By Erin McKelle for Ravishly.com.
I’d spend a long time beating myself up, for supposedly knowing better and being a total hypocrite of my body positive values, since I was telling others to ditch their diet while I was still on mine.
Dieting is something that almost all of us will do at some point in our lives, and a cycle many of us will never get out of.
But here’s the thing — diets don’t work. They just don’t. Many studies have found that dieting ultimately causes people to gain more weight in the long term. Other research has also shown that the biological changes that happen inside of your body during a diet make it impossible to keep the weight off and can actually change the chemistry of your brain to crave refined sugars and processed carbs. The fact is, your body doesn’t respond well to food restriction.
I know it’s a lot more complicated than just one day declaring “Fuck it, I’m done dieting!” Just like we can easily make resolutions for ourselves to lose weight, we can just as easily resolve to love our bodies as they are, and quietly fall flat on our goal. Breaking up with diet culture might take more than one attempt, especially if you have a toxic relationship with food.
Although I’ve been advocating for body positivity for a few years, I’ve actually been on a few diets in that time period. Yes, I’ve talked about loving your body while I was also trying to change mine. But even though I understood the science behind diet failure, I decided to go on a pretty extreme diet where I limited my calorie restriction to just 800-1,000 a day, and was also going for runs and doing body circuits every day. Even though I lost 15 pounds in two weeks, I eventually crashed and gained back 20 pounds — five more than I’d had on me before the diet. I was also suffering from an eating disorder at the time, and this diet caused me to spiral into the darkest pits of it. Ironically, going on the diet probably resulted in me getting help faster than I would have otherwise for my eating disorder, but it made me see why I had to end things with diet culture — and we were never, ever getting back together.
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Like any relationship, I had sad days where I missed feeling the triumph of restriction and weight loss, but I pushed through because I knew that all of that was built on a false promise. I also knew that dieting represented a rejection of myself, and sent a message that I wasn’t good enough as is and I wouldn’t be worthy until I hit a certain number on the scale. I didn’t want that to have to be my reality.
I’d spend a long time beating myself up, for supposedly knowing better and being a total hypocrite of my body-positive values, since I was telling others to ditch their diet while I was still on mine. But what I realized post-diet breakup was that it didn’t matter what my body image idols, friends, or colleagues preached about body love, because it wasn’t going to be real unless I could feel it myself. I had to be ready to accept the message, since the only person who can change you is you. This is a partisan mistake I’ve seen many an activist make, and I understood that I was guilty of playing that game with myself. It wasn’t until I was really ready to accept body positivity that I could feel it, experience it, and be it.
I understand if #ditchthediet2016 falls on deaf ears or makes you want to hide under a rock, because no one but you can change your relationship with your body. Even if you think the message is interesting, but you’re not ready to take that big step yet, it’s OK. Yes, I think that you should give up on dieting, but I also think you should take things at your own pace. It’s not an overnight process where one day you’re eating nothing but cabbage soup and saltines and the next you’re a body-positive warrior, armed with fat-shaming rebuttals and all. I think many people assume this is how body positivity works, but it isn’t — it’s a process. There’s no right or wrong way, speed, or reason to go about it either and there’s no prize for crossing the finish line first. Take things at your own pace and don’t compare your beginning to someone’s Chapter 10.
So wherever you are in your body image journey, I wish you the best for 2016 and hope you’ll open your heart to self-love. Love will heal the world and it will heal our bodies in the process.
This story by Erin McKelle first appeared at ravishly.com, a feminist news+culture website.
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