The Fear of Not Dieting

This is courtesy of hatemail from someone who clearly didn't understand how much it would make me want to buy a castle and change my name.
This is courtesy of hatemail from someone who clearly didn’t understand how much it would make me want to buy a castle and change my name.

We live in a world where people think personal responsibility for fat people means that we should feel personally responsible for doing what they think we should do.  Eat what they think we should, weigh what they think we should, and act how they think we should, and never be happy until we achieve their goals for us, regardless of what we want. I participated in that for a long time and it never made me thinner, happier, or healthier.

When I first considered doing something other than dieting, generally hating my body, and feeling like the only success that mattered was achieving thinness, I realized that it scared me.

So I wrote out a list of what I was scared would happen if I loved myself exactly as I was and stopped trying lose weight. What I had observed was that you’re often seen as a “Good Fatty” if you are always trying to “do something” about your weight. It’s not that it’s easy to be a good fatty, you still do plenty of bullshit, but in a culture where 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their bodies, at least the Good Fatty gets some support for an endless string of diets and gets some “points for trying”.

But when you choose to stop trying to lose weight and love your body as it is, you’re often seen as a Bad Fatty.  You’re costing employers billions of dollars, and ruining health insurance, obviously not taking personal responsibility.  Sometimes people who are in the diet cycle and frustrated with their lack of success and how much they hate their bodies are offended by the very existence of people who won’t buy into this cycle.  If you’re an “out”  Bad Fatty, they will lash out at you. Until you get the hang of it, you might think that this has something to do with you (when in truth of course it’s all about their issues and what you represent to them).  At any rate, Bad Fatties do not fit in. (The good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy needs to die, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

Knowing this, I made my list of fears. Things like feeling uncomfortable for being so different, wasting money and time on classes and books that didn’t work, losing friends, getting talked about behind my back, feeling isolated, people not liking me because I wouldn’t play with them in the sandbox of shitty self-esteem any more, even dying an earlier death, and on and on.  It was a huge list.

Then I imagined what would happen if everything on the list came true.  I mean I took some time to really visualize each of them, really try to  feel the pain of each thing.

Then I imagined spending the rest of my life as I had spent it so far – always unhappy with my body, trying diet after diet, feeling like a failure, feeling sick and exhausted all the time, believing what other people told me over what I knew in my mind and gut and heart to be true, trying so hard to be a self-deprecating Good Fatty who made sure everyone knew that I was trying to lose weight so that I could fit in and be accepted, living 100% of the time in a body that I hated.

I realized that the third scenario – the one where the next diet was actually the one that would work, was not scientifically sound.  There isn’t a single study in the world where more than a tiny fraction of people succeed, and even those who “succeed” in studies often do so by losing only a couple pounds.  There is no study anywhere of people my size becoming and remaining thin.  I realized that contemplating diet success was like contemplating surviving a skydiving accident if my parachute didn’t open, some people had done it but that didn’t mean I was going to go jump out of a plane with no chute.

Once I was done contemplating both scenarios the decision was clear. I knew that no matter what it took, I was going to learn to love myself.  No matter how many books I had to read, classes I had to take, no matter how weird people thought I was, how many friends I lost, or how long and difficult the road might be I was not going to stop until I got there.

That was the turning point.  It wasn’t about how I was going to do it – I had no freaking clue how to get there at the time.  But in the moment that I chose to remove myself from diet culture and the self-hatred that came along with it, the moment that I decided to learn to love myself no matter what the hell it took, everything changed.

Now that I’m there, I’m certain that it was worth it.  Even though along the way, every single thing on my list of fears happened to me.  Some have happened several times.  Some happened today.  But I have found that when my priority is loving myself and being sure that I am in integrity with me, instead of trying to get everyone to love you by being who they want you to be and taking on their issues as your issues, things shift dramatically.

I received an e-mail today that so inspired me that I had to share it (with the permission of the author).  It read, in part:

Recently, I’ve found myself really struggling with body image and acceptance. The pressures to fit in have been mounting, and I found myself reverting back to the easy way out. But what is ‘easy’? The diet pills make me so sick that I throw up, and the over exercising 3 hrs a day leave me in bed aching.  After a ridiculous amount of swallowed pills, and feeling disgusted and horrible, I decided to pop in and read a post. Which then turned into two, three, four.  I just flushed down the rest of my pills, and have decided to just try my best at being healthy. Healthy thinking, healthy eating, healthy exercising.

How incredibly brave.  To me that’s what it’s all about.  Realizing that a way of life isn’t serving you, and choosing to start reaching from that dark place for the light.  We all live in a seriously screwed up society with tremendous pressure to fit a certain mold, surrounded by people who hate themselves and want us to hate ourselves so that they don’t feel so bad, topped off by an astronomical amount of bad information being thrown at us every day by people trying to sell us stuff.  But we can make a different choice. Loving being weird is far better for me than hating fitting in was.  It’s a choice and it’s always in my hands (though to be clear that’s one of the privileges of my current neurotypicality).  There’s a great quote by Les Brown that I think of when I think of this journey: “No matter how bad it is or how bad it gets, I’m gonna make it!”

So chins up you body-loving fatties and skinnies and in-betweenies, you non-conformists, non-dieters, Size Acceptors, and Health at Every Sizers. And be strong those of you who are on the way there. We are gonna make it.

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31 thoughts on “The Fear of Not Dieting

  1. Oh my word, yes, yes, and YES. I made the conscious decision a while back to stop trying to lose weight – and in 18 months I’ve put on … three pounds. And had an immeasurably nicer time, eating what I want, when I want, having far more energy and purpose, and generally being much, much HAPPIER. The amount of mental energy and purposefulness that I’ve gained through stepping off the self-hating diet rollercoaster is astonishing. I have a reasonable selection of respectable clothing for all situations, I exercise for fun and social contact, and I’m happy in myself.
    It does make me seriously question WHY this whole women-must-hate-themselves schtick exists – is it a sinister man-driven scheme to make sure that women never, ever realise their self-worth, because they’re too exhausted, stressed and busy hating their bodies and trying to change them?
    As soon as you take the terrifying first step away from trying to conform to the social norm of ‘Thin Decorative Object’ womanhood, and allow your body to follow its own course, the happy thoughts and mental energy start to flow.
    And ya know what? Cream is DELICIOUS, and better for you than the tons of sugar that are needed to replace it in foods.

    1. Sadly, a lot of the BS we fatties get we get not from males … I think females judging me by my appearance hurts even more – as it comes so unsuspected – hey, why should I look good in THEIR eyes? I am not into women, why should my looks be any of their business??

    2. I think that is the reason, and I’ve read it in other places: to keep women occupied so they don’t impinge on men or take away their jobs.

      I had that happen when I was in 2nd yr Astrophysics, and one prof blew up in front of the whole class and made that statement, that “women are trying to take away all our jobs” and it shocked the entire class. I know that off the other girls in that year, I left after that yr, but the rest left after 3rd yr, and some of the men left as well, because of the sexism.

  2. Once again, I am reminded of the surprisingly profound words of Buckaroo Banzai: Wherever you go, there you are.

    Ultimately, the one person you cannot avoid on your journey through life is… you. So isn’t it better, if at all possible, to take that journey with a friend and boon companion than an enemy?

    Making friends – or even just peace – with you really does make life a lot more fun and fulfilling.

  3. Thank you, Ragen. I really needed to read this particular blog today, since my resolve had been wavering in the face of (seemingly to me) negative feedback and certain fears of mine coming true. But I keep reminding myself how mentally unhealthy I felt, on the diet track, and what you said in earlier blogs: the only person who can decide how I feel about my body, is me.

  4. I had a real first yesterday: I put on a bathing suit and went to the pool. And when I got there, I took off my towel, sprayed myself with sunscreen, and got in.

    It may not sound like a big deal, but it is. I haven’t done that since I was about 10. I go to the pool all the time in the summer here, but I always wear a long swim skirt pulled way down over my ass and thighs, and when I get out, I make sure it’s where it should be so my jiggly dripping fat legs don’t offend.

    Yesterday I couldn’t find the swim skirt, so I thought, What would happen if I just went in my suit? The answer was…absolutely nothing (FTR…I did shave and do a bit of landscaping…) We got there, my daughter gleefully jumped in, and I just went right after after her. No one laughed and pointed. The heavens didn’t open up. The news crew didn’t pull up in a van. The lifeguard didn’t order me out of the pool for public fatness. And I found that I really wouldn’t have cared if anything of those things did happen. I kept thinking, “Try to imagine how little I care what you think right now…”

    it only took 31 years, but I did it. And when hubby came home and saw me, he couldn’t keep his hands off me. Had rockin’ sex. Not because I was thin and bronzed and fabulous but because I felt royally confident. Totally badass.

      1. I agree, congratulations. I haven’t been able to do this yet. I haven’t been swimming in 20 years, and I used to love the water. But shame about my body has kept me from being able even to think about a bathing suit. I’m working on this now and thinking maybe, MAYBE some day I’ll be confident enough to swim again … That would be so amazing.

        1. Thanks, folks. It’s not a straight-forward process by any means. I still can’t look at myself in a full-length mirror, and I refuse to be photographed. But I missed the sun on my skin. And it’s so flaming hot here you either dress for the weather or you melt. And I’m done with the wearing jeans in 95 degree heat thing.

  5. Yay! I’m starting to get used to loving my body which is great but also a bit sad because I don’t remember myself constantly how hard it was for me, how long it took me. I’m grateful.

  6. “Loving being weird is far better for me than hating fitting in was.” This phrase has hit a note with me today. I’m facing this on lots of fronts right now and I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. This is the place I’m trying to get to because I think it’s true for me too on a lot of levels. I’m going to take this phrase to my counsellor 🙂

  7. Thank for this. I was really struggling with body image and my seemingly relentless fight against dieting. Your comments hit home and made me rethink.

  8. Neurotypicality! Oh Ragen! How awesome you are! I didn’t know this word was out there for me to don.

    Thank you for this blog. It came at just the right time. I was considering dieting again to lose “just a little” weight. Even knowing it never works. But the pressure to be a Good Fatty from Chubbington made me forget.

    Thanks so much for the reminder. And for the new word!


  9. Ragen,
    You are a Goddess! Thanks for sharing your wisdom, insight and all the stuff in-between.

    Each day you help me feel good about myself.



  10. Hang on…if you’re the 5th Baroness of Chubbington, what happened to number 1-4?? We might a series here better than Downton Abbey…

  11. Saying, “No, I’ve done with dieting, I’m going to eat nice food that I like instead of nasty things that barely deserve to be called food, I’m going to eat till I’ve had enough and not one bite less, and I’m going to trust my body to find the size it’s meant to be,” is SUCH a leap of faith when you’ve been on a diet for as long as you can remember. Stopping fighting against your natural body size is a tremendously brave thing to do nowadays. I admire anyone, and particularly any woman, who achieves this and is able to resist, again and again, the lure of the endless stream of exhortations to go on yet another diet.

    For we may be surrounded by enticements to eat, but we are absolutely bombarded with frightening, seductive, or bossy commands to eat this, not that, or to lose Xlb in X days. These messages are EVERYWHERE. Seriously. When I was trying to clear the house of potentially triggering material after one of my daughters developed anorexia nervosa, NOTHING was safe. Interior designs magazines, specialist sports publications, my medical textbooks, lots of novels … and I thought I’d actively avoided exposing my children to material that encouraged dieting.

    This pendulum is SO going to swing away from dieting. I think the weight loss industry is showing signs of getting desperate and hysterical. And I visualise Ragen sitting astride that swinging pendulum.

    1. I so agree with the pendulum swinging away. I’ve already noticed on some sites that used to be all what-should-we-do about-the-fatties 6-hidden-ingredients-that-make-you-FAT are now posting anti fat-shaming articles and science-says-diets-don’t-work stories. But now some enterprising artist more capable than me need to realize the image of Ragen on the pendulum!

  12. I stopped dieting after years of restricting calories. I gained exactly NO weight. Yes, it’s true. I didn’t gain a single additional pound. Instead, I stopped catching every cold going around. I stopped feeling completely exhausted all the time. Stopping diets made a huge positive impact on my health, but for years I was to scared to stop. Isn’t that sad? I was too scared of what people might thing to be healthy.

    1. Makes me wonder if some of those ‘complications’ and ‘health issues’ of obesity are really side effects of dieting. I’m glad you found the strength to stop. That took courage.

      1. I also wonder if the “health issues” from obesity are more related the the quality of food people eat rather than their weight. I’m a vegetarian who eats mostly whole food because I believe that whole food is healthy. I’ve stopped counting calories and obsessing about things. I just try to eat when I’m hungry and it’s improved my health significantly.

      2. I agree. And I often wonder whether a lot of low-grade ill health, fatigue, always getting viruses, that sort of thing, is due to skimping on food intake or a pattern of restricting until the hunger becomes unstoppable then eating the fridge. It’s something people don’t always realise they’re doing because we are so conditioned to eat less than we’re hungry for, to avoid a wide range of different foods as if they were poison, to call it a Healthy Eating Plan For Life instead of a diet (I never got that one – so, like, you’re saying I should resolve to turn down cake and ask for my steak to be served without sauce FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?) and to ignore the evidence – in Pub Med AND in front of our own noses every day – that dieting doesn’t “work” even if the only definition of “work” is “make you cast a smaller shadow”.

        Lack of sleep contributes to ill health. Not eating enough plays havoc with sleep patterns. We waggle our hands in the air and shriek about obesity and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome, but I suspect that for every patient I have with a 20″ collar size and a CPAP machine, I have many who are sleeping poorly because they don’t eat enough. Not all of this is dieting behaviour, we have a lot of genuine poverty where I work. But our bodies can’t tell whether we’ve gone on the 5:2 or 16:8 diet or just can’t afford supper.

        When my husband and I got together, he pointed out to me that the reason I felt the cold when he didn’t was that I was “nutritionally borderline”. I laughed at him. My weight was steady and well over the theoretical ideal weight for a long distance runner of my height, I was in good health, and I was accustomed to people commenting that I ate a lot. And according to the how-much-you-should-eat charts, I WAS eating “too much”, But he was right. Almost by instinct, I was serving myself smaller portions, leaving the butter off my bread and the cream off my cake, dry-frying instead of adding a slosh of oil, claiming to prefer skimmed milk, that sort of thing. And “too much” still wasn’t enough.

        The consequences of ditching restrained eating, for me, have been that I no longer feel the cold, I don’t have days where, for no apparent reason, I’m so hungry that I’ll eat everything that doesn’t run away fast enough, and I’ve grown visible muscles. Initially I weighed myself and the number wobbled up a little then stabilised. The scales are now in the back of the cupboard and the subconscious calorie reckoner I used to have running in a back room of my brain the whole time has died of neglect, because I have no use for the information that they’d give me.

  13. Wow, I definitely needed to read this now. I find it difficult to increase my healthy behaviors without developing the “dieter” mindset (becoming obsessive and and restrictive). Summer weather also seems to trigger me every year because my body is more exposed.

  14. Lifetime dieter here, Mom got me started when I was 9. I yo-yoed my way to fame and glory, and in the last few years I’ve gained a bunch. Could be menopause, could be stress, but it ain’t because I sit on the couch eating bonbons. I finally just got really tired of occasionally having to starve myself and/or exercise til I broke, just to get other people to lay off with the unwanted commentary. I ran into Fat: the Owner’s Manual and that was the first thing I ever read that told me I was okay AS IS.

    I’m done dieting no matter how I feel about myself, because the one thing I am rock-solid certain about now is that dieting makes me fatter. Also, dieting makes me crazy and I hate it, and there is always a point after starving myself or making ridiculous restrictions, which is inexplicably labelled “being good” (wtf?), that I go absolutely apeshit on food and there is nothing I can do to stop myself. Used to think it was a personality flaw particular to myself, now I know it’s my body trying not to die of starvation (

    There’s another component of the whole Be Thin or Else message that to me is particularly pernicious: the idea that how your body is naturally is not okay, and that your refusal to participate in hating yourself constitutes permission for everyone else to do it for you. When I was young I was bullied by kids and punished by my mother for this exact issue, so I know what being hated is and it is one of my least favourite things.


    This is a deal with the devil that I am not willing to sign up for anymore. It is not worth hating myself and forcing myself to look like others, because then, they don’t… actually… like…. ME. They like Thin. Looking back at all the compliments these people gave Thinner Me, all the smiles I don’t get anymore as Fatter Me, it’s all utter rubbish. It simply is not worth it to me anymore to “just be someone (else) that bullies won’t tease.” How dare the world tell me what to be, or else? This is where I stand up for myself for once in my life, even if it means my entire family talks about me behind my back. I hate it but I hate not being valued for my real self worse.

    Thanks, Ragen, for the inspiring words. You helped me stay strong today.

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