Today, I was mindlessly scrolling my feed during lunch break, liking all sorts of things, from puppy videos to monologs, when – wham! – I was smacked right in the face with something I work actively to avoid.
It was an article perpetuating diet culture, accompanied by an illustration of the coronavirus wagging its finger at a person exercising.
How old were you the first time you remember someone commenting negatively on your body? I was five. At childcare, we were all playing in one of those blue, plastic kiddie pools. I was having the time of my life, spraying a hose with my friend Joshua, when the teenage daughter of the childcare provider commented on my bathing suit, saying,
you know that two-piece bathing suits aren’t for fat girls, right?
Her mother, who was supposed to be keeping me safe, agreed.
Again, I was only five-years-old.
Moments like this were common for me. My family, friends, and even doctors made regular comments about the size of my body for my entire childhood and well into my 20s. I wanted more than anything to become a professional dancer and was told that I simply didn’t have the body for it (a euphemism for “you’re too fat”). I once broke a bone and the doctor implied that it wouldn’t have happened had I been thinner. When I was in college, I came home during Thanksgiving break, and the first time I saw my long-distance boyfriend in months, he said to me “getting a little chubby, huh?”
You get the idea.
Body-shaming comments and well-intentioned remarks from the people I trusted, combined with growing up in a society obsessed with thinness made for a perfect environment for my obsession with weight loss and my body to flourish. This obsession eventually turned into body dysmorphia and disordered eating that started in my tween years.
I’m happy to say that I have recovered from both of these things, thanks largely to the body positive movement, therapy, and intuitive eating.
As an adult, I go out of my way to curate my social media feed to insulate myself from articles and companies that use shame as a sales tactic and promote unhealthy behaviors. But the wall is not always solid, and this article found its way into my feed.
As someone trying to avoid such things, what did I do? Did I avoid it and keep scrolling? Of course not.
I clicked it.
I read the article quickly. It told a tale that’s shared, in my opinion, far too often in mainstream media. Desperate to lose weight and get their life on track, a person resorts to extreme and often unhealthy measures. In this case, the author took to a form of dieting where they restricted their calorie intake to 600 hundred calories per day, two to three days per week.
For reference, the average toddler needs 1,200 calories per day.
The media awards and applauds this behavior. This sort of intentional diet is touted as “wellness” and “healthy.” But if you’re restricting your eating to the point of near-starvation, how healthy can it be?
That number of calories the author consumed daily- 600- made sense to me if their goal was to lose as much weight as possible, quickly. I would strive to eat 600 calories or less per day in high school, during the pinnacle of my disordered eating. However, I was in dance rehearsals six days per week, and would be left with extreme hunger after a few days. I would restrict my intake and then binge, then bounce back to extreme restriction, followed by another binge. This behavior continued into my 30s, and didn’t stop until I found intuitive eating.
In my 20s I tracked my food intake religiously, which the author of this article also did. I weighed myself sometimes as many as six times per day. To this day, I can tell you about how much my weight would differ before and after a meal, or when I woke up as opposed to after my first cup of coffee. When I say I had an unhealthy obsession with my weight, I mean it.
I have tried every diet there is. Atkins, Keto, Whole30, vegan, juice cleanses, even a watermelon cleanse.
None of it stuck in the long term, and none of those diets resulted in permanent weight loss, nor did it give me increased self-worth. If anything, it fueled my continued self-loathing and unhealthy behaviors.
I also have PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, as I’ve now learned, can cause insulin resistance, which essentially turns your body into something like a bear preparing for hibernation. Everything you eat MUST be stored and not used, because you might need it someday.
PCOS, combined with my disordered eating, meant I experienced constant weight fluctuation, while also steadily gaining throughout my 20s and early 30s. For more than a decade I would gain six pounds, lose 5, gain 7, lose 3… and so on and so forth.
At the suggestion of a physician, I went to see a nutritionist for the first time about five years ago. At 30 years old, having dealt with this for more than two decades, I was extremely hesitant, and I didn’t want to be judged again for what I ate or what I weighed or how often I exercised. During our first appointment, I gave her my whole backstory. At her request, I tracked my eating and exercise for one week, and returned at our second appointment ready to have her slash my food intake and take away my beloved carbs.
To my surprise, she said I wasn’t eating enough.
The six months spent with this nutritionist set me on a path that has truly changed my life. It was filled with revelations and retraining my brain to trust itself around food. She also taught me about intuitive eating.
Unlearning of diet culture has been a challenge, for sure. I have read books like Hunger by Roxane Gay, Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resh, and What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon. I listened to podcasts like Maintenance Phase. I spent time finding ways to move my body that felt healing and were focused on what you could gain, not lose, like the Get Mom Strong program.
I learned that the BMI scale was created by an astronomer.
I learned that the diet industry was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $295.3 billion by 2027.
I learned that the average woman will try nearly 130 diets in her lifetime.
That is so much money and energy devoted to attaining skinniness, not health.
Like I said, I’ve tried everything out there in pursuit of skinniness. I’ve restricted carbs, cut out dairy, and eliminated all sugars. I’ve drank nothing but lemon water for 48 hours and taken pills. None of it worked to break me out of my cycle of restricting and binging, or as I call it, shame and more shame.
Intuitive eating has been the only thing that’s actually changed my relationship with food.
I have learned to trust my body to tell me what it needs. I have learned how to enjoy eating again. Now I can eat without putting emotions into the food, positive or negative. I don’t view ice cream as a reward, and I don’t view broccoli as a punishment.
I’m not a good person if I eat a salad and a bad person if I eat pizza. It’s all just… food.
Intuitive eating has become incredibly important in parenting my two daughters. We encourage them to have a healthy relationship with food by offering a variety of foods at each meal, encouraging them to try new things, and learning their likes and dislikes. It means that, yes, like all other littles, they love chicken nuggets, muffins, and creemees. But they also regularly ask for carrots as a snack and eat apples by the bushel.
The most important thing I have learned over the past five years, since that first meeting with the nutritionist, is that eating is a form of self care. The opportunity to choose what, how, when, and how much we eat is a privilege that should not be wasted. Eating should be a way that we show our bodies love, not punishment.
Perhaps the author of the weight loss article feels as though their journey is self love. It sounds to me like their story is one of suffering, before, during, and post weight loss. I don’t personally believe that weight loss itself is bad, by any means, but if I could sit down with the author and say one thing, it would be this:
If you want to lose weight, lose weight. But please, don’t starve yourself or hurt your body to do it. You deserve better.
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