For as long as I can remember, I saw myself as fat.
Yes, I was a bit chubby when I was 8 and 9 years old (I later grew out of my baby fat when I hit my growth spurt), but I was nowhere close to unhealthy or fat. Nonetheless, fat was my nickname. I was called fat by my brothers. My grandma referred to me as the “chubby” and “heavyset” one (even at 10, I knew that was just the nice way of saying I was fat). When I look back at childhood pictures, I don’t see a fat kid. Not at all. But in my head, I was obese and ugly. Even after I hit my growth spurt and thinned out, I saw myself as fat.
I cannot recall a single time in my life that I did not see myself as fat, except when I was severely anorexic.
When I was around 11, I was already trying to limit my food intake and count calories. However, this was nearly impossible for me to do, as my mom cooked almost all of our meals and I didn’t have much say over what or when I ate. When I was in 7th grade, I would sometimes skip lunch and not eat the food that was packed for me. However, my homeroom teacher, who was also a friend of the family, pointed out to my parents that I wasn’t eating. I made up some lame excuse about not being hungry, but in reality, I felt like I was starving! When I got home after school, I would carefully measure a glass of soy milk for a snack and mentally note how many calories I was consuming with each sip.
All around me, people were talking about dieting.
They were on juice cleanses or they were fasting or whatever. When I was 12 or 13, I heard a friend of my mom’s say that she was on a water diet. She was only drinking water with lemon and honey for 18 days. I remember thinking to myself that I would go on a water diet and I would lose a lot of weight that way. I told my mom and she got frustrated at me, saying that I didn’t need to go on a water diet because those types of diets weren’t for kids.
This diet culture and diet talk pervaded my growing up. Even though I was at a healthy weight, I tried many diets as a pre-teen and early teenager, but was never able to stick to anything. It wasn’t until I became highly anorexic that I actually stopped obsessing over fad diets. I saw my eating habits as a “healthy lifestyle” rather than a temporary diet. Unfortunately, my highly restrictive “healthy lifestyle” was unsustainable. When my eating disorder morphed from anorexia to binge-eating and purging, my desire to diet, fast, and try fad cleanses came back in full force times 1000!
I thought that if I could somehow to stick to a diet, I would be able to manage my binge-eating. I watched a bunch of TED talks, YouTube videos, and documentaries about healthy eating. I became obsessed with weight-loss shows and followed health nuts and fitness gurus on YouTube and Instagram. I decided that to overcome my binges, I should cut out all forms of sugars and unhealthy, processed foods. I went on a sugar fast, and even convinced one of my friends to cut out sugar with me and be my accountability partner. Honestly, that month of no sugar was miserable. All my body wanted was to eat, and I was restricting it once again. Time after time I would give in, then feel even more guilty for failing. Every time I restricted, I would binge. I felt awful, guilty, depressed, and miserable.
What I didn’t understand at the time, was that my restriction was fueling my binges.
Every time I deprived myself of food or even a certain class of food (sweets, carbs, etc.), my mind would immediately think FAMINE! Of course, FAMINE! meant making a beeline to the highest calorie food in sight and devouring it all. When I binged, I completely lost control of myself. I could not stop eating. This may seem odd to anyone who has never struggled with binge-eating, but it can best be described as an out-of-body experience.
Today’s diet culture fuels eating disorders. Recent studies have shown that diet talk and weight talk greatly increase the likelihood of kids developing eating disorders. Diet talk is even more destructive for someone recovering from an eating disorder. It can be extremely triggering. Even hearing a simple, “ugh I’m so fat, I need to lose weight,” can send us into a labyrinth of negative self-talk, restriction, binge-eating, and depression.
Our culture has normalized diet talk.
Whether it’s reaching ketosis, becoming raw vegan, or eating enriched dirt (I’m sure someone will come out with a dirt-diet eventually), new fad diets are emerging each week that will supposedly solve the world’s weight problems. This has to stop. One day, I will write a post about all the inherent dangers of dieting, but for now, just be aware of how damaging diet talk can be to the human psyche. Be aware of who is listening to your conversations and limit your weight/diet talks. Focus on discussing healthy habits, rather than dieting. Talk about nutritious foods you are including in each meal, rather than high-calorie foods you are restricting. Encourage healthy behaviors by modeling them. Be active, eat nutritiously, and remember that all foods are okay in moderation.