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Dieting: Is It Really Ever Our Own Idea?

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When I say the word 'diet' I desperately want to believe that is a word that symbolises an act of personal freewill, a word that is conjured up freely and solely by me. When I recently read up about the 'Ditching Dieting' campaign, it never properly struck me that there was anything suspicious that might be subconsciously spurring me on, or even any such a thing as a 'diet industry'. Surely there is no 'diet fairy' that comes and pokes at your flabby bits while you sleep and leaves you notes around the house calling you 'tubby'? It's all self-inflicted, right? This is where in hindsight, I may have been slightly naive. I've never been unhappy with my weight; I've never been bullied for anything relating to body image or anything like that. So why does a part of my brain always end up scolding me every time I enjoy one too many biscuits or dip into the roast potatoes for seconds?

Then I realised. All of those magazines articles or Facebook adverts that would pop up, as though they were just talking directly to me, casually asking: would I like to have a flat tummy in 10 days? Or the Daily Mail, telling me that if I drank enough coconut water like Sienna and Gwyneth, I'd get a rockstar boyfriend too. Come on, Emma, step into our world. If you were thin, all your dreams would come true.

It's taken me a long time to realise that these mind games not only rob us of our hard-earned cash (books, vitamin pills, strange specific food, gourmet salads) but also rob us of our freedom too. The most memorable occasion was when a 'diet' ended up ruling my life to such an extreme that I missed out on a friend's birthday as I didn't want to be confronted with the menu. Obsessing over McKenna's you-must-chew-20-times vs Alan Sugar's you-must-eat-with-a-small-fork, I was obsessing and no fun at all to be around. For these silly periods of time, we think that these fads will not only genuinely work, but might even change our lives forever. I still feel like writing that letter to Paul McKenna because actually, He Couldn't Make Me Thin and it was a bit rude to have assumed that it was what I wanted in the first place.

My housemate and I could talk about diets for hours. In fact, it never takes long before one of us launches into a heated debate about what's new in the diet world and what might, just MIGHT, turn us into Miranda Kerr overnight. I've always listened intently when anyone unravels the inside details of any particular diet: my sister's committal to the Atkin's when she frolicked as a size 8 on a beach in Goa; my friend swearing by the Dukan diet as she explained how she normally cooks up a steak with a morning cup of tea. In their minds, it wasn't rocket science. In fact, it was simple maths: calories consumed plus calories burned equals your weight. But, what people fail to explain is like with any diet, the results are always short-lived. During a diet, no one wants to see anything other than the present moment, they are too busy reveling in what it feels like to secretly suffer and get complimented for it.

It's also interesting that any type of dieting activity is pretty much against the laws of physics. Hypnosis for example, a tool used by many dieticians who train the mind to think in opposites regarding food, such as 'chocolate cake will make you miserable' when really it is a source of happiness stemming from early birthday parties; gastric bands are going against simple biological processes in which your stomach has an alien intruder, and purging or using laxatives will only wreak havoc with a perfectly normal digestive system.

The funny thing about diets is they are so psychological to the point where a) any intense focus on 'dieting' means over-concentration on food and therefore you end up eating more. Point b) is that the times in my life that I lost the most amount of weight it was genuinely by accident. The sad part of the story is that when I was at my thinnest it wasn't due to any diet or intense fitness regime, I was actually just unhappy and the outcome was just finding food a bit repulsive. So as weeks went by I started becoming more and more slim, but my family thought I didn't look like me, and actually, I felt a bit awkward looking in the mirror, mainly because it was quite pathetic how long it took to gather the energy to smile.

I have these conversations with my friends a lot. It's strange how as a girl you can remember the exact month and year that you were 'at your thinnest'. Maybe that's due to repetitively looking up that favourite album on Facebook and thinking 'wow I looked GOOD in that bikini' only to then realise it was a good four years ago and stupidly at the time you probably still felt insecure. One of my friends used to find strange ways of avoiding food at university, basically the 'nothing must touch my lips until I'm about to pass out' because she found that as soon as she ate anything, the diet would go to pot. We were looking back at old photos, her hair longer and her body leaner - but she was covering herself up still. No amount of weight loss or tanned skin or compliments is going to stop making a young girl feeling awkward, because the skin they are in at the time just doesn't feel quite right yet. We were laughing at the irony of it, as now, with age and admittedly curvier than before, she has no insecurities in stripping everything off and running full pelt into the sea with nothing at all to feel embarrassed about.

The funniest thing out of all my relationships with diets is that the same thing always happens.I always get smaller, I always then get bigger (you get complacent) and then funnily enough I always end up at the same, sturdy, average weight that I started at. I've read any article going, I've read how the French do it, I've heard stories from friends in Rome of how the Italians do it, I've even tried the diet which follows Simon DoonanI's book Gay Men Don't Get Fat. I've cut out dairy, I've lived off eggs, I've eaten salads and I've told my local curry house to ignore me when I call. Despite all of these trials and tribulations I don't go above or below half a stone either way and it's almost as though gravity is pulling me to remain a consistent level. Since I was 16/17 (perhaps excluding some severe instances of puppy fat) I've genuinely stayed more or less the same.

The most crucial thing for me was that moment I realised I could be in control of my body. After faffing with diets and getting nowhere, I learnt that if I ate too much, my boobs would probably get a size bigger but then so would my bum. If I lost weight, I would be proud of my flat stomach but then probably have to borrow my younger sister's bras. As a woman, we have to remember that perfection is just somebody else's wall painting. The sooner people realise the divide between image and reality then we can all let out a big sigh of relief. There'll always be a part of me that wishes it was still the 90's when a size 10 was thought of as ideal. But, do you know what, it finally it all makes sense. I never actually proactively wanted to diet. We all need to take every photoshopped image with a pinch of salt. Any time you think about going on diet, just double check if it's something you consciously thought of doing by yourself. If not, reclaim your brain and enjoy yourself.

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