[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or centuries women have been told what to look like. Just because the beauty standards have changed doesn’t mean the pressure to look a certain way has gotten any lighter. In fact, with the internet and ubiquitous social media shoving impossible standards in our faces, things have only gotten worse. It’s no surprise then, that some communities are fighting back. Anti-dieting is nothing new – the movement has been around for decades – but the internet amplifies all voices and as our beauty standards become more toxic and unattainable, those standing up against them become louder. But what is anti-dieting? And is it actually the answer to society’s obsession with how we look?
If you haven’t yet read my previous article on Why You’ll Never Look Like an Influencer, do so here.
Where did Anti-Dieting come from?
This movement to stop demonising food and perpetuating hatred for our own bodies isn’t as new as our instagram feeds – and the wellness influencers promoting it – lead us to believe. It was actually born from feminist and body positivity movements way back in the 70’s.
Anti-dieting is based on the principles of Intuitive Eating, which first and foremost advocates for rejecting the diet mentality. It encourages becoming angry at the diet culture that so often leaves people feeling like failures when their diet attempts don’t work.
Intuitive Eating guidelines include flowery language like “Honour your hunger”, “make peace with food”, and “Challenge the food police” to encourage abandoning any attempts at trying to change your weight. Instead, Intuitive Eaters are told to follow what your body tells you. If you want that Oreo, go for it (but who ever stops at one Oreo, am I right?).
These principles are meant to promote eating habits in which we’re not limiting ourselves in order to fit into a body shape that isn’t our own, and not riddled with guilt when we’re unable to shed a few kilos. The movement is finally granting us all the permission to eat the donut we’ve been trying not to think about for hours, without the serving of guilt that usually comes with it.
The movement paints us all as victims of diet culture, and markets itself as a means of taking back the power that decades of brainwashing have stolen from us.
“The anti-diet movement is about not being a victim of diet culture anymore,” explains dietitian and ant-diet advocate Lyndi Cohen, for Women’s Health. “I think in many ways it’s a female fight because women are so often targeted by the diet industry. Women especially end up tying their self-worth to how they look, and the diet industry teaches us that that’s what matters most.”
Of course, it’s not only women that have been victimised by the diet industry, but they are, perhaps, the ones who receive the brunt of the negative messages it sends out.
What does it look like now?
Contemporary proponents of Anti-dieting argue that our diet culture tells us that we need to be thin in order to be happy, which indirectly encourages people to lose weight in unhealthy ways –whether that entails severe calorie restriction or putting our bodies through rigorous exercise. They argue that this doesn’t only negatively affect our metabolisms and our physical health, but our mental health too.
They must have a point, because the movement is growing fast. As a lot of people begin to experience a kind of Diet Fatigue, along with a ballooning body positivity movement, the motivation to fit into a smaller pair of jeans is running low.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, writing for The New York Times, describes how in the last few years, memberships to communities like Weight Watchers had been on the decline. Despite the fact that over two-thirds of Americans being what public-health officials called overweight or obese, as early as 2015, Weight Watchers was struggling to get new people on board. It’s not that the weight watchers process had stopped being effective – the reason for the drop in numbers was due to people becoming sick having to stick to their diets.
“‘Dieting’ was now considered tacky,” writes Brodesser-Akner. “It was anti-feminist. It was arcane. In the new millennium, all bodies should be accepted, and any inclination to change a body was proof of a lack of acceptance of it. ‘Weight loss’ was a pursuit that had, somehow, landed on the wrong side of political correctness.”
People were getting over it, and five years later, that feeling has only grown. Not only are people fatigued, but they’re starting realise that dieting doesn’t bring about long-term results anyway. Most people gain the weight they lost back as soon as they stop being strict about the diet they were on.
The language we used to talk about our weight and body shape changed as a result, going from the direct “drop 5 kilos!” – previously a common feature on women’s magazines– to language which places more emphasis on health and wellness. Brodesser-Akner writes that “people were now fasting and eating clean and cleansing and making lifestyle changes, which, by all available evidence, is exactly like dieting”.
Changing the language doesn’t necessarily change the way we feel about our weight, though, and now Anti-dieters are giving that the middle finger too. Forget the wellness angle – forget it all! Eat what you want when you want it!
Contemporary manifestations of the Anti-Dieting movement seem to be taking over the social media sphere much in the same way that the beauty standards they’re fighting have.
So, all the evidence shows that diets don’t work in the long term. And yet, there’s a booming industry that keeps telling us that we’re the problem. We simply haven’t tried the right diet, or we haven’t tried hard enough.
Registered dietitian Dalina Soto, MA, LDN told Popsugar that us feeling like crap after failing our 24th diet attempt isn’t really our fault.”The diet and weight-loss industry banks on you failing so they can profit on you for years. They want you to continue to buy their shakes, or the frozen meals they can mail to you weekly”. No matter the diet you choose, she says, you’re never in control – they are.
And so the Anti-Diet movement tells us –often through social media posts – to forget all that. Forget all the sponsored posts by tiny waisted influencers for detox teas; Forget the tiny waifs on billboards; Ignore the voice in your head that tells you you’re doing something wrong when your jeans start feeling a little too snug. It does sound liberating, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be peaceful to look in the mirror and not hear the voice in your head telling you you need to hit the gym more regularly?
As with internet debate, however, there’s another side to the argument.
The dark side of Anti-dieting
Arguments against anti-dieting focus on two main points. Firstly, they highlight the fact that scrolling through instagram for your wellness tips may lead to misleading ideas about what the movement actually is, or about health and wellness in general.”For many cruising Instagram for wellness advice… the idea of eating mindfully might be overshadowed by the more appealing concept of eating a slice of cake for breakfast if you feel like it,” writes Penny Caroll for Women’s Health.
The fact that much of the movement is being promoted through instagram is one of its weak points, she argues. “the nature of Instagram – all pretty pictures and snackable content – makes it easy for the nuance of intuitive eating to be lost”.
Another criticism of the movement is that it doesn’t serve those who are obese, or who are struggling with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and pain issues from carrying too much weight. It seems to be actively discouraging weight loss, when many experts believe that losing just 5% of their body weight may be extremely beneficial to a lot of people.
Registered dietician, Samantha Cassetty writes that while she’s certainly in favour of making peace with food and understanding our body’s hunger and satiety cues, she’s concerned by some of the sentiment that goes along with Anti-dieting: “the notion that these foundations of self-compassion and respect are at odds with losing weight”.
“I don’t agree that the desire to lose weight is always a sign of self-loathing as some anti-diet experts would have you believe. Perhaps for some, but for others the desire to shed some weight is an act of self-care and can be a positive experience”.
Additionally, those who do still want to make changes to their eating or exercise habits as a form of self care, are now being criticised for doing so. In cases where losing that 5% might do someone a world of good, they’re being told by social media that striving to lose the weight flies in the face of self care, and that they’re not being body positive. There’s clearly a lot of shade being thrown from both sides of the debate, which ultimately benefits neither.
What’s obvious, after looking into both sides of the argument, is that there’s no one size fits all. Weight loss is tricky. The line between weight loss as self-love and weight loss as self-hate seems to be thin, blurry, and constantly shifting. The best we can do when things are this confusing is, well, whatever works for us.
Personally, I enjoy the challenges that come with eating clean, intermittent fasting, and regular exercise – but that lifestyle isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. Bodies are beautiful in all shapes and sizes, and if we serve them well, they’ll return the favour. So in my opinion, eat your donut if you want to. If you feel like doing a week-long detox, go ahead (provided you’re careful). Your weight is none of my business, just as mine is none of yours. Ultimately, we all have free will, and deserve to exercise it in whichever way suits us best.