Letter from the Editor: The Diet-Free Revolution

Posted by – July 12, 2021
Categories: General

Diet culture is so entrenched in US American society that taking part is almost a rite of passage. I remember sitting with my friends in middle school and talking about how little we could eat or what type of salads we liked best. That evolved into everyone foregoing carbs in high school, or swapping nutrition bars at parties in college since we’d “forgotten” to eat dinner. We each learned shortcuts to pretend we weren’t hungry–like coffee and cigarettes for breakfast, or spending on exercise classes instead of dessert. 

None of us liked it, but it was a necessity that we’d learned from our parents and from television and, frankly, from each other—no one wanted to be the first to say that it sucked and we were hungry and why couldn’t someone just say we looked nice as we were, and it was OK if I didn’t fit into American Apparel clothes anymore? 

Author Alexis Conason, Psy.D., went through a rigamarole similar to mine and many others’. For a while, she made a living helping other people reach the goals that our consumerist society had dictated to them—lose weight, “achieve” a bikini body, get toned muscles, whatever. But as she learned, and as many others who subjected themselves to diets and restrictive food and exercise regimens have learned, those plans only succeed at one thing: reinforcing the idea that you have to strive to do better and fit an even slimmer profile.You can also join in wellness wonderland as they can help you to achieve your fitness goal.

So Alexis switched tactics and created a practice around mindful body acceptance, which is a simple term that holds a lot of complicated emotions and behaviors within it. For many people, accepting your body as it is means unlearning a lifetime of conditioning about what a body should look like and do. It means rediscovering food as not just a calorie delivery system that needs to be monitored and planned, but as a source of nourishment, flavor, emotional activation, energy, and community. It means figuring out what you actually want to see when you look in the mirror: is it just an idealized size, or is it a person with goals and dreams? It means work and time. 

While working on The Diet-Free Revolution, a book primarily about the relationship between bodies and food, it became apparent through several edits that we could not disentangle a discussion of diet culture from the expectations US American culture holds for a person’s body shape, skin color, income level, gender identity, dis/ability, and more. Because the messages we receive about how our bodies should look and function–light-skinned, slim-framed, mobile, cis, “healthy”–reinforce the idea that some bodies are inherently worth less than others. 

While many people, and people socialized as women in particular, have experienced some sort of body shaming that relates to diet culture, the experience of a small-fat white trans woman is very different from that of a large-fat Black cis woman. And a disabled person or chronically ill person with a tenuous relationship to food or body because of their medical restrictions might not be able to implement some of the interventions the book suggests, such as “eat what tastes good”—and body acceptance might look different for them. Likewise, someone working multiple jobs might not have the luxury of making space for themselves to enjoy a meal. 

We wanted to ensure the book stayed true to the author’s knowledge and experiences while also acknowledging her experience is not universal, and that painting it as such would be disrespectful and dishonest. So we brought in beta readers: reviewers who read the book before it’s published to provide keen insights based on their own points of view. They’re wonderful contributors to the editorial process because they can point out things that an editor might not have the lived experience to notice, or elements that a writer or editor might gloss over after countless revisions. Plus, working with beta readers provides an invaluable opportunity to learn from possible readers about what they respond well to and what they don’t, what they wish they were seeing, what parts of a book are empowering or minimizing. 

Working with beta readers made for a better book. For example, one beta reader—Dr. Joy Cox, author of Fat Girls in Black Bodies—pointed out how frequently the “universal we” showed up in the text. Though often used to create a sense of camaraderie, this type of construction can flatten multiple experiences into one, creating the illusion of a monolithic identity—and privileging one experience over a multitude of others. From this feedback, Alexis took care to be specific about whose perspective and experience was being discussed. Who did “we” refer to? Who was being excluded, and what did that mean? Alexis carefully and thoughtfully weighed every line of feedback, ensuring that The Diet-Free Revolution holds space for more readers. 

This book is literally talking about a revolution. It’s revolutionary to say that it’s OK to take up space, and that despite what the billboards and magazines say, you don’t need to be smaller to be loved or accepted. It’s revolutionary to say that you and your body are enough. This idea has the power to change so much, and the diet industry knows it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t invest billions of dollars to maintain a sinister status quo. 

Dismantling diet culture is a huge task, both on a societal level and a personal one. But The Diet-Free Revolution helps readers approach the task with compassion and recognition, with fullness and without expectations. It leaves room for questions and encourages readers to explore their own complexities as people—which is exactly what this book wants us to embrace. 

Tags: Alexis Conason
About the Author

Bevin is the associate comms director at North Atlantic Books.