The other night, I had a long chat with a new (and profoundly awesome) friend about dieting. Dieting – or, in its more nebulous form, the ever-present “I really need to lose some weight” – is, shall we say, a weighty subject. (Pun intended. You’re welcome.)
One Google search for “how to lose weight” brings up approximately eleventy bajillion hits and an equally ridiculous number of advertisements. Weight loss is a lucrative industry, and there are plenty of people who are cashing in on it.
Now, I say this as a Weight Watchers member who’s within spitting distance of feeling her best. (I say “feeling my best” because I don’t weigh myself. I know that if I closely monitor my weight I’ll get obsessive and all self-hate-y about it, and that’s not a rodeo this cowgirl wants to attend.) I know I’m nearing my optimum “happy place” with my weight - whatever it is - because not only am I running again without any knee pain, but I’m consistently running faster and for longer stretches of time.
Now, given all this, you’d think I’d be all in favor of diets.
But I’m not.
What bothers me most is that many weight loss plans – as they’re sold now, at least – are much less about health and more about looks.
Less about self-love, and more about self-loathing.
Less about emphasizing delicious, wholesome foods, and more about restriction.
This really frosts my cookies, to quote Troop Beverly Hills (this was one of my favorite movies growing up. I still have moments where I want to cry out “Not until we sing Kumbaya!”).
But I digress.
Diets that emphasize looks over health tend to breed lots of self-loathing. When the goal is to become supermodel-skinny, any deviation from that ideal feels like a failure. That of course is no bueno, especially when the ideal is usually achieved by disordered eating or rampant drug use. Case in point: I believe it was Kate Moss, once the face of the so-called “heroin chic” look (and seriously, how batshit crazy is society that “heroin” and “chic” can even be strung together in the same sentence, let alone combined to create what became a wildly popular aesthetic?!) who for many years reportedly subsisted on a diet of cocaine and lollipops. Such motifs flatter no one.
Furthermore, diets that emphasize restriction do nothing but breed misery. What do you want most when any particular food is forbidden? The forbidden food, of course! Whether it’s carbs or candy, outlawing any food is going to test the willpower of even the most disciplined dieter. I, for one, will fold like a lawnchair when faced with a) Genoa salami, or b) my husband’s ludicrously delicious Monster Cookies. (Seriously, they’re unbelievable.) If I could never eat either one ever again, I’d spend all my days and nights dreaming of cookies wrapped in salami. No, wait. That’s disgusting. But you get the idea.
I’ve always wondered:
Instead of all that restriction and the punitive mindset that comes with it, why not focus on incorporating healthy, wholesome, delicious foods? Why not help people figure out which fruits and veggies they love most, and encourage them to eat as much of those as they want? Why not, instead of saying “Genoa salami and Monster Cookies are forbidden,” say “If you think fresh mango and pineapple are delicious, go for it!”
Similarly, why not have people focus on being the happiest, healthiest, and strongest version of themselves? The super skinny version of oneself isn’t necessarily the healthiest version, nor is it necessarily the strongest. Likewise, if health and strength aren’t there, then happiness sure isn’t going to be either, since it’s hard to be happy when feeling weak and cranky from either the hunger pangs or the irritation of a restrictive diet. Why not focus on health and well-being – feeling nourished, strong, capable, radiantly healthy, and like a total f*cking badass?
It’s my philosophy that any plan to lose weight should focus on self-love, self-care and actual well-being. No deprivation, no punishment, and certainly no self-loathing – just delicious, nutrient-dense foods, exercise that actually makes a person feel good, and a heaping dose of happiness.