• Lauren Feder

New Year, New Diets: Saying Goodbye to Restrictive Resolutions

Each year, as the winter holidays approach, family members and close friends prepare to sit around a table of food with the purpose of connecting and enjoying company. Unfortunately, for many people, negative comments around food and body image damage the attempt to connect in the company of friends and family. Some of the common forms of harmful self-talk that I have heard loved ones or fellow students engage in include how they “can’t possibly finish everything on their plate!” or how they “feel like a whale,” while making problematic promises to “be good tomorrow.” I have repeatedly witnessed individuals I care about treat their food choices like moral impurities, and I can’t help but grieve the conversations I have missed out on due to instances of food shaming and socially motivated obligations to call one’s own plate outlandish in fear of others’ eyeing their portion.

While this experience is without a doubt common, I wonder why so many people accept these harmful comments as normal. During my time working as a grocery store cashier, I listened to customers feel the need to explain why they deserved their pint of ice cream or how they were going to have to make up for it the next day. Despite customers paying for their food in full and committing no shameful act, it saddened me to witness their immense feelings of guilt revolving their food choices.

Language used to determine the moral value of food demonizes food and is a testament to the often unassuming pervasiveness of diet culture. From brands that boast of their product’s low-caloric value to gym advertisements that shame bodies that don’t replicate the 1-2% of the population that look like an influencer, the pursuit of thinness has become a dangerously unconscious process that we internalize every day.

The coming of the new year is often accompanied by traditions of new personal resolutions. In middle school, I set out to learn a magic trick and floss more in the coming year. As I went to high school, I saw the new year as the ultimate Monday; a fresh start that reeked of aspirational weight loss. Today I look back at this phase in my life and cannot help but think that I wasted my time obsessing over resolutions filled with self-degradation.

I walked into the gym on January 1st and wondered why it resembled a can of sardines; packed and stinky. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I was no different than those around me. I was using the new year as an excuse to reinvent myself, change my eating patterns, and implement a workout regimen.

Despite my own experience of being entrenched in diet culture, I have learned to revise the way I approach the new year to encompass nurturing ambitions. This year, I hope to find balance and give myself enough rest. At times, this may happen to look like cooking nutritious meals and hiking, but I know deviating from these activities won’t instill shame. I know that feeling guilt for listening to my body’s needs is not healthy.

I undoubtedly think that the vast amount of the world’s population would be healthier by eliminating diets and by disposing of negative beliefs about people’s personal food choices. This culture’s drive for thinness prevents people from connecting with their friends, family, and themselves. Ultimately, weight loss does not equal health; just like there is a diversity of heights and shoe sizes, there is diversity in body shapes and sizes. As complex human beings, we don’t need to center our year around changing our bodies, we are more interesting than that.

If you have any suggestions or topics you would like me to cover in future blogs, feel free to email me: lhfeder@ucsc.edu

Stayed tuned for next month’s blog: The Harms of Diet Culture

Cover illustration by Reina Takahashi

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