Voices: I used to feel the ‘new year, new you’ pressure. It’s now time to change the conversation

·4-min read

As we settle into the new year, familiar messages around weight loss and shedding the “Christmas calories” have once again resurfaced – in TV adverts, in chats with family and friends, and on social media.

Don’t get me wrong, diet culture has come a long way since the 1990s (Bridget Jones was fat? I don’t think so!). Thankfully, it’s not all low-rise jeans and size zeros anymore. Yet, this pressure still seems to return with a vengeance every January, now in the form of detox teas and new year’s fitness guides.

One particularly toxic aspect of this is that over Christmas, we are bombarded with messages to indulge, as if December is the one time we’re “allowed” to enjoy as much cheese and chocolate as we want.

Then, once the new year hits, the narrative flips. “New year, new you” becomes the motto, and is amplified on TV, by famous faces, and on social media. Sponsored flat tummy teas and discounted gym memberships are typically rife, and like many other people, I’d see these and the guilt would start to creep in. Was it time to start shedding the Christmas pounds after all?

I’ve spent many years challenging these assumptions within myself. I’ve struggled with my own perception of myself for years, and being thrust into the spotlight on The Great British Bake Off certainly amplified this.

With time, I’ve reached a place now where I am happy and confident in myself. I have realised that my weight is not equal to my worth, and it’s in no small part thanks to finding a community that is helping to turn the tide on toxic diet culture. There are many prominent figures and influencers who are attempting to challenge the narrative, especially when it comes to this time of year. My Instagram feed contains far more positive new year’s posts than diet plans these days.

One of the key messages I’m happy to see being shared is that the new year doesn’t have to mean a new you – in terms of your diet or otherwise. You don’t need to change who you are, and you certainly don’t need to embark on an extreme new diet. If you want to make healthy changes, I’m all for it. I just don’t agree with celebrities or companies cashing in on people’s vulnerabilities and exploiting their insecurities with fad diets. It’s a tired and harmful narrative, and one I think should be stamped out.

Understandably, it can still be hard to block out all the noise around new year’s dieting. There is so much more work to be done to promote conversations that dismantle diet culture, and this extends beyond our social media feeds.

In Go Love Yourself, the podcast I’m launching later this month with my best friend Lauren Smith, I’ll be having conversations that aim to do just that. By chatting (and laughing) through our own experiences, we want to normalise these types of conversations in real life. We celebrate ourselves – and our bodies – after years of being made to feel as though we shouldn’t.

While diet culture and food guilt aren’t the only topics we tackle in the podcast, they certainly crop up a lot. From body confidence and eating disorders, to mental health and social media – which are all episodes on the podcast – these are issues which have defined many moments in my life.

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I remember when all the bakers were announced for GBBO, and the local press picked up the story about me being on the show. I was so worried about being bullied online for my weight before the show aired, and the first comment I ever read about myself was something about me “eating all the pies” – a lazy and thoughtless comment which really hurt. There were more to come, of course, but now the good far outweighs the bad and I get messages daily from women who have found my story inspiring and now have the confidence to quash the voice in their head that tells them they’re not good enough.

Sharing personal experiences like these are so important because it helps others – especially those in the plus-size community – realise that they are not alone in facing these challenges. By listening, I want people to feel better equipped to challenge the rules they’ve grown up with about their bodies and the food they eat.

When it comes to taking down diet culture, we still have a long way to go – especially at this time of year. But by opening up conversations which challenge the narrative we’ve been fed for so many years, I’m hopeful that women can work together to unlearn what they’ve been taught about diet culture, and go love themselves instead.

Laura Adlington was a finalist in The Great British Bake Off in 2020

‘Go Love Yourself’ will be available from Tuesday 18 January on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms. Listeners can keep up to date with the podcast on Instagram: @goloveyourselfpod

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