It’s January, which means the TV is full of ads for low-calorie yoghurt and high-priced slimming clubs. Are you bloated? Have you overdone it during the holiday season? Well, these sugar substitutes / special cereal bars / milkshakes / ready meals are exactly what you need to consume. Because, ironically, consumption is a big part of dieting. You might eat less, but what you eat is often prescribed, inefficiently produced and subject to social or advertising pressures.
I’ve done most of the diets on the market. The one that I’m seeing most friends suddenly support on Facebook had me eating ridiculous amounts of the products of certain, carefully chosen brands that must live or die based on the company’s recommendations. Sure, I lost weight. But it was expensive, and I left with a strange new attitude to food that was not healthy or even sensible.
Even people who are not fat, especially women, are encouraged to drop some pounds with a new gym membership or subscription to having ready meals delivered straight to their door. Spend, spend, spend.
Taking up space
We are filled with the fear: what if we take up space? This fear is so deeply held that we resolve to do whatever we can in pursuit of the perfect body – not that anyone can agree what the perfect body is. Thinness is the goal, and starvation and undereating – even if it is called clean eating, a juice fast or the 5/2 diet – is undertaken to achieve it, creating weird eating habits that are discussed over the water cooler at work as if they are normal.
The mainstream media encourages these attitudes by making us self-conscious about every inch of our bodies. When they put a big red circle around the scant cellulite on the thighs of a celebrity on the beach, they are telling every one of us that our bodies are unacceptable. Even the ‘perfect’ ones. The rest of us, who have wobbly areas all over, are so severely disapproved of that we feel the only option is to put ourselves under stress to eliminate every inch that can be pinched. We can only effectively diet when we are persuaded to hate ourselves, to want to get rid of as much of ourselves as we can.
If our hips aren’t jutting through our skin, we’re doing it wrong.
Diets don’t work
So the solution that is usually posed is a diet, which is a cruel, cruel deception to everybody who tries them. 95% of diets fail, and they are focused entirely on depriving yourself of what you need (yes, even the ones that let you eat unlimited quinoa or whatever the ‘free’ food of the day is). We can all manage it for a time – that time will vary from person to person – but whether it’s a day, a week or a year, at some point, the urge to eat the foods you know and love will take over and a cycle of starvation and bingeing can set in. It’s weigh-in day tomorrow? Live on two apples and a bowl of cabbage soup! Weigh-in day next week? Eat ALL of the food!
Diets make us lose the ability to take pleasure in the food we eat. It’s either ‘good’ or ‘guilty’, and there is no in between. Feeling guilt about nourishing our bodies creates a conflict that many women can instantly recognise, and that is spreading to men, especially LGBT men, who can feel extra pressure to fit a particular standard of attractiveness or acceptability.
God forbid anybody is encouraged to enjoy the body they’re in, and eat according to what they want and need. How dare we accept that hating our bodies is not a healthy approach to life, and decide that a few extra pounds is worth it if it means having a realistic and neutral approach to what we put into our mouths?
Fatness and disability
For disabled people, there are additional issues, too. Perhaps we can’t exercise very much, or perhaps we take medication that makes us gain weight (or, in my case, both of these), but these are overlooked in favour of the overused and abusive attitudes that prevail, especially – for some reason – towards fat people who use mobility scooters. The assumption that these people are lazy, rather than impaired, is prevalent.
And governments and health bodies can exacerbate the damaging attitudes, too. There are implications that fat people overuse health care, costing the NHS or insurance companies extra money compared to those who are slimmer, even though research shows that it is never that simple, and that overweight people aren’t necessarily less healthy than those who are ‘normal’ or underweight. It is much easier to blame those who visibly enjoy their food than it is to look at the nuances and act fairly.
Taking charge of your body and what you put into it can be an empowering and positive move. But buying into the idea that you must hate your body and somehow ‘overcome’ it can never be pleasant or productive, in the long term. Buying the magazines and the special food and the gym membership and the recipe books can overwhelm a lot of people’s finances, for diets that have a dire 5% success rate.
So, this resolution season, see if you can come up with ideas to focus on that aren’t dependant on developing a negative and hateful relationship with the body that carries you around, day to day.
Photo: Michael Stern/Creative Commons