When you are trying to lose weight and are on a diet (or just, you know, a “lifestyle change”), there are usually many rules. Rules about how much to eat, what foods to eat, when to eat them, what you cannot eat. This is usually fine in the beginning, because starting a new diet is often accompanied with a sense of euphoria; the excitement of a new “project” that will result in a bright new shiny body at the end. Getting all the rules right requires total immersion and so at first, what is going on in the world outside the diet grows quiet.
Eventually, however, we face social interactions involving eating with friends, family, co-workers. And we all know some naturally thin people, people who have never dieted, the person dieters might sometimes refer to as “someone who can eat anything.” The people to whom we’ve said longingly, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you can eat anything you want and not get fat.” How did saying that make you feel? How did it make the thin person feel?
For me (the not-naturally-thin person), I felt envy. It was so much less about getting to eat what I wanted, or what they were eating, and more about how they didn’t seem to worry about eating at all. How food they really liked was just something they ate when they were hungry, instead of something they had to try to avoid as long as possible, or to turn into some tasteless diet-friendly version of their favorite food.
So, envy, and then…something else. There were rules for me and no rules for them. They were “allowed” and I was not, and this was all based – arbitrarily, it seemed – on the shape and size of my body. Because my natural size and shape was less than. Which made me feel like a second class citizen.
Even though I had achieved the goal of “smallness,” what I had to do to stay there constantly reminded me of my second class status. And, constantly reminded, I did not feel deserving of the things “normal-sized-by-nature” people seemed to have: good food and peace of mind, permission to like and accept my body, the companionship of someone who truly suited me and would have accepted me no matter what. Even a satisfying career seemed out of reach because what I really had to work on was my body all the time, at all costs. It is virtually impossible to have good self-esteem and achieve the things you want under these conditions.
And what do these declarations of “You can eat anything” do to the people you’ve levied them on? They send a message: I, and others like me, are not worthy. And from good people you will elicit pity, and not-so-good people, scorn. Do you want either of these?
I have several naturally thin friends. I’ve hung out with them enough over many good meals to know that we don’t eat all that differently at all (in fact, these ladies have wonderful, robust appetites; no bird-like eaters are they), and yet we have very different bodies. Should this be so shocking? And should it mean that I have to go to food prison while they eat manna from Heaven? I say no. I get to enjoy my food just like they do.
The impact of weight-loss dieting goes far beyond feeling hungry and underfed. It kills our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Consider the other options: Health at Every Size® to liberate you from the obligation of bodily perfection, Intuitive Eating to free you from food envy and obsession. These have helped me and so many others to gain a sense of body respect, not just for our own bodies, but for the bodies of others, thin and fat, muscular and flabby, able-bodied and differently-abled.