I love the way I feel on Whole 30. I love preparing and eating clean foods, feeling powerful and in control, and seeing my clothes get looser over the 30 days. I love that my sleep gets better and less interrupted, my joints quit aching quite so much and pretty much every minor little health issue in my life subsides.
I’ve often said that Whole 30 is like a miracle cure for me, and that I should eat that way all the time. So why on earth would I say that I have to stop doing it?!
Because Whole 30, even though it swears up and down that it’s not a weight loss diet, is still a diet. And diets don’t work – or if they do, it’s only in the short-term. Mega-restricted eating for 30 days sends your body and brain into deprivation mode; our bodies, particularly women’s, are genetically programmed to hold onto fat and even GAIN weight any time they sense famine. And Whole 30 (any diet, for that matter) feels like a period of famine. It’s problematic.
How do I know this? Because even if I lose a bit while I’m on Whole 30, I immediate gain like crazy after resuming normal eating habits. That’s called yo-yo dieting and it’s no bueno. It messes with your mind and body in ways that are best avoided. Yo-yo dieting, and dieting in general, actually causes weight gain and other health issues.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening and learning about the anti-diet, Health at Every Size (HAES) and body liberation movements. I can totally see where they are coming from. Diet culture, even when disguised as “wellness culture” as in the case of Whole 30, is insidious and a trap. Nothing good – and a whole lot of bad – can come from it.
I’ll say it again: diets don’t work. Restricted eating may take weight off in the short-term, but at what cost? The inevitable weight gain that happens after resuming normal eating usually puts you ABOVE where you were when you started. This has been true for me every time I’ve done Whole 30 or any other type of diet. And not only that, I don’t want to model “dieting” or a cleverly disguised wellness version of dieting for my beloved daughter, who is watching closely.
So what’s the answer? Eating a Whole 30-ish regimen for the rest of my life, although it would likely do great things for my body’s inflammation and how I feel physically, is not practical or sustainable mentally or emotionally. I love food. I love going out with coworkers for yummy lunches or Jeni’s on sunny afternoons. I love candy at Halloween and in my Christmas stocking. I love pie at Thanksgiving. I love pizza and tacos year round. Living without these things is possible, but is it enjoyable… and for what?
One alternative is pretty radical, and that’s fat acceptance. This means loving the body we’re in no matter what size, shape or weight it is. It’s embracing the fact that some people are in little bodies and some people are in big bodies, and neither is better. That being chubby or fat is not BAD. Our culture conditions us to believe that fat is bad, that overweight people are wrong, bad, failures and undesirable, but those things are not true.
Think about how much we love chubby babies and pets – like the current “chonky cats” craze. Why wouldn’t we give ourselves the same compassion and affection we give to animals? Human beings with chub rolls are no less cute than babies or cats. Being fat is not the end of the world – it doesn’t mean anything negative about a person. Our society’s infernal diet culture is the problem, not those of us stuck in it like hamsters on a wheel.
If I don’t go for the other lies the dominant patriarchy tell us – like the ones about people of color, women, immigrants and LGBTQIA+ folks being second class citizens – then why would I fall for the one about fat people being less-than? It’s all utter garbage. I won’t have it.
Haters will say that fat acceptance and being anti-diet means giving up and surrendering to gaining weight, laziness, overeating, bingeing on junk and sleeping on a bed of greasy pizzas – but actually, that’s far from the truth. We’re not giving up on ourselves, just on the ridiculous can’t-win scenario of dieting and diet culture. We keep blaming ourselves for our diets not working, when the simple truth is that they don’t work for anyone and are actually harmful to young people, per a major medical study.
It’s exactly when we stop restricting and depriving ourselves, and begin intuitively eating what we want when we want it, and stop thinking and controlling and obsessing about it all constantly, that diet culture loses its control over us. Many people have shared that, ironically, that’s actually when they find themselves losing weight in an authentic and sustainable way. Or they don’t – and either way it’s fine. That’s the point.
So what does this look like in real life for me? I am not exactly sure yet. I need to do some more reading, learning and journaling about body trust and intuitive eating. Instead of focusing so much on my eating, I’d like to move and stretch more, because those things help me feel better physically. I would still like to “eat clean” more days than not, simply because of how good it makes my body feel. Some days I may listen to my body and eat more leafy greens and broccoli and green smoothies when it says it needs those things. And other days I may enjoy candy corns and Cadbury Creme Eggs because they make me happy!
It’s a journey of moving toward things that feel good, and make us feel good, and moving away from things that make us feel bad, guilty or less-than. And realizing that many bodies do gain weight as they age, but as long as we’re active and healthy and feeling good and able to do the things we want to do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Ultimately, my entire adult life I’ve been playing – and feeling like I’m constantly losing – the diet culture game. And it has finally become clear to me that the only way to truly win it is to just quit playing.
What are your thoughts on diets, diet culture and the anti-diets movement? I’d love to hear in the comments below or over on Facebook.