How to Say "Enough is Enough" to Diet Culture

Ah, the New Year. 

In some ways, it can be a beautiful time. 

A time to reflect on the highlights and challenges of the year before. 

To process what you’re grateful for…and what you’re glad to be leaving behind. 

A time to set intentions for the year ahead—in a way that honors and celebrates who you already are, not in a way that negates it. 

(None of that “new year, new you” nonsense.)

A time to reconnect with your values and recommit yourself to the things you really want in life—like fulfilling relationships, a sense of purpose, laughter, joy…you know, the big stuff. 

(More like “new year, renewed focus on what matters.”)

That’s how things could be at this time of year—if it weren’t for a major obstacle that gets thrown in our path every January. 

And it’s how things can be once you figure out how to navigate that obstacle. 

The obstacle, of course, is diet culture. 

Specifically, diet culture’s insistence that every New Year should be devoted to new (or not-so-new) efforts at shrinking our bodies.  

Diet culture keeps us from setting intentions that honor who we already are, because it tells us we have to change in order to be worthy.

It keeps us from reconnecting with our true values—or from even figuring out what those are—because it tells us the only things that matter are our size and our appearance.

(Sometimes it pretends to focus on our “health,” while really just equating that to our size and our appearance.) 

Diet culture keeps us stuck spinning our wheels on surface-level BS instead of going after the deeper, more meaningful stuff.

Diet culture steals the time we could be spending on pursuing our dreams. 

It steals our energy away from hobbies and passions (other than the food- and body-related ones that it pushes us into). 

It steals our joy, our ability to be present with the people we love—because everywhere we go, diet culture keeps droning on in the background about what we “should” eat and how we “should” look. 

Diet culture robs us of so much LIFE, which is why I call it The Life Thief

But this year, instead of having your life stolen all over again, what if you could say no to diet culture?

What if you drew a line in the sand and said enough is enough? 

What if you decided to kick The Life Thief to the curb and reclaim what it stole from you? 

What would it take to make that happen? 

For my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, it really was deciding she’d had enough and that she was ready to approach food and her body in a new way. 

Today Sarah Harry is a respected yoga teacher, author, psychotherapist, and fat activist, but up until her 20s she struggled in secret with an eating disorder while working in the fashion industry. 

As she shares in the episode, so much of her journey to recovery was about getting to the place where she was really ready to change. 

Where she was just OVER IT.

And once she did, it allowed her to pursue a more meaningful life than she ever thought possible.

Check out the episode to hear her fascinating story—plus some advice from me about how to overcome the diet-binge cycle and feel more at ease around food.   

You truly do have the power to say no to The Life Thief and reclaim your relationship with food, your body, and your LIFE. 

Here’s to reconnecting with what matters,

Christy 

 

P.S. If you’ve had ENOUGH of diet culture and you’re ready to try something different, join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so that you can make peace with food and get back to building a life that truly lights you up.

 

This post was originally published in my weekly email newsletter.

 

 

Surviving Diet Culture Over the Holidays

This time of year is meant to be joyful—and when you're not fighting food and your body, it often is. 

When you’re in a peaceful relationship with food, you can enjoy all the great options at holiday parties. 

You can fully appreciate and savor all the special things you get to eat that are only available this time of year. 

Your experience of pleasure isn’t marred by thoughts of how you’ll “make up for” what you ate, because you trust your body to find balance in its own way, in its own time. 

When you feel satisfied and done eating, you can focus on other things. 

The food doesn’t keep calling to you all night, sending you into an inner battle and jolting you out of every conversation. 

You have the mental space to think and talk about a million other, more important issues than food and your body. 

You get to connect with your loved ones over the things that really matter. 

And sure, sometimes you get annoyed by diet talk from friends and family—but you can easily tune it out.

You know that whatever diet or “lifestyle change” they’re talking about, it’s not for you. 

Sometimes you even take the opportunity to plant seeds for them about why diets don’t work, and to share what you’ve learned about how to truly find peace with food and your body. 

Other times, you just change the subject to something that actually interests you—because you’re *beyond* bored with diet culture. 

When the onslaught of “new year, new you” media starts coming at you, you take a deep breath (or 20) and reconnect with the truth that you are enough, exactly as you are. 

This is what the holiday season can be like once you’ve gotten through the hard part of recovery from diet culture. 

This is what it can be like for you, too.

You may not be there yet—you may still be in the hard part of recovery, or even in the part where you’re still actively dieting—but just know that a more relaxed relationship with food is available to you. 

Peace with food is available to you. 

Of course, life can create barriers blocking your access to peace. 

Barriers like difficult circumstances, discrimination, and fatphobia, which can make you feel like you need dieting and disordered eating to help you cope. 

Learning other coping skills is key to shifting out of this pattern, but that can take time—so it’s important to be compassionate with yourself along the way. 

You had every reason to think dieting was going to help you, even though that wasn’t true. 

Diet culture has been lying to you since birth, telling you that the way to get what you want out of life is to shrink your body. 

It’s been telling you these things every day, on billboards and in movies, in school, at the doctor’s office, and at home. 

Diet culture is everywhere, in so many different manifestations.

It’s sneaky like that.

In an environment like this, of course you believed that dieting and disordered eating were the path forward.

But now you know there’s another path you could take, one that honors your true needs and desires. 

Now it’s time to figure out what those are. 

That’s what this week's episode of Food Psych is all about—how we find a new way of relating to food and our bodies that respects and honors us as whole human beings. 

My guest is Lucy Aphramor, a fellow anti-diet dietitian and the co-author (with Linda Bacon) of Body Respect. She has an approach to health and well-being that prioritizes social justice, compassion, and learning to meet your needs and follow your desires without shame or self-judgment.

We talked about her philosophy of body respect, why recovery isn't a linear process, how to keep yourself emotionally safe during the holidays, and lots more. Tune in to hear it right here, and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode!

This will be probably my last blog post of 2017, so I wanted to take a moment to wish you joy and peace this holiday season. 

I'm so grateful that you're a part of my community—your support is a huge part of what keeps me inspired to create new content and keep fighting the good fight against diet culture, so thank you for reading, listening, and engaging with me this past year, and I can't wait to connect more in 2018 <3 

Here's to surviving diet culture, over the holidays and every day, 
Christy

If you're ready to start 2018 off on a diet-free note, come join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so that you can give up dieting for good—and free your mind to focus on the things that really matter. You can also give it as a gift to someone you love, now through January 1!

The Life Thief

How diet culture steals your time, your energy, and your health—and how you can take them back.

 

As a dietitian who specializes in helping people make peace with food, I’ve seen the research on dieting, and I know that its track record is abysmal

Dieting—the act of changing your eating and exercise habits in an effort to lose weight and ostensibly improve your health—is a lot more likely to end in a whole host of other things, including rebound overeating, food obsession, and weight regain (Trigger Warning).

Not just regain, actually; as many as two-thirds of people who embark on weight-loss efforts end up gaining more weight than they lost (TW)

Meanwhile, the diet industry is now worth more than $66 billion, a record high. In recent years 68 percent of Americans have dieted for some length of time (TW), mostly making up their own weight-loss plans or “lifestyle changes” rather than following formal diets to the letter.

People are still dieting, even though it clearly doesn't work and actively causes harm. 

Why are we so wedded to dieting? Shouldn’t we know better by now?

In my work I’ve come to see that it’s not just an issue of knowledge, although that’s a part of it. It’s also an issue of culture. Specifically diet culture.

 

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that intentional weight loss fails more than 95% of the time.
  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.

 

By and large, Western culture is diet culture. This way of thinking about food and bodies is so embedded in the fabric of our society, in so many different forms, that it can be hard to recognize.

It masquerades as health, wellness, and fitness.

It cloaks itself as connection.

Diet culture is why people bond over restrictive ways of eating. It’s why people get compliments for losing weight—even if the behaviors that led to the weight loss are killing them.

Diet culture is what makes some of my clients skip birthday parties out of fear that they’ll have to eat cake.

It’s what made some of their parents put them on diets before they were old enough to remember their birthday parties.   

Diet culture is consuming us. In the thousands of conversations I’ve had with people about their relationships with food and their bodies, I’ve seen the same themes emerge again and again: People have lost years of their lives to dieting and disordered eating. They’ve spent thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on diet products and programs that didn't work and just left them more hopeless.

They’ve tried to lose weight or change their diet because they were told it would make them "healthier," only to end up sicker than they started out (and not having lost any weight in the long-term, either).

They haven’t really been there at weddings, funerals, graduations, honeymoons, and countless other important moments because their minds were distracted by thoughts of food and weight. 

Diet culture has stolen their lives. 

That’s what it does to everyone. It steals your joy, your spark, and your precious time on this planet. 

That’s why I call it The Life Thief. 

When you’re governed by diet culture’s rules, your life suffers. 

 

But here’s what I want you to know:

You DON’T have to spend all your time and energy worrying about food and your body. You CAN have more mental space to do great work, take care of yourself, spend time with your loved ones, and answer your calling.

Your life may have been stolen, but you have the power to take it back.

I’ve seen people do incredible things with the time and energy they’re able to reclaim when they stop dieting. Things like starting their own businesses, advocating for social justice and human rights, going back to school to pursue their dreams, finding supportive partners who love them just as they are, and raising their kids to feel good about their bodies and trust their instincts with food. 

Things that help build a better life for themselves and others.

I’ve also seen too many people miss out on these kinds of opportunities—or not even realize what kinds of opportunities they really want for themselves, what their true passions are—because their minds are completely occupied by the rules and restrictions of diet culture.  

It’s a life thief.

And it’s not your fault.

It’s really a systemic problem, a cultural problem—not an individual one. The fact that you’re preoccupied with concerns about eating, exercise, weight, and shape is a direct result of diet culture. It’s also exactly what The Life Thief wants.  

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf calls dieting a “political sedative,” basically a massive distraction from participating in public life. It keeps us from changing the status quo, from speaking out and rebelling against the things that don’t work for us, and from reshaping society in ways that align with our values. 

The Life Thief keeps us from recognizing our true power.  

It’s also stolen our well-being. It’s taken over the health and wellness fields and twisted them into its image, an unrealistic, exclusionary ideal that’s rooted in oppression.

Our culture’s version of health is laced with fatphobia, racism, ableism, and ageism—because with very few exceptions, the bodies that are held up as supposed “pictures of health” are all thin, white, able-bodied, and young.

This view of health and wellness isn’t actually about helping your well-being at all—it’s about reinforcing the status quo and making sure you keep chasing after an unattainable ideal so that you don’t notice all the things that are really harming your health. 

Things like trying to change the size and shape of your body, which diet culture tells you to do, but which actually leads to worse physical and mental-health outcomes than body acceptance. 

Things like internalized weight stigma, which has been shown to increase people’s risk of all the diseases that are typically blamed on weight itself. 

Dieting is against your best interests. It puts you at war with yourself and takes your energy away from fighting so many more important battles. 

It makes you doubt yourself and feel like you can’t trust your own instincts. It gaslights you into thinking that you’re the “failure” because you “couldn’t stick to” the diet du jour. Because you had the audacity to get hungry, to need nourishment and pleasure. 

To need the things we all need.

That’s abuse, and yet The Life Thief is an expert in getting us to perpetuate it on ourselves, again and again and again. 

 

The Social-Life Thief 

Here’s one of the things about The Life Thief I hear all the time from clients, online course students, and podcast listeners. I hear a version of this: 

“My social life is non-existent.”

Or this:

“I avoid going to parties, since I know there will be lots of food and alcohol around.”   

Or this:

“Whenever I get invited to a wedding, I start panicking about fitting into my dress and can’t enjoy myself for months.” 

Or around this time of year, it’s this:

“I can’t even enjoy the food at my family’s holiday meal because I’m so afraid of how it’ll affect my body.”

Because diet culture makes people so fearful of food and anxious about losing control that they can’t even participate in their lives.  

This hurts my heart. That anyone has to live like this is unconscionable—because it’s no way to live. It’s theft. 

The Life Thief steals your capacity for everyday joy. It keeps you from being present in all the big and small moments of your life. Moments like holiday dinners, birthday parties, weddings, or just lunch with a friend on a Tuesday.

The Life Thief literally keeps you from going out and participating in the world. 

Or if it does let you participate, it keeps you from really being there. It always holds a part of your mind hostage.        

If you had a romantic partner who did these things, we’d call it abuse and tell you to get the hell out of that relationship. And what The Life Thief does IS a form of abuse—but because it’s on such a massive, culture-wide level, we don’t recognize it as such.

There’s no reason except injustice that people should have to live with this level of restricted freedom and life possibilities. 

Here, I’m not even talking about your greatest fulfillment or your calling or realizing your potential (although diet culture restricts those things, too). I’m talking about your day-to-day human existence. Your ability to grab a spontaneous bite with a friend, enjoy a piece of cake at a birthday party, or eat at a drive-thru on a road trip. 

This is literally life theft at the moment-to-moment level—and you deserve so much better than that.

 

The Restriction Pendulum

One of the main things we need to do to get our life back is to make peace with food.

Being at peace with food means not WORRYING so much about it. 

Being calm, on an even keel, with an inner sense of stillness and ease—not restricting yourself or feeling panicked by deprivation.

Being able to make food choices from a place of trusting your instincts and desires. A place of self-care and abundance, not self-control and deprivation. 

The Life Thief robs you of that ability. 

One of the key ways it does this is by keeping you swinging back and forth on what I call The Restriction Pendulum. 

The Restriction Pendulum is your body’s natural reaction to deprivation. When the pendulum swings over to the side of restriction—which diet culture frames as “success” and “being good”—inevitably there’s going to be a swing back in the other direction, because your body perceives restriction as dangerous.

To your body, diets (or “lifestyle changes,” or “eating plans,” or whatever they’re calling themselves now) feel like famine. 

Even the most seemingly “gentle” diet is a swing of the pendulum over to the side of restriction. 

When that happens, your body’s natural response is to have the pendulum swing over to the other side—to eating a LOT, feeling out of control with food, even bingeing. 

A pendulum can’t just stop in the middle when it’s been pulled over to one side. It HAS to swing the opposite direction with equal force. 

Your body is exactly the same. It won’t find stillness and peace until it’s responded to the restriction.     

Here’s what that looks like in our lives: we restrict, restrict, restrict (or “eat clean, eat clean, eat clean,” or whatever our restriction du jour is calling itself)...and then we end up eating to the point of discomfort. 

And then we think we have no self-discipline, we’re out of control, we simply can’t be trusted to eat certain foods, we’re uniquely broken while everyone else can just have a bowl of ice cream without polishing off the whole carton…

We get into a spin where we berate ourselves as though what happened was about our minds, our lack of willpower.

But it’s not.

It’s physiological, a survival impulse encoded into your body. When you get cold, you shiver. That’s how your body keeps you warm so you can survive. And when you’re restricted or deprived of food, your body turns up the food-seeking signals because it wants you to live.

This isn't a failure of your mind to control your body. This is your body taking care of you.

Here’s what I want you know: Your body is not broken. 

YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.

You haven’t irreparably damaged your hunger and fullness sensors. Your body is trying to protect you. This is a natural, predictable, automatic response to famine—and that’s what diets are.

It’s not you. It’s not a defect. 

The Restriction Pendulum is what allowed our species to survive, and we wouldn’t be here without it. 

But we don’t need to spend our lives swinging on that pendulum anymore. To reclaim our lives and reach our full potential, we need to stop The Restriction Pendulum. 

We need to stop the restriction. 

My online course, Intuitive Eating Fundamentals, re-teaches you how to attune to your body’s cues about hunger, fullness, and satisfaction—and that helps you achieve stillness and peace with food. On your own. Every day, all day. 

This can be life-changing. It’s the difference between bingeing every time you’re anywhere near a plate of cookies and forgetting about them after you eat a couple because you’re so engaged in conversation.

Here’s what happens when you stop the restriction:

YOU GET YOUR LIFE BACK.

And that’s everything.

It’s my mission. My big why. My life’s work. I dedicated my career to helping people reclaim their lives from dieting because I know what it's like to have your life stolen. I lost more than a decade of mine to dieting and disordered eating—and I was finally able to reclaim it by giving up the restriction and learning to trust my body again.

That kind of trust is what I want for you, what I want for all of us. 

I want you to have the freedom to let go of thoughts of food and your body, to engage in all the moments of your life—from the mundane to the magical.  

I want you to have your mind free to focus on the things that really matter to you. 

To pursue your purpose—and to have the mental space to figure out what that is. 

To trust your body’s cues and nourish yourself fully. 

To stop restricting and stop feeling out of control with food. 

To be present in the big, important moments as well as the small, everyday ones.

To OWN your life.

Because when you own your life, you thrive. All of us do. The world literally becomes a better place. 

Let’s get our lives back.

 

If you’re ready to reclaim your life alongside an incredible community of people who are on the same path, join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so you can learn how to give up dieting once and for all. You deserve to be fully present in your life, and to not have a single moment more stolen by The Life Thief. NO.MORE. Your life is YOURS.

 

Reclaiming your basic human rights

If you’re anything like, oh, everyone I know, you want to feel comfortable in your own skin. 

You want to feel safe, at peace, connected, and loved. 

You want to experience joy and pleasure. 

You want to feel free—both in your relationship with food and your body, and in your life as a whole.

We ALL want those things, and in my view they’re fundamental human needs.   

They’re basic human rights. 

They’re what we all desire and deserve.

As we move through life, we all do our best to get those needs met, with whatever tools we have available.

The problem is that our culture has dealt us some really crappy tools. 

Our culture is diet culture, a society that equates thinness to wellness and moral virtue, making you feel like the only way to achieve those things is to shrink your body (even though that’s an out-and-out LIE).

Diet culture convinces us that those universal human needs we all have—to be comfortable in our own skin, to be safe, to be loved—are only within our reach if our bodies look like a certain “ideal” that’s literally impossible to achieve.

Diet culture also ruins our relationships with food by demonizing certain ways of eating while elevating others, which makes you feel ashamed and judged for any desires that fall outside diet culture’s definition of the “right” way to eat. 

(And by the way, that definition changes from moment to moment, depending on who you ask.)

Diet culture is a life thief, stealing your ability to meet your essential needs.

Stealing your basic human rights.

Even when we know the truth about dieting and disordered eating, The Life Thief will try to convince us we’re wrong every single day, so that it can keep stealing from us.

In fact it’s become an expert at shape-shifting, because in recent years more people have gotten wise to its thieving ways. 

So now instead of diets we have “lifestyle changes,” “eating plans,” and “wellness programs.”

They’re the same thing as diets—telling you what, when, and how much to eat, deeming certain foods “bad” or “off-limits,” and upholding an impossible ideal of what “health” looks like—but they swear up and down that they’re not diets. 

They gaslight us with their promises of a healthier, brighter, “cleaner” life. 

They’re what I call The Life Thief In Disguise (or TLTID, because it tilts your understanding of reality). 

Unfortunately even health and wellness professionals can fall prey to TLTID logic, ushering The Life Thief into their patients’ and clients’ lives under the guise of health promotion. 

That’s what happened for my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych

My friend and colleague Meredith Noble shares how a weight-loss recommendation from a doctor led her down the rabbit hole of chronic dieting, which included years on commercial diet plans, “clean eating” programs, and “lifestyle changes,” following the advice of countless coaches and nutritionists. 

None of it produced lasting weight loss, let alone well-being; instead, it all contributed to feeling disordered, out of control, and totally consumed by food. 

It stole her time, her energy, and her money, which are three of The Life Thief’s favorite targets.  

Fortunately she discovered the concepts of Health at Every Size and intuitive eating, which helped her find peace and freedom with food and her body. She shares how that journey unfolded for her, and how connecting with a supportive community helped her handle diet culture in a radically different way. 

Listen to my conversation with Meredith to hear how you can begin to take back your life from The Life Thief, and come join the Food Psych Podcast Listener Crew to find your very own anti-diet haven!

Here’s to reclaiming your rights,

Christy

 

PS: If you’re a fellow anti-diet health and wellness professional who wants to ensure that your online presence and marketing materials reflect your values, check out my new Master Your Anti-Diet Message mini-course. It’s for coaches, yoga teachers, dietitians, therapists, personal trainers, bloggers, and anyone else in the wellness field who wants to fight diet culture and help people reclaim their lives <3 

This post was originally published in my weekly email newsletter

The Truth About Your Weight

Your body isn't meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction

Your body isn't meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction. 

Intentional weight loss was invented by diet culture, which I define as a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, and demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others.

Not only is intentional weight loss a product of this toxic belief system, it also doesn’t actually jibe with how the human body *works.*

We’ve all heard that statistic that 95% (or more) of people who pursue intentional weight loss gain back all the weight they lost within five years, and the majority of those people will gain back *more* weight than they had initially lost—and that’s because our bodies were designed to protect us from famine. None of us would even BE here if it weren’t for this mechanism that kept our ancestors from dying when food was scarce.

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, and demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

So what about that other 5% (or less) of people who do seem to maintain intentional weight loss, you might ask? Unfortunately, the research indicates that they do so through disordered means that, if diet culture didn’t deem them "success" stories, could be diagnosed as an eating disorder.

They’re not meant to be weight-suppressed—none of us are. Our bodies aren't meant to live in perpetual restriction, which wreaks havoc on our mental and physical health.

This post was originally published on my Instagram feed.