I began working with this particular client a few months ago. After a few years of working at her demanding job, she thought it was time to shift the focus on her health and wellbeing, and came to me for some guidance. Contrary to most of my clients, she didn’t have any specific health concerns and wasn’t looking to lose weight. She was simply looking for someone to help her engage in more consistent self-care practices when it came to nutrition, exercise, and sleep.
In a recent session she revealed an interesting observation. As she began learning how to cook and engaging in more frequent exercise (in the form of group classes), she found her new habits opened the door to “fit in” with the diet culture in the workplace. Coworkers began complimenting her on how her body has changed, and began talking to her about their diets and workout routines. In our session she stated: “It’s like a whole world I wasn’t part of before.”
And then she said, “I didn’t want to lose weight when we started, but now that I’m doing all of the “right” things, I’m just surprised that I haven’t. Should I be doing something differently?” I gently explained that the goal was not weight loss, nor will it ever be. Some people will lose weight, through cultivating these healthier habits, and some won’t. Changes in weight are simply a neutral side effect of the work we do. I explained to her that the number you see on the scale is as arbitrary of a number as your address. When it comes to your health, that number is virtually meaningless.
I’ve skirted around this issues for a long time. I wanted people to feel like I could help them achieve their goal of losing X pounds. But the truth is I can’t. And I won't. Unfortunately our culture has made us believe that weight-loss is the holy grail of personal achievements. But in fact, the process of cultivating healthy habits in all areas of our lives is the reward. Part of that process involves nutrition and movement. But first, it involves self-love and body acceptance. It involves nourishing yourself without guilt or shame. Without compensatory behaviors. Without negotiation. Sometimes this result is weight loss. Sometimes the result is weight gain. And sometimes the result is no change in your weight at all. If we're living a healthy, happy, fulfilled life, why are we so hung up on the number on the scale?
This is not something that we can figure out overnight. We have a lifetime of living in this culture to unlearn before this idea can even begin to make it’s way into our everyday consciousness. I get that. But I believe we can all start by practicing BodyLove in real life (IRL). I've enlisted my client, and now you, as my personal army of BodyLovers.
See, it’s easy for me to have these conversations in a session with a client, on my podcast, or in a carefully designed quote I post on Instagram. However, it’s much harder to navigate our diet culture when we’re in the thick of it. How do we respond when someone says “Wow! You look so great! Have you lost weight?” Do you lecture them about how that statement offends you because it subtly (or not so subtly) implies that you only look “great” at a certain weight? Or because it implies that your value lies in your looks and the number on the scale? Then what do you say when they exclaim: “You should learn how to take a compliment!” Or... do you take the high road, STFU and say: “Thanks!”? (Check out my most recent podcast episode to hear how praising someone for being thin is just as detrimental as fat shaming).
I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve chosen to start here:
First, it’s important to recognize that diet culture does not mean just talking about diets. It goes much deeper than that. Being part of diet culture can include, but is not limited to:
Commenting on your own weight (shaming yourself for your weight; praising yourself for your weight).
Commenting on the weight of another person (shaming someone for their weight; praising someone for their weight).
Participating in compensatory behaviors to eating (skipping meals to “save up” or “make up” for another meal or snack or exercising to “pay” for the food you eat).
Negotiating food choices (Ex: I was “bad” at lunch so I have to be “good” at dinner)
Judging the food or exercise choices of others (this also includes judging those who are on a diet. Back away from the judgement).
Making food choices from a place of self-control, rather than self-care. Learn more about that in my interview with Christy Harrison.
Restricting specific foods, food groups, or nutrients without a known allergy, food intolerance, or religious affiliation.
Once you can heighten your awareness to this culture, pledge to change the conversation.
STEP 1: NO COMMENT
I was out with a few girls the other night and one made a comment about a mutual friend’s weight. She looked at both of us for affirmation. I brushed the comment aside as my other friend looked at her and said “You know I don’t talk about that stuff.” I was shocked. The epic balls on my friend to “no comment” immediately redirected the conversation to another topic. Easy peasy. I’ll be taking a cue from her moving forward.
STEP 2: DON’T ENGAGE
When I was in college I lived on an all girls floor. Much of our talk was about calories, dieting, and weight loss. It was an easy way for women to bond. And as evidenced by my client I mentioned above, this chatter is prevalent everywhere, including the workplace. However, it’s difficult to socialize with those heavily steeped in diet culture without getting sucked into a diet conversation. Instead, interject with a positive statement about food or exercise such as; “I felt sooo good after my yoga class last night.” Or, redirect the conversation all together. It might seem like a small gesture, but by pledging to elevate the conversation beyond diet talk is a big move for womankind.
STEP 3: FEEL IT OUT
Not everyone is ready to hear this. And not everyone is ready to accept it. So feel it out. Maybe the conversation opens up and it becomes appropriate for you to talk about how weight isn’t a true indicator for health. And restricting calories and food groups can be more detrimental to our health in the long-term. And eating intuitively, and feeling freed up around food feels GOOD.
I am SOOO welcome to more suggestions. What you got? How else can we change the conversation? Imagine how many other things we can talk about if weight and diets were off the table! Leave a comment below with your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.
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