Thursday, 4 January 2018

How to deal with January Diet Culture B.S.

Hello lovely people,

First off, happy new year! 2018 has begun! .....and it wouldn't be a new year without a new wave of diet culture b.s. crashing into our lives. Dunnes' shelves are piled high with Weight Watchers Weighing Scales. Centra's 2018 foodie calendar features a photo of a seeded green smoothie bowl for the month of January, captioned 'to help get you back on track'. Aldi and Lidl have announced collaborations with Operation Transformation, Ireland's leading weight loss TV show. In fact, Aldi's  new range of fitness gear features a tank top with the words 'work it off' emblazoned on the front. Work what off exactly? Not to mention the T.V. and radio ads, billboards, posters and social media posts. If all this 'New Year, New Me' palaver is about health, then why does being healthy require 'shaping up', 'burning off', 'detoxing' and dieting all in the name of weight loss? Why is health being so narrowly, superficially defined?

So companies can make money from it, of course (this is a common theme, you'll soon see)!

Why January?

Diet culture is (loosely defined) an unhealthy system of beliefs about food and exercise, where fatness is given devil-like status. Diet culture was created by the diet industry, which at best, is a complete scam and at worst, a cruel manipulation of the human psyche for profit. This multi-billion dollar industry is active all year round but why is it so rampant in January? Why are we particularly susceptible to diet culture rhetoric this time of the year?

December is marketed as the month of 'comforting' and 'indulgent' foods; the foods that fall under this category tend to be carby, sugary and boozy. We are actively encouraged to eat in excess, in fact, it is a cultural expectation to eat far more than is comfortable. Also, since many people are off school/work, it's almost as if normal food 'rules' don't apply and we can 'let loose' with our eating. This kind of overeating particularly effects those of us who impose a restrictive 'healthy foods only' regime the rest of the year. In addition, the holidays can be a stressful time of year, with family rows and financial pressures at the forefront. Emotional eating is a common means of dealing with stress.

But this 'enjoy yourself by overeating' mentality is quickly rejected as we plummet into cold, harsh, restrictive January. Diets, diets everywhere. Juice Cleanses. Magic herbal teas. 'Fat binding' pills. Unicorn personal trainers....oh wait no.......though that is something I would definitely buy into. Weight loss regimes and reduced price gym memberships appear out of nowhere. We are introduced to the novel idea that you can leave your greedy, lazy, December self behind and, indeed, transform your life and become an 'inspiration'. That if you just try hard enough, this year, you too can earn the diet culture crown of organic almonds, protein powder and exhaustion. It is worth noting that these restrictive messages are often hidden behind slogans like 'make healthier choices' and 'live well'.

This is more than just a cruel betrayal, it is a dangerous idolisation of binge (December) - purge (January) eating which actively promotes fatphobia. This kind of endorsed disordered eating is fundamentally identical to bulimia. Tell me again how this is all about 'health'?

Whether eliminating food groups, maintaining strict portion control or counting calories in the pursuit of weight loss, restrictive eating of any kind is never healthy. It is not good for your physical health (e.g. messes with your metabolism) or your mental health (implies food and exercise have moral values that can be used to reward or punish). Furthermore, thoughts about eating, exercising and physical appearance can easily become obsessive and intrusive.

To summarise: None of this is healthy, in any way.

What's the alternative?

Eating when you are hungry. Stopping when you are full. Eating nutritious foods for your body and tasty foods for your soul. Lifting restrictions on any type of food. You will only binge on foods when they are off-limits. Aiming for neutrality towards food. Exercising because you love your body, not because you hate it. Resting when you need to. Paying attention to your mental health as well as physical health. Eliminating ideas of body perfection, diet perfection, fitness perfection. There is no one size fits all. Health is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. It has no moral value. Food has no moral value. Fitness has no moral value. Bodies have no moral value.

This may be something you hadn't previously thought about but I hope that this post has inspired you to view January's diet culture craze from a critical perspective.

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Until the next time,

Niamh xxx

P.S. Here are some pictures of a *delicious* chocolate cake I made, just to say  f*** you diet culture and happy new year!

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