Ads, articles and blogs pushing diets. Celebrating them. We treat diets like brushing our teeth, like something we all should do as part of our regular body maintenance, if we’re clean, healthy, “good” people. Like it’s something decent people do. People who care about themselves.
It’s one of the biggest lies that a mass of people have ever bought into. Really.
I look around at people and think, can you all really be this stupid? Yeah, I know — uncharitable thought, but I’d rather be honest. And I guess I’m just frustrated. Smart people, educated people, people who call themselves things like progressive and feminist and vigilant, still choose to buy into the dieting myth.
It’s almost as disturbing as that link going around, showing screen captures of all the people on Twitter admitting they don’t know who Osama bin Laden was, or why people are so happy that he’s dead.
Just as disturbing as the number of people I see making murderous moves on the road because they’re too busy texting “LOL” to drive.
Dieting FAILS. Period. And if you’re one of the millions of people buying into the anti-fat panic, then let me express it in a way that makes more sense to you: DIETING MAKES YOU FATTER. FATTER. FATTER. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how often you see commercials for weight loss programs showing successful “after” pictures of the dieters THREE YEARS LATER.
I want you to wake up like I did. Why? Because what’s on the other side of your fear of stopping dieting is real health and real happiness. There, you’ll find a profound sense of relief. You’ll find freedom. You’ll live with less anxiety than you ever thought possible. And you’ll find your strength.
Dieting keeps us dumb. It keeps us running on a hamster wheel of empty hopes. And it usually does serious damage to our bodies and minds. Maybe even our souls.
To celebrate International No Diet Day, I’m offering an excerpt from my memoir, Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large — which went on sale nationwide this past Tuesday!
Read the excerpt below. Then I hope you’ll be inspired to buy your own copy of Read My Hips and read the whole darn thing. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself this year. And after you finish Read My Hips, I hope you’ll continue reading books that encourage you to live fully and live well, without dieting.
Just because dieting is everywhere, just because people in white coats with college degrees put their stamp on it, just because it’s so widely practiced, doesn’t mean it’s the smartest thing to do.
Hey — lots of people watch Jersey Shore, too.
Choose not to drink the Kool-Aid. You’ll be amazed how much better life gets.
EXCERPT from Read My Hips:
I don’t ever remember my mother being fat, and yet I clearly remember her dieting. When I was growing up, she read many women’s magazines — Redbook, Family Circle, Woman’s Day. As a stay-at-home mom, she watched daytime talk shows like Donahue. She was immersed in the popular culture of the day and so, like millions of other American women, she was exposed to the media onslaughtof “thinner is better” messaging, both overt and covert.
There was this glossy two-page spread of diet tips by Richard Simmons that she’d cut from one of her magazines and taped to her bedroom door. One of his suggestions was to use tiny children’s utensils for eating, because it would help one ingest less food. Above the type was a photo of a hammy Richard in a red polo shirt with white collar, holding a goofy oversized knife and fork, one in each hand, his mouth and eyes agape in comic exaggeration.
We moved round the country a lot, every couple of years or so. And everywhere we went, my mother carefully folded and stowed away her Richard Simmons diets tips, only to unfold and retape them to the bedroom door at our new address. The old tape grew brittle beneath the new, deepening to an unhealthy-looking jaundice color and flaking away.
My mother started her diets — and eventually, our shared family diets — very gung ho. There were inaugural trips to the supermarket, during which she stocked up on foods we usually never saw in our house. Like cottage cheese. She made lots of sweeping “from now on” statements: “We won’t be eating this anymore.” “We’re going to start taking walks every night after dinner.” “Things are going to change around here!”
She made charts for each member of the family on which we could track our exercise, and in the case of my brother and sister and me, our chores and our homework, too (because sweeping dietary change was usually concurrent with recommitments to pitching in around the house and getting straight A’s).
At the stationary store, Mom bought multicolored, star-shaped metallkic stickers we could lick-and-stick to mark our daily victories. She experimented with her blender and we swallowed things made from powders. She made me get up an hour early and go jogging with my father before school. Jogging made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, and I hated being forced into his company. The mood inside my Mork and MIndy lunchbox was dismal. Snack cakes and aluminum peel-top cans of pudding were gone. Sandwiches became wretchedly thin. We were eaing special bread now — diet bread, from the pink bag, sliced super-thin, “…so you can have two slices for the same number of calories as a single slice of regular bread!” my mother enthused. “It saves a whole bread exchange on Weight Watchers.”
Fortunately, the upheavals never lasted more than a week.
I’m not sure if my mother tired of all the extra effort it took to prepare these “diet” meals, or if she tired of the bland foods themselves, or of my ceaseless complaining because I’d been coerced into doing leg lifts with her on her bedroom floor. I just know that seven days later, the mashed potatoes and meatloaf would be back on the menu, the Ring Dings would return to the pantry, and no one talked about the cottage cheese going rancid in the back of the fridge. We were relieved. We knew Mom would get inspired again, eventually, but until that happened, we were keeping our traps shut.
It was only a few short years, though, before I’d become a teenager, and then I’d be the one initiating the diets, requesting them, asking for Jane Fonda’s Workout Album for Christams, and doing leg lifts by myself on my own bedroom floor. I didn’t want to be fat anymore. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be immune to the kind of disapporval I read in the eyes of every thin person who ever looked at me.
I can’t blame my mother for imbuing me with the “diet mentality”, because we coexisted in the same ugly culture. There was already something wicked at work that was far bigger than either one of us — a rapidly burgeoning, manipulative, and self-serving diet industry working from behinad a mask of false benevolence.
Throughout my teens and adulthood, I enjoyed many moments of triumph on the scale — at home, at the weight loss center, on the big pay-scale in the drugstore. But there were just as many moments of frustration, desperation, and deprivation as I undid all the dieting I’d done. Dieting was the express train to “let’s see just how fat this girl can get.” It sped me through all the “weigh” stations along the route, rarely stopping to rest long at any one victorious weight loss. In between, it delivered heartbreaking telegrams via scale that revealed ever-increasing all-time highs.
I started at 145 and dieted my way down to a gaunt 128.
I reveled in those 128 pounds for five minutes before the weight began to creep back up, and just two months later I found myself at 155.
The pattern continued, down and up ever higher, until one day, I peaked at 310.
Multiple go-rounds with Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Richard Simmons’ Deal-a-Meal and daily home deliveries of “Zone” diet meals made those companies richer. Sure, they brag they can “fix” you, but they never tell you up front about that one percent success rate. And when you fail, it’s never their fault. You’ve got something wrong with you.
I used to beat myself up for being such a failure, a repeat failure, unable to control myself. But in recent years I’ve read about what dieting does to our minds and bodies, and there’s evidence that once we start consciously tinkering with our food intake in an effort to reduce our body size, our bodies pull out every weapon in their arsenals to prevent us from succeeding. It seems no amount of “willpower” can overcome the body’s need to protect us from external threats to the food intake we’re used to. Reducing our caloric intake can actually trigger a narrowing of focus in our minds, too, a survival mechanism that makes sure we obsess about food until we get enough of it. Unfortunately, the whole act of self-deprivation — even mild self-deprivation — is so unnatural that we respond by eaing more than we really needed in the first place.
All those years of trying to lose weight exacerbated my already-unhealthy relationship with food. I was an emotional eater from a young age. Dieting casts an even bigger spotlight on food and all the accompanying rigidity; all those “forbidden” foods only made me want them more.
Once upon a time, food was fuel for my body and a pleasure to my senses. But it became so much more. Now it’s supercharged with meaning and burdened with responsibilities it never signed up for.
Besides, the widely swallowed message that no pursuit is holier, more righteous or valiant, than the pursuit of lost pounds fostered unnecessary self-hatred in me that took years to undo. Every weight loss program, not matter how positively it’s packaged, whispers to you that you’re not right. You’re not good enough. You’re unacceptable and you need to be fixed.
I officially reject that message. I reject it for myself, and I reject it on your behalf, too.
I wish I could go back in time and convince the adolescent girl I was to accept herself just the way she was. I’d tell her she was “ready” already, and she’d know what that meant. I’d tell her that every second she spent thinking about weight loss was shaving a minute off her life. I’d warn her that the bigger the deal she made out of eating less, the more she’d want to eat. I’d beg her, from the floor if necessary, to cry more — cry as hard as her belly ache was deep.
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Want to read more? Buy Read My Hips for yourself and someone you love at your favorite bookstore, or order online.