by Leslie Schilling
Almost every woman I meet has a moment. The moment you went from carefree in your amazing body to believing your body needed to be micromanaged, changed, and small. Those moments can change everything, if we let them.
Growing up in a family of generational dieters, I can think of many moments that made me question if I should eat this or wear that all because of a desire to please a metal object on the bathroom floor. At first, seeing that my body registered numbers on the scale was cool. But then it felt wrong when a school lesson involved weighing each of us in front of the class. The only thing we (falsely) learned that day was that some of our bodies were wrong.
We usually aren’t aware of how diet culture slowly consumes us: it starts with monitoring our numbers then, before we realize it, we are hostages. Stepping on the scale becomes its own religion along with all the external controls required to move the needle – calorie counting, fitness tracking, eliminating food groups, and doing exercise you hate. We're looking for a deep sense of belonging that diet culture makes us forget that we already have.
You already have abundant belonging in Christ (Romans 8:38). But diet culture—a system of oppression that falsely equates thinness to health and worthiness—teaches us from a very early age that we must conform to belong. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can let go of the weight of this world and step into freedom.
Start stepping into truth by letting go of these three weight, body, and health myths.
When we're focused only on controlling our weight, we miss out on the many variables that impact our health. Our weight is not a proxy for health, although our health and medical systems promote this type of thinking. Health is far more than our weight, how we eat, or move our bodies. Diet culture keeps us shortsighted when it comes to health, but so many things like economic privilege, access to healthcare, education, safe housing, food security, quality relationships, mental health, and adequate rest play a much greater role than a number on a scale. There are many ways we can improve health without dieting.
Diet culture is in all the safe places in our world—medical offices, schools, places of worship, and sometimes even our homes. It's possible that you learned a thin body is a better and more healthy body growing up. Although that seems to be a mainstream belief, it is false. Just like we all have different shoe sizes, God designed our beautiful bodies to be different. This world has a wide variety of bodies that display different shapes, sizes, colors, and ranges of abilities – all by divine design. Each one of us is unique on purpose. When we focus on shrinking to conform, we deny that body diversity is fearfully and wonderfully created (Psalm 139:14).
This is a tough one because so many of us have heard messages that support this myth in places of worship and from trusted believers. However, when we're focused on all the numbers – calories, steps, weight, and tracker apps – we aren't focused on a good God. Counting does not bring us closer to God, it serves diet culture instead. When we're underfed—which is what tracking and restriction lead to—we don't have the mental energy to offer our presence to others. When we see ourselves outsourcing our inner wisdom to scales, numbers, and devices, it's time to step away from the idols of diet culture. It makes sense that we can end up here – diet culture has insidiously infected our churches and our view of health. But we can start to let it go. Ultimately, dieting distracts us from using our gifts and accepting God's good grace. Only a fed life leads to a full life.
Friends, we were made for more than dieting and chasing a number on the scale. God gave us taste buds for a reason: not just so that we would be fed but that we would find pleasure and connection in nourishment. These wise bodies have just what they need to succeed without diet culture. We can step away from the lies and claim the truth that it’s never wrong to feed yourself.
Leslie Schilling is a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, and nutrition therapist. She owns a coaching practice specializing in nutrition counseling for families, people with disordered eating concerns, professional athletes, and performers located in Las Vegas, NV. Her book debut is Feed Yourself: Step Away from the Lies of Diet Culture and into Your Divine Design.