The F*ck it Diet found its way into my life through a snappy quote on Instagram.
That’s right, I thought. We’re not. And although I’ve never thought of myself as a “dieter”, I bought the e-book.
The older I get, the more I realise my sparse relationship with formal diets is because I never really needed one. I was a skinny kid that grew into a slim teenager who eventually became a petite adult. My frame is small, I’ve always been small, and I’ve never had to put up with the multi-layers of discrimination that fat* people go through daily.
Not that I haven’t considered dieting. I’m no Instagram fitness model. I delete any photos with double chins. I curse close ups, the enemy of anyone with a slightly larger head on their shoulders. And, like most women, I feel self-conscious in a bikini, spending too much time in the mirror questioning the thickness of my thighs.
I wonder, in these moments, that if I could only get my act together and stop eating salt and pasta and drinking beer, then I could reach my “ideal” weight. If I started running (I hate running) I could be one of those lithe muscular specimens that eat whatever they want. And if I took better care, I could finally wear all the clothes in my wardrobe that I consider too tight for bloat days (which, if I’m honest, is basically all days. Because I like salt and pasta and beer).
So dieting wasn’t a part of my life, but it was on the periphery. A “last resort” option, for if things got “really bad”.
In truth, I was scared of diets. Calorie counting, vigilance, control, perfectionism. For type A personalities, it felt dangerous to even consider, like flirting with a cult. The perfect, culturally acceptable obsession to distract myself from other, more difficult issues.
Hence why the book appealed. I wanted it to unveil the truth before I fell down that rabbit hole.
And unveil the truth it did.
Because TFID is not really about dieting. It’s about the messed up relationship we have with our bodies and the way the diet industry mercilessly exploits this by promoting cyclical, unsustainable eating practices. In its lighthearted, direct way, TFID teaches us that diets are bullshit. And anybody who has been on one, or considered being on one, seriously needs to consider the reasons behind this choice.
There are a variety of exercises in the book. To take a few examples, you are asked to examine your “Famine Logic”, “Your Relationship to Hunger” and “Family and Food”. There are also practical tasks, such as allowing yourself to “Eat the Food You Have No Control Over”, and making a list of any “Old Diet Rules” and “Limiting Beliefs" you may have (and then burning them).
I listed mine on a train to Stockholm, almost embarrassed by the things I was writing down:
- The time my cousin pointed out how skinny I was, only to have my aunt say, “But not as skinny as she used to be.” (Ergo skinny is good, and I have passed my peak, and I have failed).
- The day a friend saw me in a short dress under a harsh light and gleefully exclaimed, “Hey! You do have cellulite!” (Ergo cellulite is ugly, and flaws in my body please others).
- The time a man helpfully informed me, “You’ll age okay, as long as you don’t gain any weight.” (Ergo gaining weight = poor aging = no longer a valuable woman in society).
These may seem tame. But they have stuck with me for years, rattling around every time my jeans felt too tight or a skirt too revealing. I knew the comments were trivial, but simultaneously felt they weren’t, like little wounds never allowed to heal. Because they were “helping me” stay motivated. They were “helping me” stay thin.
This exercise also made me think long and hard about things I may have said, while locked in the culture of diets and “health”, to an unsuspecting friend. A comment that may now ring in their head every time they reach for Doritos over celery.
(To all the people I may have ignorantly influenced, I am SO INCREDIBLY SORRY.)
Because we’ve all been there. Shaking our heads at overweight children and headlines about obesity epidemics. We’ve watched the shows, repeated the mantras. Everything in moderation. Avoid sugar. Don’t eat late at night. Eat whole foods. Mostly plants. We have all, unwittingly, taken part in the diet charade.
And even if these things may be true for weight loss, they are wildly oversold as a path to better health. Weight and health are two different things. People can be “overweight” and perfectly healthy (in fact, they often have better life expectancy than people in the “normal” BMI weight category). Indeed, TFID points out studies that show how stress and the way we are treated have a huge impact on our health. And how the hormone cortisol, triggered by stress, is a massive contributor to heart disease.
And what causes stress? Ridiculous, nonsensical dieting. And ridiculous verbal abuse about weight disguised as “love”.
When I finished the book, I felt different. It was like having blinkers taken off, or suddenly growing 5 inches taller. You are allowed to be on this street, I told myself. You are allowed to hold your body any damn way you please. You are allowed to laugh loudly in public and wear clothes you would otherwise avoid for fear of looking “overweight”.
I finally realised, at 30 years old, that I am allowed to take up space in the world.
A few weeks later, I go to a wedding. My friend Emma* and I get their early and spend some time taking photos selfies against the stunning backdrop of Catalunian forests and tall rocky mountains.
Afterwards, we find a spot in the shade. We sip wine and scroll through the pictures, laughing at our weird facial expressions. Suddenly Emma grabs my phone, zooming in on one particular image. She faces the phone towards me.
“Look! My arms are huge!”
I rush to placate her.
“They are tiny! You are tiny!”
But then I catch myself.
Why is “tiny” the goal? Why do arms need to be small to be good? And how can something as trivial as arm size be the main topic of conversation at this gorgeous wedding in Spain?
I am not judging Emma. I understand. But it highlights how often this comes up. Generations of smart and interesting women taught that THIS is important — instead of our humour or skills or caring for the environment and each other.
Weight. Kilos. Pounds. Body size. Thinness. Fatness. Good bodies. Bad bodies. Bodies in general.
I realise, in that moment, that I am done. I want to feel settled in my aging, inevitably growing and maybe shrinking body. And although I feel deep empathy and compassion for all those who suffer under the tyranny of diet culture, there is no way I’m taking part in it anymore.
As the author says:
Remember that. And read the book.
*There is a a lot of discussion about the word “fat” and “overweight” in the book. I am using “fat” because it has recently been reclaimed in body positivity circles as a neutral term and the bad connotations are often connected to the crappy diet industry. Read more from Sofie Hagen, the Danish comedian and fat word advocate, here.