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. 

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?