Because the sun is around the corner which means that summer is arriving quickly, I have been thinking about ways to approach this time of year with a positive mindset and a positive attitude towards my body.
I know that many of my friends and family will engage in detox, cleanses, HIIT training, and other diets to be “summer-body-ready”. I will face diet talk, comments about my food and my body, and it might be difficult to find an answer to all of them.
During my recovery journey from an eating disorder, I have learnt a great deal about the diet culture, self-love and self-acceptance, and have realized that as long as I try to fit in the bodies of others, I will never live my own life fully.
I want to share some of the things I learnt with you, so that we can go into summer with a positive mindset and make the most out of it!
Fresh gelato as a lovely, mid-afternoon treat. Source: author.
The diet culture we live in is telling us that there is such a thing as a perfect body. It “worships thinness”, “promotes weight loss” and “demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others” as Christy Harrison, an anti-diet registered dietician and intuitive eating counsellor, puts it.
Even if we don’t talk about diets anymore – because most of us have realized that they are not effective – we are now obsessing over healthy living. Everyone knows someone who is avoiding gluten to lose weight, exercising intensely after the Christmas break or avoiding even the Diet Coke because “sugar is bad for you”.
Even though those behaviors are labelled by society as healthy, they may lead to a lifestyle that may prove very dangerous when adopted in an excessively rigorous manner.
Why would such behaviors be dangerous? Here are a few reasons why:
- They are the first steps down a very slippery slope that may lead to an eating disorder. Restriction is a main characteristic of anorexia. Endless cycles of restrictions and binges are characteristics of bulimia. Ortorexia, although not well known, is linked to the obsession over healthy food. There are many forms of eating disorders, but all are influenced by the weight stigma promoted by the diet culture.
- Those called healthy behaviors prevent you from engaging fully in your own social, professional and personal life as you stick to your strict diet and exercise schedule. Those keep you from socializing as they rule your life more than you do.
- As they are deeply rooted in the diet culture, they lower our self-esteem, self-confidence and overall mental wellbeing. This is done through comparison with so-called perfect bodies and through the marketing of “healthy” foods that make us doubt what we eat.
- The sacralisation of healthy lifestyles shames certain types of bodies which makes us less accepting of differences. Although this issue is being spoken of a lot more, and celebrities such as Taylor Swift or Demi Lovato are starting to speak about their own issues with disordered eating and weight stigma, body shaming is still very much present in our societies.
- There is an immense pressure on us to achieve the fit, thin and excessively healthy body ideal presented in the media and used in marketing campaigns, in particular for beauty products.
The word “healthy” has been deprived of its original meaning which is “possessing or enjoying a good health and a sound and vigorous mentality, conducive to good health”. A quick Google search of the word gives plenty of results such as “healthy recipes for weight loss”.
Somehow, weight loss is associated with being healthy. But what about having a strong mentality? What about feeling good about oneself? What about enjoying life?
My sweetened, full fat latte. Source: author.
During my journey to recovery from anorexia nervosa, I have come across a new generation of dietetics and nutrition specialists who promote intuitive eating (IE) and health at every size (HAES). The overall idea is to listen to one’s body, to give it what it wants and needs, and to reject the weight stigma that is dominant in our society.
Of course, rejecting diets does not mean that obesity is to be promoted! It only means that the current weight standards are not valid for everyone and that weight should not be another point of discrimination.
This spring, instead of going on a diet to be “ready” for summer, why don’t we learn to accept and love our bodies as they are? Here are a few ways to do so that I found to be useful:
- Wear clothes that fit your body and that make you feel good
- Eat food whenever you are hungry or thinking about food too much, as it will allow you to take your mind off food and enjoy the present moment
- Move your body in ways that are comfortable and fun for you
- Eat the food you want!
- Write two things you are grateful for daily
- Talk to yourself as you would to a friend
- Feel free to leave a conversation that is praising the diet culture or centered around it. You can also try to change the topic, or simply explain that you do not want to support the diet culture.
Rejecting the diet culture is not easy. Loving your body is not innate. They are both skills that we can and should learn.
The diet culture is taking and spoiling lives and we cannot let it do so. I hope that you can find ways to love and accept yourself, and when you have, to inspire others to do so, too.