Diet Culture is devoted to worshipping at the altar of thinness. For a long time – decades – I was a devotee. I bowed in deference to the rules. I praised all those who were succeeding or at least trying to be thin. When I sinned (by daring to eat until satisfied or by daring to eat high-sugar foods), I confessed. I paid penance by exercising more, eating less or cutting out specific types of foods. Then I recommitted my time, energy and focus to the god(dess) of thinness.
I knelt before that altar and made many sacrifices.
I sacrificed my peace of mind
Trying to get and stay thin is a full-time job for people whose bodies aren’t naturally thin. It requires an enormous amount of thinking, planning and tolerating discomfort… not the good kind of discomfort, mind you. Not the kind that helps you grow mentally, emotionally or spiritually. The kind that makes you permanently hungry, miserable and obsessed with food!
Not only was I obsessed with what I could or couldn’t eat, what I would eat, what I might eat, or what I fantasised about eating as soon as I was thin enough – I was also obsessed with how my body was or wasn’t changing. I was obsessed with the pace of change, checking myself in the mirror several times a day; pulling parts of my body this way or that way to try to see how I would look in 5, 10, 15 or 20 kilos’ time.
Every morning there was the weighing ritual – ablutions first, all clothing off, before anything could pass my lips. I’d stand on the scale in this room and in that room – because I could swear I got a lower reading when it was on the kitchen floor rather than the bathroom floor.
I sacrificed my period
Really. The sad thing is, I rejoiced in that.
The very sick thing is that the exorbitantly expensive diet programme leader I went to didn’t see this as a red flag – just ‘your hormones adjusting.’ Well yes, they were adjusting. But not in a good way! My hormones decided that my body was no longer viable or safe for reproduction!
I sacrificed enjoyment
When you’re obsessing about food, worrying about each calorie or gram of whatever – how is it possible to relax and truly enjoy it? It isn’t. Especially if you are restricting things that make food tasty and satisfying, like oil or butter. Eating out was a nightmare – instead of enjoying the company, connecting with the people I was with, I had my eye on who was eating what and how much compared to me; comparing their bodies to my body and making up all sorts of things about them and me.
Exercise became a way to burn calories, not a way to enjoy moving my body. I discounted exercising in ways that didn’t burn ‘enough’ calories (when is it ever enough?), so I sacrificed things like dancing and yoga. I also pushed my body hard. I over-rode tiredness, fatigue and pain. I didn’t let myself miss workouts. I’d get anxious if something got in the way of my exercise commitments, like tea with a friend. I’d do what I could to adjust the arrangement so that my routine wouldn’t be disrupted.
of my body
I didn’t enjoy being in my body. While I was desperate to change my body’s appearance, I wasn’t accepting of it. While I was slicing off parts of it in my imagination, when looking in the mirror, I was not enjoying the body I had. I didn’t enjoy my body in clothes. I didn’t enjoy my body while being intimate with my husband. I was always waiting to enjoy my body when I was smaller – as if I didn’t deserve to enjoy it now. As if enjoyment would be bestowed upon me from the god(dess) of thinness – when I was thin enough (when is it ever enough?).
at social gatherings
I was always anxious about social gatherings. What would I eat? Would I be able to stick to my food plan? Should I eat before? What if they only served carbs? Should I take my own food (and I did do that countless times)? Sometimes I’d turn down invitations either because I didn’t want to go off plan, or because I was too ashamed of my body and didn’t want to be seen.
I sacrificed spontaneity
When you’re controlled by rules about what, when and how much to eat and exercise, it leaves very little room for improvisation or sudden changes of plan. I remember many times my husband saying ‘oh, no, we can’t do that because you can’t eat there,’ or, ‘no, that won’t work because you can’t wait that long to eat,’ or ‘no, we can’t do that because you’ll already have eaten.’ How many opportunities did we miss for something different from my rigid plans? Countless.
Overall, I sacrificed joy
Christy Harrison talks about dieting or the endless pursuit of trying to get and stay thin as the Life Thief. It is. It saps the very joy from life. We live in our bodies all the time. Every experience is through our bodies. If we’re at war with them, how can we possibly feel much joy or peace in any area of our lives?
Letting go of dieting is a life saver
Reclaiming our own bodies from the demands of society, from the seductions of capitalism and its monster marketing machine is a surprisingly radical act! It is not necessarily easy – but it’s where our freedom lies.
Are you ready for that?