Halloween – It’s the time we think about candy, pumpkin spice lattes, and trick-or-treating in costumes and masks.
I have always been fascinated by masks! I own a painting that depicts a woman peeling off her mask and it has always had a strong impact on me.
So, what’s the tradition behind the mask? Where does it come from and what does it signify?
Masks seemed to have originated from an ancient Celtic holiday called All Hallows. People believed they needed a mask for protection against “bad spirits” roaming the earth. And now, thousands of years later, we still wear masks. They may not be literal “masks” but “figurative” ones.
We hide our fear, pain and suffering behind a fake smile and happy attitude, as in “I’m doing great – don’t worry about me.” We wear masks of anger to push people away, lest they recognize our inadequacies. And many of us wear “people-pleasing” masks making it difficult to figure out what we really want and need! THE MASK serves as a form of protection as many people fear showing up as their most authentic selves.
Diets serve as a form of control. Diets and diet culture are socially sanctioned ways of avoiding our feelings. They “mask” what’s troubling us. So many people believe they will be happy if only they could change their bodies: their weight, shape, size, and/or looks. Food rules, calorie counts, weights and measures act as an internal form of control, but underneath those rules (AKA the diet) lies something we usually don’t want to face.
When asked why they started dieting, here are several reasons my clients cited:
- I dieted to feel in control of my present. I was going through a very hard time in college.
- Outside peer pressure to be pretty, meet boys, and conform to society’s definition of beautiful was a reason I dieted.
- I dieted for attention and care that I wasn’t getting.
- My diet/binge/exercise cycle started when I was picked on and called names by boys at around age 12.
- Dieting gave me the ability to avoid addressing the feelings/memories I avoid through strict control of my food.
- I dieted, but now want freedom from the illogical belief that I am somehow “keeping myself safe from” and “remaining in control” of the uncontrollable” and accept what I cannot control.
And for anyone struggling with an eating disorder, secrecy goes beyond the socially sanctioned “diet” talk. Hiding true pain and suffering behind a mask of “I’m fine” keeps a person stuck in their eating disorder — feeling ashamed and embarrassed to show their authentic selves.
Social Media Perpetuates the Mask of Diet Culture
Many of us are vulnerable to comparisons made on social media. Even on a good body image day, one need only look at Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see images that make us immediately feel critical of our own bodies.
The blaring voice of diet culture promises that success will only be achieved once we reach a certain size or achieve a certain look. Our culture equates body size (small) with “health.” But studies prove over and over again that a body can be “healthy” at a wide variety of sizes! The true definition of “health” means both physical and emotional health; finding deeper meaning and purpose beyond the superficial, and having greater satisfaction in self-love, compassion, intuition, taking responsibility, and forgiveness (particularly of ourselves).
What if we took off our masks, looked at our lives and our bodies, and accepted them just as they are right now? Would we see that we work too much, have too much distance between our loved ones, that we feel insecure about our bodies and body image? Would we see that we aren’t living our lives in accordance with the things that matter most to us? Our truest values? What would it feel like to “un-diet” or eat “intuitively?”
If you find yourself obsessed and anxious around food and think about food and body weight much of the time, you are wearing the mask of diet culture. Here are some ways to start peeling away its mask.
8 Steps to Remove the Mask of Diet Culture from your Life
- Admit that you are stuck in the vicious cycle of diets – whether that means restricting yourself from certain foods, binge eating, over-exercising, or any other means of controlling your body weight.
- Talk to a friend or family member and ask for help.
- Seek the help of a mental health professional.
- Write in a journal to start noticing feelings that you might not be aware of.
- Listen for your internal critic. When you find yourself commenting negatively about your body, or notice “fat” talk, ask yourself what’s really going on here? What is troubling me?
- Change up your newsfeed with messages that support body positivity and remind you that diet culture is just one big lie. (Join my Free Facebook as a first place to start with this.)
- Find communities of fellow anti-dieters! It is difficult to focus on feeling good in our bodies when most of the world is stuck in diet culture. The beauty of community is being able to share struggles and successes.
- Start practicing INTUITIVE EATING.
Intuitive eating is a way of freeing yourself from diet culture because you don’t restrict food; rather you learn to eat in a way that honors and respects your body. Intuitive eating helps you to turn off the shameful, negative, self-loathing tapes within yourselves and learn to eat in accordance with your taste preferences, hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Intuitive eating helps to solve a person’s preoccupation with food, weight and size so your brain has more space to pursue other activities, even if they feel scary and new. And Intuitive Eating helps your body achieve its “just right” genetically determined weight without stress.
Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond: This is a self-paced program that explores your relationship with food, your dieting history, readiness to integrate intuitive eating into your life, and teaches you how to use your values to make peace with food. This program is geared for women in Midlife, Menopause and Beyond with special lessons dedicated to how we change as we age and what role nutrition can play. Click here for all the details!
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
Download our Free Intuitive Eating Guide and get off that Diet Roller Coaster for good!