Wellness

How The Anti-Diet Book Became The New Diet Book

A reading list for anyone who's questioned their worth by the size or shape of their body.

By Kate Leaver

Wellness

A reading list for anyone who's questioned their worth by the size or shape of their body.

By Kate Leaver

For almost my entire life, I’ve been dreaming of shrinking myself. I learned very early on that women should want to be thin, and they should do whatever it takes to keep their bodies small – something I now realise is a dangerous lie. Whether it was reading about Jennifer Aniston’s Atkins diet decades ago, or hearing from my mother and grandmother about how they survived on popcorn and watermelon for weeks in the ’80s, I’ve simply always been aware of diets. They’ve always been there; in pop culture, on the news, at the family dinner table, in the school playground. I’ve wasted countless hours of my life planning my food intake, moralising my meals and monitoring my calorie intake. I’ve expended so much energy, wondering what the world would look like, if I were just a little lighter, a little narrower, a little smaller. It’s been exhausting.

I didn’t conjure these habits out of nowhere. As legendary psychotherapist Susie Orbach argued in her seminal book, Fat Is a Feminist Issue, our relationship with food is powerfully informed by patriarchal values. Weight has become an inherently moral issue, where really it shouldn’t be. We make moral judgments about people based on the circumference of their bellies and the size of their thighs. I have been doing it my whole life, every time I look in a mirror, and it is agony. Keeping women obsessed with their size is a cunning distraction, stopping us from putting all our energy into fighting for what matters. The diet industry is a lucrative, pervasive, dangerously successful empire – one that truly deserves our diligent, even angry criticism.

Last year, I started a private mission to heal my relationship with food and find the joy in eating. When I really took notice of my eating habits, I saw how much of my social life was about food – pizza with my mate Luke, pancakes with my friend Corey, a Sunday roast with my beloved – and I just decided I was done feeling guilty every time I ate something delicious. By the time January arrived this year, for the first time in my life, I didn’t start out the year trying to lose weight. It was revelatory and joyous – and a great stonking relief.

Luckily, my resolve to enjoy eating again coincided with a new trend in the publishing industry: the anti-diet book. First came Eat Up by inimitable food writer and former Great British Bake Off contestant Ruby Tandoh, which is a priceless manifesto on the revelry and importance of food. She writes about the emotional value of eating so beautifully, as well as its implications for class, race, size and gender. She gave me permission (which I really shouldn’t have needed from a stranger) to eat what I want heartily and without shame. She also dedicates a chapter to explaining why Nora Ephron’s favourite food was waffles, and it’s one of my favourite pieces of writing ever. This book should be prescribed to anyone who has ever considered a diet in their lives.

This year, the resistance to dieting continued with the release of Just Eat It: How intuitive eating can help you get your shit together around food by registered nutritionist Laura Thomas, which is millennial pink with an enormous doughnut on the cover. I felt visceral relief and very real anger, reading about the way diet culture has conned us all – and why we should wholeheartedly reject it. She introduced me to the intuitive eating movement, which basically asks people to restore their natural hunger cues and give their bodies what they crave, rather than forever restricting and denying food. Next, I met registered nutritionist Pixie Turner, who wrote The No Need to Diet Book. She is a fiery, wonderful voice of reason on the topic of food, nutrition and wellness. She convinced me to unfollow every fitness influencer on Instagram and replace them with dog accounts – and it’s one of the best things I’ve done in the past year.

After that, I spoke to journalists Eve Simmons and Laura Dennison, who have both survived eating disorders, about their book, Feel The Fear and Eat It Anyway. They write movingly about recovery, food and learning to eat again. They also campaign for the rejection of diet culture on their blog, Not Plant Based. Also this year, I celebrated the release of The Fuck-It Diet by Caroline Dooner, which is a hilarious and shocking must-read for anyone who has ever counted calories, measured their worth by the number on a set of scales, or wanted to change the way they look. It’s a charming, rallying call to action in the anti-diet resistance. After following Christy Harrison’s work for months, I cannot wait for her upcoming manifesto, Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-being and Happiness with Intuitive Eating, which promises to be a wonderfully rational expose of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry and how people profit from our insecurities, as well as a guide to fixing your appetite, your attitude to food and your addiction to dieting.

As all these authors know, diets are a scam. More than 90 per cent of people who intentionally lose weight will put it back on within five years. In the meantime, many of them will pick up diabolically unhealthy habits and attitudes towards food and their bodies. Dieting doesn’t work – it’s a short-term solution that usually ends up doing more harm than it does good. Science tells us that weight isn’t the most reliable indicator of a person’s health, and yet any fat person will be shamed about their weight by everyone in their lives, including their GP. Meanwhile, we seem to take the advice of pretty 22-year-old Instagram stars, rather than educated, trained professionals. It’s a collective madness. There’s no scientific proof that kale is better than any other green, that celery juice does anything at all, or that gluten is bad for the vast majority of human beings. Yet, every time we fail and abandon a diet – perhaps because existing on salad alone is miserable and pasta is miraculous – we blame ourselves. As Pixie and Laura and Caroline and Christy have taught me, it’s time to blame diet culture. It’s time to call bullshit on bad science. It’s time to educate ourselves on nutrition and treat our bodies kindly. It’s time to respect the psychological value (and the fun) of eating. It’s time to forgive bread. It’s time to order the pizza. It’s time to stop obsessing over our size and start living our lives.

If you’d like to know more, you should read these diligently researched, elucidating books about diet culture. Good luck – enjoy pudding.