What Happened: One Week of Avoiding Comments on Others Bodies & Appearances

A while back, I realized that it is hard to feel like more than a body when we’re complimented on our bodies. If appearance-related compliments are what we receive the most of, we’ll focus on how to get more of those compliments. This can easily lead to obsession with our bodies and appearances, feeding straight into diet culture and resulting in living small.

For quite some time, I have refused to comment on others’ weight. Whether their weight increases, decreases, or stays the same, I don’t care and don’t mention it. I refuse to be the person who fuels diet culture by praising the weight loss of someone who may be engaging in disordered eating or by shaming the weight gain of someone who has priorities other than trying to control their body.

However, as someone who loves helping others feel good, I frequently compliment others’ clothing or looks without mentioning weight or body size, so I decided to spend one week attempting to avoid complimenting anyone on their appearance AT ALL. Here’s what happened:

  1. I failed HARD. Day 1, right out of the gate, I caught myself making appearance-related compliments almost without even realizing it. “Your dress is gorgeous,” “I love your shoes,” and “You have a great smile!” all fell out of my mouth so easily. This was going to be much more challenging than I expected.
  2. It’s tough to compliment someone you don’t know. I love letting random people know when I like something they’re wearing, or how they’ve styled their hair. It’s fun, and I know it makes them feel good, but during this experiment, I attempted to avoid it. It turns out, it is extremely difficult to find something non-appearance-related to compliment someone on if you don’t know them. Now, I know I could just have not said anything and dropped my stranger compliments, but this experiment was an attempt to say different things, not simply say nothing at all. I found a few different compliments to use:
    1. When seeing a happy face at work: “You give off such an energetic vibe – it makes me as excited to be here as you seem to be!” (when at work)
    2. When hearing someone tactfully talk to a barista about their coffee order being incorrect: “What a great way to phrase that; I’ll have to remember that to use later.”
    3. When seeing someone at the store who came up with a creative way to carry their purchases to their car: “That is such a smart idea!”

Another really cool thing here is that complimenting strangers requires that we put more effort into awareness and engagement with the people around us. It’s an interesting challenge to step into the present moment in this way.

  1. I noticed compliments on my own appearance from others even more….and it made me a little uncomfortable. I was hyper-aware of my own reactions to these compliments, and recognized that my mind immediately went to ways to get MORE compliments, such as right away planning my outfit for the next day. This experiment helped me to realize that my efforts in my appearance went beyond making myself feel good and were an attempt at social acceptance through compliments, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled because I felt that others weren’t seeing me for the complete, more-than-a-body person I am. And of course they didn’t, because I was investing most in my appearance as a way to be recognized. I wanted to change that to be more in line with my own values.
  2. I became more aware of how I talked about infants and children’s appearances. This one was really interesting. I noticed that the first thing I wanted to do with children or infants – especially girls – was to mention how cute they were. I made a point to change that, and instead asked the children or parents’ about the child’s milestones or interests. It seemed to me that there was a great deal of focus on children’s appearance even before they were aware that they had an appearance, and it would be a shame if a child were to ever believe that the way they looked was the most important thing about them.
  3. Appearance compliments have a place. Humans are multifaceted, and our appearance is one of those facets. While I firmly feel that weight-based comments or compliments are to be avoided, I think that complimenting people on their appearance in other ways can be pleasant for everyone involved. The key, to me, is that we try to find ways to uplift each other besides focusing only on looks. We can’t leave this to someone else, either – if everyone assumes someone else will do it, then no one is looking for the good in people beyond their looks.

So, I challenge you – try to spend a day, a week, a month, or more complimenting people on something other than their appearance. Dig deeper, engage more, and try to find what’s great about other humans that you aren’t able to see.

Your Body is Your Birthright

Your body is your birthright.

All of it. The whole thing. In whatever shape or size or color it may be.

With whatever ability it has.

You get to listen to it and honor it.

You get to nourish it and move it or not move it in whatever ways feel good and right.

You get to choose how to dress your body.

You get to decide whose opinions about your body matter to you.

 

Your body is your birthright.

You do not have to earn it.

Stretch marks are okay, even if you’ve never had babies.

Finding comfort in food is okay, even if you’ve never had trauma.

You get to choose to move your body gently, even if you are able to move it aggressively.

You get to wear clothes that you feel comfortable in and enjoy, even if you’re able to relax and take time to “try” and look “put together.”

You get to ignore the messages that grace in judgement is only reserved for those with struggles in their lives that are deemed acceptable reasons to not force your body into

 

Your body is your birthright.

It does not have to be a symbol of your status.

You do not have to use your body to prove that you have overcome past trauma or hurt.

You do not have to punish your body to create an image that you’re okay if you are not.

You get to give your body permission to be whatever it wants to be, within the context of your own life and experiences.

You get to choose how to include your body in your struggles, and that choice doesn’t have to be the same all the time.

 

Your body is your birthright.

It is inherently enough, and inherently yours.

Five Reasons Diet Culture is So Enticing

It is HARD to quit diet culture.

I know that I can sit over here in my desk chair and type pretty words about how lovely it is to not stress about dieting or exercise, and reassure you that you are beautiful because you exist. Maybe that sounds wonderful and you feel good reading that, but then you try to go about your life with that in mind, and it just doesn’t work. You feel scared and worried and like quitting diets is harder than dieting. Why is it so hard to leave diet culture behind?

    1. We’ve been lied to. Yep, I said it. That whole thing about how you’ll die if you don’t lose weight? Not true. All that “research” that shows a correlation between higher weight and various health issues? Correlation does NOT equal causation, plus, the studies are set up looking for that correlation in the first place. Higher weight absolutely does not mean that you are not or cannot be healthy. The whole premise of Health At Every Size is that we can pursue and achieve health without even talking about weight. Even knowing this, it is ingrained into us to believe that bodies of certain sizes carry a death sentence that can be avoided, and we want to do everything we can to avoid that if this is the thought pattern to which we subscribe.
    2. Social approval. How many times have you been the recipient of or witness to compliments about losing weight, choosing certain foods, or someone exercising frequently? Maybe you’ve noticed that these are always tied to some positive moral, such as, “You’re so [good/dedicated/amazing/organized/other].” On the flip side, have you noticed that people often undermine their own choices that don’t align with what is considered correct? Think about hearing people make statements like, “I’m going to be bad and order dessert,” “I’m going to have pasta but I shouldn’t,” or, “I need to work out so I can burn off the calories from the latte I drank.” It is extremely clear that dieting behaviors are acceptable and non-dieting behaviors are not. Forgoing that social approval is a struggle, and understandably so: none of us learned diet culture in a vacuum, and none of us will leave diet culture in a vacuum. It will always be around us until society changes, and it is important to understand that this is a real, genuine barrier that we need to be cognizant of in order to overcome.
    3. Community. This goes hand-in-hand with that social approval piece – if we all subscribe to diet culture, we all have something to talk to each other about. Turn around in line at Subway and tell the person behind you that you like real mayo instead of light when you’re worried they overheard your order and might be judging you, and they’ll most likely chuckle and join in with the diet talk. We literally don’t even have to know people to be able to engage in diet culture perpetuation with them, because diet culture is SO pervasive. If you leave diet culture, you leave this community, too.
    4. Control. Dieting feels a heck of a lot like direct power over our own lives and everything that happens. We commonly believe that people who diet and exercise frequently have their lives “together,” somehow more so than the rest of us. We think that those folks who plan meals and bring the little boxes with organized, home-prepped meals must have their kids, significant others, work, home life, housework, and other activities all so organized and running so smoothly that it affords them the time and energy to plan meals and exercise every day. And maybe they do. I’m sure there are a few of those folks who do. But for the rest of them, and most of the rest of us, life is messy. Things happen that we don’t plan for. Something went wrong and we didn’t have time to get to the gym or prep all those meals we found on Pinterest. Maybe nothing went wrong, and spending all afternoon reading a book just felt good. Maybe a family member had a health issue and you’re determined to not take the same path. Maybe someone who did everything “right” died of a heart attack anyway. There are all kinds of reasons we turn to our food and exercise for control, but ultimately, it doesn’t give us the actual, direct power over our lives that we believe it does.
    5. Diet culture is aspirational. What I mean by this is, the obsessive eating and exercise aspects of diet culture give us a feeling that we’re working toward something. We set weight goals, and we believe that once we meet those, the world will open up for us and we will have so many doors open. What if diet culture actually works opposite of that? What if those doors are already open, regardless of your body size, and all you need to do is walk through them? What if the thing that is stopping you from your aspirations is actually fear of doing them, and you just think you have to be in a smaller body before you can do those things? Diet culture keeps us small. We live tiny, enclosed lives when so much of our energy is spent controlling our food and exercise. Imagine everything we could do if we left diet culture behind and went for that job, wrote that book, took that trip, volunteered for that organization, set out on our dreams, weight be damned? Diet culture feels like we’re working toward something big, but it’s all just a sham to keep us from living up to our full potential and have real, lasting impact in our lives and on the world.

Maybe you’ve tried to leave diet culture before. Maybe you’re just starting to walk out of the fog of diet culture. It’s okay if you’re struggling; getting out of diet culture is a major challenge. You’re here, reading this – and you can do this.

 

 

 

 

 

The Super Diet-y Reason I Never Owned a Coffee Maker…Until Now

I didn’t drink coffee until I was in college. I didn’t like the way it tasted when I took sips from my dad’s mug, and he drank it straight black.

When I was in college, I discovered that I liked coffee when it was espresso mixed with lots of milk and caramel and whipped cream. A friend gave me the succulent concoction when I stopped to chat with her at her on-campus coffee shop job one day, and I loved it. I started to drink coffee this way occasionally as a treat.

This treat became a little more frequent when I was in grad school, because I was more regularly using it for caffeine. By the time I graduated, I was drinking several lusciously sweet lattes weekly.

As I started my first job, I scaled back my coffee intake. Sure, we had a coffee shop at our facility that made lattes, but I was a freshly-minted dietitian. I believed I had an example to set, and, to me, that included moderation in caffeine and calorie-laden coffee drinks.

Eventually, things got busy. For a while, I was able to power through. I loved when people asked me how I managed everything, assuming I was constantly wired on caffeine, and I got to tell them, “Nope, I just make it all happen!”

This didn’t last for too long, though. About a year and half in, I was swamped at work and drinking lattes daily. The baristas at the coffee shop even knew my drink and called it a “Jamie Special” (a white mocha with caramel drizzle and whipped cream, for the record). I would try to cut back, but I enjoyed my sweet drinks and the jolt of caffeine in the morning. I was spending quite a lot of money on “froo-froo” coffee weekly, but I was so reluctant to label myself a “coffee drinker” and buy a home coffee maker that I just budgeted more money. When my bank account simply couldn’t take it anymore, I broke down and bought a coffee maker.

That’s when I started digging into why I had been so adamant that I was NOT a coffee drinker. What was it that stopped me from admitting it and making a switch before? There were two reasons, both of which were 100% influenced by diet culture:

  1. Moralizing – I attached moral value to caffeine. I believed that I was “good” because I was not dependent on caffeine, and didn’t drink it often. I thought I was superwoman for having a busy life and not relying on caffeine. Now I realize – so what? As long as I am fine with the role caffeine has in my own life, it doesn’t matter if or how much I have. The same goes for anyone else: we all get to choose if and how much caffeine we want. The degree to which we choose to include caffeine or not does not make anyone a better or worse person.
  2. Restricting – I like my coffee creamy. I like my coffee sweet. Those are two facts about me. I worried for a long time that if I had a coffee maker in my home, I would drink so much coffee just the way I like it that my body would get larger and it would be a problem. But wait – I’m the same person who is steadfastly against the entire concept of ANYONE’s body being a problem, and I ferociously promote the non-diet concept of eliminating restriction from our interactions with food. It didn’t quite line up. So, here I am, drinking daily coffee just the way I like it (currently, that’s 16oz coffee w/ 2 packets of hot chocolate mix and a splash of half-and-half). And you know what? I don’t feel out-of-control around my coffee anymore.

It turns out, diet culture can impact us in ways that are deeper than we realize and we can unknowingly hold on to diet-y beliefs for a long time. Take the time to look into reasons you avoid certain foods. Check in with yourself, honestly, and see whether these reasons are actually serving you, or if diet culture is lying to you about what you “should” eat. You might find a solution that’s even better than you thought it would be – like coffee at 10% the cost!

The Pervasiveness of Diet Culture

Understanding the concept of diet culture is imperative to even beginning to grasp Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size, the founding philosophies of Wonderfully Well.

What even is diet culture?

Think about it this way:

  • If you’ve ever felt that you need to justify a “bad” food choice, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever believed that you earned dessert because you exercised, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever skipped an event you otherwise wanted to attend because there was nothing there that fit your meal plan, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever had an attitude or mood change based on a change in the number on the scale, the size of your clothing, or body measurements, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever drank water when you’re hungry to avoid eating food, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever put off doing any sort of activity until you weigh X pounds, that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever had a “cheat day,” that’s diet culture.
  • If you’ve ever replaced a food you truly love with one that is lower in calories, that’s diet culture.

It is clear that diet culture hijacks our lives in ways that we don’t even recognize because we are constantly getting messages from diet culture that we “should” be doing all these things in order to be in smaller, conventionally attractive bodies that will supposedly open the entire world for us so we can “truly, finally” live. This narrative that we need to constantly be working to make our bodies fit size and beauty expectations is damaging and prevents us from living in the biggest and fullest ways we can.

One of the very first steps in recognizing and choosing to step out of diet culture. Start being a critical observant about how you and those around you use and talk about food. Recognize if you’re choosing foods you don’t want because they’re “good,” or if a friend comments that they need to exercise in order to work off a food.

Increasing your awareness is critical, and you can start noticing right away! In this early stage, do your best to have grace for yourself – we’re all immersed in diet culture constantly, and it’s understandable that it has affected our lives and actions. The more you observe how diet culture makes choices for you, though, the more easily you can step back into your autonomy!