Sometimes, we say we’re doing something for our health when we really aren’t. Sometimes, we’re blatantly lying to ourselves, and sometimes, we do think the particular behavior or habit will actually boost our well-being. Because we live in a society ruled by diet culture, where we say that we want to be healthier, and we want to have more energy, and we yearn to feel refreshed and rejuvenated and more productive.
But what we really want is to lose weight, to alter our bodies to fit some random, unrealistic, unsupportive standard. What we really want is to be praised and accepted. What we really want is to finally accept ourselves.
And so we drink the green juice religiously every morning. And so we exercise five days a week, waking up at the crack of dawn to fit in a spin class. And so we start another diet (or make another “lifestyle change”). And so we consume kale. And so we get on the treadmill, and pound away. And so we give up meat or fish or dairy or sugar or gluten.
Knowing and understanding our intentions with any action is important, because ill intentions do not lead to a fulfilling, nourishing life. They take away from it.
So even the “healthiest” behavior becomes anything but if you’re doing it for unhealthy reasons. Even the “healthiest” behavior becomes harmful and hazardous.
Which is why it’s helpful to pause and ask ourselves this brilliant question from non-diet dietitian Cara Harbstreet (which she mentions in this podcast episode): “Would I still be doing this if there was zero chance that my body would change as a result?”
It’s a question we can ask ourselves on a daily basis for all kinds of behaviors and decisions. Maybe you can take a moment at night to reflect, and jot down your thoughts. The key is to be honest with yourself, and to be gentle and compassionate with whatever answers arise. Give yourself permission to let out whatever needs to be let out.
It’s definitely not an easy question to explore, but remember that you’re not failing in some way if your intentions turn out to be about changing your body: It’s simply another sign of how pervasive, persistent and relentless our diet culture is, because it seeps into everything.
And your answer is informative. It’s valuable data. Because whatever answer you arrive at will inform what you do next.
Maybe you realize you’ve been doing certain things because deep down you’re hoping to see a change in your body, and maybe you stop. Because you actually hate spin class and green drinks and kale.
Maybe you realize how stubborn your desire for a different shape is, and you decide to work through it in therapy.
Maybe you decide to focus on other habits that truly do nourish, energize and inspire you—like meditating, journaling, eating your grandma’s favorite homemade pasta and dancing most mornings.
Maybe you decide to keep engaging in the same habits for a bit longer, and revisit this question for a few weeks.
Of course, it’s absolutely up to you.
Again, the key is that we’re honest with ourselves. The diet mentality is everywhere, and we might’ve been living and breathing it for so, so long. So it makes sense that it’ll take time to dismantle it—and to even realize that you’re in this mindset in the first place.
And that starts with getting curious about why we are doing what we’re doing—and then getting curious about what would actually be healthy—and not healthy in some weight-centric way, but healthy in a genuinely exciting, interesting, inspiring, uplifting, compassionate, supportive way.
You deserve nothing less.