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Why anti-diet gurus can be just as harmful as the diet industry
The other day a reader emailed me this question:
“I just read through the book The F*ck it Diet, and now I’m more confused than ever. I need to lose some weight to feel better and be more comfortable, but this book really proved that “diets” never actually work, and any time we restrict anything, we always binge it later. I have definitely found that to be true. BUT, I still actually need to lose some weight, so what to do?!!” –S.
That immediately brought back unsettling memories of a bad experience I had with the F*uck It group a few years ago.
Like so many people struggling with their weight I was drawn to Caroline Dooner’s approach that says that ”bingeing and food obsession is not our fault” because we’ve basically been brainwashed into it by diet culture. She wants us to stop obsessing over our weight and food, and start living by accepting and loving our bodies as they are, and eating whatever we want, whenever we want. Kinda Intuitive Eating with a good dose of HAES (Healthy at Every Size). I was so fed up with my weight loss/regain cycle, that I really wanted this to be my answer.
So I read her blog (the book wasn’t out at the time) and joined her free group. And started eating everything and anything and, not surprisingly, gained a good amount of weight which my health could ill afford. She did warn us that this might happen and to be ok with any weight gain, and to continue unlearning diet mentality because eventually the weight would settle in its sweet spot.
But that never happened for me. Why?
Because we cannot ‘body love’ our way out of obesity.
I believe that Caroline’s and other anti-diet approaches can be just as harmful for obese people as the diet industry. The obesity epidemic requires more than a well meaning one-track solution to an inherently complex issue.
To be fair, Caroline does not specifically set out to solve our obesity crisis, her beef is mostly (and rightfully) with the diet industry. She does have a disclaimer that her book and course are for “chronic dieters and not for people with an active eating disorder.” Well, I would say that chronic dieting is also a form of eating disorder and that anyone who struggles with being overweight or obese, will be drawn to an approach that promises ease and salvation, especially if we are told that it’s not our fault.
I do agree with Caroline that the diet industy has f*cked us, especially women. I also full-heartedly agree that we need to stop hating ourselves and our bodies, and start practicing radical self-love and self-care.
But I don’t agree that we are just victims of a profit-hungry diet industry. This is not just a battle with external influences, this is a battle that we often fight with ourselves, and those battles have real consequences that we cannot ‘F*ck It’ away.
What happened next in the F*ck It group was deeply upsetting:
I wanted to talk about my weight related health issues because regaining so much weight following the F*uck It approach was making them worse. Just like my reader S. I felt confused and conflicted. I dared to mention my weight, which was strictly not allowed. I did it anway because I wanted to offer context for my health issues. Not a good idea. People crucified me for having the audacity to blame my health issues on my weight, claiming that there is no proof that weight causes health issues which, frankly, is total bollocks. Sure, skinny people get sick, too, and there are healthy overweight people. But the habits that lead to obesity often also lead to illness, hence the correlation. I eventually got kicked out of the group for breaking the ‘don’t mention your weight’ rule.
“I am a proponent of respect at any size and of not discriminating against people because of their size. What I am not a proponent of is just accepting our obesity as healthy, inconsequential or normal.”
— Diane Carbonell
I was clearly not the right audience for Caroline’s message and I accept that. In many ways this experience was a turning point for me. Up until then I really wanted to embrace the Intuitive Eating and HAES philosophies, but I realized that they can be rather self-righteous about their approach and that never sits well with me. Parts of their messaging is valid and important. However, body shaming, self-hatred, chronic dieting and eating disorders are the bi-products not just of diet culture, but of a society that is traumatized. We don’t just need to stick the finger to the diet industry, we need to do some deep healing.
I know I keep saying this, but I strongly believe that when it comes to obesity we must take a closer look at the connection between trauma and emotional overeating. Most of us will experience some kind of trauma in our lives and there are many different kinds of trauma responses. In my case it’s overeating with a good dose of diet culture infusion, a potent combination that is not easy to untangle. But it’s not impossible, either.
I want to start by normalizing our desire to lose weight for health reasons. It is ok to talk about our weight and to want to look and feel healthy. But instead of running to the next best diet let’s look at our habits and what reasonable changes can we make that are aligned with our lifestyle and personality, while helping us release any excess weight? Let’s acknowledge the role our traumas play in all of this. Let’s reach out for help and learn tools that can support us with our trauma responses. Let us heal emotional overeating and find peace in the unraveling.
Dear S., I hope that all of this makes sense and that it was somewhat helpful. My experience with the F*uck It group was not great but looking back I can see that it was an important piece of the puzzle. So I am actually grateful for it.