Depending on who you ask, something either really scary or really amazing happened on New Years Day. I started bracing myself back in October. It happens every year like clockwork, so I know the timeline and the signs. I have a plan for how I’ll cope. It’s diet season, and here in the U.S., it starts Thanksgiving week. You might be wondering to yourself “who is on a diet during the holidays?” and truthfully, the answer is “not many people.” That isn’t what I’m talking about.
Diet season doesn’t mean you have to be on a diet. It’s the time of year when conversations about food and “being good” are more commonplace than talk about the weather or lines at airport security. It’s when everyone starts talking about how they’re being bad by eating a cookie or having a second helping of mashed potatoes. It’s waking up on New Years Day to an Instagram feed full of ads for local gyms that ask you if you’re ready to be a “better you” yet. It’s when diet culture decides to throw a four-month-long party.
I first started purging when I was 10 years old. Through the rest of elementary school, I purged after every holiday meal and every sleepover with platters full of pizza and candy. In middle school, the purging continued and I started restricting my food too. I didn’t eat butter for seven years, fast food for four and I never salted anything because I was too worried about sodium bloat.
In high school, I took diet pills, worked out every day for three hours and ate mostly salads, non-fat yogurt and my middle-of-the-night binge food: ice cream. I binged, purged, restricted and exercised as I chased “perfection” — a vision of something that was never in reach (because it isn’t real). My body held steady at 180 pounds and my (very shitty) doctor kept shaking his head, telling me that I wasn’t doing enough to be “normal.”
After my first year of college, everything changed. In eight weeks, I lost 65 pounds, weighing less than I had in the seventh grade. All of a sudden, people looked at me differently. Family members complimented me. Doctors didn’t feel compelled to chastise me about exercising more. It was like over those eight weeks, the past nine years of my disordered eating had caught up to me.
I’ll always be in recovery for an eating disorder. Over the holidays, when distant cousins say “wow! You used to be…kind of chubby. But you look great now!” or when my mom says “Your body is looking really amazing,” I set boundaries — I smile politely and say “Thanks, but I’d rather not talk about my body or weight.”
It took two years, a support group and lots of therapy to start to recover: to gain back some weight, to be able to walk without getting out of breath and to not feel nauseous just by looking at food. I still have weak teeth, a tendency to break blood vessels when I cough too hard and really bad acid reflux.
But I’m better. So when diet season comes around and commercials start telling me that I should want to be thinner, I’m able to cope (mostly).
Loving your body is a lifelong journey and it doesn’t happen by accident. Here are a few ways that I’ve started to love (or at least accept) my body when diet season is trying to keep me (and my weight) down.
(As a side note: I know that I have thin privilege. Regardless of your size, I hope that these tips can help you create a protective forcefield around you, whether it’s during diet season or any other time of the year.)
Update your feed
You know that whole “you can’t be what you can’t see” thing? Well, it applies to body positivity, too. It’s hard to love your body when almost everything around you is saying that you shouldn’t. When you’re scrolling through your social media feeds, pay attention to how you feel at each post. Is there a particular account that makes you feel really good about yourself? Or someone who makes you feel jealous, inadequate or just plain shitty?
Make it a New Year’s resolution to unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself (yes, even that one person from high school). Fill in the gaps with accounts that push you to love yourself, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. BodyPosiPanda, TheBodyIsNotAnApology, FatPositiveTherapy, ThirdWheelED and BodyPositive_Dietitian are some great places to start.
Feel your body’s strength
At the lowest point in my eating disorder, I was so weak I could barely walk from my dorm to my classes across campus. I was tired and in pain all the time. I had been really strong throughout my life, and losing that strength was hard to come to terms with.
Now, I relish in my moments of strength. I stretch, and when I feel my muscles loosen, I smile. When I go for a short hike, I say “thanks.” Your body doesn’t have to be CrossFit strong to be admirable — the fact that it has gotten you this far is proof that it is strong and capable, just as it is.
Don’t participate in diet talk
Evading diet talk during diet season could be an Olympic sport. It isn’t easy, but when people start talking about how much weight they’re losing or what foods they’re cutting out, tune out or gently guide the conversation in a different direction.
Indulge in your pleasure
To put it simply, you deserve to feel good. So, when diet season is catching up with you, do something that makes you feel unapologetically good. Maybe that’s having sex or masturbating or maybe it’s looking at all of the cats in #ChonkyCat. It could be sitting outside or going to a yoga class. Keep a small list of the things that make you feel good; that way, when you’re feeling crappy, you have something you can easily turn to.
Compliments that aren’t related to appearances, that is. Our small talk instincts tell us that we should compliment people when we think they look good, and that’s true — but you might unintentionally be complimenting a look that is actually being caused by an eating disorder, chronic illness or something else entirely.
Instead, practice giving compliments to yourself and others that are focused on other things, like generosity, kindness or diligent work.
When you’re feeling shitty about one aspect of your body, that sentiment can quickly spread to how you feel about your whole body…and even to you as a person. Counteract those effects by spending five minutes each day admiring yourself, even if it feels uncomfortable to start. Say out loud what you like (or love) about your body or your personality.
And of course, remember to…
Say “thank you”
Your body is working hard every day, but we spend more time being frustrated with our bodies than we spend appreciating them. At the end of each day, thank your body. Thank it for getting you this far, for making it through a long day or even for helping you feel hot AF.
Diet season doesn’t just affect people with eating disomrders; it hurts all of us by making us believe that we aren’t good, strong, pretty, or successful enough. So no matter what diet season or fatphobia tries to tell you: you are great, just as you are, no matter your size.
A version of this story was published January 2020.
Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to inspire healthy attitudes about food and bodies: