by Martha Muzychka
It started as a trickle before Christmas, but the January avalanche of weight loss-focused articles, memes, cartoons, blog posts, twitter comments, Instagram shots and more is now in full throttle.
There are diets, cleanses, and a multitude of physical and dietary challenges on the go. You can make detox smoothies, clean eating wraps, and decadent treats of food-processed dates, bananas, and cooked grains. Or you can go dry and forgo all alcohol, take the eight week sugar detox and lose all forms of sugar including fruits, condiments, sodas, and drink, or eschew all manner of carbs and starches.
As I grew up Catholic, I’m familiar with periods of abstinence, none of course more known than the Lenten Fast. Shrove Tuesday’s pancakes were the excuse to use up all dairy, egg and butter available as the next 40 days you did without until Easter’s arrival. However, the food abstinence frenzy underway now until swimsuit season officially starts rivals most soccer riots.
Of course, as a Catholic, I also grew up learning St. Teresa of Avila’s famous exhortation: There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. I am pretty sure though, even St. Teresa herself would be horrified over the buckets of metaphorical tears shed over uneaten (and eaten) cupcakes and chocolates.
The attachment of morality to food continues to bother me. Sweets are bad, vegetables are good. Whole grains are good, unless, like quinoa, they exploit indigenous farmers, and then they are bad. Dairy is bad, butter is bad, eggs are bad, but if you are Paleo, then it’s all good, or if they are free range, happy cows and chickens, then they are good. Outrageously expensive, but good.
People who engage in food policing, body shaming, being food rude, getting all judge-y, or in your face about what you should or should not eat are everywhere. No, they aren’t knocking on the door of my house, but given their ubiquitous presence in traditional and social media – be it the magazine stands at the grocery store, the endless posts in my social network feeds, or the sly promotion of “lite” foods on television – they may as well be.
When I first started training, I would come home ravenous. I could, as many say here, “chew the leg off the lamb of God,” I was that hungry. But I learned that if I was going to put in the effort required at the gym, I would have to eat more than a slice of toast for breakfast and I could not meet my muscle rebuilding needs with a mere salad for lunch. While I had long given up on leading my New Year’s goals with a diet resolution, I could from time to time still feel the sting of judgment leaking through my mental dikes.
And if I who have learned to critique and take apart the pro-diet images and language still feel pressure, what is it like to be a young woman or girl, still growing into oneself and learning to wear the drape of confidence with aplomb? Are they armed or are they defenceless against the wiles of the diet industry? What other weapons should we give them?
As I look ahead to the new year and ponder my own fitness goals, I’ve been thinking about the ways we prepare to train: how we use stretches, or certain exercises to be warmed up; how we look at our nutrition needs on training days; how we work out how we move from one achievement to another to keep marking progress. And I wonder, should we start talking more in gyms about how we can resist effectively advice, pressure, and shaming about size, weight, and food choice?
Because I know I can walk into any gym on town this month and on the wall, someone will have weight loss as their big goal, or fewer “cheat” meals as their target, or a greater number of inches lost as their ideal rather than extending their cardio stamina, or increasing their deadlift weights, or learning a new routine.
And just once, I want to see someone write, “I will eat the damn cupcake, and I will enjoy it.”
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant who is getting her fit on through weight training. Along the way, she is rethinking what fitness means for her, and how she wants to achieve it.