How dieting stifles you


That's the word I've been chewing over lately. Sometimes literally. 

When expressing myself and thinking about what I want in the world, stifled feels like a fitting word. My experience is not that different from others. This feeling of being stifled is especially true for women. 

We're often told we're too much of something. Too bossy. Too fat. Too serious. Too emotional. Too silly. Too flighty. Too vapid. Walking the delicate line between being too cold and too emotional is impossible.  

Because it's impossible, we stop. We barely walk at all actually because each step could make us fall. 

Women learn at a young age to limit themselves. This often starts with food. 

One obvious way we learn to limit ourselves is through dieting. Our daily walk on eggshells starts with each morsel of food that passes our lips. 

At age 15,  I have a distinct memory of enjoying a cookie. Some man noted, "A moment on the lips, forever on the hips" while he proceeded to eat his own cookie. 

Because I was not an adult woman with the ovaries to say "fuck off," I nibbled slowly at the rest of the cookie. I promised myself it would be my last for a while. And that was when I learned that having what I wanted wasn't acceptable and it was okay for dudes to police my eating. 

Years and years of this feeling of being watched every time you eat slowly wears down your psyche. 

We learn by living this not to trust our bodies. Over time, we unlearn how to trust ourselves. We look outward to others to answer our questions. Or at least that was my story.  

Years of ignoring hunger culminated in a total lack of attunement with my own needs and desires. Each calorie skipped was a daily reminder that my most basic instincts were incorrect. 

As a young woman trying to navigate the world, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have agency. What does it mean to ask for what you want?

 It might start with asking for what you want to eat. 

Something to do besides dieting to make you happy

During my days at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, we talked about primary food. IIN's founder, Joshua Rosenthal, believes that secondary food is the actual food you eat. For him, primary food is your career, your relationships, your spirituality, and exercise.

The basic premise is that if you can heal these other parts of your life, then you can heal your relationship with food. Intuitive Eating posits the opposite. If you heal your relationship with food, you can heal the other parts of your life. 

Regardless of whether it's the chicken or the egg, diets don't work. So, what does? If you want to be happier, the answer might be in positive psychology. 

I skimmed through my old notes from a lecture at IIN about positive psychology. This lecture was based on the work of Martin Seligman

Here is the gist: 

1.  Focusing on what is already good makes you happier. 

We know for certain that hating your body doesn't help you love it. 

Seligman wanted people to think about what was good in their life, not just focus on the bad. 

One easy way to do this is what he calls the "3 blessings exercise." Every day you write down 3 good things that happened and why they happened. 

The more details, the better. 

 A study at USC showed participants who wrote more details of their gratitude did best. They were "more elated, excited, and alert than the other groups. [They were also] less tired, sad, and lethargic." 

 That's pretty compelling evidence. Focusing on what is already good in your life is at the very least energizing. 

Spending hundreds on juice cleanses might make you feel more energetic. But journaling what you're grateful for is FREE!

2. Figuring out what your current strengths are makes you stronger. 

When I was first coming around to accepting my body, I tried a new strategy in the mirror.  I would just look in the mirror and see one thing that I liked. Sometimes, it was my eyelash. Sometimes, if I was really feeling myself, it would be my thighs. Eventually, I was able to look in the mirror and say, "Damn, Girl!"

Seligman would call this the "Engaged Life" or the "Good Life." He encourages people to find out their signature strength. Instead of squeezing at parts of your body that you dislike, he suggests you find your flow. This is like finding the eyelash that you like IRL.

In not such a weird analogy, this means finding what you're good at. If you're good at knitting, knit for work. If you're good at coding, become a computer engineer. If you're good at solving mysteries, become Sherlock Holmes. Fill your days with something that you find joy and ease in. I know. It's easier said than done. But didn't people used to say that about diets?

Here's a tool you can use to do it. 

3. Apply your Strengths to Others.

Remember how last week I was raving about volunteering? Well, there's some science to that. Seligman points to research on this. He says that meaning in our lives amplifies the good things and the pleasant things in our lives. 

Something powerful happens when you combine your strengths with altruism. It's an alchemy of positivity. 

He writes that doing something good for someone else made people happier for longer. In his Tedtalk in 2004, he even suggests that having "meaning" in our lives has led to better health. 

As much as we want to believe that getting our dream body will make us happier, it's not a straight shot. 

Take a moment to enjoy your life. Find out what you're good at instead of making yucky smoothies. Do what you're good at for others.  It'll all work better than dieting to make you happy. 

Ted Talk: Why Dieting Doesn't Usually Work

A lot of people don't really believe me when I say that dieting doesn't work. 

Which is why I mention set point theory like erryday 

If you're one of the Debbie Doubters, here's a cool video from Sandra Aamodt. Aamodt is a neuroscientist and science writer. 

She does a kick-ass job of explaining set point theory and why diets don't work. 

Check it out!

Not giving a fuck about being "fat"

Hi. I'm Noel. 

And I don't give a fuck about my cellulite

It didn't always used to be this way. 

This is me eating churros in a bikini. And I don't give a FUCK. 

This is me eating churros in a bikini. And I don't give a FUCK. 

I remember when I  learned about the shame of weight.  I overheard one my handsome male classmates describing Lizzie McGuire as "a fat cow." 

I was subconsciously aware that I didn't want to be fat. Until that moment, I was suspicious that other people cared. This classmate confirmed it. People are watching and even if you're a cute Disney star, you're still not good enough. 

 If Lizzie McGuire didn't measure up, I certainly did not. 

I felt the shame of not looking like a cover girl. 

And that shame stuck with me for years. Through high school. Through college. Through a few years after college. I felt like I always needed to show how sorry I was about not measuring up. Dieting was the easiest way to repent. 

This is an unspoken part about dieting. Dieting isn't just a way to lose weight. It's social and cultural capital that represents your desire to be better.

When you don't measure up to the standard, your only recourse is the act of trying. "Sure, I may not weigh as little as supermodels, but I'm trying to". It somehow makes us "better" to people who might feel disgusted with how we look. 

If we quit dieting, we quit apologizing.

We quit easing the tension. We quit the people-pleasing. We have to own who we are and not give a shit about somebody else noticing our zits, our belly rolls, our cellulite. 

This is terrifying. 

Embracing intuitive eating and embracing your natural body shape requires courage. 

But, on the other side of this courage is freedom. 

Freedom to not give a fuck. 

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