I imagine I’m going to take some flack on this. But I wanted to just share with you a revelation which happened over a long, long period of time. I might have talked about this before, if so, sorry!
Who here has ever been to a diet club, or bought a diet book, or a magazine, or a tin of powdered meal replacements, or signed up to some online eating plan or bought a book about how not to diet, or tried hypnotherapy or used a corset which told you when you had eaten so you could eat less, or used a small plate or eaten only a certain colour food?
I’ll wager a lot of you, women mostly, have just mentally raised your hand. I am definitely one of them. As an example, here are the diets that I can remember doing:
- Calorie counting
- Cabbage soup
- High Fibre
- Low fat
- Weight Watchers
- Rosemary Conley
- Slimming World
- Exante (extremely low-calorie meal replacements)
- The Body Coach
- Low Carb
- Low GI
- Slim Fast
- NHS diet
- Other Keto
- various eating plans of one form or another, usually found in magazine and newspaper supplements
These are the ones that I can remember off the top of my head. There are more. I’ve been dieting since about the age of twelve up until this year. Some of these diets I have revisited on several occasions. In fact, I was in love with Slimming World because it appeared to be without shame, without restrictions. If that’s entirely true, why did I, every time I restarted the diet after not following the plan and regaining the weight, go to a different club each time? Why have I visited six different clubs, instead of going back to the same one where I’d gained weight? Ah yes, because I didn’t stick to the plan and therefore I failed.
I have had success with all of these diets. Yes, that’s right, I am an over weight person, recently at my heaviest, and I have had success with all of these diets. So why am I not sitting here as a size twelve telling you all about how the way to be healthy and happy is through any one of these diets? Because the thing about the diet industry is that it is designed to work only when you are feeding it money. If the diets listed here worked forever why are we not all slim and healthy? Why is every group not full to the brim with long-term target members instead of the one or two who, statistically, fit this model perfectly? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti healthy eating, I’m not even anti diet, I am anti multi billion dollar industries taking advantage of vulnerable people. How does it work? It works by ensuring that whenever the diet doesn’t work, the person doing the diet is at fault. Because, you know, trust the plan, the plan works, if you follow it 100% you will see 100% results etc etc All true and I don’t doubt it. But this is also where the shame of failure enters into the equation. The industry which makes money from selling people the ideal of slim AND healthy AND happy is the same one that relies on the perpetuation that people above a certain, small size, cannot be happy and shouldn’t ever ever dare to say that they are happy with the way they look. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, we’re shamed in the name of health. This is what is perpetuated by the media. As an experiment, go and stand in front of any shop magazine rack and look at how many covers show something about How To Lose Weight and/or This Celebrity Has Gained Weight, alongside a picture of them putting their bins out with their dressing gown flapping or even, shock horror, wearing a bikini on a beach holiday even though they are NOT A SIZE ZERO. Because, you know, making someone feel utterly shit about themselves is definitely the way to make them want to eat better. NEWS FLASH: we already feel pretty shitty about ourselves. It’s not helping us be healthy, it is making us look for the quick fix that will reduce us to small and acceptable before any one else notices how wrong we are for society. If we weren’t constantly made to feel that we aren’t the right fit for society (and I see this sort of targeted harassment in perfectly healthy individuals too, not just fat people, and in female celebs who are routinely asked about their weight in interviews) we might have a chance at feeling good about ourselves and wanting to be the best that we can be with what we’ve got. Research has proved over and over that if your self-confidence is high, then you are more likely to choose healthier options and to not want to diet.
Let’s face it, being over weight is just a relay race of shame – from the media, from clothes shops (do not get me started on the randomness between clothing sizes in different shops) from people who use ‘concerns about our health’ to vilify us from their platforms of perfect size. The old – it’s easy, you just eat less and exercise more -brigade who have never had a compulsion to over eat, or perhaps just don’t LOVE food the way we do or perhaps have never made the connection at some point in their lives that the immediacy of sweet or salty or full is a natural, in built, evolved method to make us feel good.
I’ll get backlash for all of this. But I want to be clear – it’s fine to follow a diet to lose weight, to go to a diet club to lose weight, the clubs are great as a social hub. But don’t fall into the diet trap, don’t fall into the trap that says that unless you follow this diet to the T, you are a failure. They are setting you up for a fail, and you need to be the one to not fall into that. How do they set you up to fail? They change the mystical rules on you. They change the points or syns or method from one day to the next, they change the plans and you have to change to fit them, they bring out new books which tell you there is a NEW improved way to lose weight and YOU CAN EAT ALL THE THINGS AFTER ALL. It’s like a desperate horrible whirlpool of sadness and it plays to the fears you keep buried inside you. I watch people panicking because a yogurt was syn free one day, and then has one syn in it the day after. It’s the same yogurt. And it’s unlikely that yogurts are the cause of someone being over weight. There is always, dangling in front of you, the silver bullet which says YES YOU CAN EAT WHAT YOU LIKE AND LOSE WEIGHT. You can’t. Unless you want what you are eating. If you fill your daily calories (calories being an amount of energy. Energy doesn’t change, ever) up with food you love, then you are doing just that and you’re not paying five quid to then discuss for an hour how to make a fake mousse out of quark and low-fat hot chocolate sachets, or pizza out of two weetabix.
Diets based on points systems can’t be transferred into what I would call a normal life and normal eating habits. You might have an encyclopaedic knowledge of points, but those little rascals change them, and it tempts you back because you want to get it right because, you know, if you follow the plan 100% then you will see results. And if you can’t take that points system into the real world, then you’ll fail and you will come back. Any diet that tells you eating a million processed noodle pots is ok because they are free food, but avocados have to be counted because of the fat in them is doing you a huge injustice, and playing you like a fiddle. So the lesson is, don’t be played like a fiddle. Take what you want out of the diet, and don’t feel shame.
It’s taken me this long to realise I have nothing to be ashamed of in the way I look. I could be the ugliest person in the world, and I wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of, because that’s just the way I look. I do and have struggled with the way I look all my life, I’m not beautiful, at an angle and with a filter I can occasionally pass for pretty but I’m not pretty pretty and I’m over weight. That doesn’t mean I aren’t attractive, (let me tell you now, I think that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, because I am conditioned to think that saying I am happy with myself and not wanting to change myself is wrong in today’s society) my husband finds me attractive, not everyone will find me attractive and FFS does it matter? I am proud of my body and what it has done, what it has been through, I’m proud of its loyalty to me in keeping me alive, I am proud that it steps up, imperfectly, to everything I ask it to do. I have things that don’t work so well, but that is also part of what makes me me. I have had a hateful relationship with myself and my body and with food for so, so long. The biggest tool in health success is liking yourself as you are. That’s it, if you like yourself you want the best for yourself.
So here endeth my rambling notes on the multi billion pound diet industry and the way it eats people up, ironically. If you’re wondering, I count calories and I go to the gym and I am losing weight steadily but actually, I aren’t that bothered about it. I walked out of one of the above diet clubs last year and vowed not to fall back into the trap that had kept me prisoner for so many years and it was HARD to break out of that diet mentality. Whenever I felt like a fat failure, the thing I reached for was the silver bullet of another diet club or book or plan. I thought I knew how to eat healthily, but what I actually knew was how to follow a plan. The idea of eating avocados and nuts as part of a healthy diet made me feel weird because there is a line that says these food are ‘good’ and these ones are ‘bad’ and by attachment, the person who eats the bad foods is a bad person. I don’t beat myself up for eating what I crave at any one time, and by doing that I crave healthy food, I’m more open to foods because I don’t worry about them. I am not perfect, I am not a success story, I am just in the middle, bumbling along at my own pace, and I am utterly fine with that for the first time in years.
In other news, not really news – I still have places for my January get writing course, see This Page
I wish you happiness and health wherever you are on your health journey.