Taking Aim at Diet Culture

It took a pandemic and my 40th birthday but it has finally clicked: I am done with diet culture.

If only it were that easy. If I could just flip a switch, and POOF! All my hang-ups about food and my body disappeared.

It’s not that easy, but I am capable. And I am committed. Because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that life is too damn short and I am tired of beating myself up about eating, overeating, bingeing, not tracking points, going over points, feeling out of control, feeling powerless, making “bad” choices, falling off the wagon, eating too many carbs, eating too much sugar, eating too much fat, eating too much dairy, eating too much Halloween candy, eating too much Thanksgiving pie, eating too much Christmas candy, eating too much Easter candy, eating too much ice cream, not eating enough veg, not eating enough fruit, not eating “clean” enough… need I go on? Because I could.

Back when I was beating myself up about my drinking (and my eating, but at the time my drinking was the worse vice), reading Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind changed my life because it empowered me to change my brain. I started, little by little, rewiring my noggin. Forging new pathways instead of the well-worn trails that connected wine to stress relief, reward, pleasure, confidence, and so much more. Once I stopped drinking, I started bingeing on sugar and feared I had a new “addiction.” I tried cutting sugar out of my diet only to binge on it as soon as I let it back in. I read several books about sugar and how badly it impacts the human body, hoping the knowledge would make me want to stop eating it. But while one can forgo alcohol, one cannot, alas, forgo food. And sugar lurks everywhere, even in fruit and other “healthy” things. So cutting out sugar the way I cut out alcohol was never going to be the answer. Plus, I love cake.

Junk food has been my number one enemy since I stopped drinking, and I never found a way to crack the (pea)nut (M&M).

It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. I was looking at junk food as my foe. Now I realize that the real villain, ranked right up there with the wine witch on my shit list, is diet culture.

Diet culture, you are going down.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate my time spent on Weight Watchers (now WW). Losing weight in 2017 helped build confidence at a time when I was flailing in the trenches of motherhood. My time on WW also crystalized my gray area drinking, and I’m not sure I ever would have had the courage to take those early breaks from alcohol without the WW social network, Connect, and in particular the #sobersisters group – a bunch of beautiful strangers who supported me with empathy and without judgment.

As one of my most amazing IRL friends messaged me the other night, “It’s ok to acknowledge that a tool that was once helpful isn’t anymore. You can be grateful for the huge role it played in your life and also decide it is no longer helping.” That, in a cracked nutshell, is how I now feel about WW. Time to cut the cord.

So I did. The other night, I wrote the following farewell message on Connect:

My dear #sobersisters, I am not ready to do what I am about to do. I will never be ready, yet I know it is the necessary next step for me in my journey. I am going to cancel my WW Lifetime membership.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, but never acted on it because, I thought, WW helped me so much with my goals. I hesitated to sever ties with my tracker. How else would I stay accountable? How else would I stay thin?

But then: 2020. One of the few gifts of this pandemic has been the paring down of life, and the mental decluttering. This time has forced me to reflect on all that was on my metaphorical plate. And that plate, I realized, was divided like a toddler’s into three areas: what fills me up, what poisons me, and what fuels me. As I move forward into my 40s, for the duration of this pandemic, and into the future that awaits us on the other side, I am trying my best to clear my plate of all but what truly fuels me; or, to stick with the metaphor, to move from a toddler’s divided plate to a grown-up plate.

Being a kickboxing instructor filled me up. I spent hours curating playlists, planning classes, and teaching. I enjoyed it, I was superfit, but I never felt in my gut that I was meant to be in the fitness industry. Kickboxing, as fun as it was, filled up my days and weeks until I had little room for real fuel.

Drinking poisoned me. Thanks to the incredible support of the #sobersisters, I took a month and then a couple of months and then a year off booze – and I have not looked back for 883 days. Being here on Connect helped me believe that alcohol freedom was possible, and I am forever indebted to each and every one of you who left me an encouraging comment and supported me along my path.

Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that diet culture is also poisoning me. Try as I might (and I have!), I cannot progress toward attuned eating and radical self-acceptance as long as I am a WW member. I need a clean break from WW and my tracker, and I am honestly heartbroken that in severing these ties I will also be saying goodbye to Connect.

Simply put, my goals have shifted. Instead of aiming to be a certain weight, I am aiming to accept my body at any size. Instead of counting points or cutting down on sugar or carbs, I am learning to listen to my body and give it what it wants.

Since joining WW in 2017, I lost weight (which I regained) and gained sobriety (which I have not lost). Connect has meant the world to me, and to this day I marvel that a group of strangers took the time to read my writing and offer words of comfort, empathy, and support. Connect is the most special place and my life will not be the same without it, without all of you.

Before I started writing this farewell message, I went onto Instagram to write to my friend Nancy, whom I met on Connect. I told her how scared and sad I was to cancel my WW membership and sever my ties with Connect, but that I know it’s the right thing for me right now. I sent the message and returned to my feed, which refreshed to show a post with this quotation:

“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” -Té V. Smith

Ain’t that the truth!

Thank you, my virtual friends, my #sobersisters, for making this chapter of my life one that I will never forget. Wishing you a safe and healthy end to this crazy year, and a brighter 2021 for us all.

I clicked “Post” and the next morning I canceled my WW Lifetime membership. And damn, if it didn’t feel like a giant weight had been lifted. Pun intended.

So, whereto from here? I have two guiding lights in this process. The first is a book called The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, by Judith Matz, LCSW and Ellen Frankel, LCSW. I’ll be writing a lot more about this book in the coming weeks (let’s face it: months, considering my kids have been in and out of quarantine and writing time is short these days).

My other guiding light, really more of a super badass secret weapon, is an eight-week program called “‘Tis the Season to Ditch Diet Culture,” hosted on the “Run, Selfie, Repeat” podcast by Kelly Roberts and Kayla Reynolds, MS. These ladies have rocked my world. The program includes a bunch of journal prompts, so I’ll be tackling those soon.

After years of feeling powerless against my sweet tooth and emotional eating, I finally feel like I am focused on the right foe: diet culture. I am geared up and ready for battle. This blog has chronicled my journey to alcohol freedom, as well as my struggle with food and body image. I finally feel hopeful that these virtual pages will soon be filled with my journey of diet culture survivorship and the creation of lasting appreciation for and peace with my body. Let’s go.

3 thoughts on “Taking Aim at Diet Culture”

  1. I read somewhere if you face your fears and run towards them you’d be surprised how close you are toward breaking through in finding growth and success. This definitely is a topic I can relate to and am excited to learn more about your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you! Getting a better perspective on nutrition and fitness is one of the best predictors of lasting health/success. I wish you all the best- keep pushing forward

    Liked by 1 person

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