Normalizing Dieting: Women’s Conference Reaction Part 2

By Katie, 5:05 am

So I need to get something off my chest.

Yesterday I discussed my first reaction to the Christian women’s conference I attended. I talked about how inspired I was by the speaker’s message of spiritual hunger, and how I’m beginning to question how much my life truly reflects what I want it to.

But here’s the thing. Metaphors aside, the speaker – Tracey Tiernan – was talking about food. My issue. My struggle. The number one topic of conversation on my blog. So it’s not surprising that, given my level of involvement in this realm, I felt her discussion was lacking some important points.

In a nutshell, I wish Tracey had read my post on defining disordered eating before she took to the stage.

Because that was essentially what she was talking about. She was talking about how often we turn to food when we could be turning to God – for comfort, for support, for joy, etc.  She said something along the lines of, “we take food, which is a blessing from God, and turn it into a god itself.”

I take no issue with that statement. What I take issue with is the fact that, in discussing how food can obstruct our relationship with God, she only examined overeating. But as my definition of disordered eating shows, the pendulum swings both ways. Just as some people turn food into a god, other people turn the pursuit of weight loss into a god.

The way Tracey’s talk was structured, it made it seem like as long as you have self-control around food, you are doing well. She failed to take into account that sometimes obsessive self-control is the problem, that sometimes a person’s fixation on weight is the barrier to peace, to God. Never letting an extra cookie pass by your lips is not, in my opinion, a spiritual accomplishment. Just like food can be an obsession that hinders your relationship with God, so can be the pursuit of thinness.

I spent some time questioning why this bothered me so much. Why was I so upset that she focused on overeating yet neglected to mention the perils of dieting?

Because it was a stark reminder for me that while this realm – the realm of healthy living blogs and intuitive eating – generally seems to understand that DIET is a four-letter word, the rest of our society still clings to things like cleanses and fasts and weight-loss foods that taste like cardboard.

To me, the whole thing is indicative of the way dieting has become normalized in our society. Perpetual dieting and obsession with weight isn’t thought to be a problem because it’s assumed that’s what every woman does or how every woman is. Indeed, when I first told some of my friends that I was giving up dieting forever – that I was done trying to alter my weight and instead accepting my body as is - I got some pretty surprised looks in response. 8-O

I wish the talk had focused more on turning to God to heal our troubled relationships with food and our bodies, rather than turning to God to solve our “weight problems.”  I wish the conversation had emphasized our problematic behaviors - which run the gamut from bingeing on cookies to crying over a missed day at the gym – rather than emphasizing the external manifestations of those behaviors.

I wish there was more recognition of the fact that one’s weight – be it high or low or whatever – is never the real issue. The real issue is the way we use food – by eating too much or too little or being obsessed with getting just the right amount – as a substitute for God.

I know this for certain: the answer to our struggles with food is not simply to resist the cupcake. There needs to be a better understanding in our society that there are problems with both extremes, that refusing to taste one extra crumb can be just as harmful as eating the whole batch. Both kinds of struggles stem from the same place – a place of insecurity, a place of discomfort, a place of fear. That is where God can help. And then the weight will just take care of itself.

Do you agree that dieting, the pursuit of thinness, and poor body image have become normalized in our society?

Do you feel like it’s assumed that all women are unhappy with their bodies, want to lose weight, or maybe SHOULD want to lose weight?

20 Responses to “Normalizing Dieting: Women’s Conference Reaction Part 2”

  1. ***Standing Ovation***

    Yes, yes, and yes!! Love this post, Katie.

    I do agree that dieting and the pursuit of the ever elusive thin happy is now considered normal. I was actually having a moment yesterday where I thought about how I go through life now realizing that my issues aren’t about the food or the size of my body and how that made me a real outcast sometimes.

    It was a really nice moment, actually. As you already know, I was facing some challenging things going for me yesterday, one of the biggest challenges of my life in fact, and never once did I think that losing weight would solve it. What a freeing feeling it was.

  2. Sarah says:

    I’m standing and applauding with Christie! Dieting has become so normalized and ingrained in society especially for women. As women we face pressure from every direction to be the perfect woman: perfect career woman, perfect mother, perfect body, perfect life BUT it’s impossible. And I think our reactions to that constant demand of perfection lead to our extreme behavoirs of either overeating or undereating (or even both) or overexercising. The weight *should* be something we can control but we can’t because our bodies know our healthy weight. We’re good girls for not eating that cookie and bad girls if we eat that cookie (and another). It’s a frustrating situation when as individual you are trying to reach that healthy lifestyle while being constantly bombarded with advice to lose 20lbs in the next month by eating only 1200 calories but don’t read food blogs/document your meals because then you’ll have an eating disorder. So instead of turning to God (or another form of spiratuality) we turn the focus on food and our weight.

    Great post! As always you make me think :)

  3. Lauren says:

    You have the best insights. Really, this is exactly how I feel and I have vowed to myself NEVER to use the word DIET in my life. It’s honestly such a useless word. There is no need for it, nor is there ever a need to feel bad about banning it from your vocabulary.

    I hate that people assume that this kind of life is the way of life. Really? God didn’t intend for us to always feel inadequate or like we are never enough, which is exactly how you feel when you try to live up to the “normal” diet.

  4. Joining the ovation!! I had a similar moment when I went to see my hormone specialist a few months back and even though I told him that I had lost some weight (I don’t weigh myself but I do measure my waist) he started talking about some new diet (that involves buying products) where people are losing lots of weight fast, and then seemed surprised that I didn’t jump all over it! I told him that he should read Women, Food & God. :-)

  5. Becca says:

    I think that the speaker’s entire reference to food was misguided. It’s clear that anyone who overeats is not making food into a God – there is no love; no joy in bingeing. There is no reverence towards food that you blindly consume.

    I 100% agree with you that obsession with controlling food is the most damaging behaviour, but… Maybe having a more reverent attitude towards food is the key? Maybe food is a part of God’s love?

    - Real food is always good, no matter what doubters try to tell us.
    - We mustn’t be selfish with it, but share it with others.
    - It nourishes us, and we are lucky that we will always have as much as we need.
    - To turn it away when we need it, or to consume greedily when we don’t is a mistake, and doesn’t give it the respect it deserves.
    - We are tempted by imitations, but they will not satisfy us.

    • Katie says:

      Ding, ding, ding! Thanks so much for this comment; you did a great job of articulating how both sids of the coin can be problematic. And I love your idea of finding the balance between the extremes by focusing on food as a blessing, a manifestation of God’s love. You’ve got my wheels turning this morning!

      • Becca says:

        Thank you, Katie – I love that you’ve got me really thinking about this!

  6. Great post! 150% agree that the rest of society still thinks it’s completely normal to diet. People don’t understand healthy living as a whole. Now, I’m no expert by any means, but I at least understand that restricting certain foods is a recipe for disaster. I get so frustrated about this, honestly. My mom is losing some weight right now (she really needs to for health reasons) and says she “can’t” eat things and it just breaks my heart. I try to encourage her to eat a little of everything but I don’t want to come off as a know-it-all, especially since I’m just a normal person without credentials (and her daughter!).

    • Sarah says:

      It’s the same with my mother too!! It’s incredibly difficult especially when she tells me I need to gain weight then talks about being “fat” and wanting to lose weight!

  7. i think that just seems like a big issue, but maybe she was speaking from a place of experience with overeating and doesn’t understand the 180 degree opposite of that enough to really speak to it? i definitely agree with you that the pendulum swings both ways though!

    • Katie says:

      Yes, I definitely think that she was focusing on her own personal experience, and certainly many women could relate! I just wish she had at least mentioned the flip side of the coin, even if she couldn’t speak to it directly.

  8. Nicole, RD says:

    Hm, I agree with most of what you said but I guess I think of it for a broader eye. I think us food/health bloggers are so hypersensitive to every aspect, the speaker was probably aiming her talk towards the majority of people. In which case, addressing over-eating/obesity is much more appropriate than ED’s. I think if I were asked to speak on a topic like that I would’ve taken the same approach, which may or may not be the best approach. Just playing devil’s advocate! Great points, as always!

    • Katie says:

      I appreciate your perspective! And I do see what you’re saying – when you’re talking to a broad audience you don’t want to tailor it too much to a specific group. But according to the University of North Carolina study, a HUGE amount of women (75% of those ages 25-45) struggle with disordered eating, many in the form of over-obsession with diet/exercise. So if that’s the case, I think it’s worthwhile to address symptoms beyond just overeating.

      I don’t think she needed to go into depth about it, but maybe just a mention that overeating is just one way these issues manifest themselves.

      I also might be biased because I know there were some people struggling with restrictive eating in the room. I couldn’t stop thinking about how what she was saying was affecting them.

      • Shawnee says:

        What the speaker was saying was probably enabling your friends to continue with their thinking and disordered eating!

        • Katie says:

          That is certainly my fear, and one of my main motivations for writing this blog post.

  9. Shawnee says:

    As an English major, I feel as though your questions today require a lot of thought and perhaps an entire paper with a hypothesis to answer! But yes, I agree that dieting has been normalized in our society. I am still coming to terms with letting go of dieting. The mindset of dieting and thinness have pretty much brainwashed me and I am fighting back! Great post.

  10. I’ve just read through both of your posts on this issue and think they are incredibly well-written and insightful. The conference sounds really interesting and I loved hearing your reactions to it, and appreciate you starting this discussion.

    While I do think that dieting has become normalized in our culture (and find that really sad), do you think she was speaking about over-eating because that is actually the larger issue? I’m not trying to downplay the number of woman who are caught in cycles of restrictive eating, because I believe that is extremely prevalent (and seems to be accepted!), and because there are many that do both. But what I mean is, as a whole, 2/3 of the U.S. population is overweight/obese. So on the surface, over-eating is the more prevalent problem. And maybe she was trying to address that?

    However, I do understand what you’re saying and agree that she probably should’ve talked about both sides of the issue — even if it was just in a broad way. Because otherwise, it does make it sound like having “control” by not eating food is much better than over-eating, which is not the case. Too much restriction can be just as damaging as too much over-indulgence. So I agree that the talk probably could have benefited from her paying more attention to the problematic behaviors, like you said.

  11. i sure hope tracy has read this. i have turned most or all diets into my gods. the measuring cup, food scale, memo pad–even when i stopped living for the bathroom scale. neither eating for anxiety/boredom nor dieting for control are Godly.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy