Dear Diet Industry and Diet Culture,
I write today to ask you, kindly, to please go F yourself. Now, I am at the ripe age of 31 and feel like over the last two and a half decades, (I can’t remember caring about dieting when I was a toddler, but maybe I did) I have been tricked into believing that counting, tracking, weighing, and restricting was the only way to find health and happiness.
For that reason, I would like a full refund of my money and my time, not to mention many feelings that cannot be monetized or re-payed in any way.
It has taken me 31 years to figure out that a prescribed diet is not the answer to a healthy lifestyle. An ideal body weight is not something that lives on a chart in the doctor’s office. And that food has zero morality. And let me tell you what, this realization took many attempts and many failures. I have tried just about every diet out there. I have read articles, researched online, listened to podcasts, read books, and talked to nutritionists to arrive at this truth. What I am saying here is, I’ve put in work, son!
I wish I could go back and tell you to F off when I was a young girl, but alas, better late than never.
I found myself,( as most women do) at a place in my life wanting to lose weight. It’s hard for me to remember the first time I considered dieting in some capacity, but I imagine it was very unnecessary at the time. Later, after more exposure to your BS is when the real desire to be smaller kicked in. This is when the real damage occurred. At about 16 or 17, I was no longer a competitive athlete and beginning to put on weight. In you came, bullying and shaming me. C’mon! High School aged girls are already vulnerable enough, you big jerks! That period for many young women is a time when all you want is to be viewed as attractive, i.e. skinny.That’s the time you swoop in and make us believe you have all the answers.
In you come, Diet Industry, promising that if I just restrict what I eat, exercise to the point of exhaustion, and conform to your bizarre one-size-fits-all justification of the “ideal body” that I’ll be whipped into shape in no time. After all, subscribing to a diet looks like gallivanting on sailboats and running around a park swarming with cute boys, right? That’s what the commercials lead us to believe.
Here’s where things went south. There I was, a 16 year old impressionable girl who was working at a gym, of all places and trying to sort through what healthy eating looked like. This was the first time I remember I officially going on a “diet” but it was not the first time I idolized the female bodies I saw in magazines and on TV.
I began exercising too much while eating too little. Sound familiar?
Fast forward through college and the period I call “eat all the things” or more appropriately, “drink all the things.” Yet again, I wanted to lose weight though this time it was more serious. I had rocketed to the highest weight of my life but would avoid being in photos and buying new jeans to protect myself from facing the music. I lived this way for many years until I was home from Hawaii for Christmas and my mom and I talked more seriously about weightloss and health. Enter, YoYo dieting.
I heard the message from you, Diet Industry, and I heard it loud and clear.
I jumped in head first into a popular dieting tool that assigns a point value to foods for a small monthly fee (eye roll). In hindsight, as I’m typing this, I am thinking what the actual F?! Assigning a value to our food that portrays foods being either good or bad further pulls us down the dark rabbit hole of disordered eating. I am lucky enough, that I never developed an eating disorder, at least as it is medically described, but I did become obsessed with counting, tracking, and losing which in and of itself is a version of disordered eating.
In the first year on this program, I lost 50 lbs. People commented on my weight loss left and right. But, I was miserable. I would literally think about food from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. This cycle of tracking, losing, and sabotaging myself would go on for years. I gained and lost 25 of those 50 pounds more than once.
At the time I remember thinking, “I will have to track every bite of food I eat forever if I want to maintain a healthy weight!” It was a daunting task to think about. I’d look at my naturally thin friends or see what others were eating for lunch and wonder what they knew that I didn’t. The diet industry has done a giant disservice to young minds telling us that our worth in the world is dependent on how many points we ate, or if we worked out that day, or what the number on the scale is when we hold our breath and step on it (yes, we all do this).
I talk all the time about how wonderful the Whole30 is, and I firmly plant that flag in the ground, but my change in mindset is so much bigger than the Whole30. I think of the Whole30 as the catalyst that got me digging deeper into understanding why so many Americans spend years of their life dieting only to be disappointed by number they see on the scale.
What it comes down to is letting go of the number on the scale and tuning into how your body feels and responds to stimuli. I changed my eating habits drastically about a year ago and I’ve never looked back. There is a steep curve involved with becoming okay with eating a whole avocado or putting coconut oil into my coffee after being told for years that’s a huge no no because it’s “fattening.”
But, once I got over that hump and stopped listening (as much as I can) to the message diet culture is delivering, food freedom was finally within my grasp.
Today, I choose to feed my body a nutrient-dense diet of unprocessed foods. I choose to significantly limit my sugar intake, both processed and natural. My preference is to eat plant based carbohydrates and limit things like breads and pastries even if they’re gluten free. I don’t make these choices because they will likely make me lose weight. In addition, I choose to eat this way because my face breaks out less, I have less (or zero) heartburn, I sleep better, and I don’t wake up with headaches or back pain nearly as often.
The way I choose to eat does affect the number on the scale, but I care less about that than I ever have before.
If you break your arm do you get put into a medically induced coma to recover? Nope. There’s no reason to treat one data point like the BMI chart in the same way. It is one data point in a sea of information. Frankly, it’s a small one too. I recently stepped on the scale, which I do only every couple of months to find I weigh less than I did when I was obsessively dieting.
I will admit some old feelings of joy did pop up when I saw this number, but it will no longer dictate how I feel about myself. Diet culture wants us to feel joy excitement and pride when we step on a scale to see a lower number and feel shame and sadness when we see a bigger number.
I am worthy of all the goodness in the world regardless of my weight. You heard that right diet culture, you don’t get to tell us the smaller we are the better we are anymore. I’m over it.
Now, I could end this letter here but I want to be truly honest and discuss the things I eat and drink and do that don’t always fit within the guidelines I’ve drawn for myself. I like wine. Ok. I love wine. Like a lot. I don’t drink it every night, but when I do I love every sip I take. I also love the occasional bowl of real pasta, and I always eat the cake at weddings.
Obviously, these things are less nutrient-dense but are a part of living life. I don’t recommend eating pasta and drinking wine everyday, but I am not in the business of telling anyone what they should or should not eat. I think you should follow my lead, diet industry. Instead of creating artificial ideas like food values and instilling unfounded morality in foods, let’s shift that power to educating people on using food as fuel, why healthy fats serve as protective factors in so many illnesses, and how we can completely avoid taking supplements if we eat a nutrient-dense diet.
One of the most horrifying messages that diet culture has somehow instilled in our growing brains is that we simply cannot be trusted to make good decisions around food.
You want us to believe that you know exactly what each of us needs to eat everyday to be healthy and happy. Diet culture promises to take the burden of choice off our shoulders and give us a plan at a reasonable cost. The only catch is, no you cannot eat the cake at the wedding because it’s bad.
But, as soon as I tell you not to think about cake, guess what you think about? So many diets tell you to completely cut out food groups not because they are not ideal for individual health but because they are bad or off limits.
Food is not inherently bad or good.
Carrots don’t sprout out of the ground thinking they’re a higher class than the donuts at the bakery. So, why does the diet industry project these ideas onto food?
It has been proven that 99% of a prescribed weight loss programs DO NOT WORK. That’s right; 99%!! In a world where numbers and research mean so much in things like test scores for students why the hell do we all think we’re the 1%? I’ll tell you why. The diet industry has taken that $19.99 a month we’ve been paying for their “plan” and converted that into marketing. Good effective marketing. Oprah, one of the savviest and wealthiest women in the world is on TV right now telling us that dieting works. Love you dearly, O, but we all know you’re full of it.
So, in summary, whether you’re suggesting we use an app on our phones, a fancy food diary, or any sort of arbitrary value assigned to foods, I think you, Diet Industry, need to shove it. The jig is up. Your methods are no longer considered proprietary.
You’re not special.
What would make you special is using your power for good, diet culture. For starters, how about actually helping the millions of Americans that desperately believe they need to be smaller to be worthy. I believe a diet is something you should never have to jump on a bandwagon with 100,000 of your closest friends to be successful with.
Sure, there is great benefit to working with a nutritionist or health professional to develop a plan on an individual level. But, food intake, at its core should be individualized and supported by real data that we obtain only by getting to know our bodies. Consumers do not need Jessica Simpson, Jenny Craig or Valerie Bertinelli telling us what we should eat. We deserve a little more credit than falling for your dated marketing tactics.
Want a diet that really works? Let go of the program, familiarize yourself with ingredient lists, find out what foods make you feel the best, and eat them. I could charge you $19.99 to shell out that snazzy tip but I’m not a dick.
PS- You’re still thinking about cake aren’t you?
If you’re still here, you rock! I will be giving away a grocery store gift card to whoever has the best comment below! May the odds be ever in your favor.
Love U, mean it.