What's the quickest way to get cancelled in 2019? Is it a) declaring your love of single-use plastic b) using your air miles for weekend breaks in Australia or c) talking about dieting and weight loss? Right now, it’s option C. Recently, Lizzo was forced to issue a statement after Weight Watchers used her song Worship in an advert. Beyoncé faced a backlash for promoting her pre-Coachella vegan eating plan. And last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s site Goop came under fire after publishing Busting Diet Myths – a Q&A with Dr Traci Mann, a professor of social and health psychology.
In it, Dr Mann suggested that we should aim to stay at our ‘leanest liveable weight’, which she describes as ‘around what you weigh when you are eating sensibly – without dieting or binge-eating, and when you aren’t engaging in tons of exercise.’ Perhaps predictably, Dr Mann and Goop now face an intense backlash. The geneticist and obesity expert Dr Giles Yeo commented: ‘This is a dangerous suggestion, as many people will take it to mean they should be as thin as possible... Goop is part of the reason that people have become afraid of eating.’
I know how it feels to be afraid of eating. As a teen and into adulthood, I suffered with both bulimia and anorexia, and during periods of unhappiness my relationship with food and my body has become especially dysfunctional. Dr Yeo is saying that when we talk about weight, bodies and dieting, we need to be extremely cautious about how our words could be interpreted. It’s vital that we challenge the dangerous ideas that lead to body shaming. But surely we must also acknowledge that we all need to find the happiest, healthiest way to exist in our bodies? For some, that could mean looking into well-managed weight loss.
Over the last year, I have steadily lost a substantial amount of weight because I did not feel healthy. According to my BMI, I was obese. Deep down, I knew I’d been gaining weight, and that some of my favourite clothes no longer fitted. Yet I couldn’t admit that weight loss was my goal because failure to accept my body made me a bad feminist.
In the past, I’d tried so many regimes, yet told everyone how much I loved food, when truthfully, I was in an abusive relationship with it. I’d become obese because I’d become addicted to using food as comfort, reward and motivation. As I started to lose weight by cutting back booze, enjoying treats weekly rather than daily, and learning to eat when I was hungry instead of sad or bored, I also lost my fear of food because I understood its function – fuel and nourishment. It is a lifestyle that works better for me.
In that vein, while we panic over being our ‘leanest’, we’re ignoring Mann’s use of ‘liveable’. ‘For many, our leanest liveable weight is heavier than our dream weight,’ she explained. For me, that’s at the top of my ‘ideal’ BMI range. It’s what I weigh when I’m not bingeing, starving or ignoring my body.
It is thought that at any time, up to 50% of women are trying to lose weight. The backlash against Goop and Dr Mann does these women a disservice – myself included. It makes us feel our desires are wrong, and there isn’t space for our struggles. I adore the fact that there are so many fantastic movements and campaigns encouraging us to embrace our bodies and love ourselves as we are.
But I don’t want to live in a world that tells us loving our bodies and wanting to lose weight are mutually exclusive. The culture around weight, dieting and body image is contradictory and complicated. It’s unfair to everyone if we just cancel it – or Gwyneth – and shut the conversation down.