Today is International No Diet Day (INDD), initiated by Mary Evans Young in 1992. Young is the director of the British group “Diet Breakers”. After personally experiencing anorexia nervosa, she worked to help people appreciate themselves for what they are, and to appreciate the bodies they have. Young developed her understanding both through her own experiences of being bullied at school for being fat and by speaking with women who attended the management courses she ran. She relates in her book, Diet Breaking: Having It All Without Having to Diet, how during one of the these courses in 1991 she became irritated with the coffee break conversation about whether or not the women were going to eat a biscuit – “Oh, I’ll just have one”, “I shouldn’t really”, “Oh, all right then”. Young asked the group “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on diets?”
In celebrating International No Diet Day, participants aim to do several things:
Question the idea of one perfect body shape.
Raise awareness of weight discrimination.
Declare a day free from diets and obsessions about body weight.
Present the facts about the diet industry, emphasizing the inefficacy of commercial diets.
Honor the victims of eating disorders and weight-loss surgery.
Now, let’s be clear here. The purpose of INND is not to promote unhealthy lifestyles. Obesity has become an epidemic in many parts of the world, especially the developed world. The CDC estimates that two-thirds of the men and women in the US over 20 years old are overweight (by their measure), half of whom are obese. These are alarming statistics. Being overweight carries a serious medical penalty – type 2 diabetes, heart failure, stroke, hypertension etc. INND is NOT suggesting that it is all right to be overweight. It IS suggesting that obsession with one “perfect” body size is morbidly unhealthy.
Surely we all realize that the body images promoted by advertizing, movies, models etc. are both unrealistic and often faked. To acknowledge this fact is one thing, to internalize it is another. Obsession with fixed body ideals leads to unrealistic expectations and to catastrophic behaviors including crash diets, unhealthy eating patterns, and poor self image.
In traveling the world I am fully aware of the vast cultural differences in body image. I am also aware of the potential problems over the course of my own life. From the age of 18 to 42 I was 5’10” (178 cm) tall and weighed 128 lbs (58 kg). Everyone, including my doctors, considered that I was underweight. Here’s a photo of me dancing when I was 19 years old to get an idea:
I was very active – at the time I danced, played hockey, and ran cross country all year. I was at university at this time, and I won’t go into all of my eating habits. But I will say that I mostly cooked for myself (start of a lifelong habit), ate roughly balanced meals, and stayed fixed at the same weight no matter what I ate. Then I turned 40. I didn’t change my eating habits unduly, but I started to notice that my shirts and trousers were getting tight. By the time I turned 50 I weighed 155 lbs (70 kg) and was a tad shorter. Here’s that same dancer:
What happened? I can’t put it all down to a change in metabolism, although that was a factor. I was also drinking more alcohol, eating more fats, and exercising less. So, it was a combination of things. Apart from having to buy different clothes, I didn’t pay much attention until I looked at photos such as this one, and was horrified. I wanted the skinny chap back. That led to me following a number of diet fads – most especially a low carbohydrate intake. I lost weight quickly enough, but I also gained it back too. It was a roller coaster ride for about 10 years. The point is that food had become an obsession with me, and that simply was not healthy.
Now I am on what I believe is a healthy track. I am still shrinking a little as I age, but my weight is stable at 140 lbs (63.5 kg). The main reason that my weight is stable is that my mindset has stabilized. I cook at home, I do my own shopping, and I eat pretty much what I want when I want. I also walk a lot, and in my job I am on my feet most of the day. The point is that I don’t do this because I am fixated on my body image; I do it because I LIKE it. I don’t like to feel full or to eat large amounts of fatty and sugary foods. I like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and what not. But I am not obsessed by them. Sure, when I fry foods I use olive oil and not lard – most of the time. But sometimes I cook with heavy cream and butter. It’s a matter of mood. On the way home from work today I’m going to pick up a chocolate bar. Eating chocolate is not a “sin” or an “indulgence.”
What I don’t want to do is lecture you about your eating habits, nor do I want to be lectured to about mine. That’s the point of No Diet Day. Find your own level and what you are comfortable with. I get really annoyed when I tell a friend that I have just eaten a ton of ice cream and in consequence I get told off for it. Keep your ideas to yourself. I don’t do it all the time; and I don’t need an ear bashing about it when I do. My eating habits are my business, not yours.
When it comes to this blog, I readily accept that it contains a number of recipes that you won’t find in diet books. So what? I’m not advocating that you make them all every day. I don’t. But they are all good recipes which I experiment with when I feel like it. You’ll also see that from time to time I include my own limitations. For example, I never cook with salt but if you want to, go ahead. Tastes differ. Here’s a gallery of dishes I have made over the past few years. I enjoyed them all.
Take this day – and every day – to enjoy yourself.