It’s no secret that I’ve grown up in a world of diet culture. From family to friends to television ads, I can’t remember a time where I’ve seen a healthy example of a food relationship. I had friends who starved themselves, binge ate, did dangerous diets, and I even got involved with a troublesome diet myself (HCG). When you’re a teenager, what you want in-the-moment far out-powers what you want in the long run. For me, that “want” was to be smaller. I’ve always been the “bigger” friend. No, I was not wearing plus-size clothing, but a quick look at a BMI chart would have classified me as and obese child. I felt like no matter what I did, I would never be the size of my friends.
After doing the HCG diet in high school, I lost about 40 pounds and finally started to feel like I was a decent size – but my food behaviors were horrible. Some days I wouldn’t eat at all (Florida heat will make you nauseated) and other days I would binge eat ramen noodles, sweet fruits like oranges or watermelons, or Italian foods like lasagna. I worked out like crazy (sometimes 4-5 hours a night) and didn’t understand why I still felt so bad about myself.
The problem wasn’t my weight. The problem was the toxic behaviors that were normalized while I was growing up.
Toxic Behaviors in Diet Culture
- Huge calorie deficits for an extended period of time
- Exercising consecutively without rest
- Working out with injuries
- “Whatever it takes” attitudes
- Excessive amount of high-intensity (HIIT; sprints) workouts
- Use of laxative/”cleanse” products to drop weight and flatten stomach
- “Magic pill” remedies for drastic weight loss
These are all things that I’ve observed deep in the pulse of the diet community. At the root of these behaviors are two things: people that so desperately want to change that they will do anything, and people that so desperately want to get rich that they will sell anything.
And it doesn’t stop with these behaviors. Calorie deficits turn into malnutrition. Consecutive exercise sans rest turns into injury. “Whatever it takes” attitudes alienate you from your friends and family and destroy social events for you. Excessive high-intensity workouts without sleep turns into delirium and body dysmorphia. Laxative overuse turns into gastrointestinal problems. And magic pills turn into financial issues.
Another issue that sprouts from these toxic behaviors is low self esteem. This issue starts with modeling behaviors observed through television/print ads, which glamorize the stick-thin figure. The “model body” is a trope in western society that has made “get rich quick” weight loss scams a ton of money. When children and preteens associate thin with “good” and cellulite, bumps, quirks, and imperfections as “bad,” they experience cognitive dissonance really quickly about their own appearance. And let me tell you, it is rough to feel like your existence doesn’t match what it should be. Pretty soon, you find yourself saying some pretty awful things about yourself that are simply not true.
Phrases that destroy your self esteem (stop saying these!)
- I’m so fat
- I’m too ugly for _______
- I look bad
- I’m sorry I look like this
- I always eat too much
- I’m worthless
You are a direct result of your own manifestation. If you continue to say things like this, eventually, you’ll begin to believe them. Otherwise known as a “self-fulfilling prophesy,” if you continue to believe that you’re fat, or ugly, or worthless, eventually, you’ll convince yourself and others that this is all that you are. And I’m here to tell you that those phrases up there do not define you like you think they do.
When people say the phrases above, here’s what I actually hear, as the listener:
- I’m uncomfortable in my own body
- I’m not prepared for this meeting
- I could have spent more energy on my outfit
- I’m ashamed of myself
- I don’t have a good relationship with food
- I’m don’t understand my own worth
Trust me when I say that other people see right through your words to your real intentions. But even if you’ve found yourself deep in the wormhole of self-hatred, there’s a way out. I’ve laid out a 10-step plan to help you get back on the path to self acceptance and self love.
Here’s how to correct those toxic behaviors
Step 1: Drop the magic pills
I know this one is hard to hear, but there is no magic pill for weight loss. Any company who tries to sell you one is doing just that – trying to sell.
So this means that you can take a breath and relax, because you won’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on products that will not help you create a better lifestyle for yourself and/or lose the weight you want to lose. “Magic pills” include BHB salts/ketones, Alli shakers, “detox” products, carb blockers, diet pills, metabolism boosters, HCG drops, and appetite suppressants, to name a few. I could tell you why each of these companies wants to sell you these products (some of them aren’t entirely snake oil, like ketones and appetite suppressants) but that’s a story for another blog post.
The point is, if your goal is to lose weight and prepare yourself for life after weight loss, you do not need these things. You can have keto success without the snake oil.
Step 2: Address your relationship with food
If you have an eating disorder, you need to be honest with yourself about it. Searching hashtags like #thinspo #ed #ana #thighgap are good signs that your relationship with food is not great.
Eating disorders include anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, and loss-of-control eating, to name a few. There are a ton of health implications that come with these disorders, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, tooth enamel decay, acid reflux, confusion, memory loss, mood swings, muscle injury, and intestinal injury, to name a few.
Eating disorders are serious, and you should take them seriously. If you have a disorder, unfollow anyone who triggers ED symptoms on social media. Start following accounts that deal with #edrecovery. See a therapist. Assess where your disorder stems from. Is it a parent? A friend? A celebrity? Bullies from school?
If you’re struggling with this, you are so much more than your disorder, and there is hope to fix it.
Step 3: Stop putting yourself down
I think people insult themselves because they believe these thoughts are true of other peoples’ impressions of them. I’m here to tell you that 9/10 times, they’re not true. Don’t believe me?
Go into public and ask 3 strangers if they think your negative opinion of yourself is true. Or, if they’re not based on appearances, ask your friends. I’m willing to bet their responses will surprise you (and contradict your own opinion).
When your brain tells you, “you are dumb” “you are worthless” “you are a waste of space,” write it down and cross it out, because it isn’t true. You are so conditioned to go down this path of self deprecation that at this point, you believe these claims, even when they’re unsubstantiated. What you think you are matters, so start telling yourself that you aren’t dumb, or worthless, or a waste of space. You are so many better things. Write down 10 things you like about yourself, and when your brain tries to tell you that you don’t have value, counter those thoughts with, “well actually, I’m _____ and I really like that about me.”
Step 4: Take care of yourself first
It’s really easy to get caught up in caring for others. I see it all the time, from parents who put all their energy into their kids, to people who devote all of their time to work or volunteer service, or adults who care for their elderly parents. It’s easy to lose track of yourself when you’re so intently watching others.
If you don’t take the time to make sure you are ok first, then you’re actually doing a disservice to those people/things you care about. This is the same concept as the oxygen-mask-on-a-plane rule. If the oxygen masks come down, fasten yours first, before helping anyone else. If you try to help someone else first, you may pass out (or worse) which may cause others to be without a mask, too.
So in your own life, you need to make sure you’re mentally and physically sound. This means that you need to do a check-in every once in a while to ensure that you’re not engaging in toxic behaviors and that you’re being honest with yourself about your well-being.
If you need to seek therapy or counseling, do it. If you need to take a personal day when times are tough, do it. Covering up a bleeding wound without stitching it up and applying the proper aftercare will only result in infection, and you should take the same approach with your self-care.
Step 5: Identify your “why”
Your “why” is the reason why you’re making whatever change you are planning to make. This may be for weight loss, weight gain, financial overhaul, or really for any sort of resolution/commitment. Your “why” must be so compelling that you are ready to change your life. Write this statement down in a place where you’ll see it so that you remember. Tell others your “why.”
I talk about the importance of building your “why” for keto success in my keto eBook, which you can find in my shop.
Step 6: Spend 5 extra minutes preparing for your day
If you make a habit of leaving your house without completely preparing for your day, even 5 extra minutes can help you feel better about your day. You could spend those 5 minutes doing anything that makes you feel better. If that’s a quick rinse in the shower, do it. Or, if it’s a face mask, do it. Maybe it’s some extra concealer and lip balm, do it. Even if you take 5 minutes to check the news, read a book, or light a candle and just watch it burn, then do it! Whatever helps you to find a little bit of inner peace before you get rolling, you need to do that thing.
Also, no matter what time you wake up, 5 minutes is trivial. It won’t kill you to wake up 5 minutes earlier. You can do this one thing for yourself.
Step 7: Do a mind dump and write a personal mission statement
This might seem corny, but putting your ideas on paper can and will make you feel better. What I do is create a “mind map.” I put my name in the center of the paper and circle it. From there, I write every worry I have on the edges of the page and circle each one. I try to group similar ones together. Literally write down every single thought/worry you have on this paper.
When you feel like you’ve written most of them down, create categories between the center and edges of the paper. Draw lines to each of your thoughts about those particular categories. Color code your thoughts in groups, like “things I can change now,” “things that will take planning,” “things that worry me,” and “things that I am excited for.”
From there, create a plan of action. Assemble a to-do list of things you can complete today or this week. Getting these things done and out of your brain will be immediate relief. Break down your big goals (the things that take some planning) into smaller pieces, and schedule those within a planner. Give yourself flexible deadlines for those things.
Write down your list of worries and try to decide if they stem from uncertainty about yourself or about external sources. Recognize that you can’t control external sources, so worrying about things that may or may not happen is wasted energy. Your extra energy will not change the outcome for those things. For worries about your own actions, decide if they’re minor issues that stem from actions. For example, I worry that I’ll spend too much for the month. To combat that worry, I unsubscribe from text/email coupons and stay out of the store as much as possible. If your internal worries are on heavy topics, like addiction or trauma, consider seeking counseling/therapy. They will help you.
Next, write a list of things that you are excited for and hang it up. Look at it every day so that you are reminded of your motivations and celebrations. You have things to look forward to. Make a new list every month, if these change a lot.
Finally, create your personal mission statement. Use things from your mind map to help write this. Be sure to include how others build you up in it. You don’t have to share this with anybody, but looking at this will help you to get an idea of who you are. Do not include negative thoughts/opinions in your mission statement. Here’s an example:
“I am a strong woman who is capable of doing anything I put my mind to. I care about the work I put into the world and devote a lot of time to it so that it’s the best that it can be. Because of that, I am appreciated by others and valued as a source of knowledge. I like to be active on social media and I try to give advice when I have the knowledge to offer it. Since I am always learning new things, and I try not to be hard on myself for it. I volunteer for local organizations to put love into my community. Because of that, others know that my work makes a difference and matters. I’ve found my pocket of happiness in a relatively conservative town. My family members, friends, and pets love me very much and support me no matter what.“
Step 8: Hydrate yourself (and make some cuts)
If caffeine and alcohol are causing problems for you, cut them back. Too much caffeine definitely causes my blood pressure to spike, which in-turn makes me irritable and exhausted. Make sure to drink water throughout your day, and if you have a hard time remembering to do it, set some phone reminders. They really help.
Some people are motivated by their fitbit to drink more water, and there are also health/fitness planners you can buy that have water logs printed into each day. Each person is different, so do what works for you.
Step 9: Date yourself
The reason that this one is step 9 is because it will take some self-esteem rebuilding before you may be comfortable doing this. “Dating yourself” means that you should literally go on a date alone. Get dressed up, go to a nice restaurant, and eat. Enjoy the experience of being alone with your favorite person, you. Spend your time reflecting on the things you love about yourself and fully enjoying the experience you’re in.
Sure, you may get a couple of strange looks for doing this… but I promise, the inner peace you’ll get from enjoying a great, uninterrupted meal… incredible.
Step 10: Lift others up, too
In order to receive, you must also give. This is a financial mantra (think donating in order to become wealthy) but it can be applied elsewhere, too. If you desire something, you must be willing to give it. I guess you could relate this to karma. You should go out into the world ready to accept and praise others for their skills and achievements. Tell your friend her latest work achievement is really special and you’re proud of her. Tell your spouse that you love his or her dedication to their passions spend time with them while they do those things. Invite good karma into your life.
Whew, that was a long one! What do you guys think? Have you done any of these things, and did they help you tackle toxic diet culture? Are there other things that you do to help? Drop a comment below.
Until next time.