It’s at this time of year, when people’s healthy resolutions and diets are constantly all over social media, that I get the most worked up about the issue of dieting. Especially this year, when email after email landed in my inbox of PR releases about diet pills and slimming tricks. Even twitter has been filled with trigger warning worthy messages. It seems like a good third of the people I’m following are on some sort of weight loss journey. I know there’s been some anti-dieting kickback lately, people arguing that if a diet makes someone happy then hey, why not?
Personally, I find this thought process dangerous. I consider myself somewhat of an expert. I suffered (suffer?) from ED: AN for many years. I have spent many, many hours of my life trying to unpick all the thinking that surrounds diet culture. I’ve also spent more time with various therapists, dieticians and nutritionists than I’d ever like to admit to. I can wax poetical about their thoughts on smoothie trends etc.
There’s no such thing as clean eating. Cutting things out of your diet without a doctor’s supervision and advice is never entirely good for you. Sure, cut back on processed foods, sugars, and dairies. But cutting out gluten, for example, isn’t going to make you any healthier unless you actually have an allergy or intolerance. An obsession with clean eating in and of itself can lead to a disorder: orthorexia. In fact, you can actually make yourself far less healthy. Eating can be fun, fulfilling, cultural but it can’t be clean. To claim otherwise is to attach a stigma to various types of food which only layers on guilt, that as a society, we don’t need. My motto: eat what you like, in moderation. But our diets have become a moral fetish.
When all else fails, I like to think of the words of Nigella Lawson: “I despair of the term ‘clean eating’, though I actually like the food that comes under that banner. [‘Clean eating’] necessarily implies that any other form of eating—and consequently the eater of it—is dirty or impure and thus bad, and it’s not simply a way of shaming and persecuting others, but leads to that self-shaming and self-persecution that is forcibly detrimental to true healthy eating.”
But that’s just one fad. The want to diet is a lot more insidious than the still-quite-new-kid-on-the-block – clean eating. Unless a GP or healthcare professional has told you that you need to lose weight why would you need to? It’s important to unpack the reasons why you are convincing yourself that you need to lose weight. Do you genuinely need to for your health? If not, are you doing it because losing weight will make you happier?
If it’s the latter option, that’s where we veer into unhealthy territory. If you are genuinely convinced that losing weight is going to make you happier, do it! I’m not going to stop you and I think you have the bodily autonomy to make this choice for yourself. I just think it’s super important to unpack why you think this is the best choice for you. Why will losing weight make you happier? Why do you think that? Is it because of an idealised image that we are being fed of the “perfect woman” by society? I think there’s especially a problem where the idea of losing weight overlaps with internalised misogyny. I particularly agree with this quote “When we take pride in ourselves for being skinny because we’re conforming to the ideal of women as unimposing and ascetic and conventionally “beautiful,” not because that’s how our body just is, we are perpetuating a standard of beauty that harms us.” [citation]
Is it because you are fixating on a time when you felt happier and were coincidentally thinner? Instead of automatically equating thinness with happiness, 9 times out of 10, that happy period of your life had nothing to do at all with your weight. When you post about your diet on social media it’s always helpful to keep in mind “will this be triggering or insensitive to someone else?”
I try to make healthy choices when it comes to food these days, but I also still enjoy pizza and cake and chocolate and I try to do so without guilt. It’s a struggle and it will always be a struggle. But that’s okay. I exercise because it’s important for my overall health but I skip out on things that would make me super unhappy. (I’m looking at you, gyms.)
Remember thinness isn’t health. “Health” been fetishised to sell us something. Countless studies have shown that the less we value ourselves, the more willing we are to spend money on something that we desperately hope will enhance our self-worth. Remember, when you’re reading a recipe from a Clean Eating goddess they are trying to sell you something. Maybe it’s a spiraliser, or maybe it’s their lifestyle so you buy their books. Did you hear something from a friend? Where did they learn it from? It’s all about judging your sources and really careful thinking.
For everyone who has set themselves a weight lose goal in the new year, I’d like to challenge you to have a think about the whys. I sincerely wish you well on your weight lose journey, and I will support you should you need a personal cheerleader. But if a pizza makes you happy, I damn well want you to eat it.
***Sidenote, if you want to read more about interludes misogyny, Everyday Feminism has a great post here. If you want to read more about nutrition, I highly recommend Michelle Allison’s blog The Fat Nutritionalist. And Eating Towards Immortality in the Atlantic. ***