So, here’s the thing: I am staunchly anti-diet-for-weight-loss. Staunchly. Did I mention staunchly? (Wow, that’s starting to not look like a word anymore: staunchly. Staunchly. Staunchlystaunchlystaunchly. Weird. Aaaaaaanyway.)
I know all the reasons people give for dieting, and mostly they seem to boil down to 2 ideas: people want to lose weight “for [their] health” or they want to look better in a swimsuit. Ironically, I don’t really have a problem with the latter. While I wish that every single person would be happy with the way they look and rock that bikini on the beach whether fat or thin, the fact is that it is very hard to do that in our culture, and not everyone is cut out to fight every battle. In other words, I see a problem with the paradigm, but not with the individuals who go along to get along, so to speak. If you’ve absorbed the message that your body isn’t “right” so much that every time you walk past a mirror or a window you’re plunged into a swamp of self-hatred and body-loathing, I can’t fault you for doing everything in your power to fix that state of mind, EVEN IF it includes things I don’t agree with on principle.
So. In an odd way, I can respect someone who says, “I’m losing weight to rock that bikini.” I think it’s sad that we’ve come to that – I’ve been there, and I know what it feels like to hate my body – but I can understand it. But as a society, why do we treat it as a big moral triumph? Honestly, how is changing your body any different than changing your hair color? Dieting might take more work/obssession, but that doesn’t automatically make it worthy of the praise we heap on it in this culture. When I colored my hair a got a few, “hey nice hair” comments, but I didn’t discuss every freakin’ detail of the bleaching process to a bunch of fascinated ladies in the lunch room for the whole hour. (And before you say I’m exaggerating, please think about how much time you or your friends spend talking about what you eat. I’ll bet it’s more time than you realize. I know it was for me.)
But if someone says they are dieting only for their health, I’ve got to call bullshit on that one. Frankly, there are so many conflicting studies that I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty that thin is healthier than fat. There are a bunch of links on the “Links and Studies” page, above, so I’m not going to go into a lot of it here.
But how do we know if we’re doing what we’re doing for our “health” or because of cultural brainwashing? We all like to think we’re independent thinkers, but really none of us are. God knows I really thought for a long time that if I didn’t lose weight, I was doomed to be unhealthy. But when I was at my lowest weight (which ironically put me at the middle-to-low end of “normal” according to the *cough*bullshit*cough* BMI), do you know how I’d gotten there? Eating under 500 calories a day, sometimes less, and exercising at least 60 minutes a day, sometimes as much as 90 minutes, 7 days a week. Was I healthy? Um, no. I blew out my (other) knee, blew out a couple of discs in my back, had a constant cold, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, had recurring bloody noses . . . I was NOT. HEALTHY. But I was thin.
And for a long time, I really thought that if I gained weight I would be not only fatandugly, but UNHEALTHY (because obviously, I was a paragon of health before). Even after that crazy period in college, when I started eating more and exercising a little less and started gaining weight, even when I pendulumed back the other way into binge eating and gained even more weight, I thought that THE REASON I WAS UNHEALTHY WAS BECAUSE I WASN’T THIN.
I was saying that to someone one day, and she asked me the $64,000 question. Are you ready? It rocked my world, and made me realize that underneath my belief that I was FINE with my body, REALLY, I JUST WANTED TO BE HEALTHIER . . . I still hated myself with a fiery passion. And then my REAL internal work began. Here you go:
What if you did all the “right” things, got the “right” amount of exercise, had perfect blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, never ate anything but unprocessed, organic food, could run 5-10 miles easily and without getting out of breath and every doctor you saw said you were the healthiest person they’d ever seen? Pretty great, right? Now imagine that you wake up tomorrow and all those things are true, BUT YOUR BODY IS STILL EXACTLY THE SAME.
Are you happy with yourself? Or do you hate yourself just as much? (I know the first time I heard that, I felt a wave of physical revulsion wash through me that I could not BELIEVE.)
Edited to add: The next question, after “YOUR BODY IS . . . THE SAME,” is, would you feel differently if in order to acheive all that, you had to GAIN weight? Would you do it? Would you rather meet all the above criteria and weight 50-100 pounds more than you do now? Or conversely, would you rather lose your desired amount of weight at the PRICE of those things? What if you could wake up tomorrow at 125, 150, whatever you wish your weight were, but you would have none of the health benefits above? (I am glad to say that most days I wouldn’t choose to be skinny and unhealthy, but I’m a little ashamed to admit that most days I would not gain 50-100 pounds to improve my health, either. I’m working on it. It’s some tough shit.)
THAT’S how you root out the cultural brainwashing.