It may seem like everybody you know gets weird about their eating every January—maybe it’s Whole30, maybe it’s a sugar “detox,” maybe it’s a wholehearted commitment to keto. What to do if you’re not on that bandwagon and it’s all a bit too much? Anti-Diet author and registered dietitian Christy Harrison has some tips for us.
Realise that a lot of “wellness” is dieting by another name
Diets and weight loss rarely get called by those names anymore. Instead, the idea that you’ll get thinner if you change how you eat is often touted as a happy side effect of healthy eating or other lifestyle changes.
Today’s diets won’t say they’re diets, but don’t be fooled:
????“Quitting sugar” is a diet.
????A “plant-based lifestyle for longevity and weight loss” is a diet.
⚖️Tracking your eating and exercise for the purpose of weight loss is a diet.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD (@chr1styharrison) December 31, 2019
That’s why eating patterns that are marketed around wellness or “feeling good” can end up creeping into our brains the same way diets do—they’re diets in disguise, or they include stigma against larger bodies, perhaps unspoken, but heavily implied.
So if you’re trying to avoid diet culture, be aware that you’ll probably need to avoid this too. For example, unfollow or mute any Instagram account that only uses photos of skinny people when they post about health and wellness.
OK, so your best friend is committed to quitting sugar, and you’d just rather not think about dieting or restricting food. How do you maintain your relationship without arguing or spending all your conversations hearing about her new, uh, wellness plan?
Harrison suggests simply setting boundaries. Ask your friend if you can avoid talking about “what we’re eating and how we’re exercising right now” and instead keep conversations to everything else that matters to the two of you—after all, your friendship is built around more than just food.
“I think if they’re a good friend, they’ll honour what you’re asking,” Harrison says, even if they don’t quite understand. And maybe this discussion will spur them to reflect on their own relationship with dieting.
Have a project of your own
If you tend to get swept up in what other people are doing—totally understandable, since we are social creatures—it may help to decide what you are doing instead of restricting or obsessing about food.
Now might be a good time to explore intuitive eating, or as Harrison puts it, “true intuitive eating, not the sort of fake diet culture version” that expects you to intuitively eat your way to thinness.
Instead, it’s fine to just eat, and not expect your food choices to work some particular magic on your body. “You get the time and the space to focus on your career, on your relationships, on social justice, causes you care about, changing the world—there’s so much more life available to you outside of [just thinking about your] diet,” says Harrison.
Take the long view
No diet lasts forever. Whole30 is a single gruelling month, if people make it that far. Many new year’s resolutions fizzle out by mid-January, and even if somebody loves a new way of eating and loses weight, odds are they will fall out of love with it within a few months, maybe a year.
You don’t need to rub the chances of failure in your friend’s face—remember, you’re trying to respect each other’s boundaries and not argue about food—but thinking about where you’ll each be in five years can help you to keep perspective.