I’ve been trying to break up with my other half for years. Our relationship started to flourish when I was 21 years old. I was experiencing overwhelm and uncertainty about who I was at the time, albeit having an incredible group of friends, living a fun filled life that was for the most part, euphoric.
The relationship was great for a few months. But then it started becoming something that I was afraid to interact with. It wasn’t working then, and I know it isn’t working now.
We aren’t good for each other and I become my worst self when we are together. I shame myself into thinking I am too weak to end the relationship because who would I be outside of it?
But alas, fighting over something obsolete like who would get the last snack bar really isn’t worth trying to push something that clearly isn’t working after this many years.
Yet our relationship has become a habit. Love lingers, but it’s a different kind of love. One that is driven by addiction. I’m not sure that I will feel safe when I end it, so I’m still here, enveloped in the habit.
This is the relationship I am in with dieting.
I wouldn’t be in it, if it weren’t for all the promises I had been made by the diet world; that becoming a thinner version of myself would make me more worthy. More desirable. More successful. It’s relentless. It harbours the feeling within me that I need to force something that isn’t working; therefore failing myself.
When I first started my relationship with dieting, it was like being chased by a guy I wasn’t interested in; but before I knew it, I had fallen in deep.
This all started at the same time I was dating a human. He (we’ll call him Danny) was sweet and cute and I loved my time with him – for the most part. There was one issue though. He always picked at my appearance.
One afternoon I remember driving to my parents place for dinner. As we were passing a bakery, I pulled in to grab a bread roll to munch on because I was too hungry to wait another hour to eat. After I took my first bite he asked me why I was eating it if we were just about to have dinner. I mean, why does one eat? To sustain oneself? To fill an emotional void? To surprise, surprise eat because one is hungry? I said “I’m hungry babe!”. Just as we were pulling into my parents driveway, he asked, “Don’t you think you have put on a bit of weight?”, a sheepish grin on his face, as if to say I love you but I’m doing you a favour.
The one comment that seemed to easily roll off his tongue, hit me like an absolute steam train. I knew it, but at that point, I didn’t need him to point it out; let alone shame me into eating because I was hungry.
I’m not sure which relationship came first. But they certainly co-existed for quite some time and after the bread roll comment, I found myself getting anxious eating certain things in front of him. I specifically remember monitoring my consumption of Natural Confectionery dinosaur jellies because I thought he might suggest I was eating too many sweets. And who cares if I was!
What was he afraid of?
Danny and I ended our relationship shortly after. I am happy that we left on good terms (as I always do), but am ashamed that I let his comments infiltrate my ability to be happy with who I was, no matter what. I can’t say that he is the reason I continued my relationship with dieting, but he was certainly a big piece of the puzzle. A puzzle of which the pieces are self-doubt, an endometriosis diagnosis, the fashion industry; a puzzle still laid out on my dining table with missing holes to fill.
I have worked in the fashion industry ever since I was 20 years old. I loved every bit of it, but at times, hated how it made me feel. I grew up adoring fashion; it enabled me to express myself in a way that I felt comfortable. I was my own stylist, designer, muse. When I started working in the industry I found myself gradually losing layers of self-confidence, especially being on fashion shoots or working on publicity for a brand who only wanted to shoot emaciated white women. This is all part of the system. I know models who feel ashamed they got caught up in it too.
My relationship with my body was a huge factor as to why I felt the need to constantly be on a diet, striving to whittle myself down to something smaller as if that would make me more desirable, as if nourishing my body with whatever it asked for wasn’t more important. I remember trawling through magazines week after week searching for hot diets of the minute – ways to shred in short amounts of time. During this process my subconscious attached to the idea that the opposite sex idealised a thin body, and largely judged a body that wasn’t.
It’s murky trying to understand how society became obsessed with smaller bodies. Diet culture masks itself as health and perpetrates it further, preying on vulnerable people.
I was monitoring my food consumption like it was a religion, ashamed, knowing this deprivation was not serving me, but I’d become too obsessed to be reasoned with.
Growing up in a European and Middle Eastern household, food was medicine. My grandparents were always feeding me, my emotions. So challenging my love of food in order to diet and look a certain way also made me feel like I was shaming them and how they brought me up – to be grateful for all we have because others are not given such opportunities.
Diet culture is pervasive but is especially predicated on diminishing women and those in marginalized bodies.
“Fix what you have.”
But why do I need fixing?
Do I need to lose weight because it will benefit my health? If not, there is simply no answer to this question.
Since when does someone have power over me and how I feel about my body?
I feel shame that I got stuck in the cycle and that it is very much a habit now, something I easily do without thinking. But staying in this relationship is not serving me, or any other woman who feels the need to mould herself into ideals her partner; or society, has of her.
The habit is hard to break. But then I take a step back and see how ridiculous it is that I am shamed about ‘eating too much’ or being an undesirable number on a scale. How dare diet culture make me believe that this sums up my worthiness?
In the rapidly changing space in time that we are in, I want to let this relationship go and focus on building only healthy relationships. Dieting is a dead end and feeling guilty about choosing to eat something because my body feels like it is a chapter in my life that I am finally turning the page on. But it will take time. Just as it takes time to release yourself from a human relationship you know isn’t serving you.
I have a message for anyone who has never been on a diet but thinks they need to be.
Please give it a second thought.
When it comes to eating, try to dis-associate yourself from feelings of guilt. If you’re a dieter, I know this is hard. Try to tune into what your body feels like, within reason.
Our bodies need to be nourished.
Never deprive yourself, because in this moment, you have a choice.
Look in the mirror and be proud of what looks back at you. Though, you will have days that you are not. Let them be.