Even A Healthy Weight Loss Plan Asks The Wrong Question
You want a healthy weight loss plan that makes you feel good and burn fat without too much stress or sacrifice. It seems like a perfectly reasonable request.
Although your intention to be in a body you love is genuine, the question itself is flawed. There’s an elephant in the weight loss room that is infecting your search for better health.
It’s called Diet Culture.
According to pioneering dietician Christine Harrison, Diet Culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue.
Diet Culture leads you to believe you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
Diet Culture whispers messages that you need to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body.
Diet Culture tells you:
- That you should lose weight or be on a healthy weight loss plan.
- You should have a certain body type (i.e. not the one you have now).
- You should exercise, cut-out certain foods, eat clean, make fitness paramount, and pursue wellness above all.
These messages are so prevalent and so commonplace in American society that we forget they are invented by our culture. And believing in these comes at a cost.
Diet Culture Is Fueled By Biases We’ve Forgotten To Question
Some of the fashionable yet faulty beliefs of Diet Culture include:
- Anyone who is determined can lose weight and keep it off through diet and exercise alone.
- The pursuit of weight loss is always a practical and positive goal.
- The only way for people living with obesity to improve their health is to get fit.
We need to challenge these assumptions because they can create unhealthy behaviors, cycles of shame, and stigma for not conforming to the social norm.
Let’s be clear, you don’t…
- Need to force yourself into a body that someone else decided “looks good.”
- Need to punish yourself with exercise, meal plans, and restricted thinking to managing your weight.
- Need to become thinner to feel good, to have confidence, or be worthy of love.
It’s A Long Journey From Body Hate To Body Love
Realizing how entrenched I was in thinking that my body was wrong came as a shock.
For years I thought I was doing all the right things to be “healthy”. In fact, I was so stuck that I didn’t even realize that my endless pursuit of an imaginary ideal was driven by a fear of being fat (and although I’ve made many inroads, I’m still not free.)
My attempts to heal and help others was genuine. But my effort to be superhumanly healthy was not.
My obsession with clean and wholesome living was tainted by this insidious belief that:
“I’m not good enough as I am. I’m not OK until I’ve optimized and perfected my body to look a certain way.”
After struggling for so long to fit these made-up notions of what health looks like on the outside, I’m inviting you to a new path of what health feels like on the inside.
It’s a radical path of self-compassion, of acceptance, of rebellion against the cultural landscape that ladens us with guilt about food, bodies, eating, and exercise.
Leaving Diet Culture Behind Comes At A Risk
It’s a risk to let go of structures that once gave you a sense of control. Weight loss plans are convenient. They provide rules, measures of progress, and perhaps even some sense of purpose.
Leaving these ideas behind comes at the risk of having to find your own way in a very messy nutrition landscape. Finding contentment in your relationship with food and your body is a risky territory with little support.
Leaving Diet Culture behind also means being ousted by mainstream culture, and possibly, your friends or family who have (unconsciously) become conditioned to Diet Culture thinking.
But the alternative to rebellion is to continue to be tired and unhappy.
If you’ve tried to double-down your efforts to diet, deny, micromanage, and play games with yourself, my question is…
Where has all this Diet Culture neurosis gotten you?
Stop Repeating the Same Weight Loss Plans Over and Over
Rather than jumping on a new healthy weight loss plan, I suggest you begin the real work of:
- Building a lifestyle that you love and letting your body naturally take the shape that it will.
- Eating and moving on your own terms, informed by science, community, and tradition, but ultimately verified by your own lived experience of what is best for you.
- Paying attention to the signals of your body and respecting your inner wisdom.
Here’s the rub.
To start down this path of gaining health rather than losing weight, you will need to let go of all your conditioning about what it means to have a healthy body.
You need to let go of the idea that if you just had slightly better…
- Meal plans
- Exercise programs
…You might finally lose weight. This even includes letting go of beliefs about a so-called “healthy weight loss plan”.
If your focus is solely on losing weight, it’s probably not healthy.
This is not to say that meal preparation and movement are unimportant. It takes a certain amount of energy and planning to make good choices when the status quo pushes your body towards excess.
However, these external structures are only as good as your core beliefs that say you deserve to eat, deserve to be healthy, and are worthy of love and respect.
You need an inside-out approach to living well. One that is aligned with your body’s innate intelligence and engineered to deal with a sedentary society and a highly addictive food culture.
And, perhaps most of all, you need wisdom, compassion, and forgiveness to help you deal with the guilt, shame, fear, and frustration of being in a body that has to eat, move, and poop.
Pragmatic Intuitive Eating Is The Antidote To Diet Culture
What’s the way out of this Diet Culture mess?
I can only offer you the way in. You must first go down and through your body to reconnect with the soft, wise mammal within.
Intuitive eating is a movement that aims to reclaim health on your body’s own terms.
It is an ongoing practice of:
- Tuning into your hunger and honoring it.
- Giving yourself permission to eat and to get pleasure from food.
- Regularly checking-in with yourself to taste the food you’re eating and sensing into how hungry you actually feel.
- Noticing the ways you judge yourself as “good” or “bad” for eating or not eating.
- Seeing how food acts as a substitute for emotional needs.
- Learning to first respect your body, then to trust it, and ultimately, to love it.
The pragmatic part of this intuitive approach appreciates the messiness of life and gives you permission to experiment, screw-up, and make mistakes.
No relationship is perfect. Including the one you have with your body.
This approach also recognizes that the world we live in is biased for certain body sizes, and this creates real suffering.
Gaining health is just as much about reducing this suffering as it is about following any particular lifestyle.
The Truth Is That Your Body Is Always Changing Shape
You must appreciate that your body shape is determined by so many factors, all of which are constantly changing, and many of which you can’t control.
My friend Dan Galanto discusses in his book A Big Distraction, that your body size, shape, and weight is a composite of your:
- Finances and economic class
- Social class and personal network
- Physical activity
As you can see, food and activity only account for a small part of the body size picture. Don’t get trapped there as most weight loss plans tend to do.
If you let go of trying to control the uncontrollable, you can experience the freedom of living with and for your body, rather than against it.
You can experience this lightness of being right now. And you can create a lifestyle to support you in this practice.
A body that is cared for, loved, and full of life will feel lighter — no matter its size.
Healthy weight loss plans are only misguided when they keep you chained to diet culture, stuck in body shame, and smothered in guilt for failed attempts to lose weight.
If you shift your orientation from demanding your body to follow a healthy weight loss plan to exploring what it’s like to live in your body when you optimize for energy, zest, exuberance, and joy, your weight becomes secondary.
During this health gain journey, you must stay vigilant. Diet Culture will creep back and masquerade as “being good,” “clean eating” or “working out relentlessly”. I can almost guarantee it. It is the water we are all swimming in.
Your job is to reclaim your body, your health, and liberate yourself, as best you can, from a toxic diet, food, and body environment.
The best part is that you don’t have to do it alone.
Ready to begin?
~ Jeff Siegel
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