Down With Diet Culture

My diet does not start today.

Or tomorrow.

Or Monday.

Or EVER again.

Because not only is there a wealth of evidence proving that diets don’t work (and actually lead to weight gain in the long term) but the diet industry especially profits off of convincing you to feel bad about yourself so that you get “better”. And somehow, they’ve managed to convince everyone that better = thinner.

Which is funny because thinner =/= healthier.


It’s funny because thinner =/= more willpower.

It’s funny because thinner =/= kinder.

thinner =/= smarter

thinner =/= more athletic

thinner =/= saner

thinner =/= happier

And yet, losing weight is the number one resolution that people share.

I don’t judge people for falling victim to the diet culture. I understand why they do. For my entire life, I did too. And when I say my entire life, I mean from the time I was probably 7 or 8 years old, I hated myself because I was fat. I was convinced that everything in my life would be better if I was thinner.

I remember that I would read “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books about people developing anorexia to lose tons of weight and while the message was “don’t do this! it’s dangerous!” all I took from it was “starve yourself! you’ll lose weight!” And so I did.

When not eating didn’t work out for me (because holla, food is GOOD), I tried the bulimia approach. But I’m not very good at throwing up either. So for years, I either starved and binged or got myself on a regular schedule of “self-disciplined eating” which was essentially me just starving myself.

See, when I look back on my life I can clearly divide it into the times I was dieting and the times I was not. The times I was dieting were times that I was genuinely proud of myself for being malnourished. I survived on a diet of fruit and granola bars (sometimes >200 calories a day) and ran 3-5 miles a day. I would drop about 40 pounds in 3 months and you know the response I got? Praise.

People thought I was making “healthier” decisions just because the way my body looked was conforming more toward what society said was acceptable.

My worth was the number on the scale and the reflection in the mirror. My feelings about myself revolved around whether or not I was proud or ashamed of what I ate and if I had worked out that day. So no matter if I was in a dieting phase or not, I was always punishing myself. Punishing my body by starving it, or punishing my mind by believing I was worthless.

But then in 2019, I found Tiffany Roe on Instagram (@heytiffanyroe) and, honestly I am not exaggerating when I say that my life changed. Not only is she a therapist, but she’s also in recovery from an eating disorder and a major advocate of intuitive eating. She taught me some invaluable truths.

  1. Mental health is greatly impacted by one’s relationship with their bodies and with food. Think about it–you can’t survive without food. You have to eat several times a day to remain properly nourished, and yet a complicated relationship with your body affects what foods you put in it, and your thoughts about those foods affect how you feel about ingesting them. Say you really like the taste of chips but your mind has classified chips as bad. Now, when you eat chips, you feel ashamed, because you have established that complicated relationship. Then you get caught in a shame spiral every time you don’t have the “self-control” to avoid foods that your body likes and your mind doesn’t. It’s a damaging cycle.
  2. Foods only have the moral value that we assign them. She used the example of french fries. A lot of people will say “oh, well fries are obviously bad because they’re unhealthy,” but she says that to her, fries are good because they were something she couldn’t eat when she had an eating disorder. No food is inherently good or bad and labeling them as such just fosters a poor relationship with food.
  3. You do not have to have an eating disorder to engage in disordered eating. Just because you don’t have a diagnosable eating disorder doesn’t mean your eating habits aren’t disordered. Many, if not all, diets are examples of disordered eating.
  4. Unconditional permission to eat is crucial to healing your relationship with food. Restricting leads to binging. Binging leads to shame. Shame leads to restricting. The cycle continues. In order to break the cycle, you must lift the restriction and heal your relationship with food.

Now, when I get on my diet culture soapbox and talk to people about my experiences, they sometimes accuse me of using an anecdotal fallacy. That my experiences, while unfortunate, do not “prove” that there is a problem with diet culture. But my experiences are not isolated to me and a few other people with personal testimonials about how diet culture is deceptive and dangerous. And if you’re unsatisfied with the links I’ve provided and want to fight, let’s fight. Because I’m sick and tired of people justifying thin supremacy in the name of “health.” People do not exist to aesthetically please you and you cannot tell just by looking at someone if they are healthy.

And it’s just sad, yknow? How we have these bodies that are capable of climbing mountains and making music and building cities and creating human life and here we are concerned about how they look. Not about how they serve us. Not about how we can use them to serve others. But about how. they. look.

This is the first time in over a decade that I am not putting weight loss on my list of new year’s resolutions, because every time I’ve lost weight, I have not gotten healthier because of it (lol one time I had to get my gallbladder removed because losing weight so fast gave me gall stones so try telling me that’s healthy). So I commit to getting healthier in 2020. I commit to getting therapy. I commit to getting outdoors more as part of (half of) the 52 hikes challenge. I commit to training for and running a marathon (!!!!!) and I commit to taking CARE of myself. But I’m not committing to losing weight, and I’m not praising anyone else for their weight loss, and I’m not encouraging anyone’s weight loss. Ever again.

Because what are you really saying when you praise someone for their weight loss? Congratulations on taking up less space? Thank you for being easier to objectify? Your body was a problem to be solved and now you’ve solved it so good job? Whatever illness you had that got you here was worth it because now you look better?

Come on. How about we look a little deeper and comment on things that matter going forward?

The best compliments I’ve received have had to do with my abilities or my personality. I love it when someone can tell me that they think I’m funny, or that I’m talented, that I have a way of making people feel comfortable around me, that I’m intelligent, that the way I write has the ability to make them feel understood.

In fact, my least favorite compliments are those that comment on the way I look. It’s lazy and says nothing about the value I contribute to your life or the world.


What’s really rich, though, is the people who can agree with everything I’ve written here and then say “well, if you’re not thin, people (men) won’t find you attractive and that’s just the way it is.”

Well, that’s ok. Because being shallow isn’t attractive either.


Empathy: the Dos and Don’ts

American’s looooove to ask you how you are. And that’s not really a huge problem, but when you’re literally just passing someone you know and neither of you really stop to talk, and they just call out “hey! how ya been?!” it’s a little ridiculous? Silly? Pointless?

The only acceptable response in that instance is some variation of “good,” or “great!” or even the classic “oh, y’know, just livin the dream!”

Honestly, is anyone just going to turn around as the other person passes them and bare their soul in the middle of the Walmart parking lot? “Yeah, it’s been rough, I got diagnosed with depression and fired from my job.” No. That would make things awkward. And we all know that people say that kind of stuff in passing as a habit–not because they actually, truly care. OR maybe they do care, and chose a poor time and place to show it.

I’ve been aware of this flaw in our communication pattern for a long time, but even I can’t help but carry on the trend. It’s so habitual. So I can’t blame anyone else for doing the same thing. But there are some things that take it a step further into “why are you doing this” territory.

So here’s Tyf’s Hot Take How-To Guide on how not to look like a douchebag jerk when you’re trying to be empathetic.

Don’t tell them how they should be.

I once had this friend acquaintance who would regularly ask me how I was (like they do). I’ve always been a pretty honest person, so I would tell her that life was hard. It just was. Sorry? One day, she told me “I don’t like asking you how you are because you never answer ‘good,’ and I just want you to be doing good!”

Uh… thank you? I, too, would probably enjoy that.

Do listen!

If you’re going to ask a question without expecting a response, what’s the point? If you’re going to have the same conversation with someone every day, what’s the point? If you want me to guess what’s in your head, then this isn’t really a cool kind of relationship we have here. You don’t have to play therapist. If a person says “I’m not doing so great,” you can ask them to expand or you can say “I’m sorry to hear that, I’ll pray for you” or give them a hug or a cookie and move on. If they’re an American, they’ll be used to it! It happens several times a day!

Don’t say the thing

You know which one I’m talking about…

I was talking with a new friend the other night and they asked “how are you really?” (because we need to add the “really” when it’s a serious inquiry.) So naturally I felt like it was a safe space to be open with how I was feeling, right? So I was. I told them that it’s been really frustrating because I’m trying to find a job and it’s not going my way and I’m not loving it. I wasn’t being super negative, I was even trying to maintain a positive outlook. But even if I was being negative, they. asked. how. I. was. really. doing! 

Protip: if you ever ask me how I’m really doing, you’d better be ready for the freakin flood. Because it might come at you. If you’re not equipped with that kind of  emergency damage control, then don’t try to open those kind of flood gates. 

So anyway, we’re having a good chat, and they’re even being pretty helpful, but then they say the thing. The most veiled, well-meaning but completely condescending comment. And it was probably because they didn’t know what else to say, but man could it have been more helpful than this. They said “well, just remember… someone always has it worse than you.”

Uhh…. once again, thank you???

Do you honestly think I don’t know that? You think I go home to my warm bed in my mother’s house where she lets me live where there’s food in the fridge and a closet full of clothes thinking that I have it the worst in the world? Yikes, buddy.

Reality check: when any of your friends are going through it, chances are they don’t believe that they have it worse than everybody in the whole world. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be sad and frustrated. And telling them that they shouldn’t feel bad makes them feel bad for feeling bad and that’s just a lot of layers of bad feelings. Like an ogre. Or an onion. No wonder they’re crying.

This is a tired topic, but I still get people telling me it could be worse. And honestly, I feel like we should be better than that. It’s not empathetic. It writes off someone’s emotions as insignificant and makes them feel like you’re not the person they want to come to with their emotions. Congrats, you built a wall and you made them pay for it.

Do be understanding and move on with the conversation if you feel like the unloading is over. 

It’s like moving into a house. When everything is unpacked and set up, you don’t try to look for more things to unpack and set up, you relax and enjoy the new digs. So just relax and enjoy the company. Hopefully the person unloading will naturally move on, but if they don’t, remember that you asked for it. You unpacked the house, now live in it. And don’t you dare comment on the lack of curtains, it’s been a rough move. 

Don’t make it all about you

We’ve all talked to that person that just makes everything about themselves and tries to one up you in everything. You can simply say “I got no sleep last night” and they immediately launch into “oh yeah, well not only did I not sleep, I was also sick with the flu and in the bathroom half the night, WITH a crying baby and potty-training puppy while my upstairs neighbor learned to waltz in tap shoes.”

Honestly, when these one-uppers pull this, do they want a round of applause? A ribbon? Some sleeping pills? Nobody asked you, and frankly, in the future, nobody will want to.

You don’t have to leave yourself completely out of it, but stay focused on them if you ask them about them. I just don’t feel like that’s a lot to ask.

Do tell relevant stories 

If there are relatable stories to be told, tell them at the right time. If there are success stories to be told about a situation that seems hopeless, tell them at the right time. If there are relevant jokes or memes, dear heavens, please tell/show them at the right time. Laughter is the best medicine. Well, doctors might disagree, but it’s the best medicine that is both legal and free, I know that.

Don’t pep talk

You are not a coach or a mentor or a therapist or their motivational speaker. Don’t act like it. It makes the situation feel like you’re on some type of pedestal and they’re below you. Your struggling friends already feel small, don’t add to the problem.

Do encourage

Even if just a “I think you’re great and I know you can get through this” is nice if you mean it. Some people just want to feel sad for a bit until they feel good enough to change it. What they need in the meantime is someone to remind them that they aren’t a failure. If you can just do that, it will go a long way.

Do offer help if you can

If you know something that would help them (and it’s not essential oils), tell them you’ll help. They need a job and you have a hook up? That’d be really baller. If you can’t offer help, that’s fine. Chances are, they didn’t come to you for help. They just wanted to know somebody was there.

Do offer money

I mean it couldn’t hurt 😉

The trick to empathy is putting yourself on their level and going through it with them. They don’t need relief, they just need to feel like they aren’t alone. It’s one thing to know it, it’s another thing to feel it. So take off your coach’s whistle, put away the therapy clipboard, and just be a friend. And if you don’t know how to be a friend, you definitely should have watched more Barney growing up. There are probably reruns somewhere.