It’s the new decade and, unfortunately, humanity continues to be sold diet culture and weight loss as a remedy for all that ails us.
By now, however, a new theme has emerged. The collective wisdom the many who have ditched dieting has taken on a voice. Many of us are loudly saying, “No more. We know diet culture has harmed us.” We hear it in the growing tidal wave of size acceptance blogs and Instagram accounts and Facebook pages and newspaper and magazine articles that show up in our social media feeds.
This year I had the feeling that the anti-diet message had hit a critical tipping point when I sat beside someone on a plane recently who, after seeing the newsletter I had been writing, asked if I was involved in the body positivity movement, and we had a fantastic conversation about how diets were awful and harmful and how learning to accept our sizes and eat normally were more fulfilling and life-affirming than trying to lose weight. Literal strangers are bonding everywhere over their rejection of diet culture!
I’m such a Christy fan, and have been grateful to know her, starting with guesting on her podcast way back in 2015 (when I was still so green with podcasts). When we met at the BEDA 2016 conference, she was just as warm, friendly, funny and caring as you could imagine. On top of that, she’s a great writer and so knowledgeable, and to me, her book reads like a drama or a thriller, it’s just that damn entertaining (and as I am someone who demands to be entertained by my reading, that’s saying a lot).
And…I got to be in the book! I discussed my time in the NWCR and experience with dieting, and it was a total thrill to be included alongside actual recognizable people in the index (yay Ijeoma Oluo and Amy Pershing; meh Gwyneth Paltrow). There are so many other wonderful HAES colleagues I’m excited to share pages with in this book – it’s a total honor.
We can make harmful diet culture and fat-phobia things of the past. Read the book, listen to the podcast, spread the word. Live your awesome diet-free life in full view of everyone. It takes WORK to change the culture, and we are no strangers to work.
Did being on a diet ever feel like you were a member of a cult? Well, now we know there’s a reason for that!
In this episode of the Dietitians Unplugged podcast, Dr. Natalie Feinblatt, an expert in, among other things, working with former cult members, compares and contrasts cults with diet culture.
You’ll hear about what defines a cult, and how diets often align with these criteria. Most importantly, we discussed how to figure out if you’re in a diet cult and how to get free. (It’s hard for me to admit that this part was more important than our Days of Thunder discussion, but I’ll concede the point).
Dr. Natalie Feinblatt is a licensed clinical psychologist who sees clients in Los Angeles and virtually. She specializes in treating addiction, trauma, co-occurring disorders, LGBTQIA clients, and former cult members. She’s been working in the field of mental health for over 15 years at all levels of care, and earned her doctorate at Pepperdine University. You can learn more about her practice at her website, drnataliefeinblatt.com.
I don’t know where I learned the idea that I needed to be perfect (not from my parents) but I really embraced this idea sometime in my teens and went whole hog on it by my 20s. I suspect it was a way to relieve anxiety about not being good enough in the world, but it eventually became an anxiety all on its own – and it never propelled me to where I wanted to go.
By the time I reached my late 30s and was back in school full-time, I was putting that perfectionism to use with great study habits and turning out amazing school work, but I was also wasting time, energy and stress because probably 90% of what I was doing didn’t need to be perfect. I have since learned when good enough is acceptable, and when to pull out that perfectionist streak (less often than you think).
I notice that my clients are often perfectionists, too. It’s my belief that anyone who has been on a diet for any amount of time is a perfectionist – even if they feel they “failed” the diet. Diets come with rules that you have to follow perfectly for “success” (except we know that failure is built-in to diets no matter how perfectly you follow them). When we begin to do the messy, ambiguous work of learning to honor body cues and appetite, perfection is not only needed, but it can hinder the process.
I was happy to talk about this subject with my wonderful colleague Laura Westmoreland, LMFT on the Dietitians Unplugged podcast. Laura, who is a certified Body Trust provider, talks about aiming for C level work when we’re learning how to trust our bodies. We don’t need to be perfect as we stumble towards compassionate connection with our bodies and ourselves, and in fact, expecting perfect work can even hold us back.
If you are a perfectionist and feeling anxious about not
doing this work of learning to trust and respect your body “right”, then this episode
is especially for you.
I wish I didn’t still have to say it, but the reality is that the diet industry still exists, people still feel bad about their bodies, weight loss is still the go-to medical intervention for people in fat bodies, and harm is still being done.
So I will say it loud and clear again for the new year: WEIGHT LOSS DIETS DON’T WORK.
Or to be perfectly accurate, they may work for a while, but all the available evidence points to the fact that over the long run, they DON’T work — the weight people lose is regained within three to five years. The science could not be clearer on this.
Looking at it another way — the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that nearly half of American adults are trying to lose weight at any given time, yet the statistics for “overweight” and “obesity” remain static at about 1 in 3 adults for each category. I’ve been hearing these numbers for years…so if our massive dieting efforts aren’t changing them, then that tells us something.
It tells us that trying to permanently lose weight is about as futile as trying to permanently change your height. But the weight loss industry continues to take people’s money and then blame them when their product doesn’t work.
So for the new year, my friend and Dietitians Unplugged podcast co-host, Aaron, and I decided to talk about why dieting doesn’t work. This is a great place to start for anyone new to our podcast, and hopefully our long-time die-hard listeners will appreciate the reminder of why they, too, are trying a different path to health.
I’m thrilled at how the body positive movement has really taken off and gone mainstream in the past year. I remember when it was little more than what seemed like a fringe movement only a few short years ago. I’m not even sure I remember anyone using the words “body positive.”
After suppressing my weight on diets for so long, my body naturally gained weight when I stopped dieting and started to eat normally (yep, it can happen). I was dismayed at the change but I knew I couldn’t go back to dieting, so I decided to immerse myself in this body positivity stuff I’d been seeing a bit of on the internet. After poking around the web for a while I found some wonderful body-acceptance bloggers and advocates to light the way for me. Because literally no one else I knew in real life knew about this stuff, I felt like I had discovered a true body-acceptance treasure trove to which I and a handful of others had the secret key. Which sounds kind of awesome on the level of “Goonies” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, but in reality, when learning how to finally accept and like your body after many years of culturally installed body dissatisfaction, it’s not really a place you want to be alone.
That was in 2010. Flash-forward six years and it now seems like the words “body positive” are on everyone’s lips. While the spread of a body positive movement has, in my opinion, been a good thing, its lack of a codified definition has left it open to misinterpretation and hijacking by less benevolent forces (like what happened to “lifestyle changes”).
“Body positivity” is a pretty general, undefined term, and therefore it’s open to anyone’s interpretation. It can mean something different to everyone. For me, body positivity is about accepting the bodies we have right now, no matter how well they approximate the cultural beauty standards and ideals. It’s about having respect for our bodies and what they do for us, not just about how they look to others or in the mirror. For me, it is also about rejecting a diet-and-weight-loss culture that tells us we need to change our appearance in order to feel good about ourselves and become socially acceptable.
I’ve noticed recently that my definition isn’t necessarily everyone else’s. I’ve read a few “body positive” blogs in which the bloggers talk about their efforts toward weight loss for health purposes. That disappoints me; if it’s truly about health, we know that a person does not actually have to lose weight in order to make positive changes toward good health. Eating well, exercising, managing stress, getting social and emotional support are all things a person can do without requiring the number on the scale to change. And knowing what I know about just how unhealthful and futile dieting is both physically and mentally, I simply cannot equate the pursuit of weight loss with body positivity.
I’ve also seen people draw a line in the sand with body positivity and weight. Like, “It’s okay to feel good about your body up to a certain point. But some people are too big and need to lose weight.” No, this is absolutely not body-positive. This imaginary line in the sand is why I believe in fat positivity. It should go without saying that fat positivity is included in body positivity, but considering that the word “fat” is still largely wielded as an insult, and fat bodies are almost never accepted and celebrated as other body shapes and sizes are – well, it’s going to take a lot of extra effort on behalf of fat activists and advocates to normalize fat bodies. Part of that effort includes saying, unapologetically, that we are fat positive.
This movement needs to be inclusive and accepting of all weights even if it is not necessarily the best or “healthiest” weight for that person at that moment (example: people with illness that cause unintentional weight loss or gain). This is why the banning of very-thin models in France or ads of very-thin women in England is not the answer; this still puts a value on certain body sizes (and if they can ban thin bodies, they won’t hesitate to ban fat bodies at some point either). It doesn’t solve the problem of inclusivity; it only makes the problem of exclusivity worse. The real problem is that women have long suffered from being valued for what our bodies look like; body positivity needs to be about putting that particular valuation aside and embracing the other great things about our bodies and what they do for us, how they enable us to take part in the world.
All of these problems are merely problems of definition, or lack of. The thing that really gets my blood boiling is when industries that profit off of our body insecurities start using the language of body positivity to sell products that aren’t very body positive at all. Dove, I’m looking at you and your cellulite reducing cream. Weight Watchers, I see you trying to get “beyond the scale” with some #bopo language, but I bet you didn’t remove any of the scales from your meetings, did you? Products that propose to change your body are simply not body positive, because they insist that the body at its starting point is flawed and requires changing.
Body Positive Australia recently illustrated this point perfectly when they took Weight Watchers to task after WW put some naked larger women in its magazine and declared they would end fat-shaming:
“Don’t try and manipulate body positivity, mindful eating and other ideas that HAVE NOTHING to do with weight, or weight loss. At the very least – please get real because the veiled attempts at pretending you give a shit are really tiresome. Your advertising directly preys on people’s insecurities and promotes the idea that you’ll be happier and more confident by losing weight. You use fear of fat, and shame, to perpetuate the idea that we’re not enough as we are, we must change & that if we’re smaller, we’re better, more valuable, more worthy. Yours is a shame-based business that is built on the idea that smaller is preferred, and that controlling your food makes for a better person. It keeps the narrative alive that self-worth is contingent on weight, shape and compliant eating behaviour. Whilst we’re keeping the focus on weight, we’re not really addressing the REAL reasons we’re not living the life we want, and deserve.”
Becoming truly body positive is going to require vigilance as the diet industry continues to defend its turf against the potential self-satisfaction of millions of people and therefore the loss of profit for its shitty products that don’t work. Likewise, many people who are personally invested in and benefit from the status quo of cultural beauty ideals will want to continue to enforce these ideals, only letting a chosen few into the club under the guise of “body positivity” in order to continue to keep it exclusive and their power intact. Don’t be fooled, none of this is really body positivity. Being truly inclusive, compassionate, celebratory and accepting of all body shapes, sizes, colors and abilities is what body positivity really needs to be about.