have also seen him eat more of things at certain times due to this restriction. And I have heard him judge what he is eating and how much he should or should not be eating.
So basically, he exists in a typical pattern of many people in our world. People who are constantly in a push and pull with themselves, but I am assuming, for the moment, it is not causing them suffering. (There are A LOT of assumptions being made here and I am giving complete benefit of the doubt that people like this are not miserable due to their eating habits.) This "working hard" results in a fit (i.e. thin) body so for them it's worth it because they value the thin body.
What people like this don't understand is that other people could eat the same way and do the same work out routines and have an entirely different outcome and a different body. It's not that this routine "works" for my friend, it's that their body and soul is happy with this routine in a way that another body might not be. Another person might do the same things and it doesn't "work" (i.e. they still aren't thin) and then they try harder and harder and go to more and more extreme measures to achieve this level of thinness that my friend exhibits. All along the way, if the thinness doesn't come easily, mental health starts to suffer as well. Someone may berate themselves for not being able to "do better" to look like someone else.
Sometimes I wonder why he is working so hard for the goal of thinness in the first place. That is pretty obvious. You would do that because you have the belief that fat is bad. It is unsightly and unhealthy. This is what our society believes in a nutshell about fat and why we all try so hard to get rid of it. Lots of people are trying hard. Harder than my friend can even comprehend. They are trying so hard they are killing themselves. Eventually, we have to ask ourselves what is the point?
Is fat unhealthy? Not by itself no. Many people would like to think so, but studies show (for example in the Obesity Myth by Paul Campos or in Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon) that heavier people actually live longer. You can be fat and fit and healthy. In addition, there are so many "healthy" food rules these days that people are actually diminishing their health by stressing about it. You can become unhealthy by trying to be too healthy. And may I add an ironic twist? My friend smokes to deal with stress. Not a lot, but some. How does that make any sense in the health equation? They also don't do much to deal with their stress either. But thin? Yes, they are thin. Phew!
To me this suggests that my friend is probably more concerned with being fat than he is with being healthy. This fear is insidious and a very hard one to argue. For years our society has praised thinness and created a culture where that is one of the most important features. How do you tell someone not to value thinness? The insidious part is that many people don't even question that as unusual. They are so far in the diet culture that they can't see anything wrong with that. What IS wrong with valuing thinness?
Valuing thinness is discrimination plain and simple. It's like valuing men over women or tall people over short. It's choosing a subjective quality about someone and judging them by it. It leads to all the problems we have with weight stigma in our world today and it's a vicious cycle. An arbitrary quality is deemed valuable; those without the quality are deemed undesirable; they are shamed and don't have all the benefits that the thin people have; and then people fear not being thin even more than before because they won't have all the benefits and privileges. It's no wonder our society is stuck in this cycle, it's momentum is nearly impossible to alter.
Nearly impossible. But not impossible. And there are those of us who are learning to resist the force sucking us back into diet culture. We are escaping the vicious cycle to lead calmer, happier, more satisfying lives rather than continuing to beat our head against a wall and suddenly expecting it to feel good. Our ranks are growing. We have dietitians, nutritionists, doctors, psychologists and therapists on our side. We have research on our side. The research on intuitive eating shows that intuitive eating leads to reduced eating disorder behaviors, improved health markers, and better emotional health among other things. And we have people on our side. People who have ditched the diets and are finally showing up in their lives to live them to the fullest. People who realize that enjoying life is a much better goal than being thin.
My friend had no idea what started in my brain with that one simple sentence and most likely still doesn't know. But I know you have been trying very hard already. You do not have to try harder. It's not your fault and you have been doing everything possible. Where we need to work harder is not on dieting, but on dismantling diet culture.
It's time to put this falsehood to rest that trying harder would make everyone thin, let alone healthy. It is simply not true. True health is actually just the opposite of hard work. It's about allowance and compassion and joy and pleasure and relaxation. It's about honesty and acceptance with regard to your body type and loving kindness for whatever it's shape may be. It's about ease and freedom and contentment. Take a deep breath and relax. Your work is done.
(Photo - Be Nourished Body Trust Cards)