I am a big proponent of living life now, in the body I have, and enjoying it fully. I get to hike. I get to play. I get to lap up every moment as the gift it is, without guilt or shame, without the belief that it would somehow be better if I was in a different body. As a kid, I was ridiculed, made fun of, and called fat. Then, I was told I was too thin. I went through periods of restricting, of binging, and then finally landed in a place where I love myself just as I am. I believe I am created in God’s image and that is pretty darn incredible. I eat for nourishment and enjoyment. I embrace body diversity for myself and others and am genuinely filled with gratitude for this heart that keeps beating and these lungs that keep breathing.
I was listening to someone I respect talk live online and she started talking about health, weight and eating. I had assumed that she believed in Health at Every Size, avoiding diets and listening to our bodies, but she doesn’t. Instead, she started talking about intermittent fasting and a keto diet as necessary for good health. She shared that it was a lifestyle (not a diet) and started sharing numbers about how much weight she’d lost. I’m not buying the whole lifestyle thing.
Folks, there are so many resources out there about why lifestyles are usually diets and why they do not work. Here are some of the most pressing concerns I have about diets:
- Dieting reinforces body shame.
- 95 to 98 percent of diets fail.
- Dieting increases a person’s risk for eating disorders.
- Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illnesses according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
- Dieting can be a form of trauma reenactment for trauma survivors.
- Dieting cycles can increase the risk for heart disease and metabolic issues.
- Dieting can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
- Dieting can cause muscle loss, decreased endurance, blood sugar instabilities, hair loss, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and decreased oxygen utilization.
- Certain diets can be hard on the kidneys and heart.
- Diets cause problems with concentration and reduced reaction speeds.
- Dieting contributes to increased anxiety, stress, low self-worth and depression.
- Dieting willpower is actually restriction and restriction leads to binging.
Even more concerning, I’ve noticed a recent trend toward spiritualizing certain diets, as if they are endorsed by God Himself. This can be very dangerous for trauma survivors, especially those who have survived spiritual trauma. It reinforces shame and perfectionism while ignoring grace. It also hijacks religion, spirituality, and faith in a way that makes it seem like it is God’s will to eat a certain way or take certain products. In reality, the program is not from God but is a way to further fuel the diet industry and prey on the vulnerabilities of people in faith communities who have been programmed by society to believe that certain bodies are better or more healthy than other bodies.
Whether it’s someone claiming that a certain way of eating is endorsed by God, or the direct sales representative claiming to have found the perfect new *lifestyle* or products to improve health, chances are very good: it’s a diet. It’s a diet even when they claim (and maybe especially so?) that it is not a diet, but a way of life or of better health.
Here are 21 things to look for if you are wondering if a particular “lifestyle,” product line, program, or Bible study is actually a diet:
- Before and after pictures show weight loss but not weight gain.
- Foods are categorized as being good or bad, off limits or allowed.
- Weight gain is seen as bad or as a sign that you are not following the program.
- Body diversity is absent in the plan’s leadership. Only certain body sizes and shapes are seen as healthy.
- Weight loss is valued as an important outcome of the program, even if other outcomes are also listed.
- You feel shame or like you have failed if you do not follow the program or eat something different than the plan prescribes.
- Happiness is attached to thinness.
- You imagine yourself in a completely different body in a few weeks, months, or years.
- Words like “thin,” “slim,” “detox,” “fat burning,” “metabolism boosting,” “melt” or “sculpt” are part of the vocabulary of the program.
- The program requires you to make major changes or overhauls.
- Food groups are removed from your diet.
- Perfectionism is a big part of the culture. Mistakes are seen as failures or are addressed by taking extra supplements, doing extra exercises or further restriction.
- The program feels like punishment.
- Feeling hungry is seen or felt as a moral or spiritual victory. Feeling full is bad.
- You feel more powerful, spiritual, special, celebrated or loved when you avoid eating or fast.
- It’s necessary to buy special supplements or foods.
- You are replacing meals with liquids because you’re told to, not because you’re really craving that green smoothie or fresh juice.
- You must follow certain meal plans or supplement regimens.
- Accountability groups feel competitive in terms of results or how well participants are sticking to the plan.
- You are made to feel crazy when you share any belief that the program is actually a diet. This is called gaslighting and most trauma survivors experienced it during childhood. This means it might feel familiar.
- In faith based programs, you are made to feel that you don’t love God enough, haven’t prayed enough, or aren’t relying on God enough if you make a choice outside the plan. You see this as sin.
Your program does not need to include all of these signs in order to be a diet. One or two is all it takes and if there’s a nudge in your gut trying to tell you something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.
Before you jump into the diet you think you need to participate in so you can be more spiritual, healthier or have a better body, consider the risks and manipulation inherent in dieting and the whole diet industry. Then, ask yourself what you really think you will gain through the program, when you have the body or results you are going for. How is the version of you in that different body different from how you are are right now? Many people envision one or more of the following:
- Increased happiness
- Being able to wear certain things
- Fewer health concerns
- Living dreams
- Feeling less self conscious and more confident
- Increased sense of belonging and acceptance
- Ability to do things you cannot do now
- Feeling more attractive
- Being more successful
- Feeling more energetic
- Wearing new clothes
- Decreased anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms
Since dieting often results in the exact opposite of the above outcomes, is jumping into that program really the right thing for you? If you’re looking for mentally and physically healthy ways to improve your quality of life or achieve those goals without dieting, I recommend the following resources:
- The Donut Eating Dietician
- Green Mountain at Fox Run
- Association for Size Diversity and Health
- Health at Every Size Community
- Books by Linda Bacon
- Joyn Joyful Movement
- Jeanette DePatie – Every Body Can Exercise
- Sophisticated Curves
- The Curvy Fashionista
- Glitter and Lazers
- Peace With Food
If your desire to engage in dieting is rooted in trauma or you feel like you are stuck and repeating the same patterns over and over again, trauma recovery coaching can help. It is my honor and privilege to walk with people each and everyday as they explore how to move forward in freedom, healing and empowerment. For more information, contact me today so we can talk about your needs and what modalities or approaches might be a good fit.
In the meantime, know that you are enough just as you are, even if you never change a thing. Know that you are worthy, valued, valuable, lovable, and just as incredible as every other person. You get to exist, take up space and enjoy life in the body you currently have, no matter what anyone else has said about it it in the past. All bodies are good bodies. That means that your body is a good body. You, my friend, are remarkable. Truth.