If history tells us anything, we are on the edge of a new age of extreme dieting, disordered exercising, and systemic size bias. It’s a long-held cultural pattern: Periods of hardship and uncertainty tend to yield extreme diet fads and a general rise in disordered eating. As dietary historian Susan Yager notes, some of our most bizarre and restrictive diet trends emerged in the middle of the Great Depression. A century later, we find ourselves one year into a devastating pandemic, slogging through an economic crisis, and at the start of a winter of uncertainty. We are vulnerable and stressed, and most of us have naturally put on a few pounds after being stuck at home for months. In the decade before Covid, concepts like body positivity and the anti-diet movement were beginning to challenge the monolith of American diet culture. But if history repeats itself, then sometime later this year we will walk out of our doors and into a world even more messed up about food.
But what if this time, we actually learned from history instead of repeating it? Isn’t that what we all crave at the dawn of a new year — a fresh start? Dieting won’t give us that. Neither will cleansing or eating clean or any of the other vocabulary workarounds we use to pretend that all we care about is wellness, not weight loss. (I see you, WW, the two-billion-dollar company formerly known as Weight Watchers.) As the data consistently tells us, dieting simply does not work for most people. So, what if this time around, we just eat whatever we want?
A little background: Tens of millions of Americans — adults, adolescents, and children — attempt to lose weight each year, and for most of my life, I was one of them. Not much changed, except my ever-degrading self-worth and my physical well-being, which took a hit each time I yo-yoed down the scale and back up. I quit the diet cycle in my late twenties and began working with a registered dietician trained in something called intuitive eating. That’s when things actually changed.
Restricting food creates an inherently disordered relationship to it. Only when you stop restricting, really and truly, can food…