If you are like me, you’ve tried to lose weight by way of some sort of diet and/or fitness program.
If there’s one universal among dieters, it’s that we hate being on a diet. So much so that we almost always quit. And yet: we statistically almost always try it again.
So why do we partake in this madness?
Diets are driven by a social drive to be more slender. This corresponds to findings that women’s “social worthiness” depends on having what’s deemed a “socially acceptable body.”
The standards of what is socially acceptable changes over time, like hem lengths, but since the time of photographs and fashion magazines, this look includes a flat stomach and smooth contours.
Having a “socially acceptable body” is a very real concern when 35 percent of adults feel that the number one most valuable trait of a woman relates to her physical appearance.
Number one. Gross, right?
Social worthiness is a nuanced form of belonging.
We have a fundamental human need to belong, so much so that there is an impact on health, identity, well-being, and achievement linked to belonging. As in: we will do almost anything to feel a sense of belonging.
Including giving up food.
This is also why we are constantly searching for the quickest, easiest, newest way to lose weight: we don’t care about the diet itself. We often don’t even particularly care about the health benefits.
This is also why we tend to try the latest dietary fad sweeping culture: everyone else is doing it.
The drive for belonging is natural. And no matter how many times we try, or how hard we exert ourselves in that direction, we will never truly find belonging in a diet.
Here’s where belonging may lie instead:
Volunteerism. Find something that brings meaning to your life and offer to give your time. You will meet people, be of benefit, and do something that matters to you alongside other people who will therefore necessarily add value and meaning to your life.
Join an adult group. There are Toastmaster groups or service clubs like Lions Club, Rotary, or Kiwanis. If those are too 1950s for you, try a local hobby club such as a photographers group, tennis club, or bicycling group. Being part of a group with common interests will foster a sense of belonging in the world.
Mentor or be mentored. Reach out to someone looking for a mentor, be it a young alumni of your alma mater or a child in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Or reach out for a mentor at your work or in a passionate hobby. Connecting by way of giving or receiving life lessons will anchor you with a sense of belonging.
Be social. Host a potluck, organize a book club, or spearhead a regular night out with a theme. Having a regular social group that you can count on to will give you a sense of social belonging.
Take a class. Being around other people who are working toward the same goal or learning the same thing will be a natural signal that you are not alone in your interests or passions.
Social credit is gained by actions that reach well beyond your social appearance. Diets take a lot of time, mental energy, and emotional capital. Spend that time, effort, and energy creating a sense of belonging, rather than starving your body into submission.
I gave up my diets and picked up a class, a mentee, a couple of volunteer gigs, and some Saturday night potlucks.