Toxic diet culture places value on being a certain size, weight, and shape over actual good health. Diet culture also promotes the false notion that health equals to thinness. It’s time to leave diet culture behind for good.
My first memory when I was under 5 is of my dad getting hauled away by the cops in his underwear and handcuffs — he was an alcoholic— the scary, violent kind — and had been beating on the walls, my mother, and terrorizing us.
My last real memory of living with my dad was when I was 13, the night I had to stop him from killing my mother.
Mom finally left him shortly after that.
It took me most of my adult life to fully understand the many, long-lasting ways I allowed that life to damage me.
We were incredibly poor. The little girl in me told herself since we couldn’t afford the nice things my friends had, I wasn’t worth as much as they were. I carried that belief into adulthood.
My dad was a very scary man when he drank, so much so that often his own family would avoid him (and us) for months on end. The little girl in me decided that meant everyone thought he was a monster, didn’t like him and didn’t want to be around him – and since I was his daughter, I thought they felt the same about me. I carried that belief into adulthood.
Dad was home most of the time so I never knew what I was coming home to after school – my dad, or the monster.
Did he get drunk while I was in school? I never knew. That taught me life was unpredictable and scary. It created an anxiety disorder that I didn’t even know I had until a few years ago. I thought walking around with a heavy sense of fear and dread, terrified of what was going to happen next was normal. I carried that into adulthood too.
I carried an incredible amount of pain that I manifested into anger at the entire world.
It’s easier to walk around mad at the world than dig into the most painful corners of your life. At least, it felt that way at the time. I carried that anger into adulthood.
And like most women, I did my first diet when I was a teenager.
It was the Atkins days. They made carbs sound so evil and quitting them to be so easy.
It lasted about half a day. I gained five pounds and every subsequent attempt I made, failed as well.
Each time I tried and failed, I felt like more of a failure. Since “we are what we eat“, I felt like I was bad when I couldn’t stop myself from eating bad food. It wasn’t that I felt like my choices were bad, but that I, as a person, was bad – which reinforced everything I already thought.
Thoughts like, “you’re a failure, you’re so stupid, weak, pathetic, disgusting, you always do this, you always screw up” ran through my head a million times a day on repeat.
By my early 30’s I hit my breaking point with my weight and decided to do whatever it took to actually lose it.
I lost weight fast by starving myself and over exercising but I still wasn’t happy and hated my body.
So I thought I needed to just keep losing more weight, despite having reached my “goal” of 115lbs. I got down to 105lbs and still wasn’t happy so I hired an IFBB figure pro trainer and started lifting.
Within 4 days of trying to follow the “clean eating” meal plan she gave me, I had my first binge. The following day, my first compensatory behaviors emerged – I starved myself and exercised for about 3 hours to “make up for it”.
And then within 8 months, I was sitting in a therapists office, being diagnosed with full-blown bulimia bawling my eyes out & begging him to tell me why I couldn’t control myself with food.
The saddest thing? In the middle of that full-blown eating disorder, I was technically a ‘diet success’ story because I was one of the tiny percentages that had actually managed to lose weight & keep it off.
How to Leave Toxic Diet Culture Behind & Pursue Good Health
We’re not talking nearly enough about what dieting is really doing to us and our relationship with food! And we’re not talking about it because we’re blaming ourselves and ashamed.
I spent the next few years desperately trying to recover from bulimia – while still obsessed with building the perfect body.
In 2012 when I was confident that it wouldn’t trigger a bulimic relapse, I competed in a figure competition for the second time – I thought winning a competition in which you were judged on your body would make me finally like it and be happy.
So there I was standing on stage with this huge line up of other women, with a panel of national judges in front of me telling me I was the best – I was qualified for nationals and set to compete for a pro card – yet still hated myself and my body!
And even though I wasn’t a practicing bulimic anymore, I was still bingeing and food obsessed.
My last competition was the beginning of real change because it, along with everything I had been learning about the psychology of weight, dieting, food issues, body image, helped me realize that my weight and food issues had nothing to do with weight or food – and FYI, neither does anyone else’s.
Toxic diet culture is built upon shame, fear, and distrust in ourselves. It feeds on our insecurities and fuels the story that we are only worthy of love, acceptance, and goodness if a scale displays the “right” number or we eat the “right” things and that happiness is only found on the other side of the next diet promising miracles.
Diet culture tells us we’re bad if we eat ‘bad things’.
Diet culture tells us it’s more acceptable to hate our bodies than it is to love them.
Have you ever noticed that? Conversations with friends almost always come back to food, weight, diets, and all the things we hate about our bodies.
It’s how we bond. It’s how we fit in. You could never sit in that convo and proudly state, “well I love my body”. You’d be judged and you’d be ridiculed.
That is so damaging and just so fundamentally, wrong.
This toxic diet culture is insidious, horribly destructive and deeply ingrained in our society and it’s important that we understand it so we stop being victims to it and start owning our power to change it.
WE are diet culture. Every time we buy into, every time we sit around in those conversations, every time we stand in the mirror hating what we see, we’re feeding a monster that’s destroying millions of lives every day, and we’re creating a legacy for our daughters that teaches them to do the same thing.
We have to decide to stop believing the lies and start believing that we can decide that no matter what size we are, we can be happy, we’re enough, our bodies deserve our love and acceptance, and we deserve to feel incredible in our skin.
The average woman makes 3-4 diet attempts every single for almost her entire adult life.
I’ve heard from women who have been dieting, living with incredibly destructive relationships with food and their bodies for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years.
Up to 97% of women report having an I hate my body moment at least once a day.
Dieting is the #1 Cause of Eating Disorders
And eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
I lived what felt like, at war with myself, my body and food for two decades – a war that started with a diet and low self-worth.
And the whole time, I thought it was my fault. I blamed myself for being weak and pathetic.
I’ve been a nationally qualified figure champion, I’ve been an award-winning trainer, nutrition and wellness coach, I’ve written for bodybuilding websites, I’ve been featured on bodybuilding.com and in one of their print ads – but none of it ever brought me peace, made me happy with my body or like or value myself.
I kept looking for the magic answer but the problem always came back to my feelings about me.
I punished myself with overly restrictive dieting, binge eating, over exercising and self-loathing because I hated and was ashamed of who I thought I was.
I struggled with chronic, crippling depression, panic attacks and an anxiety disorder so bad that many days I couldn’t even make myself open the curtains and face the day.
I used to feel like no matter how much food I stuffed down my throat, it was never enough – many nights I would go to bed wondering if this was the night I was going to die in my sleep because of how much I ate.
My fingers would be numb, my heart would palpitate, I’d struggle with even breathing – but no matter how much I’d eat, it felt like I couldn’t ever stop – like there was a hole in me that I could not fill.
I thought I was a sugar and food addict – I used to feel like I was damned to spend the rest of my life battling with food and hating myself.
None of that changed until I had the courage to walk away from this toxic diet culture.
It’s Time to Free Yourself From Toxic Diet Culture
Now, rather than hiding from the world, I’m hosting workshops, sharing my story and public speaking.
I can’t remember the last time I ate to the point of discomfort, thought about my weight or stood in the mirror feeling disgusted.
I don’t think about food or what my body looks like. I just eat want I want when I want and stop when I’m full.
For some people that may sound scary, for others it may sound normal – for me, it’s a miracle that I never take for granted.
I spent most of my entire life purposely playing small and hiding – stuck in that weight war because it was easier to obsess over the external problem I could see.
I struggled to trust, with shame, feelings of not belonging anywhere, and worthlessness. I hid, withdrew and was deeply ashamed of who I was for most of my whole life – and why?
Because of lies that I was fed by toxic diet culture and the stories I was telling myself that went all the way back to the broken & suffering little girl me who was just doing her best to figure out where she fits in the world and how to survive.
Now I’m driven by a desire to make my pain have a purpose and to help other people find the freedom and joy that I have.
And I cannot do that unless I have the courage to step up and say, I will not be scared of food or judge myself for not being perfect. I deserve to love and care for my body no matter what size it is, and I will not let shame destroy me anymore – because whenever we have the courage to step out of our shame, to own who we are, exactly as we are, to proudly exclaim that my body is worthy of love and care, no matter what size it is, that I am worthy of compassion and all of the most incredible things life has to offer, no matter what I weigh – we give other women the permission, the power and the courage to do in their own lives.
Just imagine a world where the millions of us who are stuck living and hiding in shame stood up and said, eff you diet culture, eff your old stories – I am worthy, I am powerful, my voice matters and I’m here to change the world.
Let’s do it right now, say it with me… I am worthy. I am powerful. I matter. My voice matters.
And I am here to change the world.
photo source | pexels + giphy