It’s one of my favorite times of the year! Having the end of another semester, Christmas, and my birthday all in one month makes December a sweet time of year. I may not appreciate the frigid cold mornings, but I love the feeling of joy that surrounds this season. That doesn’t mean that this time of year is easy for me. I am still depressed, and anxious, and physically ill. My OCD has been acting up the past few weeks. I’m tired, and I’m depressed. But I also feel such a sense of joy, even though it’s also hard in many ways to think of facing a whole other year that is coming up fast. Even though I am so excited for all the things 2019 is bringing, both the things I’m expecting and the ones I’m yet to discover, it can still be hard to not be overwhelmed by facing another year.
There’s one thing that only makes the New Year harder. Today, I was sitting on my couch, watching a Hallmark Movie (don’t judge!), when I saw it. A commercial for “the best way to lose weight fast.” As the New Year approaches, it’s that time of year where viewers are bombarded with diet commercials.
I rolled my eyes and joked about how dumb the commercial was with my mom, but I also felt a swirl of emotions rise up inside me. I mostly felt upset and sad. Upset that dangerous diets are allowed to be promoted. Upset about how these commercials contribute to the idea that you need to eat less and you need to weigh less, and that you need to attain these goals at any cost. Angry that these commercials convince people that being skinny automatically means being more healthy, and that being skinny is the only way to be beautiful or handsome.
These dangerous ideas are what lead to disordered eating, body image issues, and full-blown eating disorders. These are dangerous conditions that kill. Even if people don’t develop mental health issues related to these commercials that directly and direly impact their health, they still impact the way we view ourselves and our health. I think of all the times my friends have felt like before they can eat in front of others, they have to announce that they didn’t eat the meal before, as though they have to have deprived themselves to deserve food. I think of all the times my friends have felt ugly and absolutely hated looking at their own reflections for no reason other than their weight. I think of the conversations I overhear at school, where classmates are talking about the new teas and supplements they’re taking to make themselves skinner. Not healthier, but skinnier. Some don’t know that these teas are not healthy and can have long-term, negative effects on your health (especially your digestive system’s ability to function normally). Some know, but they don’t care. Their whole lives, they’ve been led to believe that if they could only be that one weight—often a dangerous weight that’s incompatible with a healthy body—everything would be better. And then, when they reach that weight, they realize it’s not all that they thought it would be. But they’ve been taught that looking a certain way is the key to everything they’ve ever wanted, the key to finally loving themselves and feeling confident in their own skin. So they use more tactics to lose more weight. Dangerous tactics. I think of all the ways each and every one of us has been impacted by these dangerous products and diets. I think of how they have hurt my friends, my family, my classmates, millions of people I will never even know the struggles of, and myself.
Some of these dangerous weight-loss tactics are the ones we see on TV. Fasting, depriving yourself of food, excessive exercise, etc. Sometimes, we see more subtle ads on TV. Sometimes, people start on a diet, and it spins into disordered eating. They use the diet to start depriving themselves of food. Using it as a way to avoid fear foods. Being terrified to eat certain foods, and ashamed when they eat these foods. Sometimes, people will start an intense exercise regimen that focuses too much on looks instead of becoming stronger and healthier. They don’t see the results they want, but they’re told that they are just around the corner if they only work a little harder. So they start exercising more, and more, and more. It takes over their lives. It becomes unhealthy. They feel extreme guilt if they skip a day. They feel like if they are going to allow themselves to eat, they have to do a certain amount of exercise to justify the food that their body so desperately needs.
Lots of times, people will deprive themselves of food for a period of time. They eat too little and exercise too much. They take supplements that make them lose water weight. And for a while, even though it is in a very unhealthy and temporary way, they lose weight. Then, their bodies rebel. They have been starving themselves and working too hard, and so their body forces them to eat. They usually go back to their original weight, or even gain weight, and they fall deeper into the feeling of hatred towards their bodies. They feel like their bodies failed them, when they were really just trying to keep them alive.
When all you see are these ads, you might think that these are healthy ways to live. When you only see articles about losing weight, you might think that you have to lose weight, too. And if you do, and if the New Year is a period of doubting yourself, you aren’t alone. If the New Year is a period of self-loathing, you’re not alone. If the New Year is a period of aggravation at being bombarded with exercise and diet commercials, you are not alone. I wanted to leave you with a few reminders to carry with you if this season is hard for you, or to share with those you love who are struggling.
YOU ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE. There is no flaw in you. No matter your weight, body shape, etc., you are wonderfully made.
YOU NEED FOOD. No matter what anyone says, you need to properly feed yourself to be healthy. This is true regardless of your weight. To be your healthiest self, you need to eat enough to fuel your body.
YOU DESERVE FOOD. You need food, and there is no shame in eating food. Even if you overate yesterday, you still need and deserve food today. Even if those around you are depriving themselves of yummy treats you are craving, you deserve those foods. Remember that everything is healthy in moderation. There really is no “bad” food. Which leads me to reminder number four…
THERE IS NO “BAD” FOOD. There is no merit to claims about the supposed morality of food. Now, to be your healthiest self, you probably don’t want to eat nothing but cake for every meal. You would probably feel sluggish and tired from not getting all the nutrients you need. But cake is not bad! Eating cake is not bad for you. Eating cookies is not bad for you. Eating your favorite holiday treats is not bad for you. Anything is good in moderation. Depriving yourself does nothing but make you unhappy and hurt your mental health. If you are at a Christmas party and see your favorite Christmas cookie, and you are craving one, let yourself eat the cookie!
DIET COMPANIES DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. Now, I know that some diets truly do care about the people following them. For example, if you follow a gluten free diet because you have an allergy, intolerance, or Celiac Disease, this diet was made to help you. If you follow an AIP or GAPS for chronic inflammatory conditions, these are to help your illness hopefully go into remission and help your body heal. Pretty much any other diet, though? They couldn’t care less about you. They are counting on the hope that you have been taught to despise your body so much that they can make money off of that hatred. They are not creating products to make you healthier—they are making products that will just lead to more self-hatred.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know I’ve already said this, but I cannot say it enough. If you are struggling with your body image or eating habits, you are not alone. If you are struggling by seeing all of these advertisements, you are not alone. There are people around you who are also struggling, and there are people who can help. If you feel like you might need to see someone about your eating behaviors or body image, need someone to talk to, or are looking for support systems, click here to go to the National Eating Disorders Association’s resource page.