Almost since the moment I became conscious of my body, I've been on some kind of diet.
That's pretty sad, right? But it shouldn't be surprising. As a society, we're bombarded with images of the perfect body and told that it's something worth pursuing. And even as bad as it can be today, it used to be a lot worse. Now, there's a growing consciousness about the effects these messages have on people, especially women and girls. Entire cause marketing campaigns are built around combatting the idea that perfect exists (think about anything that Dove has done in the last 10 years).
But when I was growing up, I didn't see things like Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty or its successors, and I really didn't have many — if any — adults around me who modeled self-love. What I saw was ritual disappointment with bodies and people seeking quick fixes.
So, I dieted.
Let me be clear: the purpose of these "diets" wasn't health. The sole purpose was to be skinny. That right there set me up for failure. I wasn't interested in the nutritional implications of what I was putting in my body; as long as my calories stayed low enough, I was sure I'd hit my goal (whatever that actually was).
So what were some of the wacky things I put my body through? A non-comprehensive list:
- Remember SlimFast? I can remember drinking my mom's SlimFast shakes when I was 10. TEN! That should have never happened in a million years. Not only were they gross, but there is no way those things are healthy. I just looked up the ingredients and the third ingredient is sugar and six of the first 11 ingredients are added sweeteners of some kind. I'm sure the recipe has changed at least a bit since the late '90s, so in all likelihood it was even worse for you then. I should have been eating real food; instead I was drinking poison.
- I spent an entire summer when I was 13 or 14 eating dry salad. I still eat dry salad (because I don't like dressing — or really, salad), but it's not the only thing I eat. It was a very sad summer.
- Seventeen magazine (I think) once published a look at what Britney Spears ate in a week, so I did that religiously for a while. I mean, really?
- I did Weight Watchers for a spell in high school. I even went to a meeting once. I wasn't even overweight in high school!
- Weight Watchers, redux! I returned to WW during my freshman year in college. I had a few pounds to lose, and it worked for a while, but WW was not a sustainable lifestyle for me.
- I got scammed out of $80 buying some type of acai supplement that promised some kind of weight-related magic. I am particularly ashamed of that one.
- P90X. Oh, Uncle Tony. The exercise program, which I attempted with a friend, comes with a nutrition plan. I don't remember much of the details, other than throwing canned chicken in a frying pan with a bunch of spices and calling it a meal. I never did make it into the second month of P90X.
- The next thing was MyFitnessPal. I've been on and off MyFitnessPal for years. The thing about MFP is not that it's inherently unhealthy, but I got addicted to coming in under my calorie goal every day. When your calorie goal is 1,200, that's dangerous territory, especially if you're working out, too.
It's only within the past couple of years that I've thought about nutrition as a way to fuel my body and be healthy, rather than as a strategy to lose weight. Not that I don't think about weight loss, but it's simply a welcome side-effect of pursuing a healthy life now.
I was at my heaviest at the end of 2014, even after all these years where my goal was skinny. So, I made a commitment to my health, setting fitness goals while using food as a way to reach them. And I lost a lot of weight in eight months. I was in the best shape of my life.
I've gotten away from that a little as I've had other things to focus on in the past year — like a tough year at work and my long-distance relationship.. That's where Whole30 came in. I don't view it as a diet. It's just 30 days where I can reevaluate how food affects my body. I might lose some weight, but more important is resetting where I am nutritionally and changing my relationship with food. It's not the enemy, but I do need to find which foods are better friends than others.
I guess my point is to illustrate just how many crazy things we can do to try to reach some societal ideal of beauty. Who got to decide what perfect was? I'm a relatively mild case; I don't have an eating disorder; I haven't opted for an all-liquid diet; I'm naturally wary of juice cleanses (your liver doesn't need any help CLEANSING your body!). Still, I've done enough wacky diet things in the name of being thin that were ultimately more unhealthy than healthy. And they never brought me happiness.
My hope is that we see more awareness around body positivity — and I'm happy in my opinion that I don't think it's going away any time soon. But change is also probably going to come slow. It's going to take at least a generation or two of shielding our daughters from our own self-destructive comments around our appearance; a generation or two of seeing plus-sized models in the mainstream; a generation or two of "ordinary" faces in leading roles. And it starts with us.