Diet culture is a sneaky shapeshifter, and we continue to be concerned about how medicine has outsourced itself to the diet industry.
Last week we shared a conversation that Sirus, Dana and Hilary had about the new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatricians. We have been watching lackluster statements from leading organizations such as IAEDP, AED and NEDA come forward reinforcing what has always been true: the eating disorder world and the weight loss industry are in bed together and it helps no one.
Many eating disorder organizations invite o*esity researchers to be a part of eating disorder discourse. Eating disorder organizations have been known to prioritize researchers over clinicians, calling clinical experience and expertise merely “opinion”. We are disturbed by how many weight loss and eating disorder researchers will not acknowledge, include in their data reviews, or truly listen to the impact of their affiliation with weight loss. This is not scientific integrity. It is a manipulation of interests.
All of us, who have dedicated careers to caring for those with eating disorders and especially those who are mitigating weight stigma by practicing restrictive and disordered eating for weight control, have trouble holding the depth of manipulation and the harm that this corruption perpetuates. The loyalty to proving weight loss is helpful and possible is beginning to feel more compulsive than rooted in logic at this point. If it wasn’t rooted in capitalism, that is.
What does exist and is undeniable are the real and relevant stories from adults whose weight loss efforts and disordered eating began in childhood. And that is where we root ourselves. And this is where the eating disorder treatment organizations could root themselves – in listening, believing, and then advocating for fat people who suffer with an eating disorder. (We spoke about eating disorders on our local morning show, AMNW, this week. Watch here.)
Since the stories have been missing and/or largely ignored, we want to share them again.
When the Kurbo dieting app for children was released by WW (AKA Weight Watchers) several years ago, we asked people in our community to share their stories about early dieting and the impact of these interventions on their lives.
Read, feel and listen. These are not isolated incidents. This is how the weight loss industry contributes to eating disorders. We can and must do better.
* TRIGGER WARNING: for those of you in recovery, please know that these stories may be triggering. There are some mentions of calories, anti-fat bias, internalized dominance, weight stigma, weight loss, dieting and disordered eating. Your healing process deserves protection. Read at your own discretion.
“I was 8 when I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting. I had complained to my mom that I was having trouble making friends at school. Some of the other kids were bullying me. Not about my weight, but about other things. I was quiet and didn’t have great social skills, but my mom looked at my chubby cheeks and said “They’re teasing you about your weight, aren’t they?” Instead of supporting me, my mom became my biggest bully.
I remember shaking all the way to the meetings, begging my mom not to make me go. I’m not sure they actually even allowed me to join as an official member. I may have been too young, but they still prodded me onto the scale and gave me all the official merchandise that went along with a membership. I think I was signed up under my mom’s name. I sat and listened to women three times my age talk about how they had successfully lost two or three pounds by starving themselves.
Terrified of failure and humiliation, I immediately began obsessively restricting. I had to lose weight for those meetings, even if it meant starving. I remember going to school so hungry that my head was pounding and I felt sick to my stomach. I started missing school and going to the nurse’s office all the time. I don’t know if it was because of the stress or because I was just so sick from the disordered eating.
Weight Watchers was my entrance into disordered eating. It was the beginning of decades of restrictive eating, weight cycling, and hating myself.
The announcement that Weight Watchers is targeting kids as young as 8 is devastating to me. Weight Watchers was a source of terror and abuse in my childhood, and they’ve just announced an app specifically targeting children.” ∼M.W.
“I was 9 the first time my parents went against the advice of the medical community and put me on WW. Over the next decade, it became a cycle of various diets and then binge eating. At one point, when I was about 17, I began restricting to fewer than xxx calories a day and taking caffeine pills so I could have enough energy to go to the gym. I ended up eventually tearing the cartilage in my knee from working out so hard without proper nutrition.
I am now 29 and despite years of therapy and 6 months in a treatment program, I struggle with my relationship with food. I have had to come to a place where I can just accept my body as it is and focus more on what it can do for me. I’m trying to reframe my thinking so that I take care of my body rather than hating it and trying to force it to conform to social standards. At this point though, I doubt that I will ever have a normal relationship with food.
No child should ever be put on a diet! Teach them about the best fuels for their body and healthy movement. Do not teach them to restrict calories or try to work out to burn said calories. It is mentally and physically so damaging to be put through that while your brain and body are still developing. ∼C.
“I know firsthand the damage that diets, especially programs like weight watchers can do. I am in recovery from disordered eating after years and years of diets that began in adolescence. Slowly I am learning to love and trust and listen to my body. It has been a difficult process but full of discovery. Arriving at a place of deep trust and kindness with my body, and intuitive eating is very freeing and peaceful.
I was formerly a weight watchers member, attended meetings at their meeting centers, dangerously obsessed about the program and dealt with crippling perfectionism that was only heightened and made worse in the on and off again failed attempts to change my body and ignore its natural cues and instincts. I eventually lost a significant amount of weight at great peril to my own personal health and emotional well-being. My hair fell out. My menstrual cycle became irregular. I became extremely weak in muscle tone. Yet I was a WW “success story.”
I was petrified that I would gain the weight back, so decided to join weight watchers as a staff member and train to become a leader, which I did. I was later featured in their magazine, and lead large meetings within their at work program and in meetings centers. As a staff member you are required to have a monthly weigh in and be within your goal weight. Which at the time was in your BMI boundaries. Which does not take into account your body and its unique needs. So basically you would live in a state of on and off again binging for the good part of a month, and then frantically try to whittle away a few pounds to get in your BMI range before the corporate monthly weigh in. Staff members discussed and shared techniques like… Laxative teas, spitting into cups, extreme fasting, etc. all of which I regularly attempted.
The irony is not lost on me… I look back and shake my head at how brainwashed I was by this giant, money making body hating scam. I was standing in front of rooms full of ww members and reciting to them how weight watchers would help them lose weight and obtain the perfect life. Meanwhile, I was doing horrible things to keep my body in the success story image. Eventually, over time something clicked, I woke up and I was able to quit, exit the program forever, and seek professional help by way of an anti-diet body positive therapist and nutritionist.
Occasionally I will think back to those dangerous years and remember instances of parents bringing their young children, usually girls, into the meeting centers where they would sign them up, while the child hung their head in what looked like embarrassment, sadness and shame. They were never there long. Never engaged, always struggled, then would leave the program. Occasionally resurfacing again months or years later to attempt again.
I always felt like something was wrong, especially at those times. I too remember being forced into diets by a well-meaning parent, trying to somehow alter my naturally growing and changing body in adolescence. At a time that I should have been learning to communicate and listen to my body, and it’s beautiful evolving needs, I was learning to shut down those channels of communication and listening, disregard my body’s own natural cues for hunger and need for energy to sustain growth, and ultimately learned to read what somebody else said I should eat, and what I should weigh, and what I should look like. Instead of trusting my own wise body. I learned to betray it.
Now reading in the news that weight watchers has an app directed towards kids, shocks, disgusts, and saddens me. I would never allow my child to go through what I did. What ww is doing, is extremely dangerous for these young people, and will affect them their entire life long in extremely negative ways.
I strive to educate myself, learn and grow in my body wisdom, and share what I know with my young child. She will never know diets. She will only know body love, trust and kindness, and how to eat intuitively to serve her body’s own unique needs. All bodies are different.
All bodies are good bodies. No one, especially an app created by a money making corporate giant, should tell our children what to put in their bodies.” ∼Anonymous
“I was 8 when my mum put me on a diet with my younger sister who was 5 at the time. I spent my entire life dieting until the age of 16 when I stopped dieting and developed the diagnosis of anorexia. I was hospitalized the day after Christmas. All I remember was thinking “will my mum be proud of me now”. I was 17 and critically underweight. The problem was I had been dieting for almost 10 years and I had no idea how to eat, I didn’t know what it was like to eat without counting calories, or labeling food. I was taught to fear “bad” foods and only be happy with myself if I was skinny. Because that’s what would make me happy, being skinny.
I’m 24 now, it’s been so many years and I still don’t know how to eat. I get told off for not eating, and told off for eating “too much”. I’m 24 and I’m still struggling with what feels like a lifelong eating disorder.
“Thank you for asking for our stories. I, too, find the idea of WW indoctrinating children horrifying.
I put myself on a diet the summer after second grade. I was eight years old. I didn’t know much about nutrition then except that butter was “bad” so I refused to eat it. I restricted other things as well, sweets I think.
By the time I was 15 I had a textbook eating disorder, anorexia, but I was never diagnosed because of my BMI. In fact, various adults encouraged me to continue my behavior and congratulated me on my “will power.”
I’m 40 now. I’m done destroying my body to make myself smaller and more pleasing.” ∼S.K.
“I have been horrified to read about the Weight Watchers app for kids. I am 53 years old. My mother took me to Weight Watchers when I was 11. I was told I had to lose 54 pounds to get to my goal weight of 106. It’s amazing after all these years I still remember all the numbers. Literally 1/3 of my body weight at age 11.
It wasn’t long before I learned from my mother how to play the game and began the binge/restrict cycle. We would have nothing but diet iced tea for a day or two before weigh in. After weigh in, we would go to the grocery store and buy binge treats–candy, pie, cookies etc. At first the binge was just that night. Then it extended to the next day which meant a longer period of fasting before weigh in. Soon it was half the week in binge-mode and half the week fasting, the weekly drama of the weigh-in and what we could get away with and still lose some. The tears at times, the recognition of the group when a milestone was reached.
My mother eventually became a “lifetime member”–that should be the first clue that diets don’t work and that Weight Watchers is a scam. Thanks to you all and Christy Harrison, I have found intuitive eating and working toward peace with food. Thank you for your excellent post about the Weight Watchers App for kids. It is the best written of all of the criticisms I’ve seen.” ∼R.S.
“I don’t know if I was born sensitive but I do remember being a playful, outgoing and active young girl who loved dancing and singing and swimming at the beach. When I was about 6 years old , a family member started to molest me, intermittently and inconsistently but it changed me from deep within. I was on high alert all the time , listening for him , wondering when he would come to visit . Deep down in my body I absolutely knew that it was all wrong – it felt that way -but he would tell me “how special I was” and how this was just our little secret. I remember when he used to crawl into bed with me the feelings of terror, wrongness and confusion. I managed to work out a great way to deal with all these feelings – I learned to leave my body -I totally disconnected from all of the wrong and confused feelings that came along with his visits but I found a way to cope.
When I was 10 he left our home and the visits stopped but I felt confused and abandoned – why had he chosen another woman over me? I was meant to be special!
So to deal with it all I began to self destruct, I turned on myself, I hated myself, my body, these feelings ! The monster in my head grew bigger and bigger and I shrunk myself to try and disappear. I felt unworthy and ashamed and I hated my body. For the next 4 years I suffered through the clutches of anorexia, it was the only way I felt in control of my life, my feelings and my emotions . Coupled with an excessive and rigid exercise regime I used food and exercise to distract and numb myself from the feelings that I could not face.
Then I discovered alcohol and cocaine which gave me another way to soothe and numb my strong feelings. This would continue for another 10 years of hard partying, sleeping with many men and pretty much living “outside of my body”.
It all started to change when I was 28 , I booked myself into rehab to take cocaine out of the picture but the binge/purge cycle – food/alcohol/exercise would continue for another 10 years , During this time I married and had two children and it was the birth of my first born – my daughter that became the wake up call to look at my life and heal it . I needed to break the cycle of dieting , self destruction and numbing that was throbbing through the veins of my family history – for the sake of my children. And so appeared yoga , the medicine I so desperately needed. Along with a compassionate coach I began to unravel the stories of my life . It has been the hardest , most courageous , most painful journey through all the layers of the past 40 years, undoing, unlearning, recovering my truth and healing all the trauma and mental stories . On the journey I have learnt many things, the first being faith in myself to recover . Through yoga I have learnt to “feel” my body, to let go of shame and something “being wrong “with me , to trust myself and my feelings, to trust others, to be comfortable being uncomfortable , to meet myself “where I am right now”, to let go of diet culture (binge/purge cycle, excessive exercise, weighing myself, being anxiously busy). I am overall much more embodied and compassionate and empathetic towards myself and others. I have clear boundaries and follow the guidelines of intuitive eating and life enhancing movement. I studied to become a yoga teacher and now it is my biggest mission and vision to help others to heal and move through their own recovery in a body centered, kind and curious way .
Although it has been a hard and bumpy road, I would not change it for the world as it has given me the life skills to lead others to their own healing and truth , living from the inside out and not the outside in.
I am ever thankful for the support of the wise and nurturing woman I have met along the way , who have supported me through the bad days and believed in the goodness of me , even on the days when I did not. This has been the most beautiful medicine and I thank you deeply.” ∼T.C.
“I’m a 62 year old woman. I grew up in a family of (eventually) 9 kids. My father treated food as if it was a grand celebration and he occasionally encouraged his children to binge eat. I remember once he purchased dozens of boxes of cheap ice cream in a variety of flavors and encouraged all of us to grab a spoon and a box and eat until we were sick, any time, night or day. He fed us watermelon by the wheelbarrow load, straight out of the garden, held hot dog eating contests…
Because we lived on a small farm in Western Oregon, we had access to fresh fruits and vegetables, home grown meat, fresh unpasteurized milk and cream, and whatever the hunting and fishing for the year would yield. It kind of sounds ideal until you figure in my father’s violent upbringing, that he in turn brought to us. Being at the table was, at times, dangerous.
My mother had given birth to the 9 of us over a period of about 15 years. Of all the beautiful and delicious food she made for us, she was supposed to partake very little. Through this environment I learned that women were to sacrifice their lives in service of others and never expect anyone to reciprocate, or offer to take care of them, that taking care of themselves was the height of selfishness, that we should make life enjoyable and wonderful for others without ever expecting that it should be that way for us. At 8 I began to thicken up a little, and began food restricting, to “watch my figure”. Until I found the world of HAES 1 1/2 years ago I had spent my life weight cycling. I’m still in recovery but am doing well.
Thanks for the work you do.” ∼R.H.
“I’m responding to your request for stories about childhood weight stigma and dieting. When I was four years old (I know because we moved after that year) we went to see the pediatrician. He brought out the BMI chart to show my mother that I was “obese”. My mom, who had been struggling her whole life to downsize her body, couldn’t stand the news my pediatrician shared. A childhood of “you’d be so pretty if you lost some weight” led to a lifetime of insecurity and low self esteem. Fast forward to where I spent 15 years in an abusive relationship/ marriage because I don’t think I deserve any better. Having survived that, I now listen as my beautiful 10 year old son worries aloud that he is fat (as a pejorative) and I am desperate for a world in which he and I don’t have to work so hard to help him love himself. Fuck Weight Watchers. I know Weight Watchers. I watched my grandmother look to it for salvation all her life. I tried it myself multiple times and had to work through the guilt for “failing” at it when I “wasn’t strong enough.” I thank the universe for you and for Dana and Center for Body Trust and for all of you lighting the way through the darkness for the rest of us. Thanks for caring enough to ask for my story. As you rightly guessed, you’re the first person to whom I’ve ever told it.” ∼Anonymous
“I was 11 when my Mom first took me to WW, while I know it was more her issue with me than my issue with myself, it grew into a hatred of my body that has been lifelong. It’s a joyful moment when you work towards acceptance.” ∼J.F.
“My parents were very healthy, never made weight comments, and did everything right. Society, media (ESPECIALLY social media now!), and peers take over at a certain age. I dieted, and had body dysmorphia all through my teens and 20’s.” ∼K.M.
“My mom started taking me to WW meetings at 5. Still struggling with weight and body image issues every day 41 years later.” ∼E.A.R.
“I remember back when I was 13-14 my mom had cancer and I was going through a lot. I’ve always been on the fat side since I was about 7 or so, but my mom’s illness took a toll. I’m an emotional eater. One day my aunt came over and gave me a small notebook and told me if I count calories and lose some weight she will buy me a whole new wardrobe. After my mom died I never really kept in touch, for obvious reasons.” ∼T.R.
“Mom once pulled out the scale at my birthday sleepover…for *fun*. Grandmother recently told me I’d like myself more if I lost weight, so I guess that’s where my mom picked it up. It’s a terrible cycle that will stop with me. (Mostly cuz I ain’t having kids and will try to only be body positive around young people.) I binged and purged through jr. high and high school, then just binged, and now “overweight”. Some days it’s a struggle to look in the mirror and I am predisposed to obsessing over calories and steps (especially after being criticized), and others. I happily own my body and eat well and relax actively. I’m all for teaching kids about nutrition and healthy food habits and how to grow and cook their own food, but I do not support an app that made me so hyper aware of food equaling worth, that it helped me flip into a food obsessed mindset and left me unable to really enjoy food at all till my 30’s.” ∼D.L.
“I was encouraged to diet from when I was about 8. My mental health has suffered as a result, my weight has gotten worse, and I’m like one step from an eating disorder. Do not try to justify this. There is a way to keep kids educated about health practices without teaching them to fear food.” ∼L.S.
“I was 11 the first time my mother put me on a diet. I was 15 the summer of nothing but meal replacement bars and SoBe Lean for six weeks. The summer I turned 18, I dropped so much weight that my head looked too big for my body and my cycle stopped.” ∼S.H.
“My maternal grandmother (who lived with us) used to tell me that candy would kill me. My dad used to send sports equipment as presents, even though I was 100% bookworm and the only “sport” I enjoyed was swimming. My mother never talked about dieting for my sister or myself, but was always on one herself and she was the one who prepared food for the family. It was “common knowledge” in my childhood home that if you were fat, no one would want to date you (with the implication that being undateable was a fate worse than death). My body shape has always more closely resembled my father’s side of the family, who we weren’t close to geographically or emotionally. Since puberty I’ve carried most of my weight in my butt and bust. Because of my shape, it didn’t look like I was actually underweight, but I was. At 16, I was despondent when my belly was merely flat and not sunken in compared to my hip bones. My period would stop any time I went through a growth spurt. Around that same time my doctor told me that because my periods were irregular, I may want to prepare myself for the fact I might not ever be able to get pregnant. It’s amazing how much healthier I got once I stopped being afraid of letting my body occupy space and started listening to what it needed without judging those needs.” ∼S.H.
“I’ve been fat much of my life. I was on Jenny Craig at age 17. I was told I was too big at a lovely size 12 at 18. I was always told I wouldn’t be lovable, hireable, capable until….I was “healthy” (AKA skinny). I have hidden food, binged, cried, dieted, hated myself. Thankfully deep down I always loved myself too. For years I’ve “given up” on dieting because it doesn’t work. Yet felt guilty that I wasn’t dieting. That I wasn’t “working on myself” to be more “lovable, likable, acceptable” Now I openly claim I am done with diets. I am done attaching emotion to food. I choose what I eat sans emotion/guilt/self loathing. I am more mindful about what I actually want and need to nourish my body.” ∼J.C.F.
“I was 10 and just counting calories because my mom and sister were. I wanted to be included. Then I was 11 and my mom told me to “watch it”. I skipped breakfast and walked two miles to school every day. Then I was 12 and was bullied by my friends for being the fat one in the group. I didn’t eat during the day and binged when I got home. My whole life has been built around this notion that my body was wrong and that I had allowed it to be wrong and could change it if only I wasn’t such a lazy glutton. But I wasn’t. I was just hungry.” ∼M.B.K.
“I remember freshman year of high school sitting in math class almost in tears because I wanted my stomach not to protrude at all when I sat up perfectly straight. I was on Weight Watchers. I wasn’t very physically active so the calorie restriction wasn’t a huge issue. I felt so guilty if I didn’t have points left at the end of the day. And you know what I did with those points left over? On Fridays I would eat as much pizza as possible. I saw all these (to me) skinny people telling me they had to lose weight. So I felt very out of sorts with how different my body looked from theirs.” ∼N.N.
“My mom put me on Weight Watchers at 11. There was no setup for kids at the time, so I followed the plan for the smallest adult, minus five points. I didn’t put anything in my mouth without looking at the nutrition label and calories for the next 19 years. WHAT A WASTE OF A LIFE!” ∼K.W.
“My mom had me following WW when I was in grade school/jr. high. We had a scale in the kitchen and everything was weighed before we ate. By high school, my mom was telling me “there are plenty of other girls out there that are prettier, and skinnier than you, and if you don’t lose weight, you’ll never find a boyfriend.” I was on the swim/dive team every summer, did horseback riding year round, rode my bike or walked everywhere. It was never good enough for her. It took me more than 20 years to learn to love my body, just the way I am. I’m not skinny. I’ll never be skinny, but my boyfriend loves me and she can kiss my fat a$$…” ∼K.D.M.
“It wasn’t until this summer that I, as an adult at 26, realized the extent of my unhealthy relationship with food. I restrict, restrict, restrict until a few calories a day seems excessive. Then binge for days until it seems normal. I remember going on a diet as a kid, and constant comments about my weight. I wasn’t doing good unless I was exercising. I look back on pictures of me in high school-a skeleton, and still feeling “overweight” there. I remember stealing and hiding food. Once I got out and grew up, it got worse. There were days on end I ate nothing. There were days on end I ate two dinners and hid one from my S.O. My first three years teaching I survived off of coffee and whoever brought doughnuts or cookies to the lounge. Only now that I have recognized the problem can I understand that I will never be able to “diet” again without beginning those sick thoughts again either.
I now follow something called intuitive eating. It has taught me how to allow my feelings to guide my food choices in a much healthier way. No mental restriction. No worry. No scale. No measuring tape. It began so young.
It began so harmlessly. The results for 10 years were not harmless. They changed the way I looked at every calorie. They changed my ability to look in the mirror and say “I am enough just as I am.” This summer, I decided I can’t live like that any more. I am too important. And so are you.” ∼M.L.M.
“I watched my grandma do extreme tuna fish and nonfat cottage cheese diets from early childhood. Started dieting myself by 12 and doing fad diets, including Atkins, by high school. Was coerced into having the lap band by my extreme dieter grandma at 17 right after I graduated. I spent college starving and in WW because despite losing a lot of weight it was never enough. I threw up 70% of what went in my mouth. I was constantly dehydrated and exhausted. I’ve since had the band removed but I deal with long term GI complications from it. I’m still trying to recover from the eating disorder I developed post-surgery at 30 years old.
It’s. Not. Fucking. Worth. It.” ∼H.C.H.
“My mother took me to Overeaters Anonymous when I was about 8. I’m nearing 50 and still hate my body. She has started talking about my children’s bodies now and I have to distance them from her. (Ironically, she was the one who taught me how to comfort eat.)” ∼J.Z.
“I love her so much, but… my mom bought a size-too-small pair of jeans that she knew I would love when I was in 7th grade, and told me that when I could fit into them, I could have them. I dieted and exercised (in addition to gym class and marching band) and as I did, I’d sneak into her room and pull the jeans out of her closet and try them on, laying on the bed to suck in my tummy to try to get the zipper up. It took a while, but I eventually dropped the 10 or so pounds needed to fit into those jeans. I think I only wore them a few times before I put the weight right back on, and those jeans sat in my closet for years, taunting me with every pound I gained. And of course I gained! I was 11 years old and going through puberty! But the seed had been planted. I was fat. I had to do things to not be fat. And so began the cycle.” ∼S.E.H.
“I was told I was fat when I was 8 years old. I didn’t even understand the concept of fat at that age until that moment. That was the moment I began hating myself. Through the years I have been “underweight” and “overweight” and everywhere in between. I now have a mystery illness cutting its way through my GI tract. I have spent 30 years hating my body and now it is hating me back. Please don’t let other kids go through this. No one needs to start hating themselves so young before all of the real mistakes happen.” ∼H.H.M.
“I was always made to feel like I was worthless because I was fat. In High School, I grew into my body (for the most part) and finally got a little, much desired, positive attention. By 16 I was anorexic. And was for a few years until my father caught me throwing out my meals. I gained weight, purposefully, for my sanity. I needed to understand there was more to life than being pretty. I’d see change on a scale and become obsessed. I found my worth, but was horribly unhealthy. Not only mentally, but my metabolism has never gotten back to where it should be. Now, on a journey back to being physically healthy, while trying to maintain my sanity.” ∼B.M.
“My mom used my weight against me and told me God wouldn’t use me because I was fat but other girls just as big as me were worship leaders and everything else. This is so toxic and unhealthy. To this day I hate my body and hate WW.” ∼F.C.
“I was put on program diets when I was 11. I had already gotten the message loud and clear that my body was “not okay” and it was only partly because of bullying. I saw my mom criticize her own body and mine was chubbier than hers so I knew I was the real reason she put us all (herself, my dad, and me) on diets as early as when I was 5 years old. I was taken to the doctor and to a counselor at 8 yrs old because something must have been “wrong” with me. Pretty women were always described as “so thin and pretty.” So I knew I already was just “wrong”. My food had been restricted for years before this structured program diet happened. I was ashamed of myself by the time I was in 4th grade. But the program institutionalized it and really began my experience of feeling like a failure and feeling like an abomination. I went from subtle “other” to blatant, agreed-upon-by-all-the-adults “other” who desperately needed fixing to even deserve basic kindness. I had pre-packaged food, measured snacks, and I had to be told endlessly that I wasn’t drinking enough water. The “coaches” would check my weight each time and seemed confused by the regular limitations of a kid in a classroom. I remember going to their “meeting” for kids and having them lead us through an exercise to imagine what we’d do when we got to our goal. The one other girl there said she wanted her grandma to make her a catwoman costume for Halloween but she knew she couldn’t wear something like that if she wasn’t thinner. Now I just wonder why her grandma couldn’t just make it bigger instead?
At 17, I was urged into a medically supervised program that included shots, pills, and starvation. I ate almost nothing and stopped losing weight. I just remember being so very hungry. These experiences led to all kinds of diet programs, official and unofficial, but always ending in failure and basically killing myself with exercise trying not to fail. This was the case, also, with my bariatric surgery, which I continue to have problems to this day. And guess what, my body always returned to size, plus some. My parents did the best they knew to do, but now we know better. And I can tell you personally that if my parents had taught me to love my body as is by loving ME as is, I think things could have been very different. My body probably isn’t one of those things, but my experience of life in this body may have been.” ∼L.E.
“I was raised in a house where women were on diets. By age 8, I began to feel insecure about my body. I was looking at fat grams and worrying about calories. I eventually developed anorexia, went into kidney failure, and was hospitalized the day after my high school graduation. It’s taken me most of my life to recover from the damage that diets and diet culture have done to my mental health.” ∼E.D.
“When I was younger, I dreaded family parties mainly because I anticipated the judgments that came along with it. The first question from family members was blunt and straight to the point, “Did you gain weight?” This question was always asked out loud in front of other people. I remember being embarrassed that I felt the need to hide behind clothing and so there I was at a July 4th party in a sweater. For a while I felt uncomfortable eating in front of others, especially if I was hungry because I did not want others to comment on my weight and my body.” ∼A.B.
“Growing up in a Latinx community, I often heard criticism about women’s bodies and what real “mujeres” were supposed to look like – thin but not too thin, thick but in the right places. Mexican culture revolves heavily around the importance of food and eating. For example, if you are ever a guest in a Latinx home, chances are the first thing the host will ask you is whether you’re hungry and FYI, it’s considered disrespectful to reject a meal. I was raised with conflicting beliefs because eating was equated to being healthy but family and friends (women especially) consistently policed my body and shamed me for looking too skinny or too fat. To encourage me to “take care” of myself, women I knew assured me if I lost/gained weight boys would be more attracted to me. I was on and off diets since I was about 10 years old by limiting my food intake, counting calories, and exercising more if I had broken my diet. Up until my early 20s, I was in a constant struggle and on a confusing path to get “healthy”.+ Accepting and really caring for my body required unlearning ideas and beliefs that were deeply ingrained in my culture.” ∼C.L.