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Damaging Diet Mentality

I recently watched Katie Couric’s documentary Fed Up. I learned some things, but what brought it to life for me were the interviews with the obese teens. Some of them weighed about what I did in my younger years, which, for the record, was 200 pounds by the time I was 16. Some weighed considerably more. None wanted to be that way, and they talked about everything they did to try to lose weight.

Watching those interviews, my heart broke. I didn’t have to hear them to know much of what they’d say. I remembered. I especially ached for the girl who did everything she was “supposed” to – and still she didn’t lose weight. Having had the same experience while on Weight Watchers (in fact, sometimes even gaining weight while doing all the “right” things), I could empathize all too well.

Diet mentality tells us that deprivation, eating fewer calories, and burning more calories, is all that it takes to lose weight. Simple. So if you can’t do it, then it’s your fault.

The kids interviewed believed that. Some wept as they spoke into the camera, and I cried with them. I wanted to reach through the screen and give them a big hug, tell them they’re good and lovable and this isn’t their fault. I wanted to applaud their bravery for speaking out about something so deeply personal and heart wrenching, because I never did at that age.

I couldn’t tell them any of that, of course, but I did cheer inside when others talked about the enormous impact of the diet mentality on our children, how damaging it is to them emotionally to be told it’s their fault, they have no willpower, they’re lazy and stupid.

At 38, I still carry the scars from those messages, and some of them are fragile enough that even now they sometimes bleed. Over twenty years, and for more than ten of those years I haven’t been heavy, but this is still where I am.

Is this what we want for our youth? This constant, helpless feeling of not being good enough, no matter what else you do, whether or not you lose weight? I hope not, but unfortunately I think most people simply don’t know how those messages are perceived and internalized, and they continue to think that way.

Maybe others who see this will start to recognize that nothing is quite as simple as the diets make us think, and that blaming our young people for their size can damage them for life. Then, just maybe, we can ditch the diet mentality for good.

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