In my last post I wrote about the intersection of diet culture and my low self-esteem, and the effect it had on my life. In this post I am going to delve a bit deeper into diet culture and how it can take root in your thoughts and mess with your mind.
Jean-Luc and Nick often speak about how important it is to develop positive self-talk as part of your weight loss journey and I couldn’t agree more. As most of us have learned through years of dieting, what happens between your ears is just as important as what you put in your mouth. Unfortunately, for those of us who also struggle with mental health issues such as depression and low self-esteem, the negative self-talk in your weight loss journey can easily seep into your thoughts and judgments about who you are as a person, with lasting negative effects.
I always considered myself a shy kid. Somehow though, without a lot of encouragement, I found the confidence to participate in choir and drama activities in elementary school. In grade 7, I was selected to take part in the school’s music program and for the next 5 years I learned to play 3 different instruments including clarinet, tuba, and flute. I graduated from high school with honours and became the first member of my extended family to earn a university degree. After completing school, my then-boyfriend got a job in Newfoundland, and I left all my friends and family in Ontario behind and followed him to a province I knew very little about. I ended up living there for 7 years. In 2006 I became a mom and for the last 4 years I have been raising my son as a full-time single parent.
Looking back on it now, I realize that I have been brave and strong in many of my life choices. I’ve worked hard and I have a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, I didn’t always feel worthy of those successes because there was one that always alluded me, being thin and "beautiful". Instead, my adult life revolved around looking for the next best diet to help me lose weight and become worthy. None of my previous successes were important to me or made me feel worthy. Losing weight was always the number one focus and goal.
The lies of diet culture were seared into my brain for many years. I believed them without a second thought or reservation. They clouded my judgment and blinded me from seeing all that I had accomplished. When I was in the first blush of a new diet and starting to lose weight, I felt amazing, especially when people would compliment me on my weight loss. And when I couldn’t live up to the expectations of the diets I attempted? I would turn inwards and sink into a depression, always blaming my own shortcomings for my failure. I would eat to sooth the sadness and then feel guilty about it. Leaving me searching for another diet to try. It was a vicious cycle.
However, after decades of being obsessed with my weight and attempting dozens and dozens of diets, I have finally discovered the truth. Diet culture is toxic and dangerous. It can leave you feeling guilty and demoralized. It is the result of an industry that promises us a quick fix that almost always ends in failure, but somehow keeps us coming back again and again hoping for a different result. Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are a lot of sensible weight loss programs out there. I am currently following the personal points program on WW and in a few days I will embark on the P3 Experience pilot program. However, there are also diets and weight loss programs that you need to be wary of. How can you tell the difference? In my humble opinion, if the program does not make mental health as important a part of the program as your food choices and physical health, you will likely not be successful at it for the long term. Lasting success comes from developing new and healthier habits and these changes must start in the mind.
Below I have listed 4 toxic diet lies that used to dominate my thinking and often lead to depression and self-loathing. See how my self-talk has changed from my previous weight loss attempts to my current wellness journey. For those of you who have followed Jean-Luc’s and Nick’s journeys, my new self-talk will sound quite familiar.
The Diet Lie: There are good foods and bad foods. You must avoid the bad foods and eat only the good foods.
Old Self-Talk: Giving in and eating the bad foods means you are weak/bad.
New Self-Talk: Food has no moral value. It is neither good nor bad. It is simply food. You can choose to eat food that has more nutritional value or food that has less nutritional value. Whichever type you choose has no bearing on who you are. Try your best to eat more foods that have a higher nutritional value.
The Diet Lie: To be successful, you must always follow “the diet” exactly.
Old Self-Talk: If you can’t follow “the diet” exactly you’re useless. Why can’t you do this?
New Self-Talk: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are a lot of variations in between and there is no such thing as perfection. Mistakes happen. Circumstances change. When things are not going according to plan, simply start again. You only quit when you stop trying.
The Diet Lie: If you follow “the diet” correctly, you will lose the weight.
Old Self-Talk: If you don’t lose weight on “the diet” there is something wrong with you.
New Self-Talk: There is no cookie cutter diet that will work for everyone. We are all on our own journey and each one of us is different. You just need to find what works for you. Don’t compare yourself to others.
The Diet Lie: The faster you lose the weight, the better.
Old Self-Talk: The faster you lose weight the more people will notice and praise you for looking thin and healthy. You need a hard deadline to keep you on track. It will be so embarrassing if you stop losing weight before you reach your goal or even worse, start gaining again!
New Self-Talk: There is no deadline. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to develop your new habits. These new habits are meant to last a lifetime. Just keep moving forward as best you can or simply stand still for a while. That’s okay too. If you take a step back, don’t let it derail you.
My refusal to allow toxic diet culture to rule my life any longer has come from expanding my idea of wellness. Being thin doesn’t automatically equal being healthy and well. Fuelling my body with nutritious food, being moderately active and paying as much attention to my mental health as I do my physical health is my new recipe for wellness. By simply letting go of the destructive thoughts and negative self-talk, I am happy to say that I have finally found myself carrying less weight, both physically and emotionally.