I took a class on counseling women at Boston College, and during one class session, the professor jokingly and rhetorically asked if any of us (as I recall, this particular class didn’t have any menfolk in it) hadn’t ever been on a diet. Even though the professor kept talking at that point and didn’t wait for any answers, I quietly raised my hand. A very short conversation followed, and the vibe that I gathered was that no one believed me, including the professor.
That brings me to the following question: what is a diet?
1. food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health: Milk is a wholesome article of diet.
2. a particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease: a diet low in sugar.
3. such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight: No pie for me, I’m on a diet.
4. the foods eaten, as by a particular person or group: The native diet consists of fish and fruit.
5. food or feed habitually eaten or provided: The rabbits were fed a diet of carrots and lettuce.
(taken from dictionary.com)
So, in some senses of the word, diet is simply what we eat or don’t eat. In that sense, everyone is on a diet because everyone must eat something in order to live. Of course, my professor was not using the word in this sense, nor do most people use the word in that sense. The word has come to signify more about what isn’t being eaten rather than what is.
In class, I found that I began to defend myself and the claim I had just made. I asked my classmates what they considered a diet (in the restrictive sense) was and got no answer. I said that I make choices everyday about what I will eat and thus what I won’t, just the same as everyone else.
Does that mean I am on a diet?
Sometimes I eat lots of dessert several days in a row and then I choose to not have dessert for a day because of what I ate the previous days.
Is that a diet?
After my grandma died of colon cancer, my mom made a rule that we couldn’t have cereal with less than 1 gram of fiber per serving.
Is that a diet?
I govern my eating habits by guidelines that my parents instilled in me and ones I have adopted on my own. Examples are having three meals a day, not snacking too close to a mealtime, having a glass of milk with dinner, I could go on.
I often turn down foods that sound good or I choose not to eat something that I might have a craving for, the intention having to do with weight and the way I look.
Does any of this mean that I have been “on a diet?”
Maybe it’s just the way I think about all of this, or the way I don’t think about it. Not once while growing up did I ever hear about my mom being on a diet, and there was never talk of me being on one. I don’t have any memories of hearing either of my parents speak derogatorily about their bodies and body images. And that’s what this post is really about, I suppose. Body image. That is what diet: definition 3 is all about anyway.
The goal of a definition 3 diet is about an end result: weight, how you look, but most importantly, how you feel about how you look. I mean, how you will look and feel (or hope to look and feel) by the time the diet is over. Everyone’s heard and knows on some level that these kinds of diets don’t work. And even if they do “work” in terms of weight and how you look, that’s still not a guarantee that you’ll end up feeling the way you want to feel! So why do people keep going on them? And why did no one in my class believe I had never been on one? I think the answer is the same for both questions: everyone, especially women, have been taught how to hate our bodies so profoundly that we keep searching, working, covering up, restricting in order to reach an unreachable-by-definition ideal end goal.
One of my clinical supervisors says that the majority of unhappiness comes from people wishing that they were different from what they are, here and now. I try very hard to remind myself this as often as I can, and I use this concept frequently with my clients. It is so simple that it sounds ridiculous. What if you were enough just the way you are? What if you could feel happy without going on a diet?……without doing ANYTHING except changing the way you think about yourself?
“What I see is that even the most Botoxed, lipo’d, lifted woman cannot conceal herself. If you hate yourself, it shows through every cream and cure there is. Until we stop trying to exorcise our own imperfect selves, driving out normal physical traits as if they were signs of pathology, there will always be some misery in the eyes that nothing can hide.”
In the past few years, my collection of pants and shorts have been growing tight on me, or rather, my body has been growing outward and my pants have stubbornly stayed the same. I feel horrible every single time I put on those pants. This past summer, I finally bought a pair of bigger shorts that actually fit me for the me I happened to be at that time. And you know what? I felt GREAT! I felt sexy and cute and GOOD about myself. And nothing had changed about my body. That was the key to this particular issue with myself. I realized that I was somehow honestly expecting my body to stay the same shape and size it was around…2003. One day, I just realized how ridiculous this (therapy jargon alert!) distorted belief was. Of course my body is going to change as I age. I get to solve the problem by- wait for it- buying clothes that fit instead of trying to get my body back to when I was 20, which will never happen. And I am actually cool with that. Does anyone really, truly want to look 20 years old their whole life? I sure as hell don’t. When I grow up, I wanna be an old woman.
I still have to remind myself about this revelation of mine on a regular basis. And I still have to buy more pants. I hope we all get to a place where we’ll actually believe someone when she raises her hand and says she’s never been on a diet (the definition 3 kind).
I’ll end this rather meandering post with one of my favorite body positive quotes:
“My body is fucking beautiful, and every time I look in the mirror and acknowledge that, I am contributing to the revolution.” –nomi lamm