Just the other day, my friend Jessica texted me about a post she saw on instagram from a former classmate. The post pretty much spouted off about this person’s newest diet, how we’re all “addicted to sugar” and how much better this person feels now that they’re “a new person.”
A new person? Because you changed what you were eating?! That’s exactly the type of miracle that these diets promise in order to hook you in. Well, former classmate, consider me not hooked.
My friend Jessica was able to recognize how disordered this post in question was–it was moralizing foods, promoting intermittent fasting, and glorifying food and fitness regimes as a way to feel powerful, in control, and invincible. This type of righteousness is part of what makes diets (and eating disorders) so addictive.
When most people start a diet, they feel empowered. They feel like they’re finally committing to something, like they’re bound to follow through, and like they somehow are above the rest of the world that still eats bread and drinks soda.
I mean, come on, we’ve all been there. Especially if you’ve dealt with an eating disorder or disordered eating.
We’ve all sauntered into the gym in our new work out gear and felt pretty damn cool for being “healthy,” and “fit.” We’ve all felt that renewed sense of hope and power that comes on a Monday when you say “this time, I’m really doing it.”
But here’s the truth–no diet will give you power. No work out class or million mile hike increases your worth like these “fitness buffs” will try to tell you. While starting a new diet or preaching about your “clean eating” might make you feel invincible, smart, and cool, it’s not sustainable.
If we’re consistently deriving our value from the foods we eat, the workouts we do, or the fact that we’re so not out of breath when we climb up a staircase, what happens when things change? How will you feel about yourself when you do eat bread? What happens if you don’t lose the weight you intended to lose or you don’t feel any better by cutting out whichever food group you chose? I mean, we can’t survive on kale…eventually you will eat carbs and you will drink soda and will you break some arbitrary rule that you set in a moment of false confidence. (And if you don’t break these rules ever, you most likely have an eating disorder).
We aren’t meant to exist on rigid and restrictive diets, and we aren’t meant to tie our worth to the number of miles we can run.
When diets, exercise, food, and body become so much a part of our identities, we’re setting ourselves up for extreme disappointment when we finally realize that our fleeting feelings of power and coolness and fitness are just that: fleeting.
While posting on the internet about your diet or workout might momentarily make you feel worthy or smart or better than other people, all it’s doing is distracting from the rest of your life.
Eating disorders creep up in a desperate attempt to numb. They serve as a temporary band-aid over whatever other issues are going on in someone’s life. Maybe it’s anxiety, grief, depression, trauma, you name it. An eating disorder (or disordered eating) is merely a way to stay out of those uncomfortable feelings.
I remember–in my own eating disorder–feeling like I had a “get out of jail free” card. In any moment, any situation where I felt uncomfortable, unworthy, or just plain shitty, retreating into the secret world of my eating disorder felt like I was untouchable.
If I just refocused my thoughts, engaged in some disordered behavior, suddenly, I didn’t have to feel so powerless or scared. But that didn’t last. It never does.
And I see dieting as the same thing: a way to escape the uncomfortable moments of feeling. People often reach for diets in times of transition, times of uncertainty, times of feeling not good enough.
So many clients tell me that their eating disorder (or disordered eating) started when they were having marital issues, starting a new job, or even graduating college. Tough times are tough. That’s why we reach for things to help.
The point of this post, though, is to remind people that diets (or EDs) don’t help. Losing X pounds won’t make your relationship with a partner any healthier. They won’t make you feel less anxious, and they certainly won’t help you love yourself.
It might feel that way at first. You might be reading this and thinking “well, she’s definitely never really had success with a diet if she thinks they don’t improve confidence.”
And you’d be right. I’ve never had success with a diet because the first diet I started became incredibly disordered (as they do for most). And that process–as terrible as it was–made me realize that no external change in my life would ever make me love myself.
That was an internal change.