This article was originally posted on my previous website in 2018 and was entitled "Are you still dieting?". I have copied it here, because I want people to continue having access to it and sharing with their friends! This is important stuff and still highly relevant. Read on.
You know when you think so much about something, that you start seeing it everywhere? It's almost like it's following you around. Lately I have been thinking about diets. More specifically, how I really dislike them. I suppose we have all heard the well intentioned "Sure, diets don't work. We need a new 'way of eating', a 'lifestyle change' in fact". But, that new way of eating has many rules and regulations and soon you are back at questioning yourself, falling off the wagon, feeling guilty or anxious when eating, confused about what to eat, trying yet another "lifestyle change", and generally freaking out that you're getting old, tired and unhealthy. You can't shake the feeling that all the other people are doing it better than you... the snow ball has well and truly started rolling. This is a diet in disguise my friends.
In the middle of thinking about my dislike of diets, the following all occurred in less than a week.
- A dear client of mine posted a joke on social media implying that our happiness is directly linked to our weight on a scale
- Another lovely client cried in fear of putting on weight, after having to slow down her exercise routine due to an injury
- A young lady contacted me wanting a meal plan to lose weight, after a failed body challenge at the gym
- A close friend asked me for a crash meal plan, as she had one month to look great before her brother came to visit Is it following me?! There is a horrible tendency at the moment to get sucked into the dieting world. Trying to fit in, comparing ourselves to social media ideals and drowning in should's, musts and have to's. Is it just me, or do you feel like that as well? I have been following a non-weight centric approach for a long time time now, and if you've ever had a consult with me, you know I never use the scales in my office and you also know the face I make when you ask me for a detailed meal plan. I do this because I know the rabbit hole it can take you down, I've been there and believe me, meal plans don't work.
During my Master of Nutrition & Dietetics, I honestly thought that in one of the classes, I would receive a piece of paper - just a single A4 - with detailed instructions on how to get the perfect body and ultimate health, which I would then pass around to other people, and we would all look like Beyoncé. That piece of paper never came. Instead, what came was a period of self judgement, food rules until the cows came home, fear of being seen eating a "naughty" food, feeling like a fraud... plus an extra 10kg, less enjoyment in the activities I always loved and a distancing from the few friends I had in a new country. Thankfully some part of me thought this was a terrible idea, set off the alarm bells and searched for an alternative. What got me out of that, was questioning my beliefs around food and exercise, and learning to challenge the Food Police that work for Big Diet Co.
- What the heck is the perfect body anyway?
- What do I value?
- How has diet culture influenced my relationship with food and exercise?
- What does health mean to me?
- What are the pros/cons of thinking about food in this way?
- What is the motivation behind my actions? Punishment or self-care?
For example, if the motivation is coming from a place of fear and punishment, we are likely to think something like "I must exercise 7x/week otherwise I will be flabby and slow, which is unacceptable, bad and/or wrong". When the thought comes from a place of nurture and respect, there is no judgement "Exercise is fun! I love learning new movements and seeing what my body can do". This frees you up to decide how much, when and how you are going to exercise and when to stop. Same thing goes with food. Eventually, I learned to trust my body, to provide it with joyful movement, to make peace with all sorts of foods (except oysters) and with that, be able to make decisions I was happy with. For many years now I have had no idea how many calories I am consuming, or grams of fat, carbs or protein. I eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full, sometimes I eat something purely for taste or enjoyment, sometimes I eat too much, sometimes I eat too little. I eat in a flexible, non-judgemental way and according to my values. I would like to help you do the same.
Another comment from 2020: In reading this now, I realise that the conclusion to my article may sound too "happy-endy", and I want to shine a reality flashlight on that: Diet culture is ingrained in our minds, the messages are strong and often come from people who are close to us and whom we respect. There is no silver bullet, but it does get easier with time to recognise and filter all that crap. Sometimes I feel I need to recalibrate - stop and get my bearings right again. Diet culture is a bitch.