Diet Starts Monday? How To Break Free From Diet Culture

The problem is that this approach not only fails to produce long-term weight loss, but it can also lead to a host of physical and mental health problems.

So, what’s the alternative?

I definitely don’t claim to have it all figured out. My relationship with food and exercise is probably always going to be complicated. But I’ve definitely found that focusing on my health instead of my weight has helped. And there are two things that have significantly shifted my mindset: intuitive eating and finding joy in movement.

Let’s start with joyful movement. For the longest time, I thought of exercise as a way to burn calories or earn food (thanks, diet culture). I always thought my body wasn’t ‘right’ for sports. And it genuinely wasn’t until I realised I didn’t have to see exercise as a punishment that I started to enjoy it. I started open-water swimming in 2021, and it shifted the focus away from weight loss to the other benefits it can bring: being strong, improving my mental health, reducing stress, and being more flexible.

“A ‘dream’ body is not a dream body if it’s a nightmare to maintain.”

As well as moving my body more, I also looked into intuitive eating as an alternative to dieting.

My first reaction to it was, “Oh great, another diet”, but the more I read about the approach (by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch), the more I realised it had merit.

Intuitive eating, if you haven’t heard of it, encourages a mindful approach to nourishing our bodies. It’s about tuning in to our natural hunger and fullness cues, and cultivating a connection with the food we eat.

The great thing about intuitive eating lies in the freedom it grants us to relish a piece of chocolate without guilt or to savour a hearty salad with equal pleasure.

No more labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Intuitive eating liberates us from the moralisation of food, empowering us to make choices based on what our bodies actually want and need.

Is it ever OK to want to lose weight?

Weight loss is, of course, an individual choice. But before we embark on any intentional weight loss, the most important thing is to look at why we want to lose weight. Is it for medical reasons, like having surgery? Or is it, ultimately, just because we’d like to be thinner and therefore conform to society’s norms about what’s more attractive (even if we’re telling ourselves it’s for “health reasons”)?

If we’re focused solely on losing weight and obsessing over every pound that we do (or don’t) lose, it can be demotivating and lead to behaviours such as crash dieting and excessive exercise, which aren’t sustainable. If, on the other hand, we focus on improving our overall health, we’re more likely to make lifestyle changes that can benefit our wellbeing in the long run.

While the temptation to lose weight just in order to feel more accepted is strong, we have to weigh up the costs. A ‘dream’ body is not a dream body if it’s a nightmare to maintain.

New year, same you

Have you ever looked back at old photos of yourself when you were in a smaller body and thought, “God, I wish I looked like that now!”? I know I have. Yet I can also remember that, at the time, I hated my body and how I looked, which is proof that it’s never been about being a specific weight or size.

It’s time to stop letting the scales determine our value, stop giving money to companies who make a profit from us not feeling our best, stop obsessing over diet after diet, and start living life to the full – just as we are – instead.

Our bodies – with all their wobbles, cellulite, stretch marks, folds, curves, scars and hairy bits – tell a story of a skin well lived in.

So, instead of ‘turning over a new leaf’ in 2024, how about we speak to ourselves and our bodies with more kindness? And maybe even start to like and appreciate the leaf that we’re already on.‌

Diet Starts Monday by Laura Adlington is available to pre-order.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

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