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Stepping away from the clutches of diet culture

Re-claiming food freedom

Written by Hannah

I talk a lot about why I am against diet culture and why we will not put our members through it – here is why!

Since as far back as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with the way I looked, the weight on the scale, and the food I ate.

Growing up, I was never your typical slim child. I was heavier set, loved my food, and hated my body! I was called fat growing up and assumed that meant unworthy, unattractive and needed fixing.

When I reached my teens, I started dieting. It wasn’t serious at first. I would do the dry cracker diet for a couple of days, do a random workout, and then relapse into my habits. I would try the soup diet for a day or 2 but realised I was starving, so I relapsed. This went on for a couple of years on and off.

When I turned 18, my uncle passed away suddenly and unexpected. It hurt, and through the grieving process, I stopped eating and started partying. Suddenly, the weight came off, and people around me started saying, “wow, you’ve lost weight, you look great”, “you look incredible” – this translated to – “you were horrendous and ugly before”, “you must stay like this to be loved and accepted!”

The trouble was, I had reached this newfound thinness through unhealthy habits – excessive alcohol, drugs, and not eating. But I was determined to stay this way because I was getting new attention. Suddenly for the first time, I felt accepted and worthy. 

I was not well. I was unhealthy, and my mental health was declining. I would be obsessed with my food. And my thinness. This was the start of a long battle with disordered eating and eating disorders.

For a little while, it seemed like I had come out of this pattern. With time the grief healed, and so I reverted to my normal ways. My weight went up again, and I was back to being heavy set. 

I wasn’t happy and felt unpleasant as a human, but I didn’t have the “willpower” to do anything about this UNTIL I travelled to India. In 2006 I spent four months backpacking around India – it was phenomenal and a mixture of being super active. Delhi belly meant I lost a LOT OF WEIGHT! 

At the airport on the way back, it started. I ate a subway, and fear gripped me – “what if I now put on weight? I want everyone to like me again. I want to be attractive again. I want to be accepted”. 

I got so scared, I went to the toilet, and I threw up. 

This was the real beginning into darkness for me. Everyone praised my thinness when I got back, and I knew I couldn’t go back this time.

For the next 15 years, I was obsessed with my weight. I would go through different phases. I was sometimes starving myself and occasionally binging and purging. Restricting. Diet after diet. Anxious when it came to going out with friends. I was checking the menu over and over and removing whole food groups from my diet. I was punishing myself with exercise. Grumpy. Ill. Injured. All because I believed to be deemed beautiful, worthy, and accepted. I needed to be thin. This is the reality of diet culture – years of being told we need fixing, aren’t good enough, and certainly aren’t desirable if we happen to hold weight!

  • Get rid of your cellulite
  • Get rid of your mummy tummy
  • Get the perfect summer body
  • Get bikini ready
  • How to eat clean
  • Get that hot girls body
  • Fix your abs this summer

With fat shaming so common across the media, pointing out how ugly and flawed celebrities were anytime they didn’t hit the criteria set out by this outdated and dangerous ideal meant that the rest of us felt we needed to meet the same standards. It is so dangerous and sad.

Sadly, the health & fitness industry has been overtaken with the same ideas, and health is not really the priority. SO MANY people have been left behind, pushed to the side, and made to feel judged and excluded from exercise. Laughed at. Ridiculed. Made to feel unworthy. Phrases thrown around to guilt people into joining classes

  • Earn your food through exercise
  • Burn off the weekend calories
  • Clean eating
  • How to suppress hunger
  • Get your dream bod here
  • Good food vs bad food
  • Make smart food choices
  • Guilt free recipes

The reality is this is not health at all. Attaching shame and guilt to food creates fear and anxiety. It leads to stress. Diets have also been scientifically proven to not work for the majority of the population long term. Yet, we are all pushed to believe that we lack willpower or discipline – the whole system is flawed!

This year – yep – 2021 I finally broke free of diet culture and its BULLSHIT. It was one of the hardest but most rewarding journeys I have taken. 

I am not going to lie – I did not do it alone. My coach Maggie from Sparklife UK supported me in intuitive eating, and my partner, who was able to emotionally be there as I struggled with the reality of letting diet culture go. One of the hardest things was accepting that I would not meet societies standards. I was going to gain weight. I would never hear the words “YOU ARE SO DISCIPLINED” again. 

The first few weeks were the hardest. I went to buy bigger clothes, as I no longer fit into my size 8. I felt uncomfortable. Ashamed. Ugly. But the truth is none of this was true. These were beliefs and stories I had held for so long. As we worked through each rule I had around food. We talked about it in-depth, and I realised so much pain and trauma was held in my body. 

Some days I was angry at what I had gone through. Some days I was sad. Some days I was happy. I was learning and undoing. I could visually see changes in my body. At first, I would think horrible things, call myself names, cry and pull at my skin as I knew I was becoming “less desirable” in societies eyes. Then I started to look and see this body that had been abused for so many years, there, asking to be accepted – to recognise she was flawed but still be heard and seen just as she was. 

Bit by bit, as we worked through the sections, I would release a little more of diet cultures lies. For years I had convinced myself I didn’t like white bread – this was really because I had been told white bread is not good for you. Brown bread is. I had convinced myself I didn’t like white bread – it turns out I do very much!! I believed that the scales just measured health – yet at my lightest, I had been my unhealthiest – mentally and physically. Health is so much more, and it goes way beyond a figure in KG.

After 12 weeks, I had started to turn big corners. My awareness of food and thoughts had increased. I was able to spot when I was applying rules to my food. I was able to understand when and why I was eating. And learnt that food is so much more than fuel – it is culture, pleasure, family, friendship. I understood hunger cues and satisfaction when it came to food.

I started to delve into my relationship with exercise and tackle working out to earn my food and burn off those calories vs working out to connect, move my body and have fun.

16 weeks on, I have changed. Whilst I will have to be aware of thoughts and feelings entering my body, I can now spot when it is diet culture trying to pull me back down. I have food freedom – this means I can choose a salad because I want to eat it, not because I have to, I can also choose a pizza too and have zero guilt attached to it. I have learnt when I am starting to get hungry and when I am full.

I have learnt that my weight does not define my worth or the space I can hold on this earth.

I have freedom like I have not experienced as far as I can remember – and it is the most amazing feeling in the world.

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