We’ve all heard these conversations before, at meetings, parties, and backyard barbecues: women and sometimes men nattering on about how they “really shouldn’t” before eating a cookie, or how they’re going to eat one X and start their diet after Y, otherwise they won’t be able to fit into Z.
It was just this kind of conversation, at a women’s management course of all places, which drove a British woman named Mary Evans Young to challenge the group on its “fat talk.” “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on diets?” she asked the group. The response was electric. It was as if the women had been waiting for the opportunity to vent on this topic. So in 1991, Young launched International No Diet Day (INDD) in London; it has since spread around the world. Tomorrow, May 6, will be the 21st annual INDD, a day set aside to focus on healthy lifestyles and the futility and dangers of dieting.
At the big NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) conference in Los Angeles last fall, I met a vivacious women named Eve Lahijani who told me that UCLA marks INDD every year with a bunch of interactive booths set up right in the middle of campus. There are balloons, music, lots of free giveaways, and an all-around upbeat atmosphere.
In one activity, students are asked to write down one attribute about themselves that they like on an apple-shaped post-it. The post-its become a leaf on a cardboard apple tree, and in exchange, the writer receives an apple in return. “At the end of the day, you see all of these positive affirmations,” and full-leafed paper apple tree, explains Lahijani, 32. “It’s a fun, interactive, quick way,” to get the message across that we all have the power to de-link happiness from thinness and buck the $40 billion-a-year dieting industrial complex.
Celebrating INDD is part of a larger awareness effort not just about eating disorders, but to promote normal eating and healthy lifestyles. “The slogan we use is ‘Diets Don’t Work, Healthy Lifestyles Do,’” says Lahijani. She’s a dietitian, a UCLA grad, and a student affairs officer there. She also teaches a class on campus called “Cosmo Says You’re Fat and I Ain’t Down With That,” on body image, understanding media messages and learning how to eat well without dieting.
“Those are all the things I wish I knew growing up,” says Lahijani. She’s gotten past all those issues, she notes, adding, “that’s why I’m so passionate about it. A life free of eating issues is such a different life. I’m dedicated to helping people get full freedom. I never imagined such a life. For me recovery wasn’t one thing that occurred, but little things, day by day making life-affirming choices.”
It’s easy to remember when International No Diet Day is: It’s the day after Cinco de Mayo, and two days after Star Wars Day: May the 4th [Be With You]. So grab your light saber, bash the piñata of the Dieting Industrial Complex, and think about all the things that you love about yourself that have nothing to do with shape or size!