Dieting. It’s as ubiquitous in America as apple pie. A lot of us are either currently dieting, between diets, or planning to start one in the near future.
But why do we do it?
You’re probably thinking, “Duh. To lose weight.” (Or to gain weight, in some cases.) But there’s a lot more to it than that.
The truth is people diet for various reasons. And when it comes down to it, those reasons are based either in fear or out of love.
Allow me to explain.
Dieting out of Fear
What I mean by this is that people use factors outside of themselves as reasons for dieting. For example:
The fear of getting fat or not being muscular enough
Whether it’s through the constant bombardment of weight-loss infomercials, Facebook ads and workout DVDs or the faces and bodies of beautiful people that stare at us from the pages of Glamour or Men’s Health, we’re forever being reminded that to succeed in society, we must be thin and/or muscular.
So we step on the hamster wheel of dieting and spin ourselves silly trying to outrun the Culture Monster that is always on our heels, threatening us with its “You’re gonna get fat!” mantra.
The fear of what others think
Most of us have either said, heard or been the victim of comments like these:
“Wow, he’s really let himself go.”
“She just hasn’t looked the same since she had kids.”
“Seriously, doesn’t she realize how big she is? Is she just gonna be fat her whole life, or what?”
And on and on.
The influence of others is a constant presence in life, and a powerful fear motivator. We jump on the weight-loss or muscle-pumping bandwagon not because we’re unhappy with ourselves, per se, but because we worry about what people will think if we don’t—that they’ll judge us or see us as “less than” them.
The fear of not being sexually attractive
This may be more true for women than men, but oftentimes people in within a relationship feel that their significant other will leave them if they don’t maintain a certain standard in how they look.
As a result, they constantly have the nagging voice of fear in the back of their heads, telling them what not to eat and reminding them to get to the gym, or risk getting fat.
The fear of losing control
This is a touchy issue to bring up, but one that must be addressed nonetheless. Sometimes people feel powerless over every other aspect in their lives: they’re in a bad relationship or stuck in a crappy job, they’re up to their eyeballs in debt, or others are making demands on their time.
So they take control of the one thing they can: how much and how often they eat. And unfortunately, this is often how eating disorders begin.
None of these “fear factors” are good reasons to diet. All of the above are the byproducts of fat-shaming (or even skinny-shaming, for those trying to gain weight or muscle) and have no place in a person’s personal decision to go on a diet.
The decision to diet should be one based in love for oneself, not in fear of society, others, or a loss of alleged power.
Dieting Out of Self-Love (aka Intentional Eating)
If one makes the decision to go on a diet/eat healthier/whatever, it’s best to pursue this out of self-love, not fear. This is something that both larger and smaller people can do since just because someone is thinner doesn’t mean they’re necessarily healthy.
There are many reservoirs of love to draw from that can help a person be successful in being intentional about what they eat:
Love yourself to be healthy and live fully
If and when you decide to go on a diet, do it for your health. Loving yourself enough to get in shape, lower your blood pressure, or walk more easily is always a good thing.
However, don’t let others pressure you into it. Wait until you are 100% ready and you know that you are doing it for yourself, and not anyone else.
Love yourself so you can be there for others
Sometimes the best decision to diet and get in shape is to increase your life expectancy and have more time to share with your friends and family.
Knowing you will be alive to share in the joy of your grandchild’s wedding or being there for your friend well into old age will do wonders for your psychological well-being.
Love your body and infuse it with energy and life
If you love your body and treat it well, you will inevitably have more energy to do the things you love with the people you love.
And there’s no greater motivator than that.
If you begin your dieting journey in self-love rather than fear or shame, you will probably find that you will have greater success in the long run.
Doing something out of fear feels forced, whereas doing it for the right reasons will keep you motivated to be successful.
And if you fall off the wagon, it will be easier to brush yourself off and jump back on, because you are being patient and gentle with yourself, vs. berating and forceful.
Now doesn’t that sound much nicer than fat-shaming yourself?
Shannon Ridgway is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). In her free time, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, jamming out to ’80s music and Zumba, and she will go to great lengths to find the perfect enchilada. She dreams of effecting great change in the world by working for a nonprofit agency or an organization that works toward social revolution. In the meantime, she’ll just try to make people laugh. Follow her on Twitter @sridgway1980.