As the founder of a support group for food addicts in recovery, I have come to dread the new year. Towards the beginning of December, my group is suddenly overwhelmed by people wanting to join with the obvious purpose of marketing their dieting products and services to our members. Sadly, our members are their target audience–binge eaters desperate to both free themselves of an unhealthy relationship with food and to drop excess pounds.
I try hard to keep these grifters out, but a few always manage to get in and start selling to the group before any of my moderators get a chance to bounce them. Others hide in the group, contacting individual members in private messages. I discover this tactic only when members tell me. Needless to say, these snake oil salespeople are deleted and blocked immediately upon discovery.
You may wonder if our group members are hoping to find a weight loss tool why I wouldn’t let these people join, maybe even encourage them? Because we know that dieting and dieting culture CONTRIBUTES to the development of eating disorders. We have known this for a long time, and yet doctors still recommend diets for people who are overweight without assessing their relationships with food or their mental health.
But it’s not just the people who sell the diets and services that make up diet culture. Diet culture is everywhere we look. It is a message sent to use from magazine covers that feature slogans such “Love with Skin You’re In” with a Photoshopped model on the cover. It is the theme behind the coverage of female celebrity bodies: fat is shamed and thin is famed.
For years I have argued that women in American culture (and Western culture in general) are expected to diet until they disappear. Diet culture is the ultimate attack on women. Keep us focused on our bodies instead of our minds and ultimately you will keep us weak. It is no secret that clothing companies exploit our fears about our weight with tummy control panels and other coercive methods.
The biggest problem with it all, though, is that it begins the day we are born. It has been proven that for at least the last 30 years girls as young as eight and nine are routinely put on diets. Before we establish who we are as people, we are taught that it doesn’t even matter. If we don’t fit the body type–thin, then WE DON’T MATTER.
Of course, diet culture is legitimized by the national battle against obesity. “It is about your health.” And yet studies have shown again and again that the more money Americans spend on diets and diet aids, the fatter we become. Clearly, if the problem diet culture is trying to solve is to reduce the number of overweight Americans, it has failed. In addition to the rise in the rate of obesity, diet culture has grown alongside the rate of eating disorders, and I don’t think there is a coincidence there either..
For the lucky few of us who have been able to breakdown these messages by going on media diets and spiritual binges, we struggle still with our own decades of programming. This fact was driven home particularly hard to me yesterday morning.
I have been sick with some form of respiratory infection for two months. It has been challenging just to exist during this time much less go to work, take care of my son, and maintain my recovery. But the past few days I have been particularly ill. So much so that my coughing eventually led to puking. As I stood in my kitchen throwing up my breakfast, unable to even make it up the stairs to my bathroom, a thought came into my mind as crystal clear as anything: Boy, I ought to lose some weight if I keep this up.
So, I ask you this? Have you ever heard anything as sad as that? I was literally covered in my own puke, and my first thought was my weight. Even after years of therapy and breaking free from diet culture that I could still have a thought like that come to my mind demonstrates to me the insatiable power diet culture has over every single one of us.
As I cleaned up the floor, I promised to treat myself extra kindly for the rest of the day, and I felt angry. Angry that this way of looking at women and their bodies has hurt me for decades and that it continues to hurt women and girls to this day.
Before you ask, then, no, weight loss is not on my agenda for the new year, and I hope it never will be again. I have thrown out my scale. I have given away my diet books and supplements. I did that years ago.
My New Year’s Resolution is to continue dismantling diet culture and to continue helping food addicts in their recovery. Arresting diet culture so that women can fully thrive is a goal more than worth pursuing, even if tearing it down completely is as likely as women being caught in its net ever finding happiness with a body weight or size. Yet this battle must continue if women are to ever be free.
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