by Amy Tuckett-McGimpsey
“Don’t talk to me about your diet.”
I repeated these seven words after reposting the following Facebook status by writer Ijeoma Oluo, whose work has been published for The Guardian, The Establishment and Jezebel, among others.
Other than a year in high school of extremely disordered eating where my weight changed drastically and another year in my twenties when I was seriously ill, I have been fat my entire life. I have also spent nearly my whole life trying to change my body through dieting, restrictive eating masquerading as clean eating, bouts of P90x®, Beachbody® or bootcamps, or the next big marketing tactic in getting that “ideal” body. And you know what? I’m done. I have been done for a while, and I felt like it was time to let everyone know.
Almost instantaneously, a well-meaning – but non-listening – friend responded, sharing how she is eating healthy because she hates her body, a body that is significantly smaller than mine. You may have been in either position at some point. I have been in both. In fact, I am fairly sure I’ve said “You look great, but I just don’t feel healthy at this size, and that bothers me.” to a larger-bodied friend in the past.
What I didn’t realize then – and understand better now – is that when fat shaming my own body, and my body is smaller than someone else’s, I’m also shaming their body, even if that’s not my intention. Impact of actions almost always trumps intent.
I might not be able to persuade you to give up your diet, but there are some important reasons why we all need to consider how diet talk impacts others.
Diets don’t work. Diets can be harmful.
It’s true that some people who diet may lose weight in the short term but most of them – at least 95% – will regain any weight lost and more, as the body naturally tries to regulate itself from restrictive eating. By repeating the claims of the media and diet industry, and perhaps without realizing it, you are influencing other people to keep trying to change their body shape and size. Yo-yo dieting may actually be more harmful to someone’s health than if they stayed at their natural weight, even if their natural weight is high. The weight loss/weight gain cycle has been associated with increased risk for high blood pressure and other conditions. What dieting can lead to is a preoccupation with food and weight, body related anxiety and dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.
You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.
Common triggers for people living with an eating disorder is the diet mentality perpetuated by a culture obsessed with thinness. Those who experience anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder – both issues are addressed in our eating disorders program – range in body size and shape. Talking about restrictive eating, categorizing food as good or bad, or even just talking about trying to fit in your old jeans, may trigger someone who is actively trying to recover from eating disorder. While dieting may not inevitably lead to an eating disorder, most eating disorders start with a diet.
You also don’t know someone’s health status by looking at them.
At Women’s Health Clinic, we believe in Health at Every Size® model of care. Body size alone is not an accurate indicator of health, and weight is just a small part of what influences health status. There are many more important determinants of health that aren’t reflected in size, shape or weight. It may not always easy to change the way we think and talk about our personal health, but it’s important – for ourselves and others – that we ditch the diet talk and move towards embracing body peace instead.
May 6th is No Diet Day, and once again Women’s Health Clinic is encouraging businesses and individuals to create spaces as “Body Peace Zones” – during the week of May 1st – 6th. We ask that you don’t talk about diets, weight or body size; encourage you to be non-judgmental about the food choices or eating habits of yourself and others; and work to accept and respect all body types.
Want to join the movement? Click here for more information (and to download the poster and toolkit!)
Portions of this post were inspired by WHC’s: Women, Weight and Power: Weighing Women’s Presence in the World
An essay based on the content of an interactive workshop delivered at the Women’s Worlds Conference | Ottawa, Ontario | July 2011 – click to read.