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Don't “Be Good” To The Diet Industry

apple and donut

Okay, so it might look like Christmas never happened. The tree is down. The fridge is empty. The kids are back at school. But just as the fairy lights get boxed away and you really need an injection boost to your self-esteem, big old weight loss companies, gyms, personal trainers, diet books and wellness influencers all come out in full force. If anything is going to remind you over and over again how you enjoyed a bit of indulgence, it’s the health, fitness and diet ads constantly popping up on your phone.

Now let’s be clear here. Ads. ADS. They are advertisements. The diet industry spends the majority of its marketing budget in January, ready to catch you when you feel a bit wobbly. But just because these ads are in your face does not mean you have to believe them. They’re there to entice you and take your money. And why? Because you’re vulnerable right now. Yes, your clothes might pinch a little around the waistline or your skin might have lost a touch of its glow, but all of that will be rectified once normal life kicks back in. The festive period is just that; a period. It’s not all year round. It wouldn’t be special if we ate mince pies in the spring and watched Hallmark movie marathons with a tin of Celebrations in the summer, would it?!

Over the recent holidays, I lost count of the number of times I heard family or friends say things like, “I need to be good…” or “The diet starts next week…” and on being offered a Ferrero Roche, “Ooh, I shouldn’t…” These comments are toxic. If they need to be “good”, does it mean that others are being “bad” if they don’t follow suit? And do you know what every single comment had in common? They were only said by women. Not once did I hear a man say that his jeans felt tight. I didn’t hear a single male vocally complain about their disappointment in eating too much that day. Now this isn’t to say that men don’t feel sluggish or uncomfortable. It’s just they don’t seem to feel the need to express themselves outwardly. When it comes to women, however, it’s like a natural response to sugar touching our tongues. We eat a square of chocolate and guilt kicks in, so strongly that we fling our hands in the air and admit weakness. It’s almost as if by vocalising what we’ve done, we will be resolved of our sins… or held accountable for going on whatever fad diet is slapping us in the face.

But it’s not a sin. Eating the cheese and washing it down with a fancy grape isn’t being bad. If you’ve been grazing leftovers in your pyjamas and dipping your hand into the box of chocs all day, you’re not alone. Think about it. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, supermarkets fill their shelves with tempting treats and offers, making it impossible to resist. You’re in the midst of your regular chaotic life and adding some nice bits and bobs to your trolley is just what you need. That tin of biscuits will be perfect for when your family come to visit. Those little chocolate snowmen will be perfect for watching, well, The Snowman! Seriously, you look forward to the food and frolics so much, so why oh why do you punish yourself the second you start to enjoy it all?!

The same can be said for your annual summer holiday. I bet some of you are already browsing getaway deals online because it’s important to have something exciting to look forward to. But how often have you counted down the weeks, the days, the minutes, and as soon as you get to your desired destination, felt bad about what you’ve eaten? The constant ads about how to get the perfect beach bod, don’t help matters either, right? Nor do the endless comments littering the internet.

Photos of the gorgeous Selena Gomez on holiday in Mexico were recently posted on Pop-culture Twitter account @PopBase alongside the caption: “Selena Gomez looks gorgeous as she poses for paparazzi in Cabo.” And just when we thought body-shaming was a thing of the past and the attitude of 2023 was to be kind and accepting, out came the trolls. With comments like, “She gotta lose some weight, she looking tubby” and “Wow, pack on the pounds or what,” someone even wrote, “OH SHES HUGEE.” Why are people still obsessed with other people’s weight? And size? What is the fascination? And what gives us the right to judge?

The answer is simple. Diet Culture.

It’s why you feel the need to “be good” when you’ve had a few delicious sausage rolls. It’s why you should “cut down” after enjoying an ice-cream. You’ve likely grown up watching your mum on a constant diet, picking at the dinner she made for you all, or having a much smaller portion on a side plate. She would have watched her own mother do the same. Being thin has been glorified for so long, it’s hard to dismantle. But for every diet I’ve witnessed my mother endure, I’ve seen the results; weight loss, misery, hunger, weight gain. I’m no stranger to diets either. I’ve spent a lot of life either on one, or thinking about one, which I now find incredibly sad. I have a daughter and I’d hate to think of her spending her precious life worrying about this. And with the market size, measured by revenue, of the Weight Loss Services industry reaching $3.8bn in 2022, don’t you think we’re losing more cash than actual weight in the process?

So how do we undo what we’ve only ever known? Is it possible that this year, we could just give ourselves permission to stay as we are? Why don’t we stop constantly trying to reinvent ourselves or worse, copying what we’re fed on our feeds to become clones of whatever the media is telling us is “perfect”? Maybe we could learn to have a happy, healthy relationship with food and our beautiful bodies? After all, it’s often sexist propaganda that tells us we’re not enough. Instead of putting our time and money into faddy diets, why don’t we make an effort to believe in ourselves?

Dr Alexis Conason has written a book about it, The Diet-Free Revolution: 10 Steps to Free Yourself from the Diet Cycle with Mindful Eating and Radical Self-Acceptance. She writes about how to break up with toxic diet culture, and heal your relationship with food, saying, “Dieting has become too normalised as a way of life, many of us don’t even realise we’re doing it.” According to Laura Thomas, author of Just Eat It: How intuitive eating can help you…, disordered eating is thought to affect between 50 and 75 percent of women. I will hold my hands up and admit that I am within those statistics, alongside many, many women in my life, too. So isn’t it time we took care of ourselves? Saw our own bodies as something more important than a New Year, New You challenge that will not only take our money, but also a slice of our souls? In response to all the toxic messages we receive, particularly in January, about how we should diet, exercise and control what we eat to become better versions of ourselves, Laura Thomas says, “And at the end of that rainbow, we’ll find the pot of gold and that is this flawless life. That’s the lie diet culture tells us: that if we’re thinner or if we fit a certain dress size, we’ll be cooler, happier and more worthy of love. But actually, you get to that elusive place and you realise you still have all your problems, but you’ve added this extra layer of guilt and shame around food as well.”

And that’s why you’ll hear your mother-in-law saying she needs to “be good” after she’s eaten a roast potato. It’s why you’ll feel bad by taking a cupcake when your friend declines saying, “no thank you, I’m being good.” It’s why you can never fully enjoy the amazing food you’re eating. Guilt and shame. Well, thank you, diet industry! It’s 2023 now. You can do one!

Fine. If you overindulge all year around, maybe it’s time to start thinking of some longterm health goals and making some sustainable lifestyle changes. But the vast majority of us are running around like headless chickens for most of the year, trying to pay the bills, keep children safe, relationships intact and deadlines met. A diet - no matter how clever the marketing is that it feels like you are being personally targeted - is not what you need on top of everything else. In the words of warrior woman, Emma Thompson, “Don’t waste your time, don't waste your life's purpose worrying about your body. This is your vessel, it's your house, it's where you live, there's no point in judging it, absolutely no point."


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