Here we are in this weird time of Covid-19 Lockdown. For sure we’re not all experiencing it in the same way. Some of us are facing extreme, tangible hardship and loss and I don’t want to minimise that. What I do want to do is to use our shared experience during this time to draw some parallels between the nature of dieting and Lockdown.
What we have in common is that we’re all facing restriction to some or other extent. Most countries now have restrictions on what you can do, when you can do it, who you can spend time with, where you can go, with whom and for how long. Sometimes the rules are confusing…
We can’t get what we want when we want it. Sometimes what we want isn’t available (who took all the toilet paper, flour and caster sugar?). Or it is available, but we’ve already been outside the house that day, or it’s not ‘essential’…
So what does this have to do with dieting?
Dieting is all about restrictions.
It’s all about controlling what, when and how much you eat and exercise. Those rules come from outside of ourselves (until we internalise and modify them).
It’s like living in Lockdown permanently. Even if you’re not following the dieting rules, you’re probably thinking that you should be, which is almost the same because you still don’t have true freedom.
Have you started to fantasise about the end of Lockdown? Who you’ll see? How you’ll hug your loved ones? What a HUGE PARTY you want to throw? Have you fantasised about flouting the rules 😱😱😱? Have you toyed with the idea of justifying why it’s OK for you to walk with your best friend if you keep 2 metres apart, even though the rules expressly prohibit it? Have you thought about how you could hide your transgressions so you won’t get caught?
That’s exactly what happens with dieting!
We dream about the end of the diet when we can eat what we like again; when we’ll feel free at last. When I say dream, I mean, literally dream as well as fantasise😉. We think about who we’ll see and which parties we’ll go to once the diet is over (and weight loss has been achieved). We might also find ways to ‘cheat’ the system.
With dieting there are both biological and psychological reasons why it’s hard to maintain the restriction for a long time.
At some point, everything inside you wants to rebel. Biologically, your ghrelin levels (hunger hormone) increase driving you towards food. Your leptin levels (fullness hormone) decrease, making it hard to stop.
Psychologically, you don’t want to be told what to do!
You just want to do what you want to do!
You want autonomy!
Like Lockdown, dieting takes away your autonomy. The rules for both come from an outside authority that doesn’t take your individual situation into account.
And yet, like Lockdown, we might want to cling to the restrictions because they make us feel safe.
The only reason dieting makes you feel safe is because you have lost trust in your body and yourself to guide your eating decisions. But more restriction will never build that trust or give you the freedom you desire.
There’s endless commentary and stereotyping about the sort of people who flout the rules and demonstrate the ‘loss of their freedom’. Did they vote for so-and-so? Are they gun-toting so-and-sos? They’re accused of being selfish, narrow-minded, stupid… the list of pejoratives is endless.
Similarly, higher weight people are subjected to stereotyping and prejudice: what sort of people are they? Lazy. Greedy. Emotionally immature. Weak… Worthless.
Just as someone flouting the Lockdown rules might be seen as a pariah, so higher weight people are faced with criticism and judgement when they dare to eat (anything) in public – as if they shouldn’t get hungry and definitely don’t deserve to enjoy food.
Some say Lockdown is oppressive, unjust and harmful, robbing people of their livelihoods, freedom and way of life. Others say Lockdown is being used as an opportunity to further control and manipulate us – whether that’s through fear or increased surveillance. Still others tells us Lockdown is keeping us safe.
You could say the same for diet culture: some say dieting/ weight loss keeps us safe. Others say it’s oppressive and robs us of our time, money and energy; that it’s a tool for keeping women powerless (try change the world while you’re starving…).
A force for good?
The jury is out on whether Lockdown will turn out to be an overall force for good – or not.
There are many opportunities for re-engineering our way of life in terms of reassessing what really matters to us individually and as a collective. For the first time in living memory, the whole planet is on the same side (sort of, apart from the blame game coming from one individual from across the pond). Scientists are collaborating like never before to find a solution. Communities are rising up and creating supportive networks.
However the verdict on whether dieting is ever a good thing is unanimous. No, it is not. It takes away more than it can ever give.
It disrupts our connection with our own bodies (which is ALWAYS our best guide!).
It keeps us in a fight with ourselves.
It creates obsession and insularity.
Not to mention eating disorders (with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness).
To a greater or lesser extent, it prevents us from fully living our lives and being unapologetically ourselves.
Tired of struggling with food and feeling ashamed of your body and the way you eat?
If you’ve had enough of being on and off a diet, binge eating and emotional overeating — you’ve come to the right place!
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