I’ve had a complicated relationship with food since I was in college - and food became a source of stress for me even before then. My father lost so much weight when I was in middle school that he was featured in our local newspaper. There’s nothing like glorifying intentional weight loss to impact a young mind like mine for years to come.
Although my home life may have laid the foundation, I didn’t start restricting, obsessing, and stressing about the food I ate until I was away at college. Although I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, there is no doubt that I suffered from disordered eating. How else can I explain the fact that I was viscerally afraid of eating bread?
I stopped formally “dieting” after graduate school, but I never thoughtfully examined my relationship with food until last year, when my book club started reading Anti-Diet. The book helped me realize that I hadn’t had a healthy relationship with food for a long time, despite giving up fads like Whole30 and Paleo that were an integral part of my college life. I’m still working on developing a healthy relationship with food, but I’m kinder to myself than I have been for a long time.
If you also hope to heal your relationship with food, here are the three books I started with:
Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, and Wellbeing by Christy Harrison
This was such a great book for me to start with because Harrison explains why diet culture is rooted in oppression, inequality, and racism. This book is well-researched, well-written, and will help you see how you don’t have to eat “perfectly” to be healthy.
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon
Before I read this book, I believed that weight loss was always a positive thing. This book taught me that there are many other factors besides weight that impact our health. Linda Bacon outlines the lies we’ve been fed about obesity and weight loss in her book, and she does so using impeccable scientific support.
Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
I list this one last because it can be overwhelming to start with due to the sheer amount of information. The authors demonstrate their expertise by blending their intuitive eating program with lots of research, plenty of anecdotes, and metaphors and analogies that clarify their concepts. This book divides intuitive eating into ten principles, so it may take you a while to go through each one and apply it in your own life (I’m still working on it!).
Practicing Gratitude for our Bodies
My discovery of a weight-inclusive, anti-diet approach to food meant that I had to deepen my understanding of Catholicism even further. Before 2020, I focused on the part of the Catechism that states, “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them” (CCC 2288).
Now, I also think about the line right after: “If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships” (CCC 2289, emphasis added).
Yes, we need to take care of our bodies - but our culture puts too much preference on certain bodies, to the detriment of others. I hope that these three books can be a helpful start for anyone who wants to dismantle diet culture in her own life and embrace what the Church says about the goodness of our bodies.