This week, I received a huge wake-up call that our desires to diet aren’t our fault.
For a long time, I ping-ponged between feeling pressure to diet, feeling pathetic because I didn’t have the drive to see it through and then shame that I let diet culture affect my life. Finally, I started following body-positive accounts and released myself from diet culture. I donated my scale, started throwing popcorn at diet product commercials and started practicing mindful eating. I still often fail at that, but I’m getting better about listening to what my body really wants and not feeling bad when I do treat myself.
So, progress. But back to my wake-up call.
I texted my little sister to say Happy Valentine’s Day and after a bit of chat, she said starting in March she is only eating salad and meat. When I asked why, she responded, “IDK. I guess I just thought I needed to. Just to try it.”
My heart shattered a little bit for her. She is only 12 years old, a very active string-bean to boot, but she still feels pressure to go on a diet of salad and meat. It breaks my heart that my little sister, who is always so energetic and has such a zest for life, wants to try eating only salad and meat because she thinks she needs to.
But it isn’t her fault that she feels that way and it isn’t ours that even as adults we struggle with our body image. What kills me is that children as young as my sister already feel this pressure and they already know what foods people turn to in a traditional diet. And they know that a diet is an all or nothing thing, i.e. “I must drop all junk food and only eat salad for a month,” instead of keeping a balance.
As a big sister, it hurts that I can’t save her from the shit that I dealt with as a teen and continue to struggle with today. I can explain to her about how healthy eating is about balance and introduce her to body-positive role models who can show her that healthy comes in many sizes. But I can’t turn off her TV when it shows diet pills or keep her from following toxic celebs on Instagram. I can’t keep her friends from making comments about their bodies in the locker room.
I’m just one sister, and I can’t fight it all.
But maybe if I say something to her about balance and being body-positive, and other people say similar things to the young girls in their life, maybe that can start to make a difference.
So my challenge for you today is to think of how you can change the conversation next time a young girl or woman in your life talks about dieting or shames their own body. This could be as simple as explaining why you don’t diet, or why eating a variety of foods is healthy. It could mean not complaining about your weight in front of your little girl when you step on the scale one day. Maybe you throw out the scale altogether.
I’m not asking you to change your lifestyle or mindset on a dime because that’s not my business and that’s pretty impossible to do all at once. But just changing the conversation one action at a time helps girls around us, and it also can help you.
Today, I texted my sister about how it’s good to want to be healthy but that balance is key. I also told her about how I had a salad yesterday but then that night I treated myself to seafood and ice cream!
If that created even a hint of doubt in her mind about going on a salad/meat diet, then that’s a step in the right direction.