Written by Meagan Gunnip, Graduate Clinical Intern and Clinical Support Specialist
Miracle diets. You’ve probably heard of them, and maybe you’ve even tried one. A miracle diet is that sneaky ad you see in the grocery store that promises to change your life right now. Diets often promise a boost in confidence, self-love, or even romantic relationships. Promising that type of “miracle” is exactly how diets—and eating disorders—hook you in.
When most people start a diet or begin engaging in disordered behavior, they feel empowered. They feel like they’re finally committing to something, like they’re bound to follow through, and like they are somehow “above” the rest of the world that still eats “junk food.”
While there are certainly people who have engaged in dieting and don’t get swept away like this, there are a lot of people who do. I mean, come on, a lot of us have been there. Especially if you’ve dealt with an eating disorder or disordered eating.
A lot of us have into the gym in our new work out gear and felt pretty cool for being “healthy,” and “fit.” Maybe we’ve even felt that renewed sense of hope and power that comes on a Monday when you say “this time, I’m really doing it.”
But here’s the truth–no diet can give you the power it promises. No work out class or million mile hike increases your worth like diet culture will try to tell you. While starting a new diet or preaching about your “clean eating” might make you feel invincible, smart, and cool, it’s not actually sustainable—and sometimes it’s not even healthy!
If we’re consistently deriving our value from the foods we eat or the workouts we do, what happens when things change? How will you feel about yourself when you do eat that “forbidden” food? What happens if you don’t lose the weight you intended to lose or you don’t feel any better by cutting out whichever food group you chose?
And by no means is this blog post meant to deter anyone from caring for their health. Exercise is important and veggies are great, but we can’t survive solely on kale…eventually you will miss a workout or eat a food that your diet or eating disorder has labeled as “forbidden.”
When this happens, people often end up finding themselves in a cycle of restricting and bingeing—often filled with shame and guilt because their body and brain are fighting. While their thoughts are geared towards restricting, their bodies are doing everything possible to get the necessary fuel. This can lead to health risks and an even worse relationship with food and body.
We aren’t meant to exist on rigid and restrictive diets, and we aren’t meant to tie our worth to the number of miles we can run.
When diets, exercise, food, and body become so much a part of our identities, we’re setting ourselves up for extreme disappointment when we finally realize that our fleeting feelings of power and coolness and fitness are just that: fleeting.
While focusing on your diet or workout might momentarily make you feel strong and confident and powerful, it’s likely being used as a way to distract from the other things that are hard to look at.
Eating disorders creep up in a desperate attempt to numb. They serve as a temporary band-aid over whatever other issues are going on in someone’s life. Maybe it’s anxiety, grief, depression, trauma, you name it! An eating disorder (or disordered eating) is merely a way to stay out of those uncomfortable feelings.
Sometimes an eating disorder can be like a “get out of jail free” card. In any moment, any situation where you feel uncomfortable or unworthy or insecure, retreating into a diet or an eating disorder can feel extremely comforting—almost like it serves as protection.
But that doesn’t last. It never does.
And dieting can be similar: it might be a way to escape the uncomfortable moments of feeling. People often reach for diets in times of transition, times of uncertainty, times of feeling not good enough.
Tough times are tough. That’s why we reach for things to help.
The point of this post, though, is to remind people that diets (or EDs) don’t help. Losing X pounds won’t make your relationship with a partner any healthier. They won’t make you feel less anxious, and they certainly won’t help you love yourself.
It might feel that way at first. You might be reading this and thinking “well, she’s definitely never had success with a diet if she thinks they don’t improve confidence.”
And you’d be right. I’ve never had success with a diet because the first diet I started became an eating disorder (as they do for a lot people). And that process–as terrible as it was–made me realize that no external change in my life would ever make me love myself.
That was an internal change.