As we ease ourselves into January, most of us locked down and hiding from the cold, dark chaos of the world outside, we are once again bulldozed with messages borne from diet culture. Messages that say “you’re not good enough yet, but you could be if you juice cleanse/ lose weight/tone up” whatever.
And I can’t help feeling even more angered by this thought this time around. We are now, more than ever, vulnerable to words that cut straight to the heart of our insecurities. Some of us are lonely, grieving, depressed, anxious or simply filling in all the quiet spaces with noise, too scared of our thoughts.
We are battling constant and low level stress, renewed each time we read a news article that tells us what we already know, but in darker, more impending doomsday kind of way. We are always just a little bit scared that someone we know and love will become one amongst many numbers of deaths due to Coronavirus.
This is all to say, we are feeling helpless. The chaos outside our window is totally out of our control (given we’re sticking to the rules) and so we are desperately trying to find something within our control to latch on to. Something, anything, that will pull our mind away from the awfulness of the pandemic, towards something we think is achievable and rewarding. Something that will make us feel better.
And so, when we see a person on social media asking questions like “are you depressed? tired? lacking in motivation? unhappy with your body?” and then offering to “help” we are, understandably, drawn to the idea that this person can make us feel better. That this person has perhaps just some of the answers we didn’t know we were looking for.
The same can be said for any person, message, or advert telling us they have the answer; they can make us feel better. But first we need to give them money and then follow some strict and wholly unreasonable ‘plan’ that usually involves ignoring all the ways our body tells us what it needs - like food, rest, sleep and so on.
And because we are desperate to regain some control over how we feel, and desperate to feel even just a little bit better during this dark and unforgiving time, we agree. We cut out sugar, we count our calorie intake, we ignore our body's hunger or fullness signals, we drink juice instead of eating full meals, we wake up early to exercise even though we are exhausted, we analyse every inch of our bodies - poking and prodding and degrading ourselves - because as it turns out, we aren’t seeing what we thought we wanted to see, and we aren’t feeling any better.
Instead we are tired, hungry, lethargic and hopeless. We think we have failed this task, not knowing that it was unachievable in the first place (because our bodies are smarter than us, and will above all else try and keep us alive when they think we are surviving a famine). And worst of all, as our bodies override our ability to stick to this ridiculous plan, we feel even more out of control than we did to begin with.
I have been there, many times. I am now thankfully somewhat immune to these messages, not because I found the holy grail of healthy lifestyles, but because I spent a long time convincing myself that my body is okay as it is. I’ll no doubt write more on my experience because it consumed so many years of my life, but for now please remember - you are worthy of love and respect and kindness, just as you are right now.
A few resources you might find useful
The F*ck it Diet by Caroline Dooner - the opposite of a diet book. She explains the science behind why diets don't work, and encourages rest and breathing and kindness. This book kind of saved me last year.
Happy fat by Sofie Hagen (book) - I haven't actually read this one, but I follow Sofie very closely on social media (and you should too, if you're not up to reading a full book right now).
Just eat it by Laura Thomas PHD (book) - this woman is incredibly smart and sassy, and speaks only from a place of science when she myth-busts all diet culture messages.