[Content Warning: Some swearing and weight-loss/diet talk.]
Up until about four years ago, I was in a long-term relationship. It had lasted, on and off, for fifteen years, and whenever we were together, it was the most intense relationship I’ve ever had. But it was a bad relationship, based on false hopes and promises of a better life, while giving me nothing much but sadness, anger, and mistreatment. I became messed up in body and mind, and I was pulled away from my friends, family, and interests. Finally, I realised that the better life I’d been promised would never happen, and I ended the relationship forever. My life is better for it, but I can’t deny that some of the bad effects continue to linger.
My relationship was with my diet.
When I started conceptualising this article, it hit me harder than it ever has before just how much being on a diet is like being in a bad relationship. Diets lure you in with the promise of great things. Diets are unkind and tell you that you’re lazy, ugly, and have no self-control, but you don’t notice, because diets disguise this unkindness as care for you and your well-being. Diets cause you to withdraw from other aspects of your life, such as spending time with friends and family. Diets force you to live your life as they want you to because, by controlling every aspect of your eating, they are controlling a significant portion of your daily hours. But, perhaps most significantly, diets are scary to give up, because the idea of being without them is terrifying.
When the possibility of breaking up with my diet was first introduced to me, I was resistant. I insisted that I was dieting for health reasons, and I was operating under the false idea that being thinner would make me healthier. When I found out that weight in itself is not a good indicator of health, I nevertheless was still scared of breaking up with my diet. Why was that?
Most dieters fear a loss of control. Dieting is their way of making sure they eat a good balance of foods, don’t overeat, and, most importantly, don’t get fat/fatter. As far as I can see, this fear is perfectly reasonable. Because we are led to believe that being fat is due to overeating and nothing else, and because a common behaviour in chronic dieters is overeating, of course dieters would worry about what might happen if the diet is not there to keep them in line. I can completely understand that fear, but it was not a fear that I had.
Instead, my greatest fear was the loss of the dream of being thin. To anybody who has never dieted, that might seem like a silly thing to fear losing, but for me, there was a lot attached to that dream. I dreamed of being prettier, of being more accepted among my peers, of having more confidence. I dreamed of being able to go clothes shopping without limitation, of being able to eat without having horrible comments about how I “really don’t need to be eating that,” of being able to pursue interests without feeling judgmental eyes upon me. I dreamed of being seen as beautiful, of men paying attention to me, of not being the sidekick sitting to one side while my always more attractive, always thinner friend got the attention I wanted to experience, just once, so I’d know what it was like.
I dreamed, in short, of a better life, and for fifteen years, my diet promised me that this better life could all be mine. That was a hard dream for me to give up. I think it would be hard for anybody. Most of us want a better life, one way or another.
So I was reluctant to break up with my diet. I kept asking myself whether I could do it. Could I give up this dream, this chance for a better life, that I had held onto since I was a fat seven-year-old? Eventually, I came face to face with a harsh reality: my dream was a lie. The chance of a better life that my diet was promising me? It didn’t exist, and it never had existed. I was never going to be thin. What I had right then was it. I’m not saying that what I had was bad (although it certainly felt bad at the time), but it was still a harsh lesson to learn after believing that something better was in reach for so long.
But I learned the lesson, and I broke up with my diet. It was actually quite a quick break-up. One day, I was thinking of when my next diet would start. The next day, I understood that it wouldn’t. What took a long time was getting used to not being in a between-diets stage, where I would eat the most sugar-laden and fattening things I could get my hands on because I didn’t know when I would be eating them again. It is difficult to remember that those foods are not about to be denied to you any more, and to let your body tell you what it wants to eat at any given time. In many ways, I am still getting used to it. But I am making progress, and I will get there eventually.
There are a lot of benefits to breaking up with one’s diet, with food independence and the removal of self-inflicted hunger being pretty high on my personal list. But for me, the best thing is the freedom. I am free to eat what, when, and however much I want, of course, but more than just that, I am free to do the things that I previously would have held off doing until I had achieved some arbitrary weight loss goal. If I want new clothes that will fit me, I’ll shop for them now (provided I can find clothes in my size, but that’s a size discrimination rant for another article). If I want to learn to dance, I’ll join a dance class now. If I want to become a healthier person, I’ll do it now and do it as a fat person, and no misinformed society will tell me that I cannot be healthy at my size because goddammit, I can.
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I can’t say that my post-diet-break-up life is perfect. I’m still a fat person, after all, and with that comes fat person problems. I still do get tempted by the being-thin dream sometimes, especially when an annoying fat person problem happens. For instance, the other week, when my fourth pair of jeans in the space of two weeks developed holes in the crotch, I thought to myself “Geez, it’d be nice if my thighs didn’t rub so close together that I ruin several pairs of trousers every winter and have permanent rashes down there every summer.” In a way, that dream of being thin will always be there for me. But so will other dreams, like being a millionaire or being a famous actress. And I don’t necessarily think it is bad, or messed up, for me to have fantasies about being thin sometimes. The important thing is that I understand these fantasies are just that – fantasies. And I’m happy to give up a fantasy for a reality that gives me more than the thin dream ever did.
Love and Shortbread Creams,
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[Headline image: The photograph shows a white woman with black hair tied back behind her head. She is holding a white scale and screaming.]