If we are truly wanting to become liberated from our body woes and diet culture, we cannot just talk about food. Food is important, but for many of us that is only one piece of the puzzle. The other piece that seems to be missing is our relationship with movement.
How does movement impact our relationship to our bodies? How does our beliefs with movement continue the diet-cycle in our own mind?
These questions are important to ask yourself as you move forward in your body-acceptance journey. Diet culture has seeped its hands into our movement practices, and sometimes without you even knowing it. However, there are some immediate things that may be red flags indicating that you need to look at your relationship with movement. Let’s look at the most common ways that diet-culture is seen in exercise, and how we can begin shifting that narrative to be one that supports us in our body-acceptance journey
1)Movement based on caloric expenditure: Burn Off Calories
If you are still using movement as a means to burn off what you just ate, you are still stuck in diet-culture. Sometimes what happens is that we allow ourselves permission to eat food – which is an important part of healing our overall relationship with our bodies and rebelling against diet culture – but that will only get you so far if you are still having that food be something that you feel needs to be “burned off” in the gym.
This mindset isn’t your fault, this is due to our culture creating this type of narrative around movement. All of us have scrolled through social media and have seen a chart that is talking about if you eat X, then that would require you to do a million jumping jacks just to burn it off. (By the way: unfollow, block, or hide those bullshit advertisements. That is one way to support your journey.)
And we are all aware of the narrative of “calories in vs. calories out” – which isn’t even true in the first place. Our bodies are way more complex, and are not some machine in which we can plug equations in.
One way to start to shift this narrative is to ask yourself: If I had not prior knowledge about diet-culture, would I still do this movement? Am I treating my body and self with respect or am I punishing myself?
2)Motivation is extrinsic: Your typical “bikini body” bullshit.
If your motivation is coming from you figuratively – and literally – running from your current body size/shape/weight in order to “obtain” another type of body – which is often times smaller or leaner: then you are still in diet-culture.
Diet-culture is famous for its before and after photos, or bikini body challenges. All of which are rooted in body shame. These photos actively are saying, and positioning, one body as more desirable and worthy than another. If you are running away from your current body, how do you expect to find acceptance?
Acceptance isn’t an end destination, it is a starting point with anything. If you think that you will have complete unconditional acceptance in your after photo, let me tell you: chances are you won’t. It will be fleeting and conditional. Not to mention that the majority of people who make attempts at intentional weight-loss will gain the weight back within 5+ years. So, what happens then?
And maybe you actually did lose weight at some point: did you actually full accept your body as is? Were you actually happy? Did you really feel liberated? Or was that liberation and happiness a result of keeping your internalized fatphobia at bay?
Plus, when we rely on extrinsic motivation that is rooted in fear, shame, and guilt then it often times overrides body respect (see number one). It usually isn’t a sustainable practice, either. This is when you may “fall off the wagon” or end up cycling through programs.
What would happen if you stopped chasing a goal body, and came back home to yours instead? How can you accept something when you are actively running from it? What would happen if you started seeing your body – and you – first?
Instead of shaming yourself for motivation, what would happen if you operated from a place of joy? What do you actually enjoy doing?
3) Movement as a means of permission: Earning your food.
Another thing that ties into the first topic of discussion in this blog is when we use movement as a permission pass to eat certain foods. This sometimes can be disguised under the “I am giving myself permission to eat!” But, this is still conditional permission to eat. It is operating under: I can only eat this because I worked out earlier.
What we need to do is completely detach from the idea that food and movement are in a relationship with each other. Once we stop intertwining the two together, we can truly give ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever.
Of course this, along with the first thing addressed, is because we have become so fearful of calories in general (hello point number two) and that is due to our fat-phobic society.
What can you do? Realize that you don’t need a permission slip to eat any food. You are allowed to eat food whenever you want, however much you want, and whatever you want.
4) Movement as the root of your confidence and self-worth.
I have already talked about how Strong Is The New Skinny can be equally as harmful as upholding the thin ideal – if not more harmful. If you are using movement as the main way to feel worthy or confident in your skin, then that isn’t much different than using thinness or leanness. It is using some type of measuring stick to live up to. This can keep you in body-shame and low self-worth because instead of putting those things in how small your waist is, you are putting them onto your ability to move or achievements you have through movement.
Ultimately what we want is to stop using a measuring stick for our self-worth at all, and start understanding that our worthiness as a human being is solely based on our existence. It doesn’t require strength, fitness, health, or appearance.
What would happen to you if you were unable to move your body at all? Where would you pull your confidence and self-worth? How would you feel about yourself if you couldn’t meet some type of marker based on ability or achievement?
Would you be able to see your value as a person regardless? If not, then that is something to look at for yourself. You are more than a body, and you are also more than a health status, fitness level, and movement practices.
As you can see, our relationships with movement can be equally as complex as our relationship with food. It is important to do work around both so we can truly be liberated versus this half-way contingent bullshit. This is not to slam movement – joyful movement can be a great thing for people and there is a component to fitness and overall health, however, it is a tricky line to navigate when we are coming out of diet-culture.
Most of these things listed above are not out of joy, or overall health because they would have a major impact on your mental well-being. There is nothing “healthy” about stress, fear, shame, and guilt. Just like we have to unlearn a lot of what we were taught around food, we have to unlearn what we have been taught around movement. Both of these things go along with unlearning fat-phobic ideals and reclaiming who we are as individuals.