And Live a Happier Life
Written by Travis Panzini
You did it.
You hit your goals, got in shape, and you feel great. But with your accomplishment’s behind you, it’s seems like you’re stuck in this pattern forever!
Breaking free of diet culture is not easy, but it is absolutely possible. Besides, you’re pretty good at hitting goals so far anyways, aren’t you?
The Appeal of Diet Culture
It seems like everyone and their hamster is on a diet these days. At work, school, and among friends, everyone is willing (and not shy) about letting you know what diet they are on and how it’s going for them. Naturally, they’re excited that they have made a positive change in their life and want to talk about it to no end. Believe me, I’ve been there too.
With the world around you basically screaming some sort of diet at you, it’s tough not to join the bandwagon. So, like many others you adopted a new lifestyle and worked your ass off to make your health dreams come true.
So, What Now?
I’m not sure how the realization hits others, but I know for me it was just the weirdest experience. At the time, I had been doing Intermittent Fasting, cutting out dairy, mindfully counting calories and hitting the gym more frequently. It just became my routine really, just every day, regular life.
One day it FLOORED ME. After about a year and half of being completely immersed in this lifestyle, it finally hit me.
WHEN THE HELL DOES THIS END?
Why in God’s name am I sitting here on a friggin Friday afternoon counting my calories, trying to mentally prepare for how (and what) I was going to eat at the restaurant I was going to with my girlfriend later on. Mind you, this isn’t a passing thought, this is the “I’m not even present at dinner because I’m making my plan on how to resurrect myself after this meal” type of thinking. Suddenly, it all just seemed so nuts to carry on life like this.
Fighting Your Ego
If this sounds like something you do, you’re not alone my friend. After talking to others about this (and basically crying to my girlfriend over it, real manly I know), I realized that it was more abundant than I thought. It basically seems like we don’t want to give ourselves a break. You’ve worked so damn hard to get where you are, listened to countless people’s compliments, and read so many damn blog posts about dieting that IT HAS BECOME YOUR IDENTITY.
And what the hell is scarier than losing your identity? Well besides snakes, this has proven to be (to me at least) one of the scariest concepts. It’s a complete mind-f.
So, you continue on, counting calories to no end, obsessing over what you eat, and stressing out over going to the gym enough. All to just appease your ego. Truth is, as hard as it is to hear, this isn’t you.
You are not your calories.
You are not your workout routine.
You are YOU and no external or material forces can change that.
You’re funny, beautiful, kind, and just waiting to regain this sense of self.
Now, I’m not a life coach and I’m not going to sit here and preach to you, but you can fight your ego and bring back your life. This in no way, shape, or form means to run out and grab 4 pizzas and ice cream yelling I’M GOING OFF THE RAILS down Main Street in a silk robe. This didn’t work for me, and it won’t work for you.
No, no, no, no I didn’t actually do that, but you get the picture, there has to be balance. Like every mom has said 100000x for hundreds of years, “everything in moderation.” I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this, but it’s honestly pretty true. Sure, you can continue to be conscious of what you eat and go to the gym, but this doesn’t have to rule your life. You can still wear your sleek gym outfit and tote around your protein shaker all day, but you can also eat a friggin burger if you want to like many other people. Cause guess what?
THAT’S NOT GOING TO DEFINE YOU EITHER.
Yeah, yeah, yeah you are what you eat they say. Physically sure, and eating healthy will probably make you feel better in general. But asparagus is not a personality trait Phil. So yes, you can eat that bag of Doritos without planning it a week in advance, and while you’re at it you can light up the room with that humble ass attitude of yours. Imagine if asparagus was a personality trait? Like “oh you know that Martha? She is just so asparagus.”
Breaking Free of the Diet Culture Mindset
Personified vegetables aside, if this sounds like you and you’re open to some suggestions then let’s take a look at a few different strategies out there for breaking free of diet culture. I’m going to try my best to make this list as realistic as possible without sounding like every other damn blog post out there. Eat mindfully, blah, blah, blah.
1. Eat Mindfully
HA! Yup, we’re hopping on the bandwagon here. Now, I’m not talking about becoming a chicken breast sommelier and describing mouth-feel to your significant other while you eat tuna fish. Sure, you should be present while you eat and focus on eating and not scrolling through your phone. But you should also focus on food that tastes good. Screw the plain chicken breast, make a stir fry with some kick ass sauce and ACTUALLY ENJOY IT.
2. Change Your Reasoning
Why do you have the habits that you do? If you started your diet to lose weight or get in shape, then your reasoning for eating healthier was probably just to accomplish that goal. But once that goal is hit, it’s time to change that reasoning. Try changing the mindset to something along the lines of “I want to feel good today.” Nothing crazy here, just a conscious decision to say “hmmm, I really need to be on the ball today, so maybe I’ll have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast instead of a sugary cereal”. But hey, later on in the week you got nothing going on and feel like having some cereal? Treat yo self.
3. Be Vocal
Like I said earlier, none of us are alone with this, so be vocal about it! Heck, the whole reason I’m writing this is because it’s helping me work through the struggle as well! Talk to your friends, gym partner, significant other, or whoever about your thoughts. They don’t have to be your therapist, but if you’re having a rough day let them know! Maybe they’re feeling similar and you can work through it together. Maybe they can offer another perspective. Or maybe they can give ya a good ol’hug and let you know that YOU’RE ALLOWED TO BE HUMAN. You never know what other people are going through, and just to bring it up might not only be helpful to you, but to others as well.
4. Take Small Steps
Take it easy chief.
Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling into old habits. Be easy on yourself. Remind yourself that being conscious of this is half the battle. Remember, you’re not completely re-defining your diet. Instead you are just trying to incorporate some dang flexibility (and hopefully some enjoyment) into your diet. Allow yourself to mix it up so you’re not obsessing over when you get to eat a “bad food” and you actually enjoy a dining out experience for once!
5. Stop Identifying Foods as "Good" or "Bad"
Food is food. Stop tallying the number of “good” and “bad” foods you had that day and using it as a basis for your self-worth. This complicates your relationship with food and yourself. Ever find that you’re punishing yourself after a “bad” day of eating? Yup, me too. It’s like you’ve created this unspoken rule in your head about what’s acceptable and that there is this specific threshold you’re not allowed to go over. This imaginary threshold begins to control you, and passing it seems to be like jumping into the unknown. But as dumb as it sounds, it’s not the end of the world is it? I am sure you have much more complex problems than that bagel you mindfully had this morning!
So trash the “good” and “bad” titles. Try using less abrupt titles and try looking at foods as healthier and not as healthy. It’s definitely a similar complex, but it eliminates the extremely bold and negative association of the word “bad.”
6. Accept & Love Yourself
Seriously though! Allow yourself to be happy and don’t base it around your diet! You are not your diet, in fact, you’re way more awesome and definitely more interesting.
Let’s face it, social media makes it difficult these days to love yourself. There are plenty of people out there that are showcasing their bodies, every calorie they consume, and each time they’re at the gym. It’s like a sledge hammer continuously knocking you in the head until you cave and start to get down on yourself.
And for God’s sake you probably don’t even know them or haven’t seen them since high school! Are you seriously going to let Debbie who you had one math class with in 8th grade control how you feel? Debbie’s not the one you’re waking up with tomorrow. You’re waking up with you and you can control what you choose to do and not do with your life. Screw Debbie, she’s not important.
Life After Diet Culture
I’m not going to lie; I am by no means an expert on nutrition or fitness. I, like you, have spent a significant amount of time studying/trying diets, researching nutrition/workouts, and trying to implement what I’ve learned into my life. Somethings work, while others seem to fall flat. This is merely a collection of my thoughts and experiences, coupled with some studying and brilliant colleagues.
As I stated earlier, I am writing this post as I try to work through the transitioning out of diet culture as well, and I can honestly say that these 6 points have helped me so far. Will that change? Maybe, but it will only lead to more strategies and tools that can be added to the tool belt.
All in all, there is a life after diet culture. You can live a happier, more flexible life that allows you to enjoy what you want without the guilt and stress, but still have all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
I would like thank the lovely Mariah for allowing me to contribute to this awesome blog. I have known Mariah for many years and have always been impressed with how she conducts herself as a professional. She has a wealth of knowledge on the health and fitness industry, so if this is your first time visiting her blog, be sure to check out her other posts!
Hi! To introduce myself, my name is Travis Panzini.
I’ve been a good friend of Mariah’s for the past few years and I’m looking to expand into the writing world! When I’m not researching health and fitness (or at the gym), I enjoy drawing/painting, spending time outdoors, and traveling! I plan on starting my own blog soon to discuss health and fitness topics, art, life, and just about anything else “blog worthy.” Thank you for letting me share some of my knowledge. I hope that you will check back in with me later!