Worth Your Weight

August 21, 2009

The Siren Call of Dieting

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 8:41 pm

image borrowed from www.timboucher.com

[Trigger warning for brief mentions of dieting and calories]

I was recently given some photos of a birthday dinner I attended. Everyone looked so great. Then I came across one of the pictures I was in. I won’t lie to you. I cried. My stomach, my upper arms, my chin — just ugh. After experiencing numerous times the shock and surprise of looking *smaller* in old pictures than I felt at the time, I was disappointed to feel the opposite when confronted with these current pictures.

My first reaction was to start a diet. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been strongly convinced for over two years in my fat acceptance beliefs (I understand two years is not all that long really), and here I was reverting right back to my pre-FA mind set. I haven’t started a diet…yet. But I’m afraid I will. I have calorie-counted a couple of days since then. Not restricting, but just tallying up. I still write down everything I eat, which is probably evidence of disordered thinking. The totals did not leave even any room for dieting unless I truly want to go the starvation route. Actually, it’s hard to argue that all diets aren’t experiments in starvation anyway.

Well, problem number one with my temptation to diet is that I promised myself I wouldn’t (see number 7). I hate when people break promises to me or lie to me. I certainly don’t want to do either to myself. I lost an organ because of dieting. It’s commonly believed the organ is an unnecessary one, but let me tell you, not having it has affected my digestion and as odd as it may sound, my ability to live normally to a certain extent. (If it sounds odd, just talk to someone with IBS or Crohn’s disease.)

The second problem with wanting to diet is a major tenet of the fat acceptance movement and one I agree the evidence supports completely: diets don’t work. Even if I didn’t believe one whit in any aspect of FA, why would I logically engage in an activity that has a 95 percent chance* of failing (some studies contend it’s a 98 percent chance)? If my desire is to lose weight, why would I do something that 95 times out of 100 will result in not only failure but in accomplishing the exact opposite? Rational thinking would tell me those odds are terrible. It’s just astonishing how often losing weight is prescribed in this society (by medical professionals but, more often than not, by laymen) when it’s an endeavor practically guaranteed to keep the dieter at the same weight or even make them fatter!

The last (for now) problem I have with my urge to diet is that it’s an unhealthy practice. I just finished reading Breaking the Diet Habit: The Natural Weight Alternative, and while it’s old (from 1983), there’s a lot of evidence discussed about just how detrimental dieting is to one’s health. Something not surprising to anyone who’s ever dieted: dieters are in a constant state of stress. Another non-shocker to those of us aware of FA and/or HAES: dieting (in some cases permanently) damages the body’s internal cues of hunger and satiety. I’ve long thought that the missing piece of the equation “fat = unhealthy” is fat*dieting = unhealthy. Breaking the Diet Habit is great at pointing out that the only reason fat is even in the equation is that fat people are more likely to diet. Thin people do, too, but not as prevalently. I can’t endorse the book wholeheartedly because they seem to ascribe all eating “misbehaviors” to dieting behavior whereas I think overeating and emotional eating are sometimes also variations in normal behavior by normal (i.e., non-dieting) people.

So basically I feel like the promise of being thin and all its entitlement — as achieved by dieting — is the sirens’ call. The fact that dieting is unhealthy for you and ultimately doesn’t work for 95 percent of those who attempt it *and* oftentimes results in weight gain is your ship crashing against the rocks as you tried to get closer to listen to the sirens’ song.

I also recently read Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann. It’s old, too (1999), but *so* good. I cannot recommend it highly enough. By far the funnest FA book I’ve read yet. I’ve been trying to do a suggestion I found there with these birthday party pictures. I’ve been trying to look at them and not think negatively about myself and find the good. Trying to desensitize or resensitize or I’m not sure what. I’m actually over being bothered by my stomach and arms. I’m still working on the chin.

I feel terribly vain for thinking all of this and then posting it, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a vanity issue. The confidence I’ve been building for the past two years as a fat person just got terribly shaken by those pictures. For me, the issue got complicated because my first instinct was to diet. I’m still trying to fight that and stick to a more HAES approach.

Here’s a quote I’ve been thinking a lot about from Breaking the Diet Habit:

The pressure on aspiring models to maintain a skeletal physique is legendary: fashion models are notorious for the nutritional abuse to which they subject their bodies. As difficult as it is for them, however, it is even more difficult for their public. Models, after all, are intended to set standards. When even the skinniest segment of the population has trouble adhering to the ideal, there is not much hope for the rest; yet the ideal, however unrealistic it may be, remains in force, forcefully.

 *I’ve seen in the past commenters questioning where this figure comes from. This is where: International Journal of Obesity 13, number 2 (1989), pp. 123-136, F. Kramer et al. “Long-term follow-up of behavioral treatment for obesity: patterns of weight regain among men and women.”


  1. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I experience similar emotions very often. When I see a photograph of myself, I feel that I no longer look like myself.I’m forty-three years old now, so I realize this will happen more every day I have left on this earth. Anyway, I try to tell myself that this is just the body I’m in while I’m here. I’m lucky to be healthy, etc. I hope you’ll feel better soon.

    Comment by rhondaroo — August 21, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

  2. Here is a Shapely Prose post that might help:

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    Comment by DessertFirst — August 21, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  3. I appreciate your advice, both rhondaroo and DessertFirst :)

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 21, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

  4. Ditto the support here. I recently had my University ID picture taken and, while I know that those pictures NEVER turn out well, I’m having the exact same reaction that you did. Luckily, I have to feed a very picky boyfriend and we’re on a tight budget, so going the diet route would be tough for me to do even if I wanted to (which I don’t for the exact same reasons as you). Just know that we’re here with you and we support you!

    Comment by EpicInBetweenie — August 22, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  5. WYW,

    I can so relate to this. I’m just beginning to accept my weight after years of worrying, trying to eat less, and never getting any thinner. Yesterday I was taking pictures of myself to test a new digital camera and all I could see was my face and how fat I thought it looked. It was depressing. As long as I don’t look at pictures, which clearly add 10 pounds to a person, I’m fine. But pictures send me over the edge to writing down all my food items and obsessing again. I think about my age, how I’ll never be thin again (as if I was a better person then. I wasn’t) and all manner of mind games. I sympathize and hope you can regain some equilibrium about it all. Blessings!

    Comment by LaughingMedusa — August 22, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  6. “at the same time it doesn’t feel like a vanity issue.”

    It’s not.

    It’s just vilified as one.

    It is a great metaphor, though.

    Comment by littlem — August 22, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  7. EpicInBetweenie, LaughingMedusa,
    Your support means so much. Thank you! Actually putting this post together helped more than I realized it would because re-reading through the information in the articles I linked to really helped drive home the uselessness of dieting and the real harm it causes.

    “It’s not.

    It’s just vilified as one.”

    That is an eye-opening take, truly. I’m going to have to think more about why it’s vilified and do some research to get my head around that.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 22, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

  8. Oogh. Nothing like a bad picture to shake one’s confidence. I so hear you.

    If it helps, try to remember that everyone takes a crummy picture from time to time. There’s a reason professional photographers go through tons of film in a single shoot – because a lot of them are going to turn out to be duds.

    I didn’t actually used to believe this, but then I got a digital camera and witnessed it for myself. I’ve tried, since then, to be a lot more willing to get in front of a camera. If nothing else, I figure it improves my odds of having a decent picture taken. :)

    Comment by Thorn — August 22, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  9. Good point, Thorn.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 22, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

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