Can You Be Body Positive and on a Diet?
Every body has a story — and everybody has a narrative to go with it. We asked the hard question: Can you be body positive and on a diet — and realized it was a tough one to answer. With body positivity trending, it's important to acknowledge that the mainstream body positivity movement is not the same as fat acceptance movements. Dieting is also difficult to define. We turned to the experts in health, fat activism, wellness and other related spaces to help us better understand whether you can be body positive and on a diet. Here's what they had to say!
Aisha Fairclough, co-founder Body Confidence Canada and model"That's a complex question. I’ve heard the argument from some that you can diet and be body positive because if you're losing weight to feel ‘positive’ about yourself — isn't that body positivity? But it's important to remember that being body positive isn't only rooted in how we look. In order to be body positive we must recognize the importance of what your body can do for you and celebrate the uniqueness of our bodies and our differences. We need to feel ‘positive’ in our public spaces too. That means recognizing the role of race, sexuality and our gender among other things in how we feel about our bodies. When someone is on a diet they are generally controlling their food intake for the purpose of weight loss. This can be damaging to their health and their spirit in the long run. Diets never last."
— Aisha Fairclough, Fat in the City and co-founder of Body Confidence Canada
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Gillian Young, health and fitness coach"This is a loaded question. I think it really depends on the person, the motive — and the diet itself. We diet for several reasons (mood, energy, illness, interest) and even if weight loss is the main goal it can come from a healthy body positive mindset. Some even diet to gain muscle and put on size. Again, it’s the mindset about ones present body that determines whether or not they are body positive. You can definitely tackle physique goals and diet while remaining 'body positive', in my opinion, if you can do so while feeling good about your body. It also depends on the diet. Most extreme diets, or diets approached in an unhealthy matter can create a lot of body hate and anxiety, while others can enhance our lives, add positive rituals and have us feeling nourished and better physically.
Our mental health is greatly affected by our diets, so some may feel more body positive eating a health focused diet simply due to improve gut health, blood sugar balancing and vitamins and minerals. So can you be body positive and on a diet? Yes, but like all things, there are many variables to take into account."
— Gillian Young, health and fitness coach
Layla Cameron, PhD candidate and fat activist"Body positivity is the neoliberal watered-down version of fat activism, so, sure — you can be body positive and on a diet.
However, you cannot support body liberation for all, and be on a formal diet. Diets depend on a cultural fear of fatness and maintain the stigmatization of non-normative bodies. Additionally, in the long-term, diets inflict significant harm on the body and mind.
To align one’s body politics and relationship with food, I would encourage those with a commitment to body positivity to explore the fat activist movement, and suggest moving away from formal structured dieting trends towards intuitive eating habits.”
— Layla Cameron, PhD candidate and fat activist
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Karen Giesbrecht, dietitian and author"For sure, someone can be body positive and on a diet if you define “diet” as eating a wide variety of real foods, in a regular rhythm of meals and snacks, occasionally enjoying treat foods, and mostly hydrating with water, limiting sugar-sweetened beverages. Eat enough to not get to the point where hunger leads you to make poor decisions, and stop eating before you feel uncomfortably full. Cook from scratch and eat with others whenever you can, and I bet you will feel good enough to face whatever life throws at you. "
— Karen Giesbrecht, registered dietitian from Vancouver, BC, and author of Happy Colon, Happy Soul: an exploration of why and how we share food (2019)
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Dr. Jill Andrew, PhD co-founder Body Confidence Canada"We, especially women-identifying people, have been socialized to associate dieting with health, beauty and fitness. Dieting has particularly been branded as the preferred method for steering clear of fat. None of this could be further from the truth. Fat bodies are healthy, beautiful and can also be fit. Restrictive food intake and obsessive calorie-counting – mainstays of diet culture — have been scientifically proven to cause physical and mental health challenges such as eating disorders, poor heart health (especially consistent with yo-yo dieting), anxiety and low self-esteem. Dieting for the purpose of weight loss for me personally does not align with body positivity. However, I also recognize that central to body positivity should be body autonomy. We need to be able to make decisions about our own bodies without social judgement. We need to talk more about the systems of power and inequities that make us question our bodies in the first place."
— Dr. Jill Andrew, PhD co-founder of Body Confidence Canada and MPP Toronto-St.Paul's, NDP Women's Issues and Culture Critic
Virginia Lee, fitness model, marathoner and trainer"Yes, you can be body positive and be on a diet. In my vernacular, a diet isn’t a restriction of foods to attain a body type — rather, a diet is a nutritional plan that is healthful for the function of the individual. I prefer to focus on the plethora of foods available and useful to the body rather than vilifying food groups. We all have different physical goals and functions, what we eat should aid in our performance, it’s not about what we look like, it’s all the things we can do...so eat it all, in balance... love your body and life!"
— Virginia Lee, fitness model, marathoner and trainer
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Winny Clarke, actress and wellness expert"Behind every action, there is an intention. If you choose to diet to lose weight because you hate the way you look and feel, body positivity and dieting cannot coexist. If you choose to diet to lose weight because you love your physical vessel and want what’s best for you and your health, then, I believe the two can work together to achieve your goals!
Before you diet, ask yourself who, what, and why. Who or what is this for, and why do you want to diet. That’ll inform you if you’re moving forward in a kind loving way that promotes body positivity."
— Winny Clarke, actress, meditation and wellness expert
Nadia George, Mi'kmaw actress, Indigenous Youth and Community Advocate"Looking back now at the age of 13, I can fully identify with having anorexia. Not once did I truly believe that what I was doing was positive. I was depressed, constantly frustrated and my self-esteem was dramatically low — but hey, the world thought I was beautiful, so I must be doing the right things.
The truth, I found, was that body positivity is about feeling good, mentally emotionally and physically. No matter your weight, shape or size. If we focus just on 'losing weight' or 'dieting,' we can put unnecessary stress on our minds and bodies, potentially setting ourselves up for failure; due to the lack of weight loss, and/or because of how we feel both psychologically and physiologically. We need to promote body positivity holistically, focusing on keeping the mind and body in a healthy state, seeing it as a celebration of oneself, rather than a job or punishment. So yes, we can have positive body image, but throw away the term 'I’m dieting' and replace it with something that has positive affirmations. For me… 'I’m celebrating my body and loving it.'"
— Nadia George, Mi'kmaw actress, Indigenous Youth and Community Advocate
Natalie Hastings, registered dietitian"Body positivity is on a continuum — it has to be. The most body positive individuals likely have moments of insecurity and those struggling with loving and accepting their bodies can certainly turn self-image around. It seems ironic to judge what exactly body positivity looks like, when judgement is partially to blame for our societal body imagine crisis. Being body positive can’t look or feel the same for everyone, we are all too different for that. However, I would invite you to ask yourself, if food had no influence on how you looked, would you eat differently? If someone chooses to follow a diet for reasons other than how it makes them look I would say someone could be body positive while choosing to follow a diet."
— Natalie Hastings, registered dietitian
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