As we’ve begun approaching the new year, I’ve noticed my feed slowly be filled up with more and more diet ads (despite the fact that I keep reporting them as misleading information). From January 1 through the start of fall, you’d be hard-pressed to go anywhere and not have someone tell you about the diet they’re on or encounter an ad for a diet.
Pressure to act or look a certain way or to do certain things can come from a lot of different places. It might come from a partner, from our friends, our family, or from broader social messaging. Even the way we were raised and the experiences we’ve had in the past can cause us to experience internal pressure, believing we need to act or be a certain way in order to be received positively.
So, when all of a sudden everyone around us (and every advertising agency) is telling us that going on a diet is going to make us more attractive, more successful, and happier, we might start to feel pressured to fall into line. “Diet season” isn’t designed to truly help you be the best version of yourself. It’s designed to profit from your self-consciousness—and self-consciousness and feelings of body shame get in the way of your sexual pleasure.
I’m not here to tell you that you can’t exercise or that you can’t try out a new way of eating. As a sex educator, one of my guiding philosophies is that whatever you choose to do with your body is your own choice—as long as you’re informed about the risks and benefits, aren’t harming someone else, and you know what your reasons are for doing it.
I am here to say that if the only reason you’re doing either of those things is to be more attractive by mainstream social standards or to appease someone else, then they’re probably not worth doing. You and your body deserve to be cared for. That may mean exercising or adjusting your eating habits, but those aren’t the only ways to take care of yourself. Plus, many of those social standards that say we’re the “most attractive” if we look a certain way are rooted in white supremacy, ableism, and fatphobia.
Before you embark on any type of behavior change, ask yourself:
- Why am I making this shift? How will this shift improve my life?
- What do I think the outcomes will be?
- How will I be supported by myself and by others?
If you find your answers looking suspiciously like a diet ad, then take a moment to care for yourself before moving forward with your next steps. Here are seven ways to take care of your mind and body, during diet season and beyond.
1. Unfollow or mute accounts that trigger your shame and comparison monster
If every time you open an app, you find yourself judging how you look, how much money you have, or generally feeling like you’re not good enough, it’s time to do an audit of the accounts you follow. It may seem like that half-second glimpse couldn’t have an effect on your outlook, but it can. Those half-second moments accumulate.
If they’re moments of joy, excitement, and curiosity, great! Keep following that account. But if those moments are of self-consciousness or comparison, question if you really need to keep following them.
Unfollow (or just mute) accounts that bring up some of those challenging feelings for you, and replace them with accounts that make you feel good or curious. It’s a simple shift, but it’s one that can have a positive lasting effect on your mind.
2. Design a daily routine that helps you feel good
Sometimes, small shifts in our mental health come from building infrastructure to help out our future selves. Your daily routine doesn’t need to be something that you found in a TED talk and it doesn’t need to involve you waking up at 3:30 AM to work before the sun rises. All it needs to do is give you the support you need to have a positive and productive day.
Here’s what my routine looks like on workdays: Wake up around 7:30 am, shower, go out with the dog, do a few dishes, make a cup of something caffeinated, work, take a break mid-afternoon for a walk in my garden. From there it gets a bit jumbled—some days I work half days and some days I work until 10 pm. Some days we sit out in the yard until late, and others we stay curled up on the couch. I’m a morning person, so for me, the mornings are my critical time, and everything else is flexible. I realized that sleeping in past 8:30 or so (even on weekends) made me really grumpy and anxious. So, I moved my wake-up time so that I could take things slowly and feel better throughout the day.
Your routine can look however you want it to—just design it to help you feel calm and prepared for the day ahead.
3. Begin or end each day by appreciating your body
I’ve dealt with an eating disorder for most of my life, and I’ve also experienced chronic pain for extended periods of time, so beginning and ending each day by appreciating my body is something that makes me crinkle my nose sometimes. You might feel that way too, and that’s fine! But it’s worth a try.
These don’t need to be major things. You can focus on specific body parts or characteristics or you can take a more general “thanks for getting me through the day” approach. If you’re someone who mostly ignores or antagonizes your body, this can help you start to focus on what it really needs.
4. Hide social media ads that tell you you should change your body
Remember how I said I hide all diet-centered ads from my feed, reporting them for “misleading information”? Yeah, it’s a lifestyle.
I know enough about how social media reporting works to know that this approach doesn’t do anything systemic—that feature is more designed for political information and COVID-19 information. But, it makes me feel better and it stops me from seeing ads in my feed telling me that I need to start burning fat now. (As an added perk, if one ad gets enough negative feedback, it’ll slowly stop being served in people’s feeds).
Avoid the reaction to comment on the ad with something like “this is a garbage product with garbage messaging” though. Comments on ads actually make them more likely be shown to other people, plus you’ll start seeing it more often. Annoying, I know.
This does the same thing as adjusting who you follow, except your ad preferences are a bit harder to manage. If you want to take it a step further, head to your Facebook settings and make adjustments to your advertising preferences (this can affect your Instagram ads, too).
5. Practice positive self-touch
Positive experiences with touch don’t just come from others—we can fulfill this need ourselves, too. Exploring self-touch can look like masturbation, but it can also be things like self-massage or brushing our hair. Choose one small form of self-touch each day and practice giving your body the kind attention it deserves. This can be especially helpful for folks who have experienced trauma.
6. Explore your sexual desires and pleasure
Intentionally exploring your sexual pleasure can feel overwhelming and confusing at first, but it can also help you feel more connected to your body, the things you enjoy, and the things you don’t enjoy. Try reading or listening to erotica, watching porn, masturbating in new positions, or using new toys.
Try reflecting on your experiences by journaling afterward. This can help you think more critically about what you enjoyed (or didn’t) and why, which can make it a lot easier to advocate for your desires with partners.
7. Create experiences that engage your senses pleasurably
One of the first activities I often give new coaching clients is something called The Sensory Date. It’s designed to help you get in-tune with your body, how things feel, and what things help you feel comfortable, grounded, or just really good.
Many of us move through life without paying attention to what is really pleasing to our senses, but spending some intentional time here can help you feel grounded and can teach you new things about yourself. You don’t have to take yourself on a whole sensory date to get the benefits of this; simply list out each of your senses that you’re able to engage and think of things that are pleasing to each one. Then, spend some time figuring out ways you can bring those small moments of pleasure into your daily life.
You and your body deserve to feel good, and that doesn’t mean you need to spend all of January-September trying to control or push your body to be different than it is. It just means giving it what it needs and what helps you feel good.
If you’re struggling with unhealthy dieting behaviors or an eating disorder, you can call or text the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at: 800-931-2237.