Laying on the couch in my comfy pajamas, flipping through the channels I come across an old classic: “Dirty Dancing." I was ready to experience all of the passion between Baby and Johnny until I was rudely interrupted by a sequence of commercials for weight loss plans and products. I began to huff and puff as my cheeks turned red and flipped off the screen in rage. My siblings sighed and ignored my visceral reaction to the commercials. Somehow, it slipped my mind that it was New Year’s Day, the beginning of a month-long mental battle.
For most folks, New Year’s Day is the start of their new plan, lifestyle or diet. It’s when they make resolutions to be more active, read more books and eat cleaner. A fresh start from the holiday guilt and shame of drinking too much and stuffing our faces too often. But recently, I have found it to be the beginning of a toxic time called “diet season.” This is when people are convinced by the diet industry that their lives will become better and they will be happier if they were physically smaller. So people ever year will spend their money to join groups, develop plans and get products to meet their goals of losing weight. This year, I will not be engaging in diet season but will be actively avoiding these messages and restrictions.
I’m sorry to share some sad and shocking news with everyone who is currently on their New Year’s diet: Diets do not work! I know it may be hard to hear this message after being told for years that the only way to reach health or happiness is by weight loss. But I’m going to repeat myself and spread the truth — diets do not work. People often regain the weight and negatively impact their metabolism. We have been fed a false message that our weight equals our health, which is not a holistic view of health. So, why are diets so commonly recommended and why do we keep restricting ourselves from food to reach this goal? I think weight loss companies want us to believe that we can lose the weight for good and are willing to take our money even if it hurts our mental health and well-being.
I have been trying to restrict the quantity and the quality of my food ever since I received messages from the world that my size was too big. In third grade, I was your average chubby kid who loved drinking chocolate milk, eating chicken fingers and some damn good fries. After visiting a nutritionist, I was told that I should be writing down everything I ate in order to learn my eating patterns and habits so I could become a healthier eater. But instead of learning about eating nutritious foods that could fuel my body, I began an incredibly unhealthy relationship with food and my body.
In middle school, I created my own carb-less diet where I kept track of my weigh-ins in a journal (it was pretty upsetting to find in my closet recently). In high school, I began paying for my diets on both Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. During the period in my life in which I tracked everything I ate, I could not stop thinking about food throughout the day. Throughout the four years, my weight would fluctuate up and down and I blamed myself for my inability to be disciplined. And eventually, in college, I was over diets but had a new “ethical” vegan lifestyle that would finally make me healthy. But I ended up fueling intense cravings and categorizing certain foods as healthy and others as bad or evil.
This past fall, I stopped being a vegan and finally allowed myself to start eating eggs and dairy products. When people asked why I quit veganism, I would blame myself and say I didn’t have the willpower. All I could think about was eating my old favorites like a bagel and cream cheese or feta bread. It was not until the end of this past semester, in my Intro to Body Studies seminar, when I learned about the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating. It was then that I realized my veganism was just another way of restricting myself. Oftentimes, eating disorders can be easily categorized based on people’s day-to-do lives and diets. But disordered eating is not always clear to diagnose but can still affect one’s day to day life.
So, now that I realized my poor relationship with food comes from years of diets and labeling food as good and bad, I’m not restricting myself from my cravings. I have actually begun listening to my body to find out when I’m hungry and what I want to eat. It’s not easy. Sometimes I find myself wanting to be restrictive and don’t listen to the signals my body is trying to tell my brain, and I’ll overeat or be too afraid to start. But I’m finally learning my natural signals of hunger and fullness. I’m not listening to what a diet plan says or trying to mimic the portions those around me are consuming. I’m trying to eat foods that are rich, nutritious, fatty, leafy, greasy, sweet and fuel my body.
If you are still looking for a New Year’s resolution, perhaps make it to read a new book, particularly "Body Positive Power" by Megan Jayne Crabbe. She helped me change the way I think about food and my body. I’m not here to tell you how to feel or what you should be putting in your body. But by sharing my experiences, I hope those who have similar relationships with food know they are not alone. I’m sharing my food journey, not for sympathy or to brag that I’ve got it figured it out (because I haven’t and I’m constantly learning new things about myself), but to inform you to ignore the messages from the diet industry this year about what you should do to your body. Instead, listen to yourself and unpack whatever relationship you have with food when you are ready. Let’s be kind to ourselves and recognize that challenging diet season is not easy.
Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org