A year ago this month, I began to notice a close friend of my twin daughters’ wasn’t eating normally and exercising excessively. All of my red flags started to go off. But because healthy eating and exercise is so pushed on our society, I didn’t say a word about it.
A few months later, my red flags got worse. And two weeks later she was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of disordered eating and spent a lot of time in the hospital.
As the mother of two teenage girls the same age, this quickly became a heartbreaking, terrifying and challenging situation to navigate.
Our family’s world changed. We cried a lot as the next few months unfolded. We learned to speak a totally new language — and are still learning. We learned what is helpful and hurtful to post online. We talked endlessly about what is right and wrong on how to love and accept our bodies.
My daughters spent so much time grieving the absence of their close friend while we also managed the shut down from the pandemic.
And, of course our pain was nothing compared to the tragic and heartbreaking experience her family went through — and is still going through. We have since learned of several other teenagers in our circle who have experienced an eating disorder in this past year.
Thankfully our dear beloved girl is now in a healing stage but her story has changed me and how I approach the work I do in the world.
There is simply so much more to a happy life than how our body looks.
And, as a result of our personal experience, I instantly became an anti-diet culture coach and advocate. I always tell prospective clients, I will not help you lose weight.
As a life coach, it’s a courageous Brave Yes for me to step up and lead by saying we need to dismantle the diet culture mentality because health and wellness sells.
I am ready to be a part of the healing we do to help everyone feel happy and healthy in their bodies — no matter what they look like.
What is Diet Culture?
For me, being a part of the solution begins with helping women and organizations see that well-being is a multifaceted journey that works best when we focus on cultivating unshakeable resilience and holistic well-being.
Much like how I am slowly making sure I am removing all traces of white supremacy culture from my own daily actions, I am also unlearning the deadly and harmful ways that diet culture has seeped into my own brain and life as a woman. Diet culture is equally as harmful to boys and men as it is to girls and women.
According to Christy Harrison, a registered dietician and host of the Food Psych podcast, “Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
- Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
- Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose and your power.
- Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”
Harrison calls diet culture The Life Thief.
And that is exactly why I felt called to write this post. I see how the diet culture is influencing women and families’ negatively and stealing joy when emotional resilience and spiritual well-being needs to be more prominent and understood solution to self-doubt, stress, overwhelm and loneliness.
Is Diet Culture Influencing Your Wellness Goals?
A few years ago, during my study and training in positive psychology — the science of flourishing — when I set out to really learn how to help women and families be more resilient, the most powerful antidote to stress and anger, I realized, is holistic well-being.
Sure. We all want to be a healthier version of ourselves, and I am not saying to not care about your health and wellness. I love a good workout because it’s good for my mental health AND my chronic illnesses. Harrison’s work — and others in her industry — encourages an intuitive eating approach, which is an ideal method to tending to your physical well-being.
I learned early on and have based my coaching and professional development offerings around the philosophy that a fulfilling life isn’t about how we look or even what we do — but about how we feel and how we bring meaning to our lives.
In my coaching work that helps you cultivate unshakeable resilience and well-being I help women and organizations learn, master and implement strategies and coping skills that develop grounded strength and courage. The body — and what it does — is powered by thoughts and feelings.
As our society becomes more overworked and filled with anxiety and anger, learning to tend to our collective emotions and our holistic needs is how we begin to adopt unshakeable resilience and well-being.
The truth is that our bodies are our bodies and while we may see ebbs and flows and ups and downs with our weight we will almost always return to the same weight no matter what we do as long as we keep following deprivation dieting. This has everything to do with set point theory.
And yet, when I ask groups during my resilience and well-being trainings what their self-care goals are, 70 percent often say they want to move more, eat less or lose weight.
The fact is, though, that well-being and happiness are about way more than how you look. And while exercise and healthy eating does contribute to your overall well-being it’s not the only part of the focus if you want to focus on in order to experience true contentment.
And it’s certainly not what workplaces and employers should focus wellness programs around, either.
Our physical wellness is just a tiny part of our well-being and, until we start to accept that, mental health, loneliness and other bigger issues will impact our society.
What Needs to Shift for You?
If you are suddenly waking up to the fact that your whole life has been dictated by trying to look a certain way or reach a certain weight take a moment and just give yourself some self-compassion for realizing that you’ve been trapped by the diet culture.
You are not alone. We have all been caught up in it.
And now you can begin to wake up and see your daily thoughts, actions and behaviors through a new lens — beginning with prioritizing other ways of living a fulfilled life.
For the past decade, I have worked with women on the other 90 percent of creating a fulfilling life by working on increasing joy and contentment in areas such as spiritual and emotional well-being and resilience.
True Well-being — where you feel strong in mind, body and spirit — is as much an inside job as it is an outside job.
I am passionate about helping women and organizations cultivate unshakeable resilience and well-being which begins with creating a higher level of connection to yourself, your emotions and your creativity. There is so much more to a fulfilling life than what your body looks like and how much it weighs — which is an endless pursuit (there’s that life thief, again) in a life that could be filled with awe-filled moments.
My Brave Life & Leadership Coaching work is designed to help you establish the resilience you need to do big, courageous things in your life and career — and by doing so making a big impact with as little effort as possible while leaving lots of space in your life for soul-stirring experiences.
And so when I’m coaching women or leading workplace trainings, I am very proud to say I refuse to focus our work on changing your physical appearance. I will never encourage you or motivate you to deprive yourself. I will never support you beating yourself up about the way you look.
I will challenge you to do life differently. I will help you love your body and yourself. I will help you find happiness and fulfillment in many, many ways — beyond food and beyond relentless exercise goals.
When you feel good about who you are — where you can be you without apology — that is the Brave Yes most of us are really looking for in our lives.
It can be a huge Brave Yes™ to love and accept yourself unconditionally — without needing to change a single thing — and let go of the striving to have a perfect body.
My mission is always to help you feel strong and calm in mind, body and spirit so you develop unshakeable resilience and well-being so you have the capacity to lead and live a more courageous, authentic life.
>>> In my Thriving LIfe Roadmap, I walk you through all the parts of your wellness and well-being that need to be tended to in order to cultivate unshakeable well-being. The downloadable self-care wheel shows you all the areas of your own beautiful life that need tended so that you aren’t just focused on one area of your wellness. Download HERE.
Hello! I am Shawn Fink. Coach + Speaker. I am the host of The Brave Yes Show.