It’s the end of December and time to brace ourselves for the inevitable onslaught of diet industry propaganda. The drearily endless articles about dieting and how imbibing a daily concoction of kale, organic vole spit and WD40 will make you a whole new person. And that’s without all the labia-steaming, liver blitzes and a bizarre focus on arm-vaginas, all with that magic ingredient: guilt.
It’s all nonsense and we need to remember that diets do not work, however guilty we’re made to feel. We will see the same advice as last year dressed up in new clothes but they’re all essentially just the same books, DVDs, blogs and diet plans. Even fun, zesty lifestyle changes which have weight loss as a goal are just diets in fancy new trousers.
Diet companies are getting wise to the fact that many people are becoming aware of this and starting to question the efficacy of a shame and guilt-based model. That’s why they are frenziedly rebranding. They’re being wily and creative, but let’s not be fooled. And let’s take a look at some counter-evidence.
The pursuit of weight loss most frequently leads to weight-cycling. Weight lost is eventually re-gained, sometimes with a bit extra. This yo-yoing puts increased stress on your body and is at best a waste of our time, and at worst harmful. Nearly everyone can lose weight on diets but not in the long term. Diet companies make money because their product fails.
But what if you want to improve your health? Allowing diet companies to guilt you into a lifestyle change is never a good idea and sometimes losing weight is not possible, especially if you have a chronic health condition that is beyond your control. Some of us choose to prioritise other things in our lives and that too is legitimate. Body-shaming and body guilt can stress us out and stress is bad for our health, whoever we are.
It’s a safe bet that the diet industry isn’t going to start encouraging anything that might make us all feel more happy and secure any time soon, since, in the words of Jean Kilbourne, “a person who feels happy and secure isn’t going to be a very good consumer”.
Instead, what if we were prompted to discover things that add meaning, joy, and fulfilment to our lives? Because we all deserve to live peaceably in our bodies. Our worth is non-negotiable. And with that in mind, here are some body-accepting, joy-encouraging, diet-shunning things to consider this New Year:
Health is not a measure of anyone’s worth. Supposedly positive mantras like “strong is the new skinny” still prioritise some people over others
Have a think about joyful things you can add to your life rather than things you can take away
If you struggle with your relationship with food, you could learn about Intuitive Eating. We recommend Susie Orbach’s excellent and compassionate book On Eating (there is a particularly helpful extract here)
Read up on body anxiety, body acceptance and Health at Every Size (HAES). Read Ragen Chastain’s Dances with Fat blog and Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body.
Find a kind of exercise or movement you enjoy. Dance in your kitchen like no one but the cat is watching. Hop, skip, jump, whatever. The goal is enjoyment, nothing more
If you’re curvy and find choosing clothes disheartening, look for fashion that embraces diverse bodies. Our clothes needn’t be apologies. If you love certain colours or patterns, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy dressing in them.
Find activities that make you feel good – even if you don’t think you should do them until you’re thinner and/or fitter.
Find a community where you feel comfortable discussing body image issues. Shame and guilt flourish in isolation. You may feel alone, but you’ll be surprised just how many people feel the same as you do and just how amazing it feels to be heard and understood.
Challenge your own assumptions about other people’s health or body size because those things mean you’re also judging yourself by the same standards.
Surround yourself with a greater diversity of role models.
The tired old “New Year, New You” trope is gold-plated bulls**t. No one flourishes with giant, impossible aims to achieve. You’re already a flawed and fabulous human being, just like everyone else.
Remember that, unless we live in stark isolation from other people and society, we’re surrounded by messages every single day that coerce us into dissatisfaction with ourselves as we are. It’s not your fault. Be kind to yourself. You are genuinely worth it.
Follow Jo and Eleanor’s body acceptance project AnyBody here
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