How To Avoid Diet Culture Talk On Thanksgiving

It goes without saying that Thanksgiving will be very different this year. Even if you’re doing your Thanksgiving dinner over Zoom, some less-than-fun elements about this family and food-oriented holiday will likely remain the same. You’ll probably still get asked why you’re single, and chances are high you’ll hear diet talk, which is everywhere, but particularly prevalent when a group of people are eating together. Your aunt Karmen might talk about the latest diet she’s on, while your cousin Lacey might fiddle with the food on her plate and exclaim how she’s eaten way too much. It feels almost inevitable that someone will mention how their weight changed during quarantine.

Whichever way you put it, there’s bound to be somebody talking about food restriction or exercise in relation to their desire to lose weight. This can be triggering for people with eating disorders, or anyone really who wants to enjoy their meal in peace without hearing how many calories are in their turkey stuffing. Besides, there will be enough talk about COVID-19 and the election—can’t we all just agree on keeping this topic off the table this year? Well, it’s not so easy to get rid of diet talk from our family and friends. But, with the help of some experts, there are ways of trying to avoid it altogether and quick responses to stop diet talk in its tracks. Read on for their valuable tips. 

1. Skip Thanksgiving Altogether

This is an obvious option to entertain since many people are skipping holiday gatherings because of COVID-19 anyway. But, if you’re feeling brave, and want to tell your family that you’re forgoing the meal in order to take care of your mental health, then power to you! Of course, this is something you should speak about with your therapist or a treatment team provider. “There are people with eating disorders who would love this excuse to be an ‘out’ from Thanksgiving and restrict, which is not at all what we want,” Christy Harrison, the author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, says. 

And if you hear people calorie counting or food policing, you can always choose to walk away, she adds. 

2. Set Boundaries

Tell your family ahead of time that hearing diet talk is triggering for you and request that it not be spoken about while you’re present. “Let’s enjoy our food this year. Can we make Thanksgiving a guilt-free zone experience?” suggests Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet. But if that doesn’t work out, there’s plan B. 

According to Harrison, you’re going to need to provide consequences if your boundaries are violated. “If they keep doing it—whether they’re oblivious or don’t realize what they’re doing is diet talk—you might want to say that you’re going to leave the conversation or go for a walk.”

3. Redirect The Conversation 

Change the subject by explaining how diet talk is triggering for you or talk about something else entirely, like how thankful you are for your health this year. 

“One of the best quotes I often use is, ‘I don’t discuss politics, religion or one’s diet,” Jay Cowin, NNCP, RNT, RNC, CHN, CSNA, says. Your Fat Friend suggests other ways to intervene, like saying, “Can we talk about something else?” or “I’ve been working really hard at accepting my body, and this feels like a setback. Let’s talk about something else.” You can shift the focus by talking about the food and what you’re grateful for. Ask your host which spices were used in your favorite dish, or verbally acknowledge your gratitude for health and family during a tough year. 

Harrison says that if you’re comfortable, you can even start a discussion about how diet talk and diet culture are harmful to people. “It’s helpful to lead with your own experience: Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what I need. Not making them feel policed or shamed on how they’re relating to food and their bodies.” 

4. Find A Support System

Establish a support system ahead of time. Tell a friend or close family member who knows you struggle with diet talk and can help you redirect the conversation or be on call if you need them. And if you don’t have someone to lean on, there are people out there who have your back. “For those who may need a little extra support this Thanksgiving, NEDA offers a click-to-chat Helpline on Thanksgiving Day from 10am-6pm. Our helpline volunteers are trained to help you find the information and support you are looking for,” Chelsea Kronengold, the communications manager of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says. 

You may not be able to control what people talk about on Thanksgiving, but at least you have control over how you respond or react. And the best part is, you still have a few more days to prepare and tell your support system to stand by in case you need backup.

Images: Pond Saksit / Shutterstock

How I Lost 50+ Pounds On “The Fast Metabolism Diet”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a difficult relationship with food. I don’t mean that as just something people say—the whole “as long as I can remember” thing. I literally recall being five years old, looking in the mirror, and thinking, “I’m fat.” Pretty brutal for basically an infant to think about herself, but as the years went on, those critical thoughts only grew and evolved. I hated my thighs, the ones that smushed together when I sat, and I hated my wide hips, the ones that pushed me into the juniors section long before my third grade classmates joined me there.

It wasn’t just puberty and the appearance of my childbearing hips that made living in my body feel unbearable. It was my addiction to food that caused the never-ending battle. One I didn’t even realize I was fighting until I was fifteen. Until I started skipping meals, tracking calories, and eventually, throwing up everything I ate.

As a recovered-ish binge-eating-anorexic-bulimic with severe food anxiety (doesn’t that sound like something straight out of a bullsh*t movie starring Emma Roberts?), diets have been my foundation since I started trading my lunch for a Diet Coke in 5th grade. As someone who was always just overweight enough to warrant comments from family members about her “plump” figure and “chubby” frame (*cough* assholes *cough*), I’m no stranger to viewing the scale as the enemy. Eating in moderation does not come naturally to me, and the sporadic “treat yo’ self” meal can cause a spiral that results in a 10 pound weight gain in the blink of an eye.

So, naturally, I’ve done all of the diets. ALL of them. I’ve done all of the teatoxes. I’ve tried all of the bullsh*t shakes and supplements that girls from my high school who got knocked up and stayed in our hometown sold via Facebook messenger. I am that cliche. From Keto to Whole30 to The South Beach Diet and to my own special diet called “eat everything in your pantry in one sitting and hope your body won’t transform it into fat”—I’ve tried them all. Most I’ve had some success on because when you cut out having cake after dinner and pizza four times a week, odds are you’ll drop a few pounds.

The tricky part of my diet and health journey, however, has always been restriction and control. As someone with a LONG history of eating disorders, any doctor can tell you, diets are pretty precarious. It can take one slipup, one day of being too lax or too strict to completely relapse. So, sure, I can have success with these diets, but when they involve cutting carbs for months or foregoing fruit for weeks, it really f*cks with my head.

When a friend of mine told me about a diet where you’re literally eating nonstop, not expected to work out like a crazy person, and don’t have to give up carbs, I was intrigued. I was staying at her house for a weekend and she came into the kitchen, blurry-eyed, and said she needed to eat breakfast right then. She made a piece of toast, topped it with some turkey bacon and an egg, grabbed some carrots and a carton of raspberries, and went back to her room. When she emerged an hour later, bright-eyed and showered, and I asked her what that was about, she told me about the diet. The diet that requires you to eat within 30 minutes of waking up. That forces you to eat TONS of food. The diet she had been on for a week and already lost five pounds on. The diet that would quickly change my life.

Enter: The Fast Metabolism Diet (and by “diet” the author coined the phrase “Did I Eat Today?”).

From the excerpt on Amazon, this pretty much sums up the whole eating plan:

“On this plan, you’re going to eat a lot. You’re going to eat three full meals and at least two snacks a day – and you’re still going to lose weight. What you’re not going to do is count a single calorie or fat gram. You’re going not to ban entire food groups. You’re not going to go carb-free or vegan or go cold turkey on the foods you love. Instead, you’re going to rotate what you’re eating throughout each week according to a simple and proven plan carefully designed to induce precise physiological changes that will set your metabolism on fire.”

Created by celebrity nutritionist and best-selling author Haylie Pomroy, this is the first and only actually healthy diet I’ve ever been on. It encourages resting the body, not overworking it with tons of exercise, and eating delicious, wholesome meals. And before you think this is an ad, it’s not. If Haylie wants to pay me, that’s cool (my DMs are open, girl), but the truth is this plan just really f*cking works. Don’t believe me? Take a peek. I was on and off the diet for a little over a year, and here are the results:

I lost 51 pounds on The Fast Metabolism Diet over the course of a casual 15 months. That was including indulging over the holidays, drinking at parties, and taking breaks in between months of being steadfastly healthy. I could have lost it faster if I did the month-long diet back-to-back, but that’s just not how I function. I’m like, really popular, and giving up drinking (yup, you have to give up alcohol) for multiple months at a time was a no-go for me. While I did gain a decent portion of it back post-wedding (that’s what going to Italy for a month will do to you), so now I fall somewhere between those two photos, I’m officially back at it. In the 12 days that I’ve been on the FMD, I’ve lost just over 10 pounds. And that’s from eating a sh*tton, doing very light (if any, tbh) exercise, and messing up a few times when I forgot to go to the grocery store.

So, how does it work? Let’s break it down:

Phase 1 (which happens every Monday and Tuesday) is all about healthy carbs and sugars. So, your meals are full of fruits and rice and pasta and sandwiches. Sure, you have to have sprouted grain everything, but honestly? Any diet where I can have quinoa and bread without shame is one for me. As for exercise, you need to do one day of cardio (which I skip a lot, tbh).

Phase 2 (which happens every Wednesday and Thursday) however, is where things get tricky. This is the only 2 days of the week I dread because honestly they’re lame and they low-key kinda suck. Basically, you’re restricted to meat and veggies these two days. That’s it. But if you’re on a strict diet and only 2 of the 7 days kinda suck, then I’ll take it. Exercise? With all the protein, this is the time for strength training. You’re required to do one day of weights or something similar (again, an activity I keep “accidentally” missing).

Phase 3 (which happens, you guessed it, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) is a mix of both of the above phases, plus you get to add in healthy fats like oil, nuts, and avocado! Easily the best of the phases, this is where your meals are full of lots of colors and lots of variety. You can make almost any meal you love fit into this phase (one of my favorites is making a mock Chipotle bowl. WITH guac, of course). If you thought this was great, the exercise portion of this phase is even better. You’re required to do something light that promotes blood flow like stretching, yoga, or getting a massage. Seriously. It says it in the book. GETTING A MASSAGE COUNTS AS EXERCISE IN THIS DIET. HAVE WE DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN?!

What does a day on each phase look like? Glad you asked. Here’s an idea of what I eat:

Phase 1:
Breakfast: Fruit smoothie and 10 brown rice crackers
Snack: Apple
Lunch: Open-face turkey sandwich on sprouted grain bread with carrots and berries on the side
Snack: Bowl of cherries
Dinner: Turkey chili

Phase 2:
Breakfast: Turkey bacon and egg white scramble with veggies mixed in
Snack: Deli turkey slices
Lunch: Salad with chicken with balsamic dressing
Snack: Turkey bacon wrapped asparagus
Dinner: Steak and asparagus or celery

Phase 3:
Breakfast: Sprouted grain toast with an egg and turkey bacon plus celery and berries on the side
Snack: Carrots and hummus
Lunch: Chicken curry
Snack: Nuts
Dinner: Steak, veggies, guac, and salsa wrapped up in a sprouted grain tortilla with some extra carrots on the side.

The pros: You get to eat a ton, you don’t cut out full food groups, and you really will lose weight without feeling like you’re totally restricting yourself. Plus, as someone who can backslide into disordered eating easily, there are no points, no counting calories, and no tracking grams of fat. You just eat the foods you’re supposed to eat at the times you’re supposed to eat them and you lose weight.

The cons: Like most diets, it’s hard to go out to eat/have a normal social life. While, sure, you *can* manage it, it’s easier just to make your own food. Which brings me to another con. You have to make A LOT of food. Plenty of it you can cook in bulk and freeze for later phases but ultimately, it takes a lot of cooking and prep (and pricey grocery runs) to pull this one off. And the worst part? No alcohol and NO caffeine. None. Nada. During later months when I was already losing lots of weight, I added a cup of coffee back into my life, but until then waking up without that jolt took a longggggg time to get used to.

Ultimately, despite the cooking and the lack of coffee and cocktails, I’ve never met an eating plan that I’ve loved as much as the FMD. And because Hayle (and her PR team) sum it up much better than I ever could:

“This is the silver bullet for the chronic dieter who has tried every fad diet and failed, the first time dieter attempting to kick her metabolism into gear, and anyone who wants to naturally and safely eat her way to a skinnier, healthier self.”

A-f*cking-men. Follow along with me as I continue along with this plan or join the metaphorical club and start with me. The best part? When you finally drink again, your tolerance is so low you’ll get schwasted on like, one glass of champs (which will save you time AND money). If that isn’t the best reason to diet, idk what is.

Images: Gardie Design & Social Media Marketing / Unsplash; Rachel Varina (4); Giphy (1) 

Trying To Become An Instagram Influencer Ruined My Life

They pose seductively in perfectly styled bedrooms or smile wide with the backdrop of an exotic location behind them. You see them wearing the newest trends or showcasing the latest beauty products. 

The photos that pepper the Instagram profiles of Instagram influencers—or those trying to become “Insta-famous”—tell a story of glamour, excitement, and access. The sales strategy works so well that influencers can turn promoting these brands to their followers into a full-time job. 

But, as Betches discovered during a series of interviews with women who were trying to make a living being Instagram-famous, there’s another side to this new business model. Many who are trying to grow their following to make a living are finding that the more popular their Instagram profile becomes, the more stressful, isolating, and mentally toxic their real lives get.

“It’s so easy to become obsessed with the persona you are creating (on Instagram),” said Isabelle Dungan (@izabizabelle), a media personality and creative consultant who was tasked with becoming an Instagram influencer for a digital travel series.

“Getting to a lot of followers”—which generally means over 5K for smaller influencers and 500K+ for bigger contract deals—“is a full-time job,” says Dungan, who was tasked with growing her employer’s Instagram account to 10K or more. “It’s very easy to get totally sucked in.”

It’s not only easy to get sucked in, it’s nearly impossible not to. By its very design, Instagram is addictive. There is evidence that getting a like on Instagram can trigger the same kind of chemical reaction in the brain as gambling and drugs. (So the next time your mom accuses you of being addicted to social media, she might have a point.) Dr. Harshal Kirane, Medical Director at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, explains, “The same pathways that enable us to connect with healthy behaviors (such as bonding with others) are the same pathways that can get co-opted and activated to seek out really unhealthy habits. Instagram intentionally designed a number of algorithms to ensure the mechanism of receiving likes is activating that underlying pathway.” 

Megan Gentry (@meganngentry), a photographer and brand influencer, said she experienced a major mental shift when Instagram became taking over her life. “Being an influencer took up a lot more time than I expected,” she said. “I knew that if I spent more time on a post I would get more likes on it and more engagement. So I started scheduling my day—my friend time, my family time—around posting. Getting the perfect shot, editing it, and making everything flawless became my whole life.”

The investment in curating her feed to such an extreme paid off, and she began gaining more followers, accruing more likes on her posts, and getting more lucrative offers from brands to showcase their products. But the larger her audience grew, the more problems she started facing in her life offline. She moved from Napa, California to New York City, where someone at one of the brands she worked with taught her how to use Photoshop to make herself appear thinner in photos. “Before I started using Instagram I already struggled with depression and anxiety,” Gentry said, adding that after she learned Photoshop, she noticed she started getting more followers. “I developed a really bad eating disorder in that time frame. All for a photo. I wanted to look in real life how I looked in the Photoshop version. I sort of let go of everything else I cared about, so I could get perfect photos, get paid more, and work with more brands.”

And then there are the comments, PMs, and harassment that goes along with being famous on the Internet. 

“About two years ago, when I hit 10K followers, I started getting a lot of messages,” said Gentry. “It was really exciting but it also got easier (for strangers) to bash me. It became dehumanizing in a way.” 

Initially, Instagram was a positive outlet for her. “When I was posting my photography and having fun with the account, it was great. But when I got a larger following, my anxiety got like 10 times worse. I was worried about posting every day because I wanted my following to grow but then I got additional anxiety about the hate comments.”

Gentry also noticed a change in her boyfriend of three years. “He was sleeping on the couch, playing video games, and barely talking to me when we were together. But when I was out in public he would be like ‘this is my girlfriend, she’s a beautiful Instagram influencer.’ He started using me to grow his following and would get jealous of me.” Eventually, they broke up. 

Dungan echoes how the intense focus on growing Instagram followers can take a toll. “I lost a lot of money buying outfits and makeup and facial products,” she explains of the personal investment she made to grow the travel company’s Instagram account, which focused mainly on her as the host of their digital show. Dungan describes spending thousands of dollars on travel as well as facial products, blowouts, makeup and clothes to look the part. “I always wanted to put my best foot forward. It was a lot of pressure and I really didn’t feel supported on any level.”

But she thought it was an investment worth making. “They sold me a story that I would get a lot of brands to sponsor me. It never happened.” While she admits she was investing in herself as a brand as well, “I was doing this with the hopes that I would see a lot of return on that. And six months later I am heavily in debt and the company conveniently pulled the plug on the project as soon as I broke up with my boyfriend (a co-founder of the production company) before we even got into post-production. The men running the company treated me as completely disposable.” 

 

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The issues facing Instagram influencers are so widespread that mental health advocate Larissa May created the organization Half the Story (#halfthestory) with the intent of helping people find healthy relationships with social media.  

“People that are spending more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to experience symptoms of social isolation, depression, and anxiety. And brand influencers are virtually spending their full days on their phone, it’s a full-time job,” said May.

She notes that even when followers know that influencers’ profiles don’t show the full truth, people still compare themselves. “With media and magazines, for the past 50 years, we have been comparing ourselves to the people on the billboard,” she says. “Now that billboard is in your hand at all times, you yourself are on that billboard every day of your life, and everyone is constantly comparing themselves. These comparison tactics and thoughts are part of humanity, yes. But social media places a huge magnifier on that construct.”

For both Gentry and Dungan, getting to a healthy headspace took time—and distance from the platform. Gentry said a three-week hiatus gave her the space she needed to mentally reset, and she was able to re-engage with Instagram with stronger boundaries in place. She reveals that when she returned to using Instagram, she unfollowed “all the pages that made me unhappy or made me feel bad about my image and that helped a lot.” Still, Gentry admits, it’s a challenge to scrub her account of everything that sparks the impulse to compare. “To this day, I have a hard time following certain influencers, even though I love them, because I know that it’s triggering for me.”

Like May, Dungan wants her experience to help shield other young potential influencers from the pitfalls of trying to be Insta-famous. While she is still posting to her personal account, she has taken some time away from being the face of a brand and is engaging with the platform in a more empowering way. “You have to be really passionate about what you’re creating, and be sure it’s creating value for society and your life, otherwise don’t do it,” says Dungan. Especially for young women. I want them to know that they have a choice and can make their own decisions.”

Images: Megan Gentry; @izabizabelle / Instagram