what I talk about when I talk about dieting

Last fall, I wrote a post called (25 Ways) Losing Weight Will Not Change Your Life.

A lot of people liked it. A whole lot more rather vocal people felt incensed, angry, and personally offended.

Those people didn’t understand that I was actually advocating healthy lifestyle choices and changes. I am SO for eating healthier, moving more, & being comfortable with your body. How could I not be?

But the point of my post was that weight loss, in and of itself, will not guarantee a happy, healthy body, or a happy, healthy self.

A lower number on the scale will not guarantee that you will love yourself or have a better life. It will not guarantee that you will attract a partner. After all, there are people who are underweight and still think they’re unattractive or hate themselves. Are they really better off?

There are a lot of good reasons I wrote that post.

One is that I’ve witnessed a lot of wonderful people who’ve thought that if they just lost 10 pounds, their life would be happy. Their problems would be solved. They would be worthy and deserving of love. They would be, finally, “good enough” for everyone else.

Two is that I witnessed MYSELF, someone who went through an eating disorder, deteriorate into a terrible, self-destructive cycle when I started thinking that way, when I started focusing on the scale. And I wanted to warn others so they wouldn’t have to experience what I had (even though I know not everyone is like me, or has a risk of developing an ED).

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Three is that numbers don’t always tell all. Diet Coke may have zero calories, but does that mean it’s necessarily healthy? The number on the scale doesn’t tell all– in fact, oftentimes it tells you jack shit. (See Nerd Fitness’ before and after photos at the exact same weight.) You can determine how healthy you are from how YOU feel, physically. How do you know if you need to adjust your eating habits and act in a way that is kinder to your body?

I don’t think you need a number to tell you when you physically feel uncomfortable in your body and want to move more or eat differently. I don’t think a number should have the power to tell you how comfortable you’re allowed to be with yourself and your body.

Four is that your worth as a person does not depend on a number on an external machine. In fact, nothing really depends on that number; not your awesomeness, not your agility or endurance, not your strength, not even your overall health.

Five is that not all weight loss is created equal. And that’s what I mean by diet. When I think of diet, I don’t think “healthy lifestyle change.” I think temporary fad diet. I think three weeks of eating nothing but cabbage soup, or three days of drinking maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I think unhealthy weight loss. I think of the “diets” I put myself on when I was anorexic (yes, that’s the first time I’ve used that word on cynosure)– grossly undereating, grossly overexercising.

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It might not be fair that I impose this definition on you. In the end, it’s all just words. But here I am, clarifying what I mean when I say “don’t diet.”

When I say “don’t diet,” I mean don’t deprive yourself. Don’t feel like you’re “not allowed” to have what you really want to eat. Don’t blame, shame, or guilt yourself for choosing to eat a piece of cake, for honoring your hungers.

When I say “don’t diet,” I mean don’t go to the gym and exercise for hours on end if it’s something you have to force yourself to do.

When I say “don’t diet,” I mean that you are so much more than the size of your clothes or the number on the scale. You need to love yourself no matter what, or you won’t be able to make the lifestyle changes to enjoy the healthy body that you want anyway, because they depend on kindness to your body and to your heart.

When I say “don’t diet,” I mean be kind to yourself.

Like I said… it’s okay to love your body and still want to change, be healthier, be more comfortable in it.

A lot of people told me losing weight did, in fact, change their lives. They feel more confident, more attractive. They’re happier with themselves.

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And I ask… is it because of the external change in the number alone, or is it because they feel empowered that they were able to make the healthy choices and lifestyle changes to get there? Because they feel more comfortable in their body, and don’t need a scale to tell them so? Because they’re happy with the way they feel in their bodies, not the number that doesn’t mean anything except in contexts of comparison? Because they now eat in a way that lifts them up rather than bogs them down?

Someone once snidely remarked on Facebook, when I argued that it was possible to be happy and love yourself even if you lost a limb, that “not everyone can be a Buddhist monk like you.”

I don’t think you need to be a Buddhist monk to derive your happiness from the inside, to be happy from inside your heart rather than depending on what’s outside (numbers on scales or clothing, other people’s validation, grades or income). To realize that loving yourself is, in effect, learning to love life, love the world, and love the way things are even if they might seem to suck sometimes. To realize that our self-worth, our love for ourselves, our happiness never has to depend on the way we look or how other people think of us.

And that, my fellow fearless warriors, is what I talk about when I talk about dieting.

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