Dieting–The latest social sport!

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.

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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!

A: Exactly!

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.

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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.

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This entry was posted in confidence, diet culture trickery, dieting, diets, self esteem, size acceptance, weight loss. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Dieting–The latest social sport!

  1. effasinfat says:

    Amber, have I told you lately that I love you? No? Okay, I love you! This post is everything to me right now. The more involved I get with FA and the more I work on my own journey of self-love, the more I realize just how sad, scary, and pathetic diet talk really is. I’m not saying people who engage it in are sad, scary and pathetic. I’m saying the fact it’s considered OK is very sad, very scary, and downright pathetic. I can’t get together with one of my friends from home without the conversation at some point turning to her newest attempt at losing weight (she’s a big fat fatty weighing in at 170 pounds, but she’s getting married in a year and God forbid she not be 20 pounds lighter). But the issue runs deeper with her, as it does with many people who are on a constant quest to lose weight. And I used to be one of those people you’re talking about. It was an adrenaline rush to discuss my current weight-loss regimen and hear about others’ tips and tricks. But it’s just sick. It’s downright sick. And we think it’s normal to sit with other women and talk about the things we hate about ourselves under the guise of trying to ‘better’ ourselves. Unfortunately many people won’t come to the realization that life is much too precious to spend your time thinking and obsessing over your body, and there are more important social issues that need addressing in our world than the issue of how many calories you’re eating daily.

  2. JD says:

    This looks a lot like body policing to me. If an individual truly has autonomy over their own person, should they not be able to indulge their weight-loss desires without you chirping behind their backs about how you think what they’re doing with their bodies is wrong?

    Their bodies aren’t your business. You even said that they didn’t include you in their conversation. What gives you the right to impose your belief system (albeit passive aggressively, on a blog that these women may or may not ever see) on a group of people who didn’t even include you in the conversation in the first place?

    If you want to be fat, go ahead and live your life in the way that best suits YOU. If they want to attempt to lose weight, then they should be able to without you bitterly scrutinizing their every move. They are capable of making their own decisions and if they think weight loss is in their own best interests then they should not be shamed for acting on their desires, regardless of whether or not what you think they’re doing is “right” or “wrong.”

    Yes, our culture is very anti-fat. Yes, this is problematic for a number of reasons. However, you should be attacking the “system” — not a group of women who decide to support each other in their goals. Their weight loss is none of your business, and if you truly feel the need to make it your business (which it seems like you have by publishing this blog entry) then you need to take a long hard look at what you’ve been presenting to your audience. There are a number of glaring contradictions here that need to be addressed before you, or anyone embarking on a mission of size acceptance, can move forward.

    • Adipose Activist says:

      I am not ‘attacking’ these women at all. If anything, I pity them, and I’m mourning the fact that they feel so forced to change their bodies to be happy. I’m not even blaming them, because they’ve fallen so perfectly into the trap that diet culture promotes.

      It’s not the fact that they want to lose weight that bothers me, it’s the reasoning behind it. Yes, I believe in autonomy and that everyone has the right to (within limit) do whatever they like for whatever reason they like. That being said, there’s a line, and it’s not even a fine one, between what these women truly want and what they’re being told they SHOULD want by constant pressure from outside sources. However, though the line is so obviously there, many people do not see it. They do not question why; really, truly, and honestly, WHY, they feel such a strong need to lose weight. It has less to do with the actions and much, much more to do with the reason BEHIND the actions.

      They are victims of the system that I am fighting against. And as my boyfriend just put it when I was discussing this with him, ‘you cannot ‘attack the system’ without addressing the people enveloped within it’.

      More than anything, the things I discuss on my blog are social commentary. I comment on the culture of ‘fat is bad’ as a whole. As such, my analyzation of ANYONE who wants to lose weight is wholly my business. It has nothing to do with judging individuals. It has to do with society. Yes, I sample society by examining individuals. I observe, and I report my findings. There’s nothing ‘passive aggressive’ about it.

      • mizkiss says:

        Fair enough, but on the same token somebody could say that it’s ‘sad’ that you’re the result of ‘the system’ that encourages obesity, unhealthy behavior and basic over-indulgence. And I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but my point is that everybody sees every issue differently and I don’t think it’s your place to judge these women and call them ‘sad’ and ‘wrong’ because you don’t agree with them. Unless they’re unhealthy or otherwise obsessive about their dieting behavior it’s nobody’s business but their own. You’re not exactly in the position to be picking on other people because of their personal eating habits and body relationship.

  3. Crystal says:

    I wish people would realize she’s not picking on anyone. She’s simply stating the fact that it should not be normal and acceptable for people to form social bonds over talk about their newest way of damaging their body.

  4. Asa Bjarnadottir says:

    Well I totally disagree that it’s a “kicker” that they didn’t turn on you, that would have been exceptionally rude in my opinion since, if I understand correctly, you were not a part of this particular conversation, so even though subliminally the presence of a “medically morbidly obese” person quit probably instigated this subject of conversation. A and B sound very eager to connect over their body issues, without knowing a better way to do it (i.e. without being so pathetically obvious), at least they did not go picking at your plans for your body.

    I think the point that’s missing here is the very fact that these women are far too self absorbed and obsessively worried about her own issues, to really be aware how inappropriate just having this conversation is in your presence. I can see how judging them back would be a normal reaction, although they probably are not realizing it, the whole conversation from your perspective does sound judging in a way (or at least that’s how I would be prone to take it…in a “if you are fat, what the fuck am I?” kind of way). But to me it sounds like these are people that, like most women I’ve met, whatever their size, are fundamentally unhappy with their bodies. Yes, if A lost weight, good for her… whatever, it’s her deal…. Their obsession is probably fueled when having somebody around that does fit whatever label they throw around in their own heads when they talk themselves down, because of the ever common “if thin is best, then fat is worst” simplification.

    It’s like some people that drink. But “only drink” socially, or “only drink” wine, but sometimes maybe drink too much and they are starting to get a teeny bit worried, but are totally in denial. And then they meet a person at a party that tells them they don’t drink, that they are alcoholic; for certain types of people – they just cannot let that go. For the rest of the night, they will talk about nothing but how they ONLY drink with food. Or socially… or when the Red Sox win… or when they lose… and the keep “protesting too much”, you know what I mean? Unprompted entirely by the alcoholic they’ll reveal just how obsessed about the matter they actually are and since they don’t think they themselves are alcoholic, but feel the need to trumpet how much they are not they’ll spend the whole evening telling the alcoholic how they don’t drink that much… – all the while drinking the bottle of wine (because that’s how sophisticated and non alcoholic they are)… These are …. well… number one – very boring people to have Caipirinhas with!!! But secondly usually end up being a bit shallow overall in my experience – those of us more sarcastically intelligent and properly dark, have the good sense and understanding to just shut up about subjects that somebody has entrusted us with as being a problem of theirs. Problems with obesity (and yes, I do see it as a problem as I believe, we are not animals that were meant to ever be able to get very fat. We, as a species, were supposed to have to expend more energy to get food than we do have to now, so I do feel badly about my own obesity, no doubt)… are just among the few that are out there for people to see, so people think they know some secret, since they can see there is or has in the past been problems with this. So people that lack tact, or have social intelligence deficiencies of other sorts, tend to call themselves out on this very often. That doesn’t mean they are evil though.

    I don’t know C, but perhaps she could stand to lose 50lb, and maybe that is what she would chose as a happier weight for herself, but when I read this I took it as she was being awesomely sarcastic since they were dragging her into it like that hahahhah 🙂

    In fact I think these ladies you describe, sound like they might have the very mental makeup for getting obese. Deep down they probably know it, they feel better identifying with somebody as freaked out and scared of it as they are. When they see where they are headed, they can’t but compulsively think about losing weight, reaffirming that where they are right now is not good enough, making them the ideal candidate for eating disorders. They hate themselves enough already to end up trotting this road, kicking, whining and screaming perhaps about how fat they are getting, but steadily undermining themselves like this is the best recipe I know for getting fat – clearly they are having a hard time being happy with themselves, and kind of sound like they are unable to stop obsessing about food with each other.

    I would go as far as even suggesting that, you are not getting a fair realistic snap-shot of culture, because with the obvious glorification on unhealthily thin bodies in conjunction with the deep feelings of inadequacy most all women have to begin with, the folks that really do have deep issues with it, are more likely to “go there” when you are present.

    I’d think that probably very few of them consciously are trying to affect your choices in life or trying to judge you to your face, most of them probably are simply seeing a representation of where their own unhappiness can very well lead them. They know they are obsessed with food so they assume that they can share that with or around you, but since they are scared they try to soothe themselves by making promises and oaths to not eat this or to lose that much weight. I think they are really talking to themselves, so yes it’s sad – but taking it as “diet cultural” or vain and pathetic I think stems more from the resonance we have with women in those footsteps. They need understanding too, it’s hard, but if it truly is acceptance you have achieved, their blabberings ought probably not bother you to the extent that you kind of wish you had been a part of the conversation “to show them” 😉 although I’d have loved to see their faces of course!
    I think it is not the external, the “culture of dieting” or attacking by society that is at hand here as much as the inherent internal disbelief of women, that they are more often than they think good enough as they are. That their energy can be better placed in say curing cancer or fix the economy, than obsessing on how their bodies are not perfect 24/7 and that if they believed they themselves were worthy, even if not fitting the “norm” or “ideal” or whatever, it would free up so much energy and spirit that they truly could change everything in the world they’d please, including the size of their own asses.

    Striving for a healthy body is not something I find anything wrong with, exercise can be a great way for social bonding and I disagree whole heartedly that there is anything damaging to the body by working out or trying skipping fruit, if that is what works for somebody. If that works for them, fine. I think it’s a waste of energy to let that kind of talk bother you, yes it is annoying, but stepping back and seeing there are possibly going to be people that discuss this in a disproportionate number of instances when in the presence of somebody obese, than when not, might be a way to see this talk for what it is. Just some voicings of bad self esteem and frustrations that come from not feeling good enough. They might not realize they are even doing it… oh and the endless comparison game women play happens in E V E R Y T H I N G ! It’s far from just being in weight issues… it’s with motherhood and incomes and you name it… there’s just people like that. It’s not society’s fault as much as the individuals’ that make it up in my opinion.

    I was recently going through pictures of myself as a teenager and I distinctly remember how deeply unhappy about my body I was. 100lbs ago. 80lbs ago… 40lbs ago.. as I got fatter, the more like how I felt on the inside I looked. On the inside I feel as fat now, as I felt when I weighed 100 pounds ago… except… now I actually am obese. Then, I actually in reality I was not the “no good ugly fat ass” I told myself I was. These women’s conversation may have been none of your business, but it is quite evident that your presence affects them. Perhaps it will end up giving you the opportunity to remind them, never being happy in your skin will not change with losing weight. If they are at a healthy weight and think their appearance is so bad that they have nothing else to talk about than dieting, their problem runs deeper. A fat person that has finally figured out those problems and decided they are indeed worthy of taking care of their health however late in the game if you will, is miles ahead of people still stuck at beating themselves up. These women definitely need some love, however annoying they may be 🙂
    I see nothing wrong with being happy for people who have found a way that works for them in achieving whatever shape they prefer, good for them I say!

    Give them hugs and tell them they look beautiful. That ought to shut them up for a while! 😀

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