It’s not “ruining a diet,” it’s called “living life”

Guest post by Christi O'Donnell
Fuck Diets Let's Riot painting by Etsy seller RipeNRuin
Fuck Diets Let’s Riot painting by Etsy seller RipeNRuin

I work out for a lot of reasons. I work out because I like to be strong. Because I like the challenge. Because it helps quiet the voices of the demons that kept me on a 600-800 calorie diet for most of high school. Because I like the people. Because I enjoy doing bizarre things like Spartan Races and mud runs. Because it gets me out of the house and separates me from my demanding toddler for at least six hours a week. Because it’s part of my routine. Because I like to eat and, yes, because it burns calories and helps me attain and maintain an appearance and level of fitness that makes it easier for me to negotiate life on a day-to-day basis.

One day, between mini vacations to Rhode Island and the Catskills, I scrolled across the Facebook image of a constipated, bug-eyed baby above the caption, “Uh oh! Don’t ruin your diet! You work so hard… Dont ruin it cause its [insert holiday here]. Stay strong!” It was posted by a fitness trainer and casual acquaintance, and, though it clearly wasn’t her intent, it seriously annoyed me. I’ve been thinking about it pretty frequently since then.

I find this problematic on many levels… The grammar to begin with, but I’ve often been told not to be the Facebook Grammar Police, so I’ll let that slide. It’s insulting. It’s misleading. It’s belittling. It is not inspirational. It’s just plain wrong.

The majority of the women whom I’ve come to know at the gym, and to whom this particular Facebook post was largely addressed, go to the gym the way the same way they go to work. The same way they pick their kids up from daycare. The same way they do laundry, cook meals, keep appointments, pay bills, cut the grass, or take the dog to the vet. They do it as part of their day, part of their routine, part of what they just do.

They have gone to the same classes or machines week after week, stood in practically the same spots evening after evening, and morning after morning. Through relationships, marriages, divorces, deaths, injuries, surgeries, pregnancies, miscarriages, births, high school, college, job changes, relocations and hardships that I’m sure I don’t even know about.

To tell people who are so committed to a part of their lives that it could be in jeopardy from a single hot dog (or an entire plate full of them) is ridiculous. And it’s part of what is wrong with the “diet culture” in our society. It’s not a fucking diet. It’s just life.

I’m coming off a span of nearly three months where I decided to kick up my exercise/weight loss efforts for a little while. I set a very attainable goal, took very careful-but-doable measures to reach it, battled a few demons along the way, patted myself on the back for gettin’ it done. Then settled immediately into a week (A WEEK!) that started with pizza and Nutella fudge brownies for my daughter’s third birthday, and segued into meatballs and baked ziti, potato chips, more pizza and cake at her official party on Sunday.

I guess, to the original poster of the image, it wouldn’t have just look like I ruined my “diet.” It would look like I blew it out of the water, gathered up the remaining bits, ground them into a fine paste, squeezed them into a sausage casing, grilled it over a fire and ate it on a hoagie roll with fried peppers and onions.

Luckily, I’m not on a diet.

Ten years from now — when my snuggly, cuddly, precocious and curious toddler is an angsty hormonal teenager, and I’m looking for reason NOT to seal her in her room with nothing but basic cable and a feed slot — I’m not going to look back on this past “birthday week” and think, “Damn. That was the week of my undoing. I shouldnt’a eaten that clam cake.” Because my life is going to have gone on from this week. It’s not even a matter of picking myself up, dusting myself off and slinking, shame-faced, back into the studio to hide the indiscretions…

I’m just gonna change into my gym clothes, drop my kid off in the nursery, and hope that no-one settled into my favorite spot while I was away. Because I’m not dieting, I’m living life.

Comments on It’s not “ruining a diet,” it’s called “living life”

  1. Exactly this. Healthy choices make for a healthy life. Sometimes the healthy choice is eating the high-fat food. I just came off a week of Christmas/grief eating, and I’m legitimately excited to not eat that way again this week. Blech.

  2. I LOVE THIS. The “exercise as obligation / food as guilt” modality of fitness is so destructive to truly sustainable living. For me, I move my body as a celebration (HOLY FUCK I AM NOT DEAD TODAY!) and I eat the food that makes my body feel good. (Granted, it’s taken me decades to figure out what food actually *feels* good instead of just *tastes* good.)

    When food and exercise gets wrapped up in value judgments, it defeats the purpose! Guilt and shame aren’t sustainable motivators.

  3. Thank you SO much for this! I am working to kick that indulge->guilt->exercise as obligation/punishment cycle.

    I actually really enjoy working out…I love classes and yoga and running…but sometimes I don’t feel like going to the gym…and I am working on not beating myself up for those times when I decide it’s more beneficial to my soul, my body, or my marriage for me to stay home or spend time with my husband…because, you know what? I WILL feel like going to the gym tomorrow…but it does not need to be something I do out of obligation. If I start to look at it that way, I’ll stop enjoying it.

    I also LOVE food. And after a stressful move halfway across the country, bringing me to a town with a ton of restaurants to enjoy…and a holiday trip home featuring all the foods I missed…I’m not REALLY where I want to be. So, thank you for this! It’s easy to say, “oh, I messed up today, screw it!” The perspective you share is a more healthy one…and I’m so glad you put it into words. Thanks again!

  4. I’m a person who has a lot of misplaced guilt that arises from nothing in particular. It’s just a facet of my anxiety, so the reality is the guilt aspect of the fitness industry has been such a turn off that I’ve really struggled to find a way to work out healthily. I’m either all in (like 2-3 hours a day) or all out (read only long walks, nothing beyond that). I want to change it. Because ultimately, I like when I feel strong, and as someone who has thin privilege no matter what I eat, it’s important for me to take care of my body for other reasons. There’s a new climbing gym going in near me, and I’m thinking maybe that will be the ticket. Thanks for some good motivation and some good perspective!

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