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Escaping the “Dieting Curse”

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I used to hop over to my friend’s house after school, munching on various snacks with my friends. I know so well what’s in each friend’s refrigerator, and I even put one friend’s phone on speed dial simply because the cookies in her kitchen are better than others.

In the early 1990s, however, friends’ moms started using specific brands of margarine to avoid saturated fat, which became the number one enemy of a healthy heart and slim body. Every week, I followed my moms to the weight loss center in the suburban mall with my friends, and it was as routine for them as going to the bank.

Yesterday, a friend and I reminisced about these memories, and she mentioned a recent beach vacation she booked for herself, her teenage daughter, and her 70-something mother. “I told my mom, ‘We’re booked!’ and the first thing she said was, ‘Yeah! Then I gotta get on a ketogenic diet before I go!'” my friend said. Her mother was no exception, especially for that generation of women, dieting to lose weight has become part of their lives.

Debbie Acton remembers her first diet in her 20s with the goal of losing five pounds. After giving birth to two daughters around the age of 45, she started dieting again. Now in her 60s, she’s been on a weight-loss program for the past nine years and has a 500-day diet diary, which can be exchanged for rewards: water bottles, yoga mats, etc., or to charity Donations to the Food Bank.

Acton has lost quite a bit of weight, but is still not at her goal weight. As one of the few “lifetime members” of the weight loss program, as long as she wants, she can enjoy weight loss services for free forever. Acton feels that the weekly weight loss routine is a bit like psychotherapy and a bit like a social event. Members are weighed first, followed by workshops on diet, sleep, exercise or mindset. She said: “They try to bring weight loss to health, but to be honest, weight loss itself is everyone’s goal.” When she was a child, her mother was too fat and not in good health. Before she was 50 years old, she had a stroke and still Had several heart attacks. “She’s an old smoker with an extremely unhealthy lifestyle,” she said. “I don’t want to make the same mistakes.”

Acton began to change his mind about dieting a few years ago when he visited an ailing relative who was in his late 90s. The relative had been talking about his weight when they met. “I thought to myself: ‘It’s scary thinking about this in my 80s, and I don’t want to,'” Acton said. However, she has no plans to stop losing weight.

If Acton really wants to break free from weight loss, she might as well read Evelyn Tribble’s anti-dieting book, Intuitive Eating. The book advocates “peace with food,” arguing that the human body knows what it wants and needs better than any program. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to lose weight, because it’s part of our culture,” Tribble said. “What really bothers me is that there’s now strong evidence that dieting doesn’t work, it actually makes you fatter. Make a mess of you, yet diet culture is more overwhelming than ever.”

Dieting can normalize disordered eating behaviors, Tribble says, “so that it’s easy to not realize that you have an eating disorder, or until the problem becomes very serious.” Dieting also reduces quality of life: When planning meals Waste a lot of time and calorie counting, spend a lot of money on weight loss programs, books and products, and ruin relationships by worrying about what to eat and what not to eat at dinner. Tribble argues that if people can leave their diets behind, the relief they can gain will be profound. “Whether you’re in your 20s or your 70s, when you finally realize that dieting to lose weight is taking away the joy of your life, it’s a huge gain,” she says.

But saying “no” to a phenomenon that has become so common is not easy. Canada’s weight loss services industry is already valued at about $350 million, and a growing geriatric population, weight gain due to quarantines and rising obesity rates will further increase demand, with revenue expected to rise 5.3% this year. Globally, the numbers are even more staggering: Weight loss products and services are expected to grow to $481 billion by 2026, up from around $377 billion in 2021.

In pop culture, where “dieting” has become an unpopular word, the weight loss industry has been booming, which is bizarre because it doesn’t align with a positive view of the body. However, the weight loss industry has upgraded, making a name for itself by branding itself “healthy.” Today, calorie counting has given way to “clean eating” and detoxing, yet labeling specific foods as “good” and “bad” can actually have negative consequences. Sarah Nutt, assistant professor of counselling psychology at the University of Victoria, said: “The weight loss industry’s message is easily accepted: you can only stay healthy if you eat right and exercise regularly.”

With the advent of wearable health devices, we can monitor our food, exercise and health metrics 24/7. “It’s a constant reminder,” says Kathryn Sabiston, a professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto. “Food monitoring used to be paper and pen, writing down everything you eat, save for a nutritionist. No one is watching. Now, especially with exercise monitoring, a lot of people are posting counts on social media and the data is being scored, all of which make our bodies more negative than ever before.”

Monica Collett, an expert on “weight stigma,” knows these negative emotions well. She said: “My earliest memory is when I was three or four years old, I was always blamed for my diet and posture, they told me to eat fruit before eating chocolate, and I had to keep my stomach in. When I was ten years old, I tried it for the first time. Weight loss program, it was a nightmare, and the negative emotions that came with it lasted all day, and I even cried in the food court.”

In recent years, the media has hyped up “declaring war on obesity”, and medical clinics have become a place frequented by obese people.

As a teenager, Collett suffered from severe anorexia, but her condition hit a turning point when she started college in 2008. She said: “The ‘Body Care Day’ event at the school completely changed me. I had a friend at school who was fatter than me, and the T-shirts sold at the event were not her size, but growing up, her Her mother had been encouraging her. That’s when I realized that not every mom pushes their fat daughters to diet.” While looking online for more information, Collett discovered the “fat liberation movement” and saw a A blog post that dissects the main problems of dieting culture and how fat people are affected by them. “All the questions I’ve been asking, others are looking for answers. That’s when my transition started,” Collett said.

Dieting can be traumatic, especially when someone starts a diet at a very young age, before they have any choice.

The new perspective led to a deterioration in Corritt’s relationship with his mother, who was greatly influenced by her grandmother’s concept of weight loss as she grew up. “I think my mom thinks I’m resisting the idea of ​​health, and I’m resisting her,” Collett said. “When she’s trying to lose weight, I think she’s expressing her dissatisfaction with me and she doesn’t want to look fat like me. .” Today, ten years later, Corritt’s relationship with his mother has eased a lot. “We had the opportunity to work on our own issues through physical and mental conditioning,” she said. “She’s overcoming her eating disorder, she’s recovering, and I’m coming out of my own issues bit by bit, and we have a lot of respect for each other.”

When it comes to dieting to lose weight, mothers and daughters often fight side by side. “I think dieting can be traumatic, especially when someone starts a diet at a very young age when they don’t have any options,” Tribble said. “I would say to fathers, you can Put an end to the diet culture at the family table, discuss this with your family, and take the first step towards change.”

Nutt participated in a 2020 study investigating how restrictive eating affects how children view their bodies later in life. The findings were striking, as these children, who had been restricted to a diet from an early age, seemed to grow up with an internalized understanding that lower body weight was critical to success and self-worth. “Parents want their children to be healthy, successful, and their dreams come true. When we’re in a culture that tells us that only being thin makes us healthy, happy, and successful, that concept permeates parenting practices,” she explains.

The point is, when did the “diet culture” begin to form? “Dieting culture existed as early as the 18th century,” says Sabrina Sireth, who has a lot of it in her 2019 book, “Fear of the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Obesity Phobia.” “Until the early 19th century, people believed that you could lose weight and have a standard body just by following a milk-based diet,” Srith continued.

The ideal weight for women has fluctuated historically, but not much. “A recent study shows that white women in their early 20s are under enormous pressure today to be ‘thin and plump,'” says Srith, referring to the Kim Kardashian-esque body. “Women are told that being slim is important, but the outside world has put forward new requirements for them: to be in good shape, not too thin.” Srith pointed out. In Western countries, we have seen the mainstream aesthetic change from the very slender, flowing body of the 1930s to the sexy Marilyn Monroe body of the 1950s, from the slender body of fashion icon Twiggy in the 1960s, to the 1980s With a curvaceous bodybuilding supermodel body, today’s aesthetic may be nothing more than a slightly modified version of the ideal body.

Loving yourself and not the various figures associated with your body.

It’s no accident that most of these ideal bodies are displayed by white women. “Thinness and whiteness have always been inextricably linked,” Sris said. “For a long time, the perception of black women was that they were inherently fat and that they couldn’t achieve a standard body shape. It was clearly discriminatory against black women. ”

Of course, ideal body shapes vary widely around the world. Sabiston pointed to a survey that looked at the experiences of young Canadian women from immigrant families. “They said that if they followed a certain diet in Canada, they would face a dilemma when they came back home for the summer, and their grandparents would say, ‘You’re too skinny, eat more, eat more!'”

In North America, women have been dieting for beauty for nearly 200 years, and the concept of a “healthy weight” is relatively recent. In the 1980s and 1990s, concerns about body shape, fat intake, and obesity-related diseases began, and the butter in the refrigerator disappeared. In recent years, the media has hyped up “declaring war on obesity”, and medical clinics have become a place frequented by obese people.

In 2020, the Canadian Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines were updated to state that physicians should focus on treating the disease rather than reducing weight in obese patients, and that, in addition to the health impacts of being overweight, weight bias and stigma are equally harmful. “There are many reasons for being overweight, and a lot of people who are overweight are healthy,” said Nutt, who is a member of the Canadian Obesity Society’s Committee on Weight Bias and Stigma, which helped develop the guidelines. , noting that physicians should seek their patients’ consent before discussing their weight and setting health goals for them.

Corritt’s own experience attests to the importance of this. “When I go to the doctor, 75 percent of the doctors turn the conversation to my weight, and they ask me about weight loss instead of taking a picture of my ankle,” Collett said. She added that patients with a body mass index (BMI, which ignores genetics, environment, etc.) above a certain value may be rejected by the hospital when they need certain procedures. “Hospitals only focus on our weight and think all fat people are unhealthy.”

Her criticism of the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. She said: “Behind this lies the notion that there is an absolute standard way of life, that if you live rightly, you will be rewarded spiritually and materially, and if you live wrongly, you will be punished, It almost became a religion.”

So whose interests does this concept serve? “The answer to this question is troubling: thin people become a class that benefits from discrimination against fat people. Thin people have priority in recruitment and promotion, and can buy well-fitting clothes, suitable chairs and beds.” Collett “I don’t think people realize how much the anti-obesity trend has had an impact,” he said. “People have been controlled by the anti-obesity aesthetic. If the world didn’t hate fat people, the diet culture wouldn’t exist.”

But at least now, we’re starting to talk more about its costs. “There are more and more discussions like this, and people grow up in very different environments than they did decades ago, and I’m hopeful that the perception will change,” Nutt said. “Maybe we can change the concept of health and explore what the body can bring us. The infinite possibilities of it, rather than its appearance. How wonderful it is to be amazed at all the beauty in this world!”

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