Saturday, 30 December 2017

why diet culture sucks and the best resolution i ever made

At the start of 2016 I made the best new years resolution I ever made. 

I made a promise to myself that, for the whole of 2016, I would not diet. At all. Traditionally, the new year is a time when everyone starts new diets and exercise regimes in order to lose weight gained over the festive period and focus on self-improvement.

We live in a society where self-improvement is often synonymous with weight loss. 

The previous year, my resolutions had been much more conventional, but much more unhealthy. Early on in 2015, weight loss was my main focus. It was certainly not the first time I had tried dieting. My entire adolescence had been punctuated by different weight loss fads. However, 2015 was a wake-up call. My weight was at its lowest and my health was suffering as a result. I was engaging in a lot of disordered eating habits every single day. Yet, still, people told me how good I looked, reinforcing the weight loss=self-improvement myth.

Of course, deciding to just "stop dieting" isn't possible for everyone. 

I still had days when I felt bad about my body, or had minor relapses. By the time I started university in September 2015, I already felt like I was quite some way into recovery, so my resolution seemed like the next positive step. Eating disorders are incredibly complex and telling someone suffering from one to decide to stop dieting is the equivalent of asking, “Why don’t you just eat?” However, this resolution worked for me once I was ready. If you have been in recovery for some time, I think the new year is a good time to solidify healthier habits and also say fuck you to diet culture. 2016 turned into 2017 and I did relapse slightly as I was freed from my new years resolution, but if a resolution enforces a positive habit into your life, why let it end at the end of the year?

I've always made new years resolutions. 

I like to view the new year as a fresh start. I am very sentimental about things like that. However, I also believe that we can start incorporating new habits into our routine throughout the year. The new year offers an opportunity to introduce bigger changes into our lives, but we should be growing and changing all year round. That’s why I carried my resolution into 2017 and will be taking it with me in 2018 as well. 

There is no such thing as healthy dieting for someone with an eating disorder, even once they have recovered, just like there is no such thing as healthy drinking for an alcoholic. 

Our society's obsession with dieting normalises restriction. In the UK, 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2000 men will suffer from anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives. I would argue that the statistics are probably even higher, especially if you take into account all other eating disorders, specifically orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating), which has seen a sharp increase due to the “clean eating” phenomenon. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. In a country where so many people are suffering with eating disorders, how can we still be so fervently promoting new years dieting?

The festive season is stressful enough when you have an eating disorder without the inevitable pro-dieting rhetoric that the new year brings with it. 

Living in a culture that equates sticking to your diet with success is toxic. It is a culture that guilts you for eating a cupcake, promotes the idea that indulging in one more biscuit is “bad.” 

It is getting worse given that an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are putting calories on their food and drink. In the throes of my eating disorder, I would have loved this. It would have saved me time scrolling through websites and forums trying to find the lowest calorie meal on the menu before leaving to go out. We should be able to enjoy eating and drinking without equating it with numbers. 

Diet culture normalises eating disorder culture. 

It is not rare to hear conversations in public that could also be conversations on ‘pro ana’ forums. Sentences like “I’m so bad for getting this brownie” and “I’m meant to be on a diet” could be heard in the queue at Starbucks or in the internal dialogue of someone with an eating disorder. 

Google Maps recently came under fire for introducing a feature where it would tell you how many cupcakes you could eat considering how far you had walked that day. It was promptly withdrawn after people were outraged and suggested that it could promote eating disorders. I’m quite surprised that enough people complained about it for it to be removed, considering that the rhetoric of ‘earning’ food is so prevalent in our society. But, guess what? You can eat a cupcake (or 5, or more) even if you haven’t walked anywhere today and no one is going to drop dead because of it.

Making better resolutions.

I do still check in with my eating and exercise habits. My only rule is that I will only add things to my life, not take them away. In 2018, I am going to try to get my 5-a-day more often and I am doing a 30-day yoga challenge in January. Going to the gym doesn’t make me as anxious as it used to, but I still turn off the calorie counter on the machines and set goals based on the distance and speed I can go rather than how many calories I can burn. My main reason for exercising isn’t my body. I do it to clear my head, and trying to work out how many biscuits I've burnt off certainly doesn't do that.

I've become more cynical about new years resolutions this year. In 2017 I have discovered the importance of setting new habits whenever necessary. Making resolutions at the start of each week, or each day makes them much easier to stick to. 

However, new years resolutions sometimes do work, and the decision to stop dieting and buying into diet culture was the best one I ever made. 

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