We do not use “this is a good/bad food” here.

I’ll admit it, I was super pessimistic and anxious going into today. I was 110% certain I would be writing a post that pretty much said the opposite of this, but here we are instead.

I’ll have more on my experience in clinical this semester soon, but I’ll explain a little context for now. We are back, for the next 6 weeks, in the same community I was at for half of fall semester last year. It’s truly been incredible so far. One of the many projects we’re working on involves a teaching program for nutrition. It was developed to be used at different faith-based settings like one in our neighborhood. All I knew heading into today was that we were going to help teach these people about healthier eating and spending patterns. I think I probably took in a big gulp of air at that point and didn’t release that tension until the last three minutes of training today.

I was so very stressed about the program because I have seen how diet culture leeches into any and every single health-based program I can think of. I remember watching as (unknowingly) a classmate ended up teaching on something that sounded like it came from a dieting 101 class. I’ve seen materials for children more focused on saying what you should and shouldn’t eat or how bad fat is rather than promoting a picture of trying to choose more nutritious foods. I could go on, but essentially I just assumed I would be semi-forced to follow a curriculum that I cannot fully support.

I waiting for any of many disappointing phrases all session, until this one made me smile: “we do not use language like ‘this is a good/bad food’ here.” I could have hugged her, I swear. She went on to explain that the goal is to encourage nutritious choices, such as whole grains, but to avoid language that insinuates it is bad if you eat xyz. They don’t believe that causing people to feel guilty about their food choices is a good tactic (ESPECIALLY in our mostly low-income/homeless population). I could not agree more, and I am excited to reach these people in a way that can teach nutrition without it sounding like a guide for weight loss.

I often struggle deeply with believing that I am bad for what I do or do not eat. The ED thoughts scream if I even think about enjoying something that’s off limits. While this is not a “practice what I preach” scenario yet, I am grateful that I can promote a healthy relationship with food to some of the most vulnerable in our community. Maybe along the way I can re-learn a little, too!

I gave in.

I sit here, pushing aside the shame I feel in order to be honest, because maybe that honesty will help someone else.

On the outside, oh how I try to fight diet culture any chance I get. I wear my “No one cares about your diet” shirt with pride, share at least one or two posts a week, follow all the right body-positive Instagram accounts. I can explain how most diets are garbage and either don’t work long-term or lead to eating disorders.

I continued with this facade for the first two weeks of this year, when I had actually dove head-first into exactly what I stood so firmly against.

It was the day before New Year’s eve. New year, new you, or so they say. Somehow, our culture has decided that January 1 is the perfect time to start a new diet or “lifestyle change.” If you have a TV, social media, coworkers, etc I’m sure you’ve heard and seen a million options out there. As I sat on Facebook, yet another diet ad came onto my screen. I usually am so great at ignoring them, but not then.

Soon, I was interested enough to take a short quiz. I didn’t find anything wrong with the curiosity. I think part of me believed it would be obvious BS and I could move on. I finished the quiz and got the good news: I could reach my goal – and only by February with the app’s help! It hurts to admit how much that excited me.

When the app offered me their services free for 2 weeks I jumped on it. I imagined how much happier I would be after I dropped some weight and got to that magic number. I felt excited for an opportunity to transform the negative view I’ve had of my body since my most recent relapse and journey back to recovery.

This past Thursday marked 3 weeks since I sat in my therapists office and deleted the app with her. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do it alone, and considering they offered an additional 3 weeks when I tried to quit, I’m glad I had support. I have managed NOT to download or sign up for it (or a program similar) since that day. Let me tell you, that has been a whole lot harder than I ever imagined.

Since I’ve been away from this program a few weeks, I feel in a much better place to critically analyze some aspects of it. Some are simply a byproduct of diet culture, but a few were pretty significant in my opinion.

  • Separated foods into good, okay, and bad categories while also giving limits to amounts of these foods. This is pretty typical when it comes to weight loss websites/app/diets. The thing that bothered me the most about theirs is that nearly every carbohydrate choice I could think of, even things like whole grains were in the “bad” category. Essentially they were asking me to avoid carbs unless they were included in fruits or veggies.
  • Set my daily caloric limit to the same nutritional requirements of a toddler (and added exercise on top of that). I completely get that this is a weight loss thing and they wanted me to hit this magical goal in x amount of time, but most calculators I have seen before wouldn’t go for this amount. It just surprised me in a not so great way.
  • Had a real person following along and praising me for completing less than the above amount some days. Honestly this may have been the most shocking part of it all. I was really starting to struggle with restriction at the time and she actively encouraged it. To top it off, she wasn’t a dietitian, nutritionist, etc. If I had a patient who told me they had that amount I would definitely be concerned, because it honestly wasn’t safe.

I see the ad for this specific app at minimum once a day, or more depending on how often I get on my phone. Sometimes I can ignore it, but often I think of the “benefits” and wonder if my team was truly just overreacting. The way it would reward me for avoiding specific foods, exercising, or staying within calorie limits filled me with pride. That truly was a huge positive for me and maybe the thing I miss the most.

These people who make different diet programs know exactly what they’re doing with marketing. They offer amazing results, use guilt and rewards (sometimes at the same time – “you’re doing SO much better than last week”), and convince us that changing our appearance is going to make a difference in our lives. Anyone can fall into the trap.

What I’ve realized through this journey is the praise I received still didn’t get rid of that negative voice. Losing weight and essentially ramping up ED behaviors only has set me on the path to relapse, not happiness. I am working to get back on track and away from all of the BS diet culture throws at me.

*Note: I do not feel like actually naming said app is helpful to anyone. I definitely wouldn’t want to see more people fall into it like I did. 

Unwelcome guest

Yesterday was a whirlwind at work, as are all Saturday’s. It’s our turn (when we clean all of the rooms/cottages/other units to prepare them for the new guests) which means lots of work. I set up the two new people I was training at one condo, then went to the next to check it. I saw all the normal things.. beds made, empty fridge, no dust, well swept, etc. I then looked at the closet since I didn’t have an extra sheet set and found plenty there. Among the five extra towels, 3 random sheet sets, and probably a dozen games, I saw this on the floor:

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That, my friends, is a lovely scale. Not only does the scale exist, but it also is apparently a gift to the condo. My heart really sank just thinking about this situation.

To back up a bit, the place I work at (in housekeeping) has 9 weeks of family camp in the summer, and then various retreats throughout the year. The condos are almost always rented by people with kids. As a whole, the conference tries to promote togetherness and a getaway from the normal burdens of life.

Unfortunately, everyday living includes a heavy dose of diet culture influence for far too many people in this world.

I can imagine so many different situations where one could be hurt from this object. A little boy or girl decides that they should see how much they weigh, which turns into an innocent “who weighs the least/most” game. Someone going through a dieting fad checks their weight only to find that they’ve gained, and spend the rest of the week miserable and ashamed. A teenager finds themselves stepping on every single day to make sure they didn’t let too loose on their vacation.

There is no way having a scale there is going to help anyone. For one, dieting/weight isn’t something that’s a priority when you’ve come here just to build faith and enjoy your family. Diet culture is absolutely everywhere else and it’s good to have a break. It has potential to truly cause harm to those who already have vulnerability with their self-worth or weight in general. Even with the best intentions, weighing yourself on a different scale once doesn’t truly correlate to one that’s consistent (eg at your doctor’s office).

When I saw that scale I had a few major urges. The first was to weigh myself. Ed was convinced that I needed to see the number and there were no other options, despite how inaccurate it would be based on various factors. Directly after that came the desire to take the scale with me and keep it. It would have been so easy to just find a home for it in my car or secretly in my room. That would give me easy access at any time. I am not proud of those first two options, but that’s also just where I am right now. Third, and probably the best option, was to take the scale out and get rid of it (which is technically what we’re supposed to do with “extra” things in units, but that’s a whole different story). I ended up with none of the above, and I’m a little disappointed in myself for that now.

I could have been brave and fought against diet culture today by removing the scale. Honestly, though, I don’t think I could have just gotten rid of it. The reason I debated about bringing the scale out or not for so long is because I wanted to take it home. I can pretty much guarantee I would have brought it home, probably even weighed myself 15 times by now. I definitely was not strong enough to do the right thing, so I did the neutral one instead.

I’m not sure if I’ll be back to the condo next week, or at all this summer. I want to have the strength to put the best interest of our guests first and confiscate the scale. Not being able to now doesn’t mean I never will.

I know this probably doesn’t seem like some huge deal. To me, it is. This is just an example of how our obsession with diet culture and weight loss is so ingrained that we feel you don’t deserve a break on vacation. How ridiculous is that? If we can take a week of work off why don’t we take a week to fully engage and not focus on things that don’t matter? One small scale can truly have an impact on someone, and I think it has to be our job to think critically about them and the damage that often comes.

Dear Meijer,

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself perusing your store. This is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s rare for me to go a week without shopping at one of my two favorite locations. I truly enjoy spending time there and consider you my #1 go-to for groceries and just about anything else. Yesterday started off normally, until I walked by the kitchen area. I noticed some adorable looking jars and other miscellaneous containers. I just glanced over, until my eye caught one word: calorie. I seem to have laser precision in noticing anything to do with food, exercise, calories, and weight loss. Naturally, I went over to investigate further why this jar had calorie written on it. What I saw makes me sick to my stomach

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“Calories (noun): tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night”

I’m sure the fact that you chose to stock this in your stores was harmless. A few people probably got some chuckles out of the definition here. Maybe there were some “oh yes, they’re terrible little things” or “I have to watch myself around them.” No matter how innocent or light-hearted the choice to include this was, it is not a laughing matter.

Perhaps most people won’t be ill-affected by this jar. I would guess that maybe a couple even notice it each day. What I want you to see is someone who would be hurt by it. This woman comes into your store and finds this jar. She doesn’t laugh at it, but instead believes the negative view of calories. She buys the jar and puts her favorite treat, chocolate chip cookies, inside. Every time she wants a cookie, the words on the jar deter her. She stares at that jar every single day, long after the treats inside have gone stale. All she can picture when she thinks of some of her favorite foods are tiny monsters who make her balloon out and gain weight.

The woman above may be hypothetical, but trust me there are many out there with similar thought patterns. I, for one, don’t need a jar to remind me of all the thoughts that takeover my mind much of the day. I don’t need anything to make my views of self, calories, and good any worse than it already is.

Calories are nothing but a unit of energy, just like an amp, volt, or watt. They cannot be inherently bad or good. They are a way to measure the energy in food we eat and activities we do. Why then, does this jar you sell give them such a negative view?

The answer is diet culture. Our society is immensely focused on size, weight, shape, good and bad foods, diets, cleanses, on and on. It causes us to be uncomfortable in our bodies and with ourselves. By stocking this jar in your stores, you are perpetuating diet culture and silently stating that thin is the best way to be.

I am not mad at you specifically, but I am angry at the culture that says this is okay. I know that you’ll probably never see my letter, but if you do, please consider what I’ve laid out here. Stocking this and similar items isn’t a joke. You will never know how many it will negatively affect. I urge you to really sit down and think before another item like this one is chosen for your stores.

Sincerely,

Emily

The Freshman 15

We’ve all heard of it. Many teens going into college have this as one of their biggest fears, right along with how hard classes will be and getting along with your roommate. The first mention of the “freshman 15” was in Seventeen magazine in 1989. Back then there was absolutely no medical proof to back it up, and that stays true today. This is a complete myth that so many allow to rule their lives. In fact, the real average weight gain (if there even is a gain) is around 2-3 pounds, not even 20% of the false belief.

Freshman year and getting adjusted to living away from home is hard enough on its own, yet so many go above and beyond and make weight maintenance or loss top priority. Lets examine that for a moment. Is gaining weight really the worst thing that could happen to you, even while knowing that it most likely would be less than the infamous 15 pounds anyways? I know it seems like the end of the world. I’ve been there and I’m still trying to shake off the lies. For me, making a list of all my priorities/goals for the year any other than weight loss has changed my focus significantly.

You may be wondering what’s so bad about dieting and exercising in order to keep those pesky pounds away. The most serious and very common consequence of trying to lose weight is developing an eating disorder. The average age of onset is 19, right around freshman year of college. Students are at the highest risk of eating disorders with 25% struggling. Adding to all of this, a huge chunk of eating disorders begin with the innocent act of going on a diet. Beyond the risk of eating disorders, restriction takes it toll on the body and mind. If you’ve ever seen the Snickers “hangry” commercials portraying what its like when you skip eating for a while, you know what I mean. You are left with little energy, poor concentration, feeling week, moodiness and irritability, and the risk for mood disorders like anxiety and depression. We simply cannot function well missing body’s essential nutrient requirements.

Having the facts about the freshman 15 is just the beginning. Everyday you’re going to hear people talking about diets, restricting, and complaining about how “fat” they are. Instead of focusing so much on size and weight, we should build an environment where confidence comes first. Believing it yourself and measuring your worth by who you are and not your appearance is just the start. Also think about this: do you pay attention to whether your friends or anyone else is gaining weight? Is their size even something that crosses your mind? Do you judge them by it? If the answer to those questions is no, its safe to assume that no one else is judging you either. College is supposed to be an amazing time so why would we want to waste it on some myth made by a magazine nearly 30 years ago?