Diets don’t start on the weekends. That’s what I was always told. Diets start on Mondays, continue during and after working hours, until Friday, when you either have the moral strength to keep going through the weekend, or stop and restart again the following Monday. Even though Mondays are inherently the worst day of the week, we then add the shame of cutting out the foods we enjoy the most just to feel like we are doing the responsible, healthy, thin thing.
I grew up always trying to lose ten pounds. Now, when I look back on old photos of myself from high school, I have that sickening and sad feeling, knowing how anxious I felt about my size, at my pesky weight of 120 lbs. Wow, if she could only see me now.
If she could, she’d probably be astounded to see that even though I didn’t develop the flat stomach or carve out the thigh-gap, I still had graduated from high school and college, gotten a job, had relationships, made new friends, bought new clothes, went to parties, moved to New York City, and essentially didn’t live out her greatest fear that not losing the weight would mean the end of the world and an unfulfilling life. And yet, as I type those words, there’s a small demon voice in my head that says, “But if you were smaller, it would be better.”
That voice belongs to Diet Culture. It comes out in the form of every weight loss pill commercial, every Weight Watchers knock-off brand (I’m looking at you, Noom), and every mother who ever pinched your love handle as you walked by (thankfully not mine). Diet Culture is the ever present, loud and yet also soft and unsuspecting, voice that tells you that nothing you do matters unless you are thin while you’re doing it. And it’s a lie.
In a simple Google search for “diet culture,” the following commonly searched questions were suggested to me. As I read them, I felt like I was reading my own search history from 2008.
What time should I stop eating to lose weight?
Which fruits burn calories?
What is the best breakfast for weight loss?
What should I each for lunch on a diet?
What sweets can I eat on a diet?
Is it OK to have dessert on a diet?
And my personal favorite: Can I eat pudding on a diet?
To the last two questions, the answer is YES.
The Netflix mini-series Explained best summarized the difficulty with losing weight: the diet industry is pushing you to eat less, while the food industry is pushing you to eat more. Why is either industry in charge of how we feed ourselves?
The diet and weight-loss industry, according to businesswire.com, is currently worth $72 Million. That’s made up of weight loss cookbooks, fitness apps, “detox” teas, “meal replacement” shakes, snack packages labeled “guilt-free,” gym memberships, Spanx, juice cleanses, appetite suppressants, and bathroom scales. The list could fill the rest of this article. Basically, anything you’ve ever paid money for with a vision of yourself in your head at some future date, where you look thinner and happier. There are two questions that invalidate the entire industry: Have you ever successfully become the person in that vision? And what would happen to the industry, if in one moment, we all became okay with how we looked right now?
I’m willing to bet the answer to the first question is no, and the answer to the second is that it would all come to a crashing halt. That’s the point. The diet industry, and subsequently diet culture as a whole, isn’t here to see you become your best, “healthiest” self. It’s here for you to constantly be chasing an image of yourself that is unrealistic, fail to reach it, and then continue to pour money right back into all the same products to try again.
Lately, I’ve seen a new wave of diet culture infiltrate us as we all stay home to wait out the coronavirus as best as we can: the weight gain that could happen while in quarantine. Author and Body Positivity activist Meghan Crabbe published an Instagram post recently that read, “It’s okay to gain weight while social distancing. It’s okay if your body changes because your routine has. You do not need to use this time to lose weight. You do not need to make up for your isolation snacks.”
There are people dying, losing their loved ones, or who are on the front lines of the virus just trying to get it under control. I have never been given perspective about my body image faster, than realizing how lucky I am to have a strong immune system and lungs that continue to give me the air I need every day. There may be companies gearing up to sell us products to lose the “quarantine weight gain.” Let’s not give them the power this time. Let’s be thankful for what our bodies give us, no matter the size, shape, or numeric relationship with gravity.
Particularly during quarantine, when all other distractions of life are stripped away and you are left sitting at home with only yourself, the TV, and all the emotional baggage you have yet to work through, you might need, more than ever, to say yes to the pudding.
Sami Roberts is a graduate student in NYU’s Magazine and Digital Storytelling program.