Since beginning my health coaching journey, I’ve been met head-on with the effects that diet culture has on our society.
Most everyone I’ve had a session with has a big heart and a deep mind, and, still, has listed weight as one of their primary, if not their top, concerns.
Body dissatisfaction is rampant, in spite of the progress we’ve made with the anti-diet, intuitive eating, and body neutrality movements.
I shouldn’t be surprised. In school, we learned that the clients we will attract will, in all likelihood, share traits with us. And I’ve been there.
Seven years ago, as the final semester of university rolled to a close, I ended a relationship, was told by an agent to shrink my hips and thighs, and started my first full-time job. It was a period of a lot of change, and, as a result, a lot of sorrow and anxiety. I remember thinking, “Everything I like about my life has already or is coming to an end”—namely, my freedom and whatever semblance of love that ill-fitting relationship had provided me.
It was the perfect storm that led down a dark rabbit hole.
In short, I lost a lot of weight in a matter of months, and then another large amount over the course of a year. In true body dysmorphic form, I didn’t quite notice the degree of the change when I looked in the mirror. But there did come a point wherein the number on the scale was so low that it scared me, although what scared me even more at this time was I could also hear the other voice, the disordered voice, telling me maybe it could be just a bit lower.
This was my rock-bottom moment. Never before had I heard the disordered voice in my head so clearly. Never had I been so scared of my own mind. Never had I been so scared for my well-being. I knew then I had to find a way to put the sick voice to bed.
At this point in my life, I had isolated myself and, in this moment of what I perceive now as being divine intervention, I remembered that one of the beliefs I had held was that weight loss would be a good thing because it would make me feel more confident in my body and therefore make me more social.
What I’d really needed were deep relationships that had me want to connect, versus superfluous ones that didn’t mean much to me. But I didn’t know this at the time. I’d thought everything was my body’s fault.
This is what diet culture does. Much like the beauty industry, it sells us on the fairy tale that life will be perfect if/when we look like the societal ideal. It tricks us into thinking our bodies are the root of all our dissatisfaction, when, so often, our bodies are only the scapegoat for deeper issues we find hard to look at.
For clarity’s sake, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having goals if the motive is greater energy, or better sleep, or any other truly health-promoting intention. But if beneath the goal there is a deeper emotional or spiritual desire—i.e. for acceptance, love, or purpose—then I believe that’s where attention ought to be focused, versus weight gain/loss.
When it became clear to me that nothing had magically improved after losing weight, and in fact that things were considerably worse across the board, I finally looked away from my body and toward my life to see what wasn’t working, what was missing.
And this is where I start with my weight-focused clients these days, too.
If you find yourself caught up in body dissatisfaction, I highly recommend soul-searching. And you can start on your own, if that feels safest to you.
Take out a notebook and a pen and begin by asking yourself these questions.
>> What do I want to change about my body?
>> How do I think these changes will make me feel? How do I think my life will improve?
>> What makes me think body composition has anything to do with this improvement I seek? Where have I learned this?
>> Is it possible I do not have to change my body to have these changes in my life that I seek?
>> Body aside, how could I make changes in my life to bring about the desires I seek?
Note: if you’re debating whether or not to seek help, take that internal debate as a sign to seek help. There is no such thing as not being “sick enough.” If that feels impossibly scary, I highly recommend you confide in a loved one.