A new research paper is said to prove that weight loss should never be the primary criteria for judging health. The study targets unhealthy weight management, and credits exercise as the biggest favour you can do your body.
The early Noughties, aka the millennial formative years, delivered quite possibly the most toxic dose of warped body image in modern times. In the Nineties, Kate Moss said that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” and the Noughties were spent trying to find out if she was right. It was the decade that introduced us to ultra-low rise jeans and size zero poster girls like Rachel Zoe, while circling any body parts that didn’t quite make the cut in gossip magazines.
Diet culture preached then, as it continues to echo in heads now, that bodies are to be controlled and shrunk. No wonder 9st 4lbs Bridget Jones was so insecure about her – in hindsight – very normal body.
My developing brain was predictably enamoured, and by age 15, I could tell you the calorie content of anything and wholly nothing about the nutrients. I armoured myself to battle with a diet of one-calorie Slim Pasta, diet pills and honeydew melon.
Of course, I developed an eating disorder. I loathed my body, which was never small enough. With disordered eating comes disordered feelings, and the lack of nutrition quickly affected my moods and sleep patterns. Kate was wrong. Skinny didn’t feel good.
Indeed, research has shown that calorie restriction disrupts your gut’s microbiome, and poor gut health and inflammation directly influence mental health.
After 10 years of being hungry and sad, but a size six, I finally sought treatment which is still a work in progress. Fats I once demonised were reframed as mental and physical fuel that could be “good”. Calorically dense nuts, avocado, oily fish and coconut cream began to do as much for my mental health as antidepressants.
I learned what should probably be obvious: that feeling hungry is as good for your body as running your car with the petrol light on is to your engine. I learned my “set weight” – the weight that my body functions at its best. Everyone has a different set weight, which isn’t always in line with society’s desirable single-digit dress size.
One size can’t fit all, which is why beauty standards are unrealistic for most people. Size also changes as you get older, and you have about as much real control over it as you do your hair or eye colour. This could be why every yo-yo dieter tends to eventually return to their original weight, as, in many cases, you’re fighting against genetics. It turns out my set weight is about a size 12.
But there is a three-decade legacy of being taught to tell yourself that you’re fat, and it persists today. I’m yet to take a photograph where I like the body I see. Crisps will always be “bad”, however delicious. Dessert menus are terrifying.
I remain uncomfortable in my skin, but at least now I know how much I abused my body and I do my best to take care of it. In 2021, our approach to body positivity in the media is far from perfect, but I hope that the next generation of women will be free from being taught bad habits that take a lifetime to unlearn.