New year, new you? 3 tips for dealing with diet culture

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Alli Spotts-De Lazzar is a comrade Psychology today blogger, book author and psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.

Charlotte markey is professor of psychology, author of The Body Image Book and body image researcher at Rutgers University.

Source: Hakinmhan / Shutterstock

Charlotte: Alli, how do you feel as 2021 draws to a close and 2022 (“New year, new you!”) Is just around the corner? Diet season is just around the corner.

Alli: I agree with the move from 2021 to 2022. I use birthdays and New Years as clues to think, assess and plan. Other than that, I don’t have much attachment to numbers.

Regarding the diet season, it will probably be particularly intense after nearly two years of various lockdowns. I suspect that the marketing of diets, lifestyles, and wellness programs is going to hit us hard and bold.

What about you, Charlotte? How do you feel as 2021 draws to a close and 2022 (“New year, new you!”) Is just around the corner?

Charlotte: There is a part of me that has always loved the promise of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t take resolutions, given their terrible record. But, I believe in self-improvement and the potential for all of us to become healthier and happier. I just don’t believe in diets.

Alli: I’ve always liked your “Smart people don’t diet” label.

Charlotte: I’m not sure if I title a book Smart people don’t diet more (the book was published in 2014), because I think everyone is dieting at some point! I wanted to appeal to the intellectual side of people; I figured the most likely audience for this book were people who were willing to think about the weight loss data. Because it’s hard to resist the allure of diet culture. We are all emotional creatures who want what diet ads seem to offer: happiness, health, social acceptance, success.

Alli: Anything that promises you the life you want can be hard to resist, right? The way diet programs and health plans are promoted, seem to bring you not only better well-being or weight loss, but also popularity, confidence, and good health. Unfortunately, even “this is not a diet” diets fail in time. Usually the person thinks that they have failed the diet when in reality they have not been prepared for success by the diet. Sometimes the person then expends years of effort, obsession, unbalanced diet due to dietary restrictions or even the development of a clinical eating disorder. I think it’s mind-boggling, sad and ugly how industries seem to prey on people’s hopes and vulnerabilities.

Charlotte, why (or how) did you determine that diets weren’t working? I imagine you may have started like many of us: dieting for better health or accomplishing other positive effects that diets claim to offer. What prompted you to write four fantastic books on non-diet and body image?

Charlotte: I think I took a pretty typical path through the insecurity of adolescence and attempts to reshape a developing body that was not what I wanted it to be. When I first started studying psychology as an undergraduate student, I ended up doing research on body image, eating behaviors, and eating disorders. The more I read the literature, the more I realized how consistent the research was (in terms of dieting that does not lead to sustained weight loss) and how out of step the public message of weight loss was with what people said. researchers know. It drove me crazy. it always drives me crazy! This is false advertising!

But I understand the temptation to try a new diet. Some days you just don’t feel good about yourself and want to do… something! Alli, how do you deal with the days when you feel uncomfortable in your own body. You feel “blah,” then you see an Instagram ad for a juice cleanse or something you know to be BS, but… how do you resist that post?

Alli: I flow with my experiences, and sometimes that means feeling ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘blah’. In fact, my body has been trying to get me into menopause, and it’s unbelievably uncomfortable! It’s no longer predictable for periods, I get cranky easily and unpredictably, I sometimes have hot flashes and youthful rashes, and my body has turned into a bunch of geometric shapes that no longer match. to clothes in the same way. Honestly, I think it’s pretty funny (in a twisted way) most of the time, and I’m trying to age with awkward grace.

I think something fundamental has helped me come to terms with the changes in my body is this: my OB-GYN had information and images of the natural progression of the female body throughout each decade. So, I am not panicked by what is going on. I am on time. Plus I’m so thankful for my body to recover and heal from all the rude diets I’ve been on, years of exercise abuse and eating disorders, and not taking it well. care in my youth. My body is my friend because it has served me and continues to support what my mind and heart want to pursue.

To some readers, my attitude may seem unreal. I understand. It wasn’t automatic or instantaneous and has evolved – with work – over the years.

Charlotte, first of all, how do you deal with the days when you feel uncomfortable in your own body. And second, what would you like anyone reading this conversation between two professionals to take away?

Charlotte: Alli, I think I have learned to be patient when I am not feeling well in my body. I know we all have days where we feel ‘blabbing’ and I know that sometimes it has to do with my own behaviors (for example, whether I have had time to exercise or not in recent days. ), but sometimes my body just does its own thing. It could be hormones or often I think I’m just tired. A good night’s sleep, some enjoyable exercise, and time with a friend to relax can go a long way for my state of mind and how I feel physically. But no one likes to feel uncomfortable.

We could go on and on about our thoughts on body image and weight loss indefinitely. For now, we want to wrap up with some ideas for you to consider, especially on days when you might be feeling “uncomfortable” and “blah” about your body. While we both identify as female, the following can help any gender.

Here are a few tips.

Idea # 1: Learn what calms you and do it when you’re having a bad body day.

We both think it’s important to practice what we preach, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy (although it does get easier with time and practice). It requires realizing not only what makes us feel bad about ourselves, but also what makes us feel better. There is no one coping strategy that works for everyone. Learn what works for you, whether it’s getting to bed early and getting a good night’s sleep, or calling a friend when you need a distraction or support.

Idea # 2: Accept that your body changes over time.

As Alli noted, knowing what to expect as you get older has helped normalize the changes and discomfort. When we see celebrities who are 60 years old and look 35 years old, it is easy to think that our bodies can stay the same. But, our body and our appearance are changing all the time! It’s normal not to be the same size or shape you were in high school, or even a year ago.

Idea # 3: challenge diet culture, for your own good and that of others too

It may help to remember that dieting may not only be harmful to your own health, but can also be harmful to the health of others because of your example. Likewise, challenging diet culture – refusing to try fad diets, discussing calories or carbohydrates, or comparing our bodies to other people’s bodies – sets the example that you value yourself more than your looks and you value yourself. respect your body.

Conclusion

We believe it is important to be honest when discussing body image issues. Even we “experts” have days off from time to time. How we feel about ourselves and the way we take care of ourselves varies, which is pretty natural. And, we have experienced that a peaceful relationship with your body can be possible. Rejecting diet culture is an important part of our sanity, and yours too.


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