Content Warning: diet-talk, weight-loss, eating disorders
The New Year should be a celebration of new beginnings, to remember our accomplishments and to drink enough Champagne so we forget that it is January and absolutely freezing. Unfortunately, there is so much focus on our cultural obsession with perfection that it makes this time of year challenging for many. Each year, the same tired tropes about creating a “New Year, New You!” are recycled through unhealthy diets, shaming tactics and other aspects of diet culture. Diet culture can be seen in shaming of those who are viewed as overweight, encouraging unhealthy weight loss, the 20 billion dollar (USD) weight-loss industry, prioritization of certain body types, and fad diets.
Most people who diet regularly (often called yo-yo dieting) will not lose weight, and if they do, they will most likely gain it back. Yo-yo dieting is also extremely dangerous, but is often overlooked. Yo-yo dieters may be suffering from low self esteem, be overwhelmed with cultural messages about dieting or may in fact be suffering from an eating disorder. The majority of those suffering with eating disorders fall under the category of “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” or EDNOS, which can include those who practice yo-yo dieting. Regardless of an official diagnoses, engaging in unhealthy dieting habits (such as pills, over exercising or depravation) is dangerous, both mentally and physically.
One of the challenges at this time of year is that if you are dealing with an ED, either in recovery or currently engaging in behaviours, or you are close to someone who has an ED, you will probably be hyper-aware of how triggering this time of year is. However, I find the majority of people are entirely unaware. Our culture is steeped in really fucked up ideas about bodies, health and food, so unhealthy messages about diets and bodies seem normal.
I dread conversations, advertisements and media about New Year resolutions. Most resolutions rely on shaming tactics and unrealistic expectations. Four months ago, I was trying to figure out how to deal with this, because each year is different. The messages are basically the same, but of course, we as people change. We might be in a very positive mental space or may be experiencing a relapse. Each year has new challenges and new accomplishments. However, New Year’s resolutions that focus on changing our bodies and engaging in damaging behaviours don’t recognize how unique, fascinating, strong and beautiful each person is. They rely on shame and guilt, not empowerment and self-care.
We all know most resolutions fail, yet many people continue to make unsustainable and sometimes dangerous resolutions. Mass media – from advertisements on Instagram, to magazines articles and programming on news media – presents the New Year as a chance to find all your supposed flaws and force yourself to change. Most of the content is aimed at women/femme folks and is based on physical appearance. Each year, media outlets, acquaintances, and family members talk endlessly about how much weight should be lost, how to eat “Healthier” and how to “get fit.” All this makes the week after Christmas and January hell for many people, especially if they struggle with an eating disorder/disordered eating.
The semester I returned to university after treatment, I was sitting in a class and a few women were chatting a couple of chairs over from me. I wasn’t really paying attention, but then the conversation turned to how much weight they had apparently gained over Christmas break and how their New Years resolutions were all about weight-loss and diets. I felt trapped. Class was about to start and I didn’t want to miss it. My coping skills were better than they were before treatment, but I was still at the beginning stages and didn’t know how to handle this. Over the last few years, I have found some ways to cope and want to share in hopes that it will make this time of year slightly more bearable.
- If you use Tumblr, download the Tumblr Saviour extension. You can block triggering words and topics. It’s a lifesaver.
- Word Blocker and other similar extensions are available for Chrome (I find the ones I have tried don’t work very well, but it might be worth a try)
- Un-follow (even temporarily) certain lifestyle blogs and accounts. Many cooking, vegan and fitness blogs will be overrun with triggering content these days. If you like what they post at other times, you can always re-follow them later.
- Be ok with walking away from conversations. If someone begins talking about diets or weight-loss, it is ok to walk away. Self-care is always important, but at this time of year it is imperative to care for your mental well-being and that sometimes means walking away.
- If you are comfortable, ask friends and family to avoid diet talk. This can be challenging, especially if they do not know about your ED/disordered eating. You are not obligated to tell anyone who you are not comfortable with, but saying something along the lines of “I’m not comfortable talking about diets, etc. could we change the subject?” Many people who are not personally affected by EDs do not want to talk about diets or weight-loss.
- Accept support. If you have a friend who wants to listen to you vent or an option to see a therapist, take it! You may not think you need it, especially if you have been doing well in recovery, but a little support goes a long way. We all need support; it doesn’t make you weak to ask for some extra help.
- If you have no one in your immediate circle to confide in, look up support groups in your community and check if your insurance or schools offers support for counseling.
- Do something that makes you happy each day. Sometimes we can’t avoid being triggered, and some days are just harder than others. Take a nice bath or create some art. Do something that is positive for you.
If you are reading this, and are not personally affected by disordered eating/eating disorder, I hope you will take into consideration how damaging diet talk can be and how important it is to support a culture that accepts all bodies. Shame and guilt have no place in our relationships with food and our bodies. Food does not hold moral value and dieting/not dieting does not make you a better or worse person. Our bodies are magical, resilient and unique. We should celebrate diversity of bodies, “flaws” included. While there is more diversity of bodies seen in media, it is still dreadfully insufficient. Representation in media will not eliminate eating disorders and related issues, but it could help create a more positive, and realistic, culture.
I will end this post on a thought that has been crossing my mind lately had a therapist tell me once, “Imagine if losing weight was the only thing you ever accomplished, how would you feel?” At the time, weight loss was the only thing I cared about, but as I went through treatment, and accomplished other things that we not related to my body, I started to come around to the idea that my body is not my only worth. My body is not the sole indicator of who I am as a person. I hope we, as individuals and as a society, can begin to focus more on each others accomplishments and strength, instead focusing on a very specific, and unattainable, image of perfection.