I learned a new term yesterday: diet culture.
Often combined with the word “toxic.”
Toxic diet culture.
It was an unsettling lightbulb moment for me. You mean there’s a term for how I’ve been living since my early teens? And it’s bad? You mean jumping from diet fad to diet fad, yo-yo dieting, and the restrict-binge pendulum aren’t actually good for me? Well, sure, when you put it like that…
I don’t think my experience of chasing diet culture is unique. I know I’m not alone in placing too much weight on my, well, weight. How many of us measure our worth by the number on the scale? The lower the number, the higher your value! If the number is lower than you expect, then you get to be accordingly happy today. If it’s higher… you’d better berate yourself for being a bad disciple of diet doctrine.
Why. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why doesn’t my heart believe what my eyes see—that I’m not ugly, that my worth is not measured by pant size or tabulated by units of stretchmark?
In my group therapy program this week (not for body image or disordered eating issues, although that may be on the horizon), I learned about the Best Friend Technique for challenging and reframing unhealthy thinking. This technique asks you what you would say to your best friend in a similar situation. Most of us are so much more loving and compassionate to a best friend—hell, even to strangers—than we are to ourselves.
And it’s so true. If I were talking to you, whoever you are, instead of myself, what would I say? I would tell you that you are beautiful. That your imperfect body is okay. Good enough. I would tell you that, no, it’s not necessarily “bad” to want to lose a few pounds or many, or to make dietary changes or other healthy lifestyle tweaks. That’s not bad. But it does not determine your worth as a person.
And whatever “weird” thing your body does that you think makes you unattractive somehow? I’m SURE my body has done it too.
Unless it has to do with man-parts. In which case substitute me for a male human of your choice.
The point is, we’re all a lot less weird and alone than we think. The parts you dislike are not actually all that dislikeable from the outside. Stretch marks and cellulite. Acne and scars. Frizzy hair. Flat hair. Big nose. Small nose. Short toes. “Thin.” “Curvy.” Short. Tall. Old. Young.
These words… they are just words. They are not synonyms for who you are.
You are so much more than the individual parts you dislike. And if the sum of those parts translates in your mind to a number on the scale, then you are worth MORE than that number, not less.
Do I extend myself the same compassion that I am heaping onto you? No. But I’m trying. I hope you will, too.