A Better New Years Resolution: Leave Diet Culture in the Dust
Why it’s so hard for your fat friends to hear about your diet and weight loss goals.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a big to-do because Lizzo decided to do a juice cleanse. I’m not going to get into all the details (they’re easy to find with a quick search), but I will say that it was emotionally exhausting to watch it unfold.
Seeing the diet-culture, intentional-weight-loss focused propaganda on the page of the personal trainer/nutritionist/whatever that Lizzo was working with was hard. What was harder was knowing it was just the beginning of the New Years January onslaught of diet culture posts. For your fat friends, it’s triggering, frustrating, disappointing, and exhausting. I posted this on my stories, and a friend messaged me:
You have taught me so much. I would love to ask a question. Is posting about exercise a shitty move? Or is it the weight loss specific shit that is crappy?
I am so thankful for friends like her who reach out to me and ask me these types of questions. My answer? It really comes down to how you post about it. If you frame it in terms of feeling good physically and\or mentally or getting stronger or having specific goals (like if you’ve always wanted to hike a certain trail so you’re working up to it) I can get behind that. When it starts to verge into doing it for weight loss, then it becomes hard to handle.
Intentional Weight Loss (IWL) is almost always tied to diet culture.
Anytime that you are doing activity with the goal of losing weight, you’re engaging in diet culture. But wait, you say, I want to get stronger and feel better! Okay, then make those things your goal and throw your scale in the trash. You don’t want to, do you? That’s because you have been conditioned to believe that the number you see there dictates your worth.
The lie that losing weight = gaining health is widely believed despite all the evidence to the contrary.
When you post about intentional weight loss, you’re buying into a system that doesn’t work, and a metric of gauging health and wellness that isn’t based in evidence or science. The lie that losing weight = gaining health is widely believed despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but bringing those up when we’re talking about diet culture is a straw man argument whose only purpose is to avoid talking about the fat lady in the room. If you need to lose weight because you have bad joints, or you need to change your diet to control your insulin levels, or a myriad of other things, those goals are evidence based goals between you and your doctor.
The way you talk about moving your body matters.
For fat people, movement and exercise are loaded subjects. Many of us living in fat bodies have had years and years of bad associations with exercise. All of the times we have gone to move our bodies and work up a sweat, we have been mired in the false hope that it would change us. This means that exercising and intense feelings of failure are tied up together deep in the recesses of our minds.
Beyond that, even if we can get past those feelings and decide to exercise for some other reason, we are faced with the feeling that we don’t belong.
So often, us fat ladies feel the social pressure to “better ourselves” by losing weight but then feel ostracized in a workout setting. We feel obligated to join The Perfect Body Factory (okay, maybe you call it a gym) but once there, we feel out of place and pushed into a competition we’ve failed at before even stepping foot inside. It’s a mindfuck, and scares a lot of us shitless. The combination of fat bodies and exercise can resurrect a lifetime of shame. The most powerful kind of shame in the world. Jes Baker
When my friends talk about moving their body and working out to get stronger, to build stamina, or because it helps them feel more energetic and physically good, I am happy for them. I think people should do what feels good, and there are tons of valid reasons to move your body.
Exercising because of a number on a scale just isn’t one of them.
Restrictive eating is disordered eating.
Food doesn’t have moral value, and neither does fat on a body. If you’re gung-ho on eating keto, intermittent fasting, juice cleanses, paleo, or any system that has you counting calories or points, please think about what you’re buying into and promoting. If you are using meal replacement shakes or bars, you are restricting your eating. If you are counting calories, you are restricting your eating. If you are eliminating entire food groups, you are restricting your eating.
Your food doesn’t have a moral value.
When people think about disordered eating, they often think about anorexia or bulimia. But there are tons of other types of disordered eating, and most diets, at the very least, contribute to this type of food intake. Your food doesn’t have a moral value. Sometimes it’s fuel for your body, and gives you energy. Sometimes it’s comfort. Sometimes it’s a treat. None of these things are inherently good or bad.
All of the ways that diets and weight loss systems promote themselves can be really triggering for people who are trying to recover from a lifetime of buying in to the idea that we are wrong and that if we just tried harder, we could fix ourselves. Shakeology, Whole 30, Weight Watchers, Points, Medifast, these companies all bank on the fact that you will fail and have to go back and give them more money. If it worked the first time, they’d have a much, much harder time staying in business.
Can’t we still be friends?
We can still be friends, but like anything, there are limits. To be honest, watching the slide into embracing diet culture that happens this time of year really hurts sometimes. When the exercise program becomes the only thing you’re posting about or your meal planning becomes a belief system, that’s when I just can’t have it in my feed.
Last month, I had to un-follow one of my best friends on Facebook and Instagram. She started running earlier this year and hiking a lot. For a while I was so proud of her. She was doing it because she felt good and was having fun. But now? She’s become a Beachbody coach and over half her feed is about workouts and regimens and shakes. And I just… can’t. She’s one of my best friends and I just unfollowed her. I’m going to miss things I’d want to see because I can’t be looking at that every day.
Eventually we had a conversation and she asked if I’d snoozed her, and seemed to understand why. But in the between time, yet another sliver of my emotional energy was being expended feeling guilty that my self-care meant less connection with her, and fretting about whether I should say something. Part of me wanted to just tell her, but it also felt like emotional labor that I wasn’t really prepared for.
Why ‘If you don’t like it, just don’t read it,’ isn’t the answer.
It’s so complicated, all of it. Because anything having to do with movements and bodies and all of that? It’s all tied into fatphobia, body shame, and diet culture. It’s a given to most people that weight and fitness/health are directly linked. But that’s just not the case. I know that many people don’t understand what exactly diet culture even is, or even if they do understand they tell me that if I don’t like it, I should just stop reading it.
It’s just not that easy. On social media, by the time you know what you’re reading, you’re already reading it. That’s why I end up in situations where I am making a choice between seeing all of someone’s content, or none of it. Beyond that, if I were talking about anything other than subjects around fat bodies, like racism, sexism, miracle cures for cancer, or curing autism with essential oils, would you be defending it the same way? Telling me to just ignore it?
Knowing that you don’t like your body, which is much smaller than mine, reminds me that most people see me as just a bad example or a before picture.
When your New Year’s resolutions are based on ideals that are impossible for 95% of people? You’re setting yourself up for failure. Not only is it triggering for me to watch because for two decades I counted calories and points, and it got me nowhere but exactly where I am, but it hurts. Knowing that you don’t like your body, which is much smaller than mine, reminds me that most people see me as just a bad example or a before picture.
Not only that, but it is emotionally painful to watch people I deeply care for become obsessed with “fitness” or with gimmicky “nutrition” programs. I hate watching them try so hard to lose weight that they are almost certainly going to gain back. I hate knowing they’re most likely setting themselves up for disappointment, and it’s depressing to know how many people support it.
I know a lot of people aren’t ready to accept the idea that being fat is not the end of the world. If you’re not ready to give all that up, please understand when your fat friends have to mute or unfollow you on social media. When you post about how fat and gross you are, we hear how you feel about us and our bodies. Even if you didn’t have that intent, your impact matters.
You can extricate yourself from diet culture and focus on how you feel and doing things because you enjoy them.
You might not think that your intentional weight loss goals are essentially a waste of time. But there is nothing negative to come from divorcing your worth from a number on a scale. You can extricate yourself from diet culture and focus on how you feel and doing things because you enjoy them. If you lose weight, you lose weight. But if you don’t? You are still a success.
And to my fellow rad fatties, please remember you are not a before. You are a whole person and big bodies are worthy and beautiful too. If you’re struggling, turn your eyes to positive content and don’t feel bad about taking care of yourself. Sometimes, that means muting harmful ideas, even if they’re coming from people you love.
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