Why I’m breaking up with the diet and fitness industry

Why I'm breaking up with the diet and fitness industry

Eat {real} food, not too much, mostly plants. – Micheal Pollan

That’s the simplest nutrition advice, ever. It’s the nutrition advice our ancestors would have given us. And still, we struggle.

The keto diet

The paleo diet

The South Beach diet

Intermittent fasting

Food combinations to avoid

Our language around food, around nutrition, around the thing that sustains our bodies, isn’t really our own. It is dictated by a diet and fitness industry that has no interest in actually making us either fit or healthy. Because if we were those things, the industry would collapse. And because being fit and healthy has nothing to do with weight or BMI or how slim or fat we are. And newsflash: you don’t need a gym for fitness either.

So, here we are, engaged in a constant battle with our bodies. Fighting to get them to look a certain way, a certain shape, a certain size – all to conform to society’s standards of good looks {because none of this has anything to do with health}. Even the times when we claim we are unaffected by anything society has to say about beauty, I ask, are we? Every time we pass judgement on a neighbour or an actress who has put on some weight, or hasn’t lost the baby weight; or pass shade on a fat person, calling them lazy or sloppy or unhealthy – we’ve bought right back into society’s definition of fitness and beauty.

As someone who has struggled with my weight all my life, these are things that have I have fought against for most of my life. It has taken me a while, but I no longer pass judgement on anyone’s weight or shape. Following the work of body positive activists {and looking at my own journey with dieting and weight loss}, I’ve seen that calories in, calories out is a false positive and that exercise and eating right don’t always equal weight loss. Our bodies are way more complex than that.

And while I find many fat people beautiful, even with their rolls of fat that society tells us are ugly and gross {they aren’t, it’s conditioning, and it’s because only one body type is glorified}, I still sometimes struggle to love my own rolls of fat.

But that view has to change. Because by hating myself, I am rejecting myself. And by equating fitness with weight loss I have constantly set myself up for failure. These are patterns I recognize, and it’s taken me a really long time to recognize them. Now I have to find a way to break them. And this is something I have been struggling with since a few years.

How to get in some movement – walking, dancing, yoga, swimming, running up and down the stairs – without expecting weight loss and without giving up on myself in a couple of weeks. That is my focus now. And I recognize that I still need some inner work here. So I’m going to spend some time with my art journal as I try to tease out the problem and find a workable solution.

What about you? Where in this whole cultural standard of the diet and fitness debate do you find yourself? And how do you motivate yourself to work out? Do tell me in the comments!

Posted in Opinion pieces.

18 Comments

  1. I’ve been in both sides. As a skinny underweight kid to a healthy adolescent and young woman to a fat person whom my grandchildren refer to as Pudge.
    I have done every diet , tried walking , running , gymming , yoga , rubbing my tummy , positively affirming but find that NOTHING works .
    The only times I’ve lost weight as an adult is when I’ve had dengue and now when I’ve had recurring diarrhoea for the past one month.
    It’s hard trying to feel great about yourself when every year you throw out clothes that no longer fit or make new blouses for old saris
    But now at 61 I don’t care. I’ve seen old people dramatically lose weight, shrink and become easy to carry corpses so I know sooner or later I’ll get there
    Till then I’m not going to waste time and energy on foolish things like how I look or what I eat. I love my food and I love myself and the way I look so I don’t really care anymore!

    • Recurring diarrhoea sounds horrible! Hope you’re better now.

      I believe life is too short to let anyone else tell us how we should live, what we should eat, and how we should move. I think it’s up to each one of us to enjoy our food without guilt and without letting a weighing scale or a measuring tape determine our worth.

  2. Over the years I realised that my body type was way different than others and my needs will be different than others. I used to try stuffing myself with food so that I would put on some kilos. It’s only since a few years now that I have been admiring myself the way I am–the way my Creator made me.
    I don’t follow any diet, but eat to fill my belly and make sure I am healthy. I also don’t believe in not eating carbs at night or whatever weird ideas the diet industry puts in our heads. I just make sure I eat healthy, home cooked food every 3 hours so that I don’t become anaemic or suffer from lightheadedness because of fatigue. Moreover, at 46, I wish to stay healthy and not “slim and trim” so as to fit in with the crowd or be called “gorgeous”. I know my health and I have learned to take good care of my health without following the lessons from the fitness industry.
    I practice yoga for 30 minutes in the morning and go for a 30 minutes evening walk and I feel good. And, whenever I feel exhausted, I review my daily diet plan and make changes so that the weakness is replaced with energy.
    Don’t bother about what the dieticians say, Shinjini. It’s your body, and you know it better than they do. Eat right, indulge in junk food as and when you feel like it and exercise as per your body’s capabilities. And, be happy!

    That’s all I will advice you to do, coz that’s what I follow, too!
    Hugs!

    • Such sensible advice, Shilpa. This is the kind of message that needs to go out much more than the diet and exercise nonsense that is given prime space on bookshelves and websites. Everyone’s body reacts differently to food and exercise; plus the external stimulus like emotions, stress, etc also play a role in how our body stores fat. Much more important than fitting into social stereotypes is accepting ourselves and feeling good in our bodies. I know many fat women who, despite having aches and pains and immune diseases are happy and in love with themselves, their bodies, and their lives. Their stories have been such a breath of fresh air for me.

      I pretty much follow the first two things – eating right and indulging in junk food occasionally. I’ve finally got the needle moving on exercise. It’s early days, but this time I’m hopeful that I’ll be stick to this routine!

  3. Shinjini, I am on a similar boat as you. I have tried everything from gyms to yoga to walks. But, I am unable to stick to any one thing. Having a sweet tooth adds to my misery. But now, I don’t care about weight loss, I worry about being healthy. I just ensure that there is some movement in my daily life. It could be a walk, playing badminton with my sons or some yoga. Being healthy and flexible is more important than weight loss. So, the first advice of ‘Eat {real} food, not too much, mostly plants. – Micheal Pollan’ is really the only advice to follow.

    • I agree! My focus is also on fitness and health. I spend long hours standing while I paint, and that’s not an ability I want to lose as I age. Hence I have to crack the movement angle of this. I have the food angle down – I’ve stopped bothering about calories and feeling “guilty” food or classifying it as “good” or “bad”. I just enjoy what I eat. I’ve also started yoga thrice a week. Here’s to sustaining it!

  4. Agree, fitness shouldn’t be weight loss. Fitness is a lifestyle. All those fad diets make us forget that all bodies are different. What works for others many not work for us. We need to understand and appreciate our body and find something that would make it healthy. Good luck… Hope you find your solution soon.

    • Yes. I’ve tried a lot of things that have worked for others, but none of them have worked for me. I’ve switched to eating the food that makes me happy, and that makes me feel good. I’ve recently managed to find a good yoga instructor, so fingers crossed!

  5. Yes! perfectly put. Enjoy your rolls as I do mine. Eat drink and be merry. Life is too short to waste it on useless fitness and health programmes that are more money making fads.

  6. It is frustrating when we view weight loss as being equal to healthy. When I tried to get healthy and fit some years ago I changed my mindset and tried to focus on being healthy as opposed to just focussing on the numbers on the scale. Sure I still weighed myself because I was overweight and needed ot be a certain weight for my height and to prevent certain health issues. I eat almost everything in moderation and exercise doing what I love – strength training. Ironically, I am healthier and happier with myself. I still occasionally weigh myself but not crazily. And I’ve never followed a ‘diet’ because none of them work in the long run

  7. I’m trying not to think about it at all, this weekend. I am right there with you, though! Fortunately, I’ve never really been on a fad diet; it’s just that sometimes, I’m more mindful of what I eat and how I move than others. I need consistency and a bit of self-discipline that I seem to be lacking, for the moment, and I’m not sure why. Do you think art journaling would help me? Maybe just plain old journaling, in my case…

  8. You wouldn’t believe I have a similar post sitting in my drafts.
    I couldn’t agree more. Weight, health and fitness and three different things and one cannot just equate one to another. I eat everything in moderation, I exercise, I haven’t lost any weight but I feel good. In my mind, that is important.
    I loved reading your post. It was as if you spoke my mind 🙂

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