I was once a member of a weight loss group. Every week we'd line up to face our judgement, anxious chit chat covering the fact that whatever the scale said would dictate our mood for the rest of the week. It would determine our levels of self hatred, and whether we deserved to eat our 'syns' that night. We would sit in a circle telling tales of our food failures, how guilty we felt for giving in to that dessert when we had dinner out. God forbid a grown woman honours her appetite and cherishes a moment without it being tinged with restriction. And inevitably one member of the cult - sorry, group, would slip up and say the D word. DIET. That person would be instantly reprimanded with a reminder that we weren't on diets, we were living a healthy lifestyle.
The truth is that anything with a goal weight is a diet. And it certainly didn't feel like a harmless healthy lifestyle when I was weighing out my miniscule portion of cheese to the exact gram, and tearing my body image into pieces while poring over my useful handbook. That group is just one example of a company exploiting the idea of 'health' to fit their own agenda.
Health is a concept that's been completely distorted by diet culture. These days most people don't even realise that thinness and health are two entirely different things. The fitsperation image of washboard abs and thigh gaps is so ingrained in our minds that 'healthy' has become a body type, one that 99% of us will never achieve, no matter how much kale we eat. The internet idolises clean eating Instagrammers posting pictures of their raw chia quinoa protein oatmeal, and archiving how many calories their daily workout burned. The comments below praise their dedication, their devotion to fitness, thousands of people fooled by a one dimensional display of physical health. Forgetting that mental and emotional health are just as important.
Abs are great. But what about happiness?
The women who spends 4 hours at the gym and then goes home to deny herself the pizza she's really craving, and instead stands in front of her bedroom mirror scrutinising her 'flaws' and convincing herself that a salad is enough is not healthy. She is orthorexic. Just like so many other people who've bought into the clean eating lifestyle. And because of the fitsperation body type we've been taught to aspire to, 'healthy' will never be healthy enough. What starts as a positive resolution to work on your fitness can quickly morph into an obsession that takes over every aspect of your life. Your diet gets more and more restrictive, your workouts feel more and more like a punishment, but you keep going because you've been convinced that it's all in the name of health.
The truth is that actual health is multi-dimensional. Your mind shouldn't be neglected, and your soul shouldn't be starved, in order to attain that gym bunny body. You shouldn't feel like you're worth less if you eat more, or if you can't run a mile. You are worthy of self love and respect regardless of your physical fitness. And real physical health is more than meets the eye anyway.
Health at Every Size is a movement dedicated to showing that the pursuit of health is not the same as the pursuit of thinness. They recognise that health should be about how you feel, not how you look. They eliminate the pressure of goal weights and unrealistic ideal bodies, focusing instead on intuitive eating and self acceptance. The results? Physical health skyrockets, and body image goes with it, even when the participants don't lose any weight. The results of yoyo dieting and exercising as torture? Ruined metabolism, wrecked relationship with food, preoccupation with appearance, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders. Oh, and 95-97% of diets fail.
So if your physical health is something that you want to take care of, please do it in a way that doesn't sacrifice your sanity at the alter of perfect abs. Don't count your macros or measure the distance between your thighs. Don't cut out all the foods you love so that you can #eatclean and #traindirty. Make decisions that make your body feel good! Move your body for the joy of moving! Enjoy nutritious foods! And the real secret to doing that is by first fixing your relationship with food and with your body. Eliminate all the toxic messages about how many calories you eat being a reflection of your moral character. There are no 'good' and 'bad' foods. You deserve to eat without guilt, always. Learn to love how your body looks now, rather than constantly comparing it to the chiseled muscles on your screen that make you feel worthless. Self hate will never be a positive motivator for change.
And if you don't wanna change? That's cool too! You are not obligated to pursue a 'healthy lifestyle' in order to feel good about yourself or warrant respect from others. And people who deal with disability or chronic illness who just can't pursue physical fitness, you deserve self love too! We all do, regardless of our health.
Personally I'm the healthiest I've ever been. I'm physically active, I eat a balanced diet, and most importantly I'm mentally recovered, fulfilled, and happy. I know now that we all have the power to define what health means to us. We don't have to buy into damaging fitsperation and 10 day detox cleanses. Our holistic health is worth more than that.
And our cheese is too delicious to be measured.