Earlier this week, I put up a blog post about putting a stop to diet and weight conversations when you’re chilling with your girlfriends (if you haven’t read it, here’s the link: http://zenandsugar.blogspot.com/2020/07/idgaf-about-your-diet-brenda-and-other.html)
In the post, there was mention of the diet and weight talk instigator: Brenda. And lemme tell you, I got a lotta messages with the words: OMG, I’m Brenda.
Girl, I feel you.
I, too, was once the Brenda of my friend group.
In fact, being Brenda was, like, my favorite thing.
Because being Brenda kept me safe.
Being Brenda meant that I was in the know.
Being Brenda meant I was in control.
Being Brenda meant I could head off judgement at the pass. Because if I was judging myself insanely harshly, that must mean other people were too, right?
When I was in Brenda-mode, it meant that I was ahead of the joke, so to speak. If I mentioned that I knew how bad I was being by having pizza and chicken wings, then other people couldn’t judge me for making such bad choices. If I mentioned how gross I was for not exercising, then other people couldn’t judge me for being gross by not exercising. Simple logic, right?
Being Brenda can seem very powerful at first glance. You get to control the conversation, you turn the subject towards health…kinda…I mean, with all the different diets you’ve tried to get your friends to try, one could almost see you as inspiring…maybe…right?
The truth is, being a Brenda can be exhausting, because you’re constantly having to police yourself in order to feel safe and in control. But all that work means that you’re giving up a level enjoyment in your life! It’s hard to have any fun eating dinner with friends when you’re having to make an excuse for every bite you take. And it’s difficult to find an exercise routine that you dig because it’s never really about whether you like it or not, it’s about completely changing yourself so you can actually live.
The problem is, you already are living. It’s just that your line of thinking is keeping life from being less awesome. There’s this inner feeling that if you could just reach your goal wait life would really START, but when your entire life is based around a size, lemme tell ya, that happiness and perfection you’re looking for? It ain’t ever gonna come. Because even when you get there, your life will now be consumed in staying that size, because if it’s changes then all of this perfection and happiness that supposedly came along with it goes right out the window!
And let’s take a moment to talk about that perfection and happiness for a second, shall we? Due to the diet and fitness industry and almost every single advertisement we see, there has been this romanticizing of thinness. We’re sold this story that with thinness comes a life of glamour, and desirability, and love, and happiness. I mean, truly, looking at some of these ad campaigns, you would believe that a thin person could never suffer from a mental health issue (which is also really damaging to thinner people, but we’ll cover that later) And so we wind up tying thinness and a happy life together, which means that until we’re a certain size, our life must decidedly unhappy, right?
From my own experience, I can say that size does not equal happiness. The times that I was at my smallest I was miserable. I remember going into a friend’s office while rehearsing at a theater and just kneeling on the floor and sobbing. I hadn’t slept in days. I couldn’t eat. I wanted to die. I knew how I wanted to do it. I had told my therapist and she said that I had two options: either I call my mother and have my mother come stay with me for some time while I upped my therapy sessions or having myself committed to a psych ward.
Needless to say, I wasn’t really all that happy at the time.
But, oddly enough, when I gained back weight after getting on new medication, going to more therapy, implementing some new techniques to deal with my anxiety, I found myself falling back into old Brenda habits and saying things like, “I’m having this burger and fries tonight because starting tomorrow I am going low, low, low carb.”
I also found myself really putting on some rose-colored glasses when thinking about the past. I created this entire scenario where I was somehow in a very good place mentally during the time I had been so upset I was suicidal. It wasn’t until my therapist pointed out, very kindly I might add, that I hadn’t seemed too happy when I was running over 10 miles every day and waking up in the middle of the night feeling dizzy from not eating and counting out the number of raw almonds I could have (it was 7, by the way)
But, even when faced with evidence, it can still be really hard to change old thought patterns, especially when we’re inundated with signals every day that tell us our weight really does have an effect on our worth.
So how do we get past it? How do we release our Brenda-isms?
I think it all comes down to one thing: Vulnerability.
I believe vulnerability is a super power. It is an equalizer. It is a strengthener. Being vulnerable yourself helps others feel vulnerable. It creates a safe space for people to share. And if you want to change the climate of your friend group and knock out Brenda-speak for good, then it has to start with you.
You know quote, “you are unique, just like everyone else?” That’s how I feel about sharing what makes us vulnerable. What you’re feeling is real and you are generally not alone in feeling it. In fact, naming your feelings and vocalizing about them can actually be a great relief to other people. When we attach shame to thoughts or feelings we might label as vulnerable, then it feels like we’re drowning alone in them. Sharing those feelings can be like giving someone an emotional buoy, so to speak.
So, the next time you’re out and can feel yourself compelled to say something along the lines of: “Don’t judge me, I’m getting the mac ‘n’ cheese, but I’m going to run for, like, ever tomorrow.” Take a moment and consider saying, “I really want the mac ‘n’ cheese, but sometimes I feel like eating “bad” foods make me a “bad” person, you know?”
I can guarantee you that everyone else knows exactly what you’re talking about.
If they do, you can even keep going! “I’m just really tired of constantly feeling like I have to be on a diet.” I can guarantee most everyone you’re with will identify with that, too.
The more open you are, the more it gives others a chance to be open. And talking about food in that way and shining a light on the negative effects of diet culture can start a conversation that leads to love. When you bring up your exhaustion with feeling like you’re constantly having to be on a diet, other people will generally agree and share their similar feelings. Not only does this often lead to a sense of support and comradery, it can also make it a lot easier to enjoy your food and your time because there’s no hidden guilt surrounding what you’re eating.
When we shine a light on something, it takes away its power. When we shine a light on the diet industry, we don’t see the glamorous, glossy ads as an ideal, we’re able to see that the entire business is profiting off our self-loathing, and they’re hoping we maintain our Brenda-isms to keep everyone else in line. So being open is, in its own way, a sort of rebellion. We’re shining a light on a place we’ve hidden pain and fear of unworthiness, and by doing that, have helped others to release theirs.
And also, probably gotten to actually enjoy some French fries with ranch.
You are strong enough to be an instrument of change. The revolution and ending of diet culture can truly begin with you.
Til next time,
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