No Bullshit: Diets Can Feel Good


The Internet has spoken: Quit with the bullshit. Your diet is not fun. You didn’t eat that donut you posed with on Instagram. We know what’s up, and what’s up is that your excitement about kale is a pure farce, an insult to all bearers of mouths. I am here to disagree.

But first, what am I disagreeing with? Exhibit A is this post on The Cut about a new anonymous Instagram account called “You Did Not Eat That.” In it, we learn that the author is a “good-natured whistleblower” on all the staged photos of skinny women next to fatty foods that create the illusion there is any actual relationship between the two:

We see you out there on social media, posing with your comically huge burgers, your face-size cookies and pizza slices the size of your thigh gap. That cookie might be a millimeter from your lips, but you honestly want us to believe that buttery carb made it into your stomach?

Touche. The author of the Instagram account said she’s worked in fashion and media for a decade, so her perspective is born of the usual contrived juxtaposition of hyper-thin with hyper-indulgent, and it wrongly perpetuates this idea that anyone can eat “bad” foods and look “good”:

If you’re a size zero, and you’re frolicking in a tiny bikini on the beach, you probably did not eat the doughnuts that you posed with the sunglasses.

Exhibit B is a follow-up piece at The Cut called “I Don’t Want to Hear About Your Diet,” and the author begs people to shut up already about their digestive system. This was never more painfully irritating for her than when she ordered the steak and fries at a fashion dinner:

Suddenly, every eye on the table was on me.

”You know what I like to do,” Cookbook Lady pronounced slowly, apropos of nothing. “My children and I like to take carrots, and radishes, and other yummy veggies, and we fry them up and we eat them just like French fries!”

Later, after everyone eats her fries, because fries, she concludes that after paying her dues hearing about every cleanse, diet and food trend and every unscientific justification for it, people shouldn’t be ashamed of dieting, they just shouldn’t talk about it.

… I just tire of the fact that, in the industry I work in, people discuss the state of their digestive systems like it’s the weather. There are more interesting things to talk about, like — well, almost anything. And I don’t appreciate the fact that, simply because I happen to order red meat once in a while, I get treated like a member of some anti-diet vanguard who needs to be converted to Team Swishing Cider Vinegar Through Their System. Even if you think eating a fry is a form of passive suicide, I beg you — let me commit it in peace.

Both authors above worked in the magazine industry where being thin IS the job, so it’s no wonder diets are a major topic of discussion — I cannot fathom how they would not be. I can see how it would get tiresome, but I also see that being in the thick of it probably also makes you miss the broccoli for the trees.

Exhibit C is a piece over at Slate that takes both of the above perspectives and chimes in with a thumbs up:

It’s called “Stop Pretending Your Diet is Fun. Also, Stop Pretending You’re Not on a Diet.” This piece argues that what the above folks said is totally right:

Why can’t we just acknowledge that dieting is not as fun as not dieting? Committing to yogurt, lean protein, and salad greens for a sustained period of time may help you secure the body you want, but it means a trade-off in the “Look at this amazing cookie I’m eating” department. People might possess good reasons for watching what they eat, and for not doing same, but the illusion that you can “have it all” food-, appearance-, and health-wise serves nobody well. It makes you look foolish or contemptible for ordering regular pizza, not gluten-free, or for splurging on a buttery dessert. It also means that perennially diet-conscious people are missing out on pleasurable experiences—ones they may have convinced themselves that they are getting via sugar-free sorbet cups but which, actually, they are not.

But I take issue with nearly everything in the above posts, for the following reasons:

Since When Does Diet Mean “Never Indulge” ?

Diet can mean thing you’re doing to lose weight, or it can mean how you eat. Often it means both. For many many people, the weight part of how you eat is inextricable from the health goals. Meaning, someone who eats lean meats, salads, and yogurt may not only be doing it for a “sustained period of time” to be a size zero. That might be how they eat most of the time because it helps keep them at a certain weight that feels best.

Indulging, then, would be a perfectly normal part of maintaining that diet. There is no part of eating a lot of healthy food or even being thin that means you are contradicting yourself or behaving in a fundamentally hypocritical way if you have a cookie. In fact, having a cookie is usually how you keep up the other part of the diet. It’s never having the cookie that can be problematic.

Most “diets” — meaning both weight-loss plans AND how-you-eat-mostly plans — incorporate “cheat meals” or “eat whatever you want on Saturday” or the like. Bodybuilders do it all the time, and they sure as shit don’t look like they are eating chili cheeseburgers as a matter of course. (And when they do eat that way, they photograph it). This is often referred to as a 90/10 rule, which is pretty self explanatory, but that 10 percent is critical. It allows people to focus on healthful eating most of the time, and then to still enjoy “indulging” so as to never make “indulging” a 90 percent pastime.

Lots of People Work Out

Which would be another way to eat whatever or eat whatever sometimes and still “look like you don’t.”

Shocking, But Some People Truly Like Vegetables

I love Brussels sprouts and not just when they are cooked in duck fat. I love sweet potatoes with a tiny bit of butter. I think roasted beets are one of the best things that ever happened in all of history. The only thing more heinous to me than the taste of soda is the taste of diet soda. Cucumber water is manna to me. I like broccoli with hummus. Fresh-picked strawberries? I’m practically orgasmic thinking about it. Not everyone prefers traditional sweets, or even sweet things. Chocolate has never been my problem. I prefer salty or bitter foods. I know I am not the only person.

Stuff That Tastes “Great” Makes Some People Feel Like Shit

Even though taste is subjective, let’s pretend it’s not and operate from the assumption that cheeseburgers and fries and steak and cupcakes always taste better than kale. Assuming you did “eat however you wanted” and that this makes it objectively “more fun,” which we have to assume for this argument means eating only high fat, carby foods that offer little nutritional value, isn’t it highly likely that feeling like shit afterwards — whether because you’re constipated, have a food intolerance, feel run down, have no energy, or crash after eating sweets (all super common responses that happen to people who don’t work in the magazine industry, too) — could change your perception over time of how “great” the food is or how “fun” it is to have the shits?

Speaking of shit, I used to eat like shit on the reg. I used to think a sack of Krystals was the tastiest food on earth (after drinking all night). I recently tried them again when I visited the South, and it legit tasted like a bag of dog shit covered in salt. It wasn’t good. I was a little heartbroken, and also confused. Everything that before seemed like the greatest fat-sugar-salt trifecta around now tasted like someone had poured a bag of salt and funneled it into my mouth. I genuinely thought fast food tasted good, and now it tastes like shit.

What changed? I had a baby, I stopped smoking, I don’t drink as much, and over time I have eaten things mostly in their natural state. It’s not a chore. It feels good. It is a marked change in how I feel every day to eat better. Every now and then, I might eat a cupcake at a birthday party. It always tastes good for one bite and then makes me feel like utter shit. I don’t know how to go back to the fast food and the cupcakes, unless I guess stop eating things I genuinely like, and force myself to reacclimate to it. Sounds fun.

Really, the point here is that good things come from eating well mostly, and that can balance out the “objective” truth that a cupcake tastes better than kale chips, or that it’s hard to not eat pizza. Over time, it becomes your normal, just what you do, and not a Sisyphean struggle you should be called to task for or forced to admit is “not fun.”

All Social Media Is a Lie

All the above said, if you’re looking to Instagram — a place designed expressly to allow people to post their photos with filters to depict their lives/world as better looking, happier, more blissful on purpose — to find people who will speak truth to power about body issues, then you may as well still be in the fashion mag business.

Image via Pinkcandy/Shutterstock.

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