My story is not unique.
My story is the story of many women.
Maybe my story is a mirror for yours.
I was 14 years old when my parents went on the Atkin’s diet. I went on it with them and spent weeks eating eggs, bacon, cheese, and vegetables.
I felt the restriction. I felt hunger and I tirelessly tried to ignore it. I felt like a failure in moments when the hunger was loud and I didn’t feel like I could resist it.
In my adolescent brain, I convinced myself going on this diet was a show of solidarity with my parents, but underneath the rationalization, I was secretly hoping I would drop some weight myself.
I went through puberty when I was 11, had stretch marks by 12, and felt uncomfortable with the new curves that sprouted up on my formerly athletic frame. I felt particularly self-conscious of my thighs and felt immense shame every time they were bigger than the thighs of the boys I had crushes on.
I hoped the Atkin’s diet would shrink my thighs and make me feel more comfortable in my skin.
I certainly didn’t need to diet at 14. I was a normal height and weight, but I was deeply insecure and the diet just fed the insecurities.
I understand we cannot live our lives in the past, but I return to memories nearly every day, sometimes to embrace healthy nostalgia, other times to remember who I am, other times to remind myself of my pain so I can stay focused on learning how to let it go.
I remember when I was a child on the Atkin’s diet.
I did drop weight on the Atkin’s diet. I remember glowing with pride as I slid into my size four jeans from Banana Republic and strutted my stuff down the hallway of my high school. I felt like I was finally enough when I was a smaller version of myself.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that our bodies are masters of change. We replenish our skin cells every 27 days. Our skin tans in the sunlight. We get headaches if we don’t drink enough water. Some of us gain weight when under stress. Some of us lose weight.
We cannot remain the same even if we want to.
My weight didn’t remain the same and has continued to fluctuate in the 17 years since.
What has remained the same throughout my entire life is there is always somebody telling women in the form of advertisements, social media claims, personal interactions, that they must make themselves smaller to be seen as worthy.
Nobody is immune to it and the messages are insidious.
Wellness is weight loss in a masterful disguise.
Just when women are starting to embrace their bodies how they are and stop the futile fight to lose weight, wellness sneaks in, telling you it was never about weight in the first place. It was about “health.”
Health has become the new, unattainable ideal.
Don’t be deceived. Underneath the ideal of health is the ideal of physical perfection, which is undeniably kin to thinness.
If you were healthy, you would just float across sidewalks from your ethereal thinness. You must have clear, glowy skin like you’re covered in morning dew. If your vitamin levels are sub-optimal, you better factor that into your budget. If you were healthy, you wouldn’t have grey hair and wrinkles at 35. Oh, you do? There’s a product for that. It will cost you $45.37 every month on top of your student loans.
The control just shapeshifted and many of us didn’t even notice.
Instead of focusing on weight loss, the focus is on health, but it still requires abstention (restriction) from certain products and the purchase of others, often at immense cost.
Life is not lived in the bottom of plastic bottles filled with gel caps of vitamin d3. It’s not lived in the crinkle of a bag of powdered maca root, dosed into your daily smoothie to cover its acrid smell. It doesn’t live in hundreds of dollars spent asking self-proclaimed experts to tell you what’s wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you.
In the pursuit of wellness, there is an element of control over what you feed yourself.
Wellness has become a hobby. Constantly monitoring and tracking the subtle movements of your body is a side gig, a parttime job.
Can we think about this for a minute?
Can we think about what we could be doing with our time instead of researching the latest supplement, tracking our macros, or cleansing ourselves?
Can we think about what is sacrificed by filling our time with further efforts to control our bodies?
I’m not so obtuse to think that changing one’s lifestyle isn’t beneficial. I’ve personally made quite a few changes in the last year of my life that benefitted me immensely. I’ve written about this publicly, but I’m experimenting with abstention from gluten. I cut out caffeine. I minimized sugar consumption. All these choices were attempts to address my mental health. I’m not sure they made a significant difference and I sometimes wonder if they came from a disordered place.
However, when I make these changes for myself, I try my hardest to be in touch with my intuition and ask myself why I’m making this change. Is it because somebody told me too? Is it the latest trend that’s spreading like wildfire? Is there any research behind this? Do I need to buy a bunch of cellophane-wrapped packages to support this change in my life?
I believe in choices made in alignment with the self. My gut told me for six months I needed to remove my IUD. I did. I believe my body was telling me I needed a break, I needed to reconnect with my natural cycle. I’m glad I made this decision for myself because it feels like coming home, like learning about myself from a place of compassion and acceptance. This is what I’m talking about.
I can’t judge too harshly because I’ve certainly been that person to talk about what I’m eating or express insecurities to my friends.
I spent a few years logging my calories into my phone every day. Until I woke up one day and it made no sense to me why I was spending my precious time doing it. My body knows when I’m full. My body knows if I’m hungry. I know if I’m going to eat something that makes me feel physically ill. I don’t need an app to tell me that.
That’s what things like apps and social media mavens do — they persuade you they know better. They tell you there’s one way. They shame you for living in opposition to what they preach. If you question them, they gaslight you.
They tell you not to trust your own body.
Our bodies know us better than anybody and anything outside of us ever could and they harbor immense knowledge.
When we spend time disregarding our own intuition, our own body signals, we devalue our own existence.
So this is a call to action: women, please stop talking about your diets.
Let’s start there.
I want you to stop going on unsustainable diets in the first place, but I don’t think change is built on grandiose steps; change happens when we implement small actions into our daily lives.
So, stop talking about your diets. Stop slamming yourself in the presence of your female friends. Stop demeaning yourself inside the confines of your own head.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a certain friend of mine criticize herself in my presence. It’s every single time I see her. The last few times I hung out with her, she would say some iteration of, “I ate a couple of burgers last week. I was so bad. I really need to stop doing that. I’m getting too fat.”
Every time she does it, I hurt for her. It’s painful to watch her be so hard on herself and I can’t disregard what I witness: she is discouraging herself from listening to her own body, from trusting herself.
She wanted burgers a couple of times that week. So what? Eating a certain food should never make you feel bad about yourself. You aren’t bad because you ate a burger when your body was hungry and you needed to eat. You just ate a burger.
Food shouldn’t have the power to determine your worth.
It’s the cycles of shame and guilt that trap us in these mentalities and I believe they are contagious. This is why I’m invested in amending my own behavior and encouraging others to do the same.
I think what bothers me the most when my friend goes on these venting sessions about her diet is I can relate to the sentiment. Her pain is my pain. As somebody who hasn’t always had the healthiest relationship with food, I still have moments where I have to challenge my thinking.
I had one last night.
I went for a walk with my partner and we had ice cream after. I had a dish of fresh strawberry ice cream and it was delicious. Yet, as I was eating, I had a few pangs of guilt and worry.
What if the sugar makes my anxiety worse?
Should I be indulging in this?
Am I making a mistake?
I have to reframe when this happens. I am having a small ice cream after a walk by the lake. It’s summer. I ate plenty of vegetables and protein earlier to nourish myself. I can allow myself to enjoy an ice cream.
The hilarious thing about it is the ice cream itself will never cause me as much anxiety as worrying about eating it will.
So I reframe whenever I have these moments.
It’s hard enough to put in the work to change your own mentality about food without all the noise around you.
Women, ladies, gals, please stop talking about your diets.
We need to give ourselves permission to eat. We need to give ourselves permission to live.
I’d much rather tell you about an interesting book I just read and hear about your recent trip to the mountains. Can we stop spending time shaming our bodies and instead fill that space with a sincere connection? Can we stop connecting through our shame and our desperate hunt to find the perfect diet to yield an ideal figure? Whose ideal is it anyway?
Can you make a rough estimate of how many hours, days, weeks of your life have been spent occupied with food management and worry?
I had a moment last fall where I looked back and realized I was perseverating about what I ate every single day for most of my adult life and it started with the Atkin’s diet. It was everything from tracking calories on an app to carefully choosing what I ate on dates, to sending myself into hours long spirals about how I’ve really let myself go and trying to shame myself into drastically changing what I was eating post-haste.
I reached a moment of exhaustion last fall and I wanted more for myself. I didn’t want to spend another minute worrying about what I ate. I’ve unfollowed countless Instagram accounts. I made an effort to resist reading articles about diets. I questioned my purchases to ensure they weren’t made to lessen myself. I’ve changed the language I use. I don’t use words like “clean” to refer to my food. The only word I feel okay using is nourishing.
It’s been tough and I am consistently challenged.
It’s not possible to live in this world and avoid all mentions of diet, but you can cultivate an existence where you give yourself the freedom to live.
I encourage anybody reading this to consider your relationship with food. Do you hope that one day your body will be different than what it is today?
I stopped hoping I would get myself to a size 2. I wanted to weigh 110 pounds. I do not have a 110-pound frame and haven’t weighed 110 pounds since I was probably 11 or 12 years old and in the midst of puberty, despite years of dieting and excessive workouts. I’m 31 going on 32. That’s not me and I don’t want it to be. I’m choosing to do the work to let go of that ideal.
I’m choosing to work on accepting my body today rather than hoping for a different tomorrow. I’m choosing to accept my stretch marks that have never gone away, the natural sagging of my breasts that comes with aging, the waxing and waning of the girth of my abdomen as my hormones fluctuate.
So, women, please stop talking about your diets. Please stop hating yourself and thinking you need to be different than you are or that you need to put in the time, money, and effort to change your body. Please stop believing you need to be smaller to be seen.
Take up space. Don’t apologize for it. Experience the resistance and take up space anyway.
You are enough, exactly how you are. You don’t need to have a goal weight. You don’t need to listen to the noise. You just need to live.
I can’t preach it will be the same for everybody, but I’ve found the pieces fell into place much easier when I consciously stepped away from diet culture. I’ve felt more at peace with myself. I’ve felt more at peace with what I eat. I’ve felt more at peace with my body.
Part of me wishes somebody would have stepped in and encouraged me to step away from dieting a long time ago. Part of me wishes my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to diet with them when I was a child.
I don’t claim to know the best way forward for anybody but myself, but if my words encourage somebody to find their own best way forward, these words will be worth something and it’s a lot more than some over-the-counter supplement.
When any of us talk about our diets, it perpetuates the idea amongst all of us that dieting is necessary and that the pursuit to be smaller is not only acceptable but desirable. It keeps dieting a part of our gender identity. It keeps women trapped in a cycle where they look back at their life at 65 years old and realize they spent years dieting, trying to shove their body into a box it was never meant to be in.
Let’s imagine something different.
Let’s imagine a world where we spend our time together connecting instead of collaborating to belittle ourselves.
Let’s imagine a world where our hard-earned money goes to something other than changing our bodies.
Let’s imagine a world where we can collectively exhale all this self-judgment we’ve been holding on to and merely take up space in the world.
Let’s imagine a world where we let ourselves breathe, so we can live.
It’s time to live.