Why I Don't Like Diets

Monday, 17 April 2017



Like every other year, January was filled with diet-talk a-plenty and the past couple of months have been filled with people getting ‘bikini body ready’ and doing ‘summer shreds’, but one thing that I never really expected to see was, well, criticism of people criticising diets. Maybe I just wrapped myself up too well in my body positive bubble, but I had thought for some time that most people were in agreement that diets weren’t a good thing and that we should be challenging the system that promotes them.

Quick disclaimer though, when I say ‘diet’ here, I’m obviously (I hope) not referring to people who simply talk about what they eat – I talk about my diet in terms of the food I eat all the damn time on my blog because I’m vegan and that’s part of what I blog about. Other people may talk about their diets a lot out of necessity or to spread awareness because they’re gluten intolerant, because they’re recovering from an eating disorder, because they’ve got a bowel disorder, whatever. What I do mean here when I use the word ‘diet’ is dieting, overthinking, obsessing, restricting, eating in unusual, unhealthy etc. ways strictly for weight loss.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against health and fitness, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that dieting and healthy living are one in the same – they’re not. There’s nothing healthy about this kind of diet culture at all; it’s an industry designed to foster insecurity, to tell us that we always need to be a little bit slimmer and have to spend our money to achieve it. After the holiday festivities of December, in January we’re bombarded by ads for weight loss products and programmes, sold a future of being happy and beautiful if only we can drop a few pounds.  Then there’s a brief lull, before the pressure starts all over again to be fit and skinny for summer, so that we can look ‘good’ in a bikini.

If you want to start eating better and getting fitter and living a healthier life then that’s cool and I’ll always support people in their goals to live well! I did much the same thing a couple of years ago now, and I haven’t looked back. Making healthier lifestyle changes is a hugely positive step to take and can have a dramatic impact on your mental and physical health, and a changing body can also be a side effect of that. The difference between that and dieting though, is that one is a simple, healthy lifestyle change. A resolve to eat a lil’ healthier, get a bit more exercise, to treat your body better. The other, however, is an industry that encourages calorie restriction, guilt, excessive exercise, self-hate, shame, disordered eating and anxiety over numbers on a scale that, in reality, are little to no indication of your health or, yes, even your size.  They don’t care about your health or happiness, they just want your money.

A lot of folks try to argue that there are benefits to these types of ‘dieting’ but, come on, when you so much as look up the dictionary definition it’s all about pure and simple restriction with the purpose of weight loss. Look up synonyms and you see things like eat sparingly, eat selectively, abstain, fast. There’s nothing wrong with altering what you eat and how you live for the sake of your physical health, but ‘diets’ and the restriction that they promote simply aren’t healthy. What most fail to realise through no fault of their own, is that restriction not only often ultimately leads to failure when trying to lose weight, but also poisons our relationships with food in a long-lasting, dangerous way.

I can understand why people who have resolved to go on a diet might be frustrated by all of the criticism flying around; those of us who are against dieting can be quite vocal about it and it’s easy to see why some might take it personally. It’s a criticism of a choice you’ve made for yourself, so it’s bound to rub you the wrong way. That said, at most a dieting person is annoyed and feels awkward and a bit singled out. Diet talk and promotion of dieting on the other hand is incredibly toxic for those around you, and upholds the damaging status quo that we should all be aspiring to weight loss, that success comes with weight loss, that happiness is attributed to weight and that the food we eat is an indicator of our morality (i.e. ‘being good’ vs ‘being bad’ depending on food choices).

 Diet talk and bikini body seasons are dangerous times for people who already struggle with food and body image, and we’re all already inescapably subjected to weight loss ads and encouragement to diet simply from the media that we have no choice but to consume – we don’t need it from all sides in the office, online community and social circles we surround ourselves with too.

When people say ‘I don’t care about your diet’ or criticise diet culture, it isn’t necessarily intended as an attack on those who wish to lose weight. It’s an attack on the industry that teaches us that our worth is measured by the size of our waistlines, and that being skinny should be a goal we all aspire to regardless of the costs. It’s an attack on the industry that is responsible for and continues to promote eating disorders and other mental health issues associated with body image. Hell, on the day that I first sat down to write this months ago, a so-called ‘body positive’ model and ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) had been criticised for using her platform to promote her restrictive weight loss and exercise plan for crying out loud.  (She has since apologised and taken it down, I believe, but come on!)

If you want to get fit, to eat better, then do it!  It’s an intensely complicated subject, but a desire to change your body or to get fit doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t love yourself as you are.  There isn’t necessarily any shame in wanting to change your body (although the dream would certainly be to live in a society where everyone is comfortable and happy in their own skins as they are). But, if you’ve decided to try and lose weight, you also need to be critical of why that is and to remember that if your end goal is to simply look thinner, it can’t really be just for yourself.

A desire to be slimmer does not and simply cannot exist in a vacuum – it’s the product of a society that pushes thinness and beauty on us from such a young age that children as young as three are now known to be affected by body image issues. A wish to exclusively lose weight (not to get fit, to get healthy, to eat better, to get stronger, to get better at running, to take up a sport etc. – just to lose weight, to get smaller, to be thinner) can never just be our own because our aspirations to be smaller are intrinsically linked to the messages our society feeds us associating thinness with being ‘better’.  These messages can be as obvious as fatphobic advertising or as insidious and subtle as the sea of super slim bodies that dominate our screens.  They tell us, in no uncertain terms, that to be thin is to be happier, more beautiful, more successful, more intelligent, more worthy of being loved, more able to love ourselves.

I don’t like and will never support diets because messages like those should be challenged, not inadvertently promoted.

If you’ve chosen to make weight loss a goal, please take care of yourself. Don’t listen to the diet talk and don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into thinking that you are only worthy of taking up space if you manage to shed a few kilos. Don’t over-exercise or listen to the people that tout it as a great method of weight loss, and don’t believe the lies that people and brands tell you about restrictive diets being a key to slimming success. Eat healthy, don’t let yourself go hungry, be active, be patient (physical changes take months or even years of work, not the mere weeks diets would have you believe) and, most importantly, remember that whatever your goals, your beauty, confidence and whether or not you deserve to go ahead and live your best life now are not defined by your size.

8 comments

  1. This post is fantastic. Most of the time I feel very body positive but the diet culture and 'skinny for summer' ads we see everywhere do sometimes really get me down. Especially this feeling that you SHOULD be on a diet if you plan on getting in a bikini this summer! We should try to love our bodies constantly, and we need to learn that most of the time, loosing weight will not effect the way we feel about our bodies - that has to come from within.

    Amy x
    www.whatamysays.com

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    1. Thank you Amy! Completely agree, very well said! x

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  2. I used to be so bad for the way I spoke about food and my body on social media and looking back it was so harmful. Since losing a lot of weight unintentionally at the end of last year though I've been finding myself really affected by others talking about 'bad food' and getting bikini ready. I dread to think how many people I must have triggered when I scrutised my own body and eating habits in such a public way.

    I'm still on my own mission to change my body and develop a more positive atitude towards it so I don't necessarily think there's anhything wrong with losing weight. i just wish there was more focus on strengthening and nourishing our bodies rather than the constant restriction methods that seem to be shoved down our throats, pardon the phrasing.

    Great post!

    - Sarah
    www.moonandforest.co.uk

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    1. Me too! I used to be pretty awful with the kind of language I used to talk about food, even at times in my life when I was frustrated and concerned by others' diet talk (hypocritical much?). It's a tough thing to unlearn.

      Thank you and thanks for reading!

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  3. I think you've hit the nail on the head there. The language used and discourse of the dieting 'community' is what can be the most damaging. Things like 'clean eating' I hate that phrase with a passion because it projects the assumption that other foods are 'dirty'. I'm a vegan too and I get asked on the daily whether my diet made me lose weight; which it did but that's not the reason I chose that lifestyle and it frustrates me so much when people think that veganism is a 'quick fix' and not an ethical choice. That's why some people now have this assumption that all vegans are stick thin, pale and have no energy. I think, as you say; dieting is a touchy subject because when it's done right and for the right reasons it can allow people to become more confident and feel better, I just think the use of language has taken it to a dangerous level, especially at this time of year.

    Marbl☾☽Moon

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    1. Clean eating deserves it's own post I stg - I hate that veganism is so often conflated with 'clean eating' and that others have certain expectations of my diet because I'm vegan. Worse still are the quick fixers as you say - I met a woman like that a while back who had zero compassion for the cause and little understanding of real nutrition and it was so disappointing! Interestingly, the popularity of clean eating has given rise to its own form of eating disorder (orthorexia) and given the stigma attached to NOT eating clean in certain communities it's not surprising.

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  4. "A desire to be slimmer does not and simply cannot exist in a vacuum" πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ

    You've made so many great points here, Steph! I think some people, when they see people criticising others for talking about their dieting, think that the criticism is somehow attacking that person's right to do as they please with their own body. Where really, as you say, it's a critique of the industry and societal norms which have landed us in a position where we'd consider unhealthy/restrictive eating in the first place.

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    1. Thank you, Nadia! Exactly, we don't hate the players, we hate the game. πŸ˜‚

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