I was scrolling through Instagram's Explore page when I noticed a post that read, "To those who don't believe that fat phobia is real, here's a thought experiment for you. If you had to choose between being fat and healthy, or thin and unhealthy, which would it be?" I hesitated.
"The fact that your brain hesitated is exactly what I'm talking about," continued the post, written by U.K. medical doctor Joshua Wolrich. I'd been caught. Obviously, if forced to choose between being healthy or unhealthy, it's a no-brainer. But apparently if adding the hypothetical caveat that to obtain that same level of health, I would need to become something I, and wider society, have historically strived not to be, the decision isn't so clear.
This question wasn't just a reminder of why I've been done with diet culture for a while, but proof that changing long-held beliefs doesn't happen overnight.
If you're unfamiliar with the term "diet culture," registered dietitian Christy Harrison defines it (christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture ) as a system of beliefs that, to summarize, "worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue," promotes "weight loss as a means of attaining higher status," demonizes "certain ways of eating while elevating others—which means you're forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices," and "Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of 'health,'" which, as Harrison explains, "disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of colour, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health."
To me, diet culture is the reason we look for quick fixes in restrictive fad diets, supplements and juice cleanses, as if it's our appearance that needs fixing (P.S. your liver exists for a reason; cleanses are not necessary). It's the reason I thought it was a good idea to take metabolism-boosting pills in high school. It's the thought that, if our appearance matches society's ideals, we'll be happier, more accepted or revered.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no formal training when it comes to nutrition. What I do have is over a decade of experience Googling the pros and cons of every diet in the book, attempting to find out which would be most effective.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's incredibly important for people to be educated about the food we eat, where it comes from and what kind of impact our nutritional choices have on our bodies. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having goals and using scientifically proven knowledge to meet them—if it's not compromising your mental or physical health.
But, for me, it's too exhausting to care about "dieting" anymore, at least the way I used to do it.
For example, while working at a high-performance training centre during university, it wasn't uncommon for me to skip dinner in favour of protein powder, or add extra sets of treadmill sprints to my workout to "make up" for the pizza I ate the night before.
Outwardly, my decisions seemed healthy and were socially accepted. My friends would comment on how fit and committed I was—the praise made me feel superior to those who weren't making the same choices. But even so, it never felt like I was doing enough.
That's probably because my motivation to eat what I perceived as "healthy" foods (ahem, low-fat cheese? Seriously?) and to work out six days a week was fuelled by negativity. Those were my tools to achieve a certain body type and avoid another, something I imagined would make up for any problems I had and ensure I was always accepted.
When I inevitably "cheated," I'd feel like a dirtbag, not because of the sugar I consumed, but because of the guilt I associated with it. (Sidenote: can we all just agree that food doesn't have a moral value? You haven't "been bad" because you've consumed calorie-dense foods. Calories are literally just units of energy; you have not committed any crimes.)
Slowly, I've come to realize that there are so many better reasons to be active and eat whole foods —none of which have anything to do with our appearance—than weight loss. I've learned that appearances have nothing to do with your worth or abilities as a human being.
I've also learned that when talking about health, the old adage of never judging a book by its cover rings true. All weight loss is not healthy—that friend who's suddenly much smaller and "looks great" may be dealing with debilitating stress or depression. Another friend who wears a larger clothing size may be perfectly healthy and stronger than you think, and/or maybe they're dealing with an illness or hormone imbalance. Either way, you never know what's happening under the surface. It's never OK to judge or assign stereotypes based on someone's appearance.
At the end of the day, adjusting your perspective is never easy, especially when these sentiments are so deeply ingrained that it's nearly impossible to sort out where society's influence ends and logical thinking begins. For me, rejecting diet culture is really just about respect. Respecting yourself, your body and respecting everyone else.