Feature photo credit: Girl with Red Hat via Unsplash.
Any good food can be abused into the shame spiral of diet culture. I have no problem with protein shakes, egg white omelettes, or cabbage soup. Well, maybe I have a problem with cabbage soup. Although borscht is good. Anyway, B365 teaches it’s not the things we’re eating that makes something a diet but the mindset we approach it with, so I thought I’d play a game. I have some old cookbooks, many of which are steeped in diet culture, and let’s see if we can take that diet food and make it a balanced, satisfying meal, yes?
Book: Food, by Susan Powter, (c) 1995
Weird diet advice: Thicken soups with dried mashed potato flakes
Recipe: Broccoli Soup, p 373
I’m starting easy on myself. There are actually recipes in this cookbook that I still use, decades after I stopped worrying about keeping my dietary fat below 15%. But this soup seems, well, basically like sauteed broccoli in soup form. Broccoli, garlic, some spices, and a couple potatoes.
So, to make this a balanced, satisfying meal I would add some chicken or tofu. Maybe some cheddar cheese, too? Adds some satisfying fat and some umami flavor. Oh, speaking of umami, some mushrooms with the onions and garlic would be good and add a nice chew!
Book: The Good Goodies, Stan and Floss Dworkin, (c) 1974
Weird diet advice: Wax your cookie sheets and cake pans instead of greasing them to avoid added fat
Recipe: Liver and Onion Crisps (p75)
Ok, I’ve got my work cut out for me on this one. I don’t even eat liver! But, let’s say a person does and they’ve decided to eat it in rice crackers. Seems like we could make it a more balanced meal with a hefty side of fruits and vegetables to make it more filling. And maybe some cheese? Or maybe that’s just so I can hide the taste and texture of the crackers.
Weird diet advice: Substitute mineral oil for vegetable oil when sauteeing.
Recipe: Fish Mold
Yuck. What was it about the middle of last century and savory gelatin things?! Well, it’s high protein, so that’s nice. Now it needs some fruits and veggies and some starchy carbs. Maybe a big green salad? And a pile of rice. I learned living abroad that I could eat just about anything if I heaped enough rice on top of it before I chewed.
And there you go! Three satisfying, balanced meals made from diet offerings. Good foods and bad foods are about what you enjoy and what helps you live your best life, not mineral oil and gelatin.
Do you have a favorite food that others might see as “diet” food, but you eat just because you enjoy it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Unless it’s fish mold. In which case, no. Just no.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found perusing old cookbooks, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
CW: discussion of weight, weight gain, and fat shaming
No doubt it has come to your attention that some of your peeps are heavier than they were in March 2020. This likely comes as no surprise to you. We’ve all been barraged with news stories, tweets and memes about pandemic weight gain. Tracy, ever the acute prognosticator, blogged early and accurately about the issue here.
Even when we manage to avoid the mocking-toned, lowest-common-denominator posts, the battery of medical news gets to us. Their brand of fat-shaming and weight-blaming, veiled though it may be in professional concern trolling, targets people by making it the fault and responsibility of individuals to do many things now to reverse this calamitous-to-medicine course of increased poundage acquisition. On this medical site they use the word “YOU” quite clearly (and repeatedly):
YOU are snacking while working;
YOU aren’t moving enough;
YOU are miscalculating calories;
YOU aren’t sleeping enough.
Hey, medical website—few of us are moving enough, most of us have to snack while working (as we work all the time while taking care of family, home, and self), and no one except dieticians in nursing homes successfully calculates calories. As for sleep? Don’t even go there.
After one year of pandemic scrambling, hunkering down, worrying, grieving, working and not sleeping, some of us have gained weight, some have lost weight, and some are about the same weight. That’s life. I happen to be one of those in the gained-weight group. That’s my life right now.
Now, here’s my message: if you’re worried about the weight gain (or loss) of your peeps and are wondering if you should say something, DON’T. JUST DON’T. Really—do not do this.
Why not? To make it brief, here’s a list:
Changes in weight are not new information for anyone who’s experiencing it; we all know our bodies better than anyone else does.
It’s almost certainly going to make us feel bad— pointing out some change in that clearly you think is negative is going to be just that: negative.
It won’t help at all; we won’t a) feel better; or b) be more likely to enact what you think is a positive body change; or c) be more successful in bringing about what you (and some of us, but not others) think is a positive body change just because of something you said.
If you’re concerned about our health (mental, physical, emotional, etc.), that’s really nice. I mean it. You can help by being supportive and caring and involved in ways that promote your relationships and shared goals. Be a good friend. Be a good neighbor. Be a good boss. Be a good sister. None of these roles involve talking about people’s weight or changes thereto.
Friends, we who have gained (or lost) weight during the last year love you. We are in charge of our bodies and the care and maintenance thereof. Not to put too fine a point on it, but:
Feel free to forward this along to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and whoever else you think will benefit…
CW and Note: This is part of an ongoing, occasional series based on the work I’m doing as a participant in Balance 365. You can read about my decision to join the group here. Discussion of nutrition habits and diets. Feature photo credit: Mick Haupt via Unsplash
Are you struggling to make changes to your nutrition without swinging between extremes–first you’re on a roll, aiming for optimal and then you’ve got a big case of the eff-its and eating ALL THE FOODS? In order to make healthy, consistent changes to our nutrition habits, we need to have healthy, consistent thinking about them and find a way to reduce these swings in behavior. If you were raised in a “Western” society, your thoughts have been influenced by diet culture, even if you’ve never been on a diet. Diet culture and it’s equally problematic sister, dieting mindset, make it harder for us to make the consistent habit changes we aim to make.
Diets limit when you can eat, how much you can eat, and/or what you can eat. Each one of these limitations creates patterns of thought that we might need to address in order to successfully make healthy changes to our nutrition habits. Today, I’m going to address only the first one, how limiting when we can eat influences our mindset. Diets might say you can’t eat before or after a certain time each day, or when it’s ok to eat your next meal. Even if you’ve never been on a diet, you’ve probably been told everyone should eat breakfast or avoid late night eating. The coaches at Balance 365 teach that these kinds of rules create habits of thought, and therefore behaviors, that can contribute to diet mindset, and we must address our mindset, if we want to make long-lasting, sustainable changes to our behaviors.
Returning to my area of expertise, my own experiences, I can see that I sometimes have thoughts about limiting when I can or should eat. I wrote this summer that I’d noticed that I was experiencing hunger between breakfast and lunch and was preventing myself from eating more because it seemed like I “shouldn’t” be hungry. If I didn’t want to add a snack between breakfast and lunch, there were other options besides just going hungry. I could change what I ate for breakfast to something more satisfying. Or, I could increase the size of the portions of some or all of what I was eating at breakfast. Notice that in order to consider these options, I had to first be ok with the reality that I was hungry between meals and accept that it was problematic for me. The dieting mindset showed up as invalidating the information my body was giving me, and telling me to ignore my hunger. My solution this summer was to increase how much protein I got at breakfast–making sure I have eggs AND Greek yogurt most mornings. Recently, I’ve also started adding kale or some frozen veggies to my eggs, and I’m finding that it is helping me feel even more satisfied and to have stable energy levels before lunch.
Another example of time-based restriction I’ve observed in myself is that I adhere to strict meal times. I don’t ever remember deciding that breakfast is at 8:00am, lunch is at noon, snack at 3:00, and dinner at 6:30, but every day this is my routine. I look at the clock, and use that cue to inform when I am eating. 3:00pm snack can be especially powerful, and I sometimes find myself anxious if I’m doing something that interferes with this schedule. Diet mindset kicks in, I become worried I’m going to go hungry (another consequence of dieting mindset, fear of hunger and treating it like an emergency, worthy of a post all its own), and I begin to figure out how I can make that snack happen. A downside for my health is that I often make less nutritious and less satisfying food choices when I eat in order to assuage my anxiety. For now, my solution is to preplan some healthy afternoon snacks so I know I have options that will keep me satisfied without ruining my dinner, and I’m working on tuning into my internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when I eat, at least to the degree that I can within the confines of my job. This is a bigger task, and I imagine it will require some time for me to become consistent with this skill.
Diet culture tells us to use external factors like time to determine when we eat. Unlearning this element of dieting mindset requires noticing when we are limiting ourselves temporally, and finding solutions that work for us that address the underlying challenges. How this shows up will be different for each of us. For me, I’m noticing that I have strong feelings about when it’s ok to be hungry and when I expect to eat. I look forward to a time when I have fully let go of some of these restrictions and anxieties and have found patterns that support my health and help me feel my best in a sustainable way.
Have you ever noticed yourself using external, time-based restrictions on when you eat? Does it feel problematic for you? Is it a mindset that you’ve considered changing?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found noticing how she feels before and after meals, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
Diet culture. It’s not something I’ve thought about much lately. Indeed, it’s not something most of us think about much unless and until someone draws our attention to it (and even then, that drawing attention isn’t always welcome). It’s like that story about fish and water, memorably told by the brilliant, now deceased, writer David Foster Wallace in a 2005 commencement address entitled “This is water”:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
What’s the moral of this little story? When you are immersed in something, when it’s all around you, you might not even be aware of it. But that’s the only respect in which water is to fish as diet culture is to us. Because unlike water, which is life-sustaining to fish, diet culture is harmful to us.
When I first saw the article in Good Housekeeping, “The Unbearable Weight of Diet Culture,” I was set to rant. I wanted to rant about diet culture itself. How normalized and oppressive it is. How it individualizes our weight loss failures when in fact “98% of diets fail.” Think on that: 98%! How it promotes the idea that there is something wrong with a body that is not thin or lean. How it demonizes certain foods and moralizes ways of eating (like, desserts are “sinful” and we give into temptation when we eat them). How it stigmatizes people on the basis of body size.
There is space for ranting about all these things and more. I even wanted to rant about how Good Housekeeping, a mainstream women’s magazine, gives us this informative and insightful article about diet culture, while also having a whole section of their website, called “Diet and Nutrition,” devoted to endorsing diet culture with articles like: “The Best Diets of 2021,” “How to Find the Best Diet for You,” “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” and “What J-Lo Eats in a Day to Look So Good.” [I’m not linking to that content but it’s easy enough to find}
Instead of faulting them for the contradiction, I actually want to applaud them for including any sort of counternarrative at all. The editors are well aware that they are walking tightrope. The diet culture article starts with the following qualifying statement:
“Throughout 2021, Good Housekeeping will be exploring how we think about weight, the way we eat, and how we try to control or change our bodies in our quest to be happier and healthier. While GH also publishes weight loss content and endeavors to do so in a responsible, science-backed way, we think it’s important to present a broad perspective that allows for a fuller understanding of the complex thinking about health and body weight. Our goal here is not to tell you how to think, eat, or live — nor is to to pass judgment on how you choose to nourish your body — but rather to start a conversation about diet culture, its impact, and how we might challenge the messages we are given about what makes us attractive, successful, and healthy.“
Where better to start a conversation about diet culture than in the very magazines that women flock to when they are seeking “solutions” to their “struggles” with weight? And the first question someone might ask, like the fish swimming in water, is “what is diet culture?” The article opens with rough account: “it’s a set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue, according to anti-diet dietitian, Christy Harrison, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., author of Anti-Dietand host of the Food Psych podcast.” It is, says the article, “the lens through which most of us in this country view beauty, health, and our own bodies.” As such, it colours our judgments about ourselves and others, moralizing some food choices as more virtuous than others, causing people to praise others’ weight loss or adherence to restrictive diet regimes, and giving credence to such scientifically vacuous notions as “detoxing” and “clean eating.”
It’s also generated a billions of dollars industry where people seek a miracle. Why is it a miracle? Because, back to that alarming statistic: 98% of diets fail over time.
Here on the blog we have been critical of diet culture since the very start, while also being aware that we are immersed in it. We are critical of it because it is harmful, built on fat-phobia and self-loathing. From the GH article, here are some of the ways that it’s harmful (some already mentioned above):
It promotes discrimination by normalizing fat phobia and promoting as normal the attitude that being overweight (or weight gain at all) is a sign of failure.
It fuels a business designed to take your money.
It’s a set-up for feeling like a failure.
It distracts from larger social issues like walkable cities, wide availability of good quality foods, and other social inequities.
It normalizes disordered eating.
I would add a few of my own here:
It makes way for people to use restrictive food plans to “virtue signal” by posting about their strict adherence to the latest food fad (e.g. no carbs, no sugar, keto, paleo, “cleanses” and “detoxes,” blood type diet, mediterranean diet and all the diets from the 80s and 90s named after doctors — Scarsdale, Atkins — or fruits — banana, grapefruit — and then of course the diets promoted by celebrities like Suzanne Sommers, Oprah, Adele…). It is amazing how much applause is dished out when someone posts a photo of their brown rice and steamed kale bowl.
It infantalizes adults by encouraging the view that, left to our own devices, we will always make poor choices.
It saps the joy out of health and fitness activities because if those are your only goals, and if the healthy choices don’t lead to weight loss, they’re not worth doing. But they are worth doing. We can get fitter and healthier without getting thinner and lighter.
It creates obsession around food. Ever since the Minnesota starvation studies after World War II we have known that food deprivation generates food obsession.
It also makes it almost impossible to have a pure, mindful eating experience that is unmediated by thoughts of “is this a ‘good’ choice?” “Should I be eating this?” “Is this on my plan?”
The article offers a couple of ways to work your way out of diet culture. One of their suggestions is to consider intuitive eating, which is an approach designed to combat diet culture, challenge the food police, and let your hunger be your guide. I like that approach myself, but it doesn’t work for everyone. We have had some discussions of it over the years on the blog, as champions and detractors.
It also suggests becoming informed about Health at Every Size (HAES), “a movement that recognizes “that health outcomes are primarily driven by social, economic, and environmental factors,” not weight, to encourage the pursuit of health without a focus on weight loss.”
I’ll add to this my own suggestion, which is not to applaud people for their diets and weight loss, and not to talk to people about their weight or weight loss efforts. I know that a lot of people are very public about their desire to lose weight (that’s diet culture for you! Making it normal to talk about something that really is no one’s business and, if you think about it, most people don’t care much what you’re up to in that department unless they’re judging you). I’ve often heard people say that they only compliment or comment when they know that’s what their friend is actively attempting. That’s endorsing diet culture, and diet culture is harmful. So I don’t do it even if my friend would like me to notice and compliment their weight loss. I like and love my friends regardless of their size or their food choices.
That said, I also try my best not to “get into it” with people who don’t want to hear it. I don’t always succeed in this. I have friends lately who are all in the “sugar is evil” trend. I have been through that one myself, and it caused an uproar that resulted in talking me off that particular ledge (not in the most pleasant way, but I still feel grateful as I look back), so I know how easy it is to rationalize this or that plan to dump sugar. All this to say that I dipped my toe in the water of asking questions, which I thought were gentle questions, about a friend’s quest to stop eating sugar, and it turns out that I had to learn the “it’s none of my business” lesson again. I’m public about being an anti-diet feminist fitness blogger. Friends know where to find me if they want that perspective. I need to learn to leave it at that and put my thoughts into a blog post once in awhile. Hence this!
Even if Good Housekeeping is sending contradictory messages when they write articles about diet culture and its harms, on the one hand, and provide ample information to those who wish to partake in it, on the other hand, I like their 2021 commitment to raising awareness. If no one points it out, we’ll never know we’re swimming in it.
CW: discussion of different popular US diet plans and trends in starting and stopping them, as evidenced by recent research.
Just this week, while watching actual live TV (waiting to see the ball drop in Times Square– hey, it’s a tradition), I saw an actual commercial. Remember those? And this one was by Weight Watchers (now trying to get people to call them WW; yeah, right…) Yes, ’tis the season for the major diet program sellers; January 1 must be their Black Friday, as the diet plan marketing is fast and furious right now.
Of course, all that flurry of activity around marketing and adopting diet plans in early January dies down soon, with most people stepping away from those plans and eating the ways they did before the above-mentioned flurry. That’s right, isn’t it?
Hmmm. Has anyone checked to make sure this is true? Has science checked this out?
Why yes, it has. In this mid-December article, called “How long do people stick to a diet resolution? A digital epidemiological estimation of weight loss diet persistence”, researchers looked at trends in US internet searches for diet-specific recipes (e.g. Weight Watchers, South Beach, Paleo). For the tl:dr version, read below:
We found that the most popular diets associated with recipe searches since 2004 were the Keto, Low Carb, Weight Watchers, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins and Low Fat diets. For all diets, the temporal trends evidenced distinct annual patterns, with a sharp increase in January, followed by a decline to the summer months and a further abrupt decline in November and December.
How did they find this out? The group analyzed trends found in years of Google searches in the US for diet-specific recipes. That, plus the obligatory fancy math, produced some groovy graphs. They show, for a bunch of different diets, the January spikes in diet-specific recipe online searches.
Turns out that the Paleo diet searches lasted the longest (about 5.3 weeks +-), and the older South Beach diet searches dropped off most quickly (about 3.1 weeks +-).
Then they analyzed the trends in diet-specific recipe searches through the course of the year. Here’s another set of cool graphs:
If you’re looking for more details about these graphs, here’s what the researchers said:
A significant proportion of American dieters appeared to stop dieting during the US holiday season in November and December. For all diets studied, 5–25 % of dieters appear to drop out in November, and 15–30 % of dieters appear to drop out in December. The lowest holiday season dropout rates were seen for the Paleo diet (with December dropout rate 14 ± 3 %), and the highest were seen for the South Beach diet (with December dropout rate 33 ± 7 %).
What do the researchers think these results show? Well, after issuing loads of caveats (which is appropriate), they think it’s interesting to see some evidence of greater uptake of newer fad diets like Paleo (their words here) and lower uptake of older fad diets (like South Beach).
What do I think these results show? That this study provides even more evidence that diet marketing plans cost money and aren’t sustained over time. Which we already knew. But it’s always nice to have more science on our side.
Readers, did these results surprise you? Reinforce what you already knew? I’d love to hear any thoughts.
Over a month of isolation, and there’s still no flour at the grocery store. There’s been a shortage of pasta, beans and whole grains like barley, quinoa, and rice, too.
Shortages of staple, high-carbohydrate foods would suggest that most of us are actually not ready to give up on this very satiating macronutrient in times of crisis, and it has me wondering, could Covid-19 be the end of Keto?
Consider the overwhelming evidence brought forth on social media–photos abound of the beautiful pandemic baking occuring in households the world over. Suddenly, we are all attempting peasant loaves, coffeecakes, scones, and sticky buns. Sourdough starters are being fed and tended like emotional support colonies in our refrigerators. In this trying time when we need comfort, these gluten-laden delicacies are reassuringly there.
Perhaps a silver lining to the dark storm clouds of potential pestilence and social distancing will be a rational redefining of priorities towards common sense balance in our diets. Maybe the #firstworldproblems of odd dietary restrictions, their pseudoscientific rationales, and the tribalism that feeds upon it will be pushed back a few degrees, back to the edges and away from the mainstream. After all, instead of sorting people into silos defined upon which sources and what quantities of carbohydrate we consume, social identities are now being formed around how frequently we go grocery shopping and our choice of face covering.
One could hope that during this worldwide crisis, when scarcity has new and pressing meaning, we can contemplate the real challenges of hunger in our world. Those who live amongst us without enough are the hardest hit right now, as they ever are in challenging times. With our attention on the needs of the many, perhaps we are moving away from concern about the needs of the few–and their pursuit of beach bodies?
Maybe now, with our social circles condensed to those we most love, we are moving away from judging one’s diet from a moralistic point of view towards a more caring, compassionate and practical one? What is good food and bad food in such times? In a moment when one of the few joys we can share with others is pictures of our beautifully baked bounty, we can ask ourselves if what we are eating is nourishing us and providing for us in all the ways. Food is not only fuel. It is how we show we love one another. It is how we build and maintain community. It is comfort and nostalgia and an offering to the divine.
All of these needs are real and present today. And in this time of need, we are baking.
I choose to be hopeful about this preponderance of home-prepared patisserie. I choose to believe that in a time when we are reaching for any sign of control, instead of cutting ourselves off from this resource, we are embracing it. Instead of giving into food cult identity, we are coming together. I have optimism about the essential goodness of humanity, and we are eating bread again.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She is baking while missing picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.
That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.
Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.
If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).
This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.
That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.
We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?
I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.
I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.
I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?
“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.
What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.
You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th.” But you don’t have to watch the show.
We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.
It’s that time of year where unsuspecting yogis or gym goers can be subjected to diet culture (not quite as bad as what’s to come in January, but still a risk) in class. It just slides into the running commentary that instructors need to maintain to keep the class moving along.
This happened to me the other day in yoga. I’ve been unable to run for a couple of months, so I’ve been going to hot yoga every day instead. It’s been a nice change (though I’m dying to get back to running). I’ve been a member at the same studio for at least a decade and I honestly have never experienced the normalization of diet culture there. But that commendable streak came to an end the other day when, in order to motivate a longer hold of a strenuous pose, the instructor said, “work off all that holiday baking!”
“Say what?” She lost me right then and there. I went back and forth in my head about whether I was overreacting. Despite that I don’t blog regularly here anymore, seven years as a feminist fitness blogger has given me a certain perspective and a keen awareness of nonsense that sucks the joy out of our workouts and replaces it with the suggestion that we need to whip our overindulgent selves into shape. I object!
I spent the rest of the class asking myself “do I say something or let it go?” On the side of letting it go: I know she meant it as a light-hearted comment. On the side of saying something: that’s how diet culture gets perpetuated; the yoga studio is the last place I expect to hear it; I’m probably not the only one who felt uncomfortable with the comment.
After my shower I approached the instructor. I had already decided to be nice about it. I love the studio and as I said it’s not a place I normally experience body shaming or anything other than body positivity. Definitely the comment was the exception not the rule.
Me: It was a good class but I have some feedback.
Me: I didn’t appreciate the comment about the holiday baking. I don’t come here to hear that sort of thing.
Instructor: I know! I’m sorry. The minute it came out of my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said it. But I didn’t know how to take it back.
Me: That’s reassuring. Thanks for telling me that.
Instructor: Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you felt able to express it.
I consider that a good news story. Instead of stewing in my juices, I opened up a dialogue. That yielded a shared understanding and also a willingness on the instructor’s part to do better in the future.
Using workouts to “deal with” holiday baking is a pretty normal message that is firmly entrenched in normalized diet culture. For most people it is just the way it is. But that’s not what we promote here. And it’s not what anyone who cares about body positivity and more self-nurturing motivations for our fitness pursuits should be promoting either.
I’m glad I said something. And I’m really relieved the instructor “got it” before I even opened my mouth.
Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “
For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.
In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:
…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.
That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).
Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”
A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.
I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”
That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.
If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.