We live in a diet culture, there’s no doubt about that. Stop for a moment and think about the last time you thought about losing weight. Now think about the people you know. Family members, circle of friends, co-workers. When’s the last time they mentioned losing weight/letting themselves go/anything about dieting? If you’re like me, it was probably pretty recent.
The other night at work, the following conversation happened between three of my co-workers. All three of them are well educated, smart women, registered nurses at the least.
Co-worker A has recently lost a significant amount of weight using some sort of diet. I’m not sure of the details because I was only eavesdropping, but I do know that she’s not allowed to eat fruit (but she eats a lot of meat and vegetables.)
Co-worker B has been talking about losing 30lbs as long as I’ve known her. I have to be 100% honest, I don’t know where she’d lose it from. No stomach pudge, no double chin, no big hips or butt or. . .any body part.
Co-worker C has never mentioned weight loss in my presence. She’s perfectly average, she might be overweight according to a BMI chart, but as we know, BMI is bullshit. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with her body.
So I was amazed at the conversation that ensued between these three ladies as I sat across the hall between doing my rounds.
A: *diet talk diet talk I can eat this I can’t eat this, this is how much I’ve lost so far!*
B: You look great! Your face has thinned out so much! You look like your daughter! I know I’ve wanted to lose 30lbs for a while, it’s just so hard to get motivated to start.
A: I know, but it’s always easier when you’re doing it with friends! That way you can all do it together! And you can check up on each other’s progress!
B: Yeah, you’re right. And they can tell you when you’ve fallen off the wagon! I mean it’s great motivation when someone says ‘You were looking so good, what happened?!’ or ‘I can see you’ve put some weight back on, you better watch out!’ It’s like you don’t want to disappoint everyone around you!
B: Yeah, I just want to lose 30lbs, then I’ll be happy. What about you, C?
C: (who was in no way involved in this conversation until this moment) Oh, I want to lose 50lbs. I mean, I’d be happy losing 40, but I’d like 50.
There was definitely more, but I’ve cut it down to the meat of the matter.
I can’t tell you how problematic I found this entire conversation. In fact, I think I spent most of it with my mouth open in disbelief.
First of all, any so-called ‘diet’ when you deprive yourself of fruit, which is a perfectly natural and healthy thing to eat, sounds like bad news to me. But A’s mere suggestion of dieting with friends made me cringe. I get why people do it, they do it for solidarity and so they feel less alone when talking about calories and portion sizes.
But you know what, let’s be real. In far too many cases, the ‘competition’ of it is what makes it fun. Who lost more weight this week, who dropped a pants size, who’s doing ‘better’? And it can easily unravel into resentment and hard feelings. Because you know what, regardless of how well you eat, or how much you exercise, if weight loss is your goal, every body loses weight at different rates, in different places, in different ways. Too often it turns into beating yourself up for being ‘lazy’ or not wanting it enough to do as well as your friend. And feeling bad is never going to encourage you.
Which leads me to the next thing I italicized: “I mean it’s great motivation when someone says ‘You were looking so good, what happened?!’ or ‘I can see you’ve put some weight back on, you better watch out!’ It’s like you don’t want to disappoint everyone around you!” Oh dear.
I mean, really? Because honestly, if anyone said anything like that to me, I would have to stop myself from causing them physical harm. One of the worst reasons to lose weight is for ‘everyone around you’. Your body is YOUR body, if you want to change it, change it for YOU. Not to conform to society, not to fit in with your buddies since they’re doing it too, not to ‘look so good’. No one has the right to place judgment on your body, and to tell you to ‘watch out’ because you’ve put on some weight, or to fawn all over you because you’ve lost some. Diet culture, pure and simple. It’s as if no one’s allowed to be happy with their body. You always have to want to change something. Lose weight, get a better hairstyle, change your brand of makeup, find a cream that gets rid of cellulite, share low-fat recipes or suggestions on the best SmartOnes meals. I work in an environment of mostly middle aged women, the majority of whom seem to have fallen into this trap of weight loss and the buddy system. There’s not a shift that goes by where someone doesn’t talk about the latest low-calorie salad dressing or what they are and are not allowed to eat on their current diet. It’s so maddening.
And then poor C, who was dragged into this conversation. ‘Oh, I want to lose 50lbs.’ Goodness knows if she actually wants to lose weight or if she was just saying she did because it happened to be the topic of the moment. More diet culture: The assumption that since person A and person B want to lose weight, person C must want to as well! Being content with the weight you are? What’s that?! I wonder what A and B would have reacted if C had said ‘Why do you think I want to lose weight too?’ I bet it would have stopped them in their tracks. I feel like they both would have fallen all over themselves apologizing. ‘Oh, I didn’t mean. . .’ ‘Oh, I just thought. . .’ ‘You look GREAT!’
The kicker? No one turned around and asked the only one in the room who is actually medically morbidly obese about my plans for weight loss. I work in the medical field. As such, if health was really the concern here, all eyes would have been on me. If health was really what was ‘important’ to them, I should have been concern trolled within an inch of my life.
But it just goes to show, it’s not about health. It’s about vanity and conformity.
I think it’s sad.