One of the things that has shocked me most as a health coach has been the fall-out of dieting. It is horrifying to see the despair, frustration and self-loathing in so many people who have devoted much of their energy to diets.
As my Wellness Unwrapped guest Susan Hyatt lays bare, diet culture is trapping girls and women in a cycle of suffering. (And I know from my work that men are affected in exactly the same way).
It horrifies me that children are being caught in this toxic culture and led down a route that frequently results in eating disorders.
Susan shares how she first started dieting at the age of 11, and how yo-yo dieting affected her life for decades. We talked about the low self-esteem that diet culture leads to; the wasted effort/energy/headspace devoted to counting calories; and how to develop a positive relationship with food and with yourself.
Susan is passionate about helping women to learn to love the skin they’re in and expand their life, instead of shrinking to fit some cultural ideal.
Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:
- Our culture teaches us from childhood that your worth is tied up in how small you can possibly get. The average age that a girl starts dieting is eight years old.
- We’re brainwashed to think that we’re succeeding if we’re thin and we’re failing if we’re not. Though we’re trained to think that only one kind of body is acceptable, that’s just not true. And there are so many different reasons that someone could lose weight or gain weight that have to do with hormones, pregnancy, ageing and menopause for example.
- We need to put an end to the violent self-talk encouraged by diet culture and instead learn to take exquisite care of ourselves from a place of love and pleasure. We need to break the transactional relationship between food/your body/movement and your worth as a human being. You don’t have to diet to have the life and the body that you love.
Susan has 15 years’ experience as a Master Certified Life and Business Coach. She wrote the bestselling book BARE that has inspired women all over the world to stop shrinking their bodies and start expanding their lives.
She delivered a speech to a sold-out audience at the country’s largest TEDx conference about why women need to stop obsessing about their weight.
This is a hugely important conversation which I think everyone needs to hear. You’ll find the full transcript of our conversation below and can listen to the conversation here.
[Please note: this is a computer generated transcription of this conversation]
SG: I would love to ask you first of all, Susan, can you chat us through your own relationship with food and with dieting?
SH: Well, thank you, Suzy. I’m so excited to be here, and as you know, a big mission for me is to help women stop dieting and learn how to love the skin they’re in. And so my journey with dieting started when I was about 11 years old. And I think you and I are about the same age and that we both remember Polaroid cameras.
SG: Oh, yes, where the picture came out the bottom? Yes.
SG: And it really started with a gift of a polaroid camera for my birthday. And my sister and I were taking turns, uh, taking photos of one another with my new camera. And I had a big fan in my room, which now I would call my Beyonce fan. It was, you know, blowing my hair back. And I was being very dramatic. And my sister, my older sister, was taking the photos and she took, uh, one of the photos and was, you know, blowing on it and trying to get it to develop more quickly. And when the photo did appear, she gasped. And I was like, What? What’s wrong? And she said, Oh, your thighs are getting so big. And I remember I had never up until that point ever judged my body or thought I should look differently. And I remember looking down at my legs and feeling so ashamed that Oh, my big sister has just pointing out something that I had never thought of before that maybe my thighs are big and that triggered, I think, for many girls and women it can be a comment from someone in their family of origin or from their peer group. Or they see something these days on Instagram. It led me down a path of trying to get smaller and smaller and smaller.
And so I think that every girl or every woman has a story where someone told them, you’re not enough or you’re not pretty enough. You’re not skinny enough, you’re not something enough. And that was the moment for me that I accepted this outside opinion. Because often when it’s coming from someone who raises you or a teacher or a coach or a friend, we will when we’re younger, accept that as the truth. And that was the beginning of me yo yo dieting and deciding that I should take up less space.
SG: What a horrific thing. I mean, I have goose pimples just hearing that because my daughter is 15 and the thought that she would want to be less of her. I mean, it just brings tears to my eyes.
SH: I was so little, the littlest thing, and I look at photos of myself in my basketball uniform or my cheerleader uniform, and I can remember not wanting to be in the team photos or to have my picture taken because I thought I didn’t look right. And that’s the thing about diet culture is that it teaches girls and women to spend their time obsessing over their food and their movement to the point that we’re not able to expand right. Instead of taking up less space, I want to help girls and women take up more space and do all the things they want to do with their full capacity. But that was the beginning for me and it, and it really continued until I was in my early thirties. So when you think about the number of years. The average woman who is our age has attempted dieting more than 60 times and has dieted, on average, 30 years of her life.
SG: I mean, when you actually look at the bald facts of that, I think when women are in it, they possibly don’t tot up how many times they’ve attempted it. But when you actually hear it stated like that…
SH: Because when you think about like your daughter, who’s 15, if she was spending her time, you know, like I was sort of calculating, Okay, well, I had a banana. And so I’m not going to eat again until dinner. And maybe if I go to track practice, you know, like tabulating the calories eaten, the calories burned off through exercise. She’s not able then to… like I was actually a straight A student. I was very accomplished, so people on the outside wouldn’t have said, Oh, she’s so busy dieting, she can’t accomplish what she wants in the world.
But what I know for sure is that when we’re in a state of deprivation and when we’re preoccupied with food and body issues, in an unhealthy way, we’re not able to do what we could do. So it’s sort of like imagine what I could have done from a place of power as opposed to, um, this sort of less than mentality.
SG: And Susan, over those two decades where you were doing all these yo yo diets and different things, did your shape change and ping pong back between different sizes. I mean, just talk us a little bit through what you tried.
SH: So, yeah, I mean, my weight. Um, I think that fluctuations in weight for women is actually normal. But my weight was fluctuating because of the yo yo dieting. And so I was at my smallest, when I was, like a banana for lunch and nothing else. Coffee and a banana. And then I would have something really ridiculous for dinner that was honestly not enough calories for a toddler. Um, and then on up to, you know, I would swing between I mean, probably 50 pounds up and down. And, you know, I tried. I mean, when I was when I was in my teens and twenties. I mean, you’re talking the Adkins diet and the grapefruit diet and Weight Watchers and low fat. Remember the whole low-fat craze where it was, It didn’t matter what the food was, as long as it was low fat. So all of those, um, like SnackWells. You remember those Snackwell’s cookies?
SG: I’m not sure we had those in the UK. But, all through the 90s, I was actually working for the food industry for those low-fat food products.
SH: Oh, my goodness. What were you marketing at the time?
SG: The things that I was involved with was actually the chemical food additives that manufacturers use to make the low-fat food products. Because what happens is once you strip all the fat out of yogurt, for example, it goes all thin and disgusting. It loses all the taste. So the food manufacturing industry had a big problem. And that’s where all these chemical additives were developed specifically to bridge the gap. And I thought it was brilliant and it was so clever.
SH: Oh, sure we did. We thought it was the best.
SG: I mean, thank God I lived in a house where we did eat proper food, So I never heard my Mum discussing her weight. I was a quite skinny, child. I kind of look back now and think how blessed I was that I never saw dieting. It was only as an adult that I have seen it, particularly when I started working in an office of women. And that’s when it really hit me that this was normal for women to go the entire day at work in a very, very demanding job with just a Cup ‘A Soup, which was just like coloured water with a bit of dehydrated spring onion. And that’s what they would have. And I would be staggered that they were even able to stand on such a tiny, tiny amount of food, which I wouldn’t even class as food. But then it was the discussions. It was a constant comparison and talking about going to the Weight Watchers meeting, and I began to realise how much energy this was sucking up in bright women, you know, really clever, accomplished women who had a lot about them. And they would be spending most of their day either thinking about their calorie intake or discussing it or not eating anything the day they were going to a meeting that they were going for a weigh-in. I couldn’t understand how they could just even perform at work, even function without any food and why someone so clever would want to do that just so that they could artificially try and manipulate their weight.
SH: Well, because it’s just in the air that we breathe and it’s become over the years it has become this moving shell game of, you know, and I believe, like it’s particularly more pronounced in the United States, and I would say that the culture teaches us or ingrains in us from birth that your worth is tied up in how small you can possibly get. And if you look at even Barbie dolls over the decades, how the shape of Barbie has changed with this moving shell game of what does culture define as the ideal body shape. And so these smart, talented, brilliant women don’t question it because from playing with dolls, that’s what we’re taught, that there’s this standard of beauty that your value is tied to. And so our work is dismantling that and breaking the transactional relationship between food and your body and movement and your worth as a woman. And so things are changing. But right, like you go into any office, I know your listeners who work in offices. There will be discussion among women about what diet are you doing? Have you heard about this latest thing? How do you drop that weight? And this obsession with it.
SG: Yeah, yeah, and the amount of time that it takes up. It’s really quite disturbing how it has hijacked the entire day and the entire psyche of so many women. And I was a corporate wellness workshop recently at a company and talking to women about the importance of having healthy fats and eating whole foods and all the rest of it, and they had been avoiding fat, like the plague – healthy fats like olive oil, and they dropped me a note about it a month later and said, I just want to tell you, Suzy, that we used to have something called the Fat Club, which was where we would weigh each other at work (which sounds so horribly depressing that this group of women would have something called the Fat Club. I mean, what a thing to label yourself with). Anyway, they now had renamed it the Eat Fat Club, which I thought was so cute, they had made peace with eating the right fats, and they were feeling so much better for it because I’d help them to get over this brainwashing, that we shouldn’t touch fat with a barge pole because it’s going to make us fat.
SH: That is so amazing. What I mean, what powerful work to do in the world. And I think back on, like I used to work in PR also, we have that in common and, like thinking if someone like you had come into my office and told me that right? I used to avoid some of my favourite foods that I eat today I would avoid because they were full of fat, like avocado. I wouldn’t have touched an avocado with a 10 ft pole in the nineties. Like no avocado, no nut, butters, No oil. And it is just really, we have become weird around food because of all the different diet culture rules we’re fed and how it changes.
SG: Yeah, I totally agree with you that something very profound and very frightening has happened. And I see that because often when I tell people about how great avocado is and nuts and seeds and I’ve seen people, try because they’ve heard that I’ve explained the science behind it, and they’ve tried to have a teaspoon of avocado and their hand has been trembling, literally trembling, and they couldn’t get it into their mouth. And I said: You know what? Don’t eat it. Don’t eat it because I’m more worried about the stress, because in their mind they’re actually eating something that is on a par with poison, right? They’ve been brainwashed to the extent that literally their hand’s trembling, even touching a teaspoon of avocado. And so often I’ve coached people where I’ve talked about avocado and how great it is. And they’ve said: Well, look, I have this chocolate bar from my whatever diet company it was but it was full of absolute crap and it cost a fortune. I mean, the slimming clubs really ramp up the prices of the very, very poor quality foods. And he said to me, Why would I eat half an avocado when I can have this chocolate bar? That’s fewer calories than the avocado? Um, and this is the crazy place where we have come to is that people are actively avoiding nutritious, healthy, whole real foods in favour of stuff which makes us ill in the long term.
SH: Well, exactly. And, um, I work out at a with a personal trainer at the gym three times a week, and you go to any fitness club or gym and you’ll witness a lot of this kind of, um, stuff happening. And there are a lot of bodybuilders that come in there and a lot of women who are training for fitness competitions coming in. And I was chatting with someone who was training for a bikini fitness competition, and she was working with a nutritionist who specialises in helping people get ready for the stage for these types of things. And she was talking about really this this low, low calorie, very limited diet that this nutritionist had put her on. And it was basically, you know, just a little bit of chicken and a little bit of rice. And that’s really it in a day, Um, and she was saying, You know, I just wish I could have a cheeseburger and really, you know, you have to stop and think about any goal that you have that causes you to live in a state of deprivation is not a goal that’s going to feed your soul. And I just said to her, because I’ve known her a long time, and I said, You know, if on the road to your goal you’re completely miserable, you might want to rethink the goal, like, what do you think this is going to give you?
And so for a lot of women, being thin, it’s never thin enough. Or being fit, they’re never fit enough or their food, like you’re saying, it’s like their food’s never clean enough, and it creates eating disorders right? So this gentleman you’re talking to would rather be so afraid of an avocado that it creates disordered eating and the thought that they would rather feed themselves with a low calorie toxic chocolate thing because they’ve been taught that what matters is calories in and calories out.
SG: Which is ridiculous, of course, but how entrenched is that? And in fact, there was a study just released recently in the UK where I think they looked at It was a study of 1000 people who regularly count and restrict calories and horrifying, horrifying results, and I wasn’t shocked to read it, but they found that one in 10 people became bulimic. One respondent admitted that they avoided eating for two days, two whole days as a punishment. So basically this is clear as day that counting calories can trigger eating disorders, and I kind of hoped that it was dying out. But I was at a yoga retreat just the other day and there was a really young woman, early twenties, very slim, and she had a thing on her watch where she was counting calories, etcetera, and she was really down because I don’t know what she’d eaten, maybe a perfectly normal meal, but she hadn’t then done the exercise that she thought she needed to do to work off those calories. And I was thinking, ny goodness, are we still here? You know, we’re still in this place, with even young young women and I found that profoundly depressing because I sort of hoped that it was beginning to die out.
SH: You know, I have a daughter as well. She’s 21. My dedication and devotion to this work really strengthened when she was about 10 years old because she came home from school one day and she said, I was unpacking her lunch box and she said, Mom at the cafeteria table today at lunch, all the other girls at the table made a pact to not eat their lunches and go on a diet together. And she said, that’s weird and messed up right? And I was like, I mean right. And thankfully, I could tell she had eaten her lunch and she said, I don’t know what to do because they were all saying that we should all do this together and I said I wasn’t going to do it. And then she went in the next day and said, My mom said, we need our energy so we can talk back to the boys that are trying to push us around, which was her little 10 year old sort of listening to me talk about this stuff, her 10 year old explanation for like, no, we need our energy. However, when she became a teenager, she would tell me that she needed to, for her own mental health, curate her Instagram feed because of the harmful fitness inspiration, um, posts and things that that are very common on social media, which I think, you know. On the one hand, the body positivity movement has started to gain speed and be really helpful for young women. But what has ramped up, I think just as much is, um, harmful posts where girls and women are using filters and altering their faces and bodies to look a certain way. Um, and here in the United States, an Instagram influencer was just charged by the state of Texas for selling harmful um, nutrition packages, um, with no education and no training and um, allowing people with eating disorders to join and causing real harm. And so all of that to say I’m with you like, I can’t believe we’re still here. And, you know, diet culture is very much alive and well, and I think it’s become sneakier. And so things like the young woman on your yoga retreat that was basing her mood on what her watch like her Apple watch or her, um, Fitbit was telling her. And there are nutrition programmes, and I’m using air quotes around that that claim to be psychology based that are nothing more than just another diet dressed up to appear to be helpful. But it’s still the same old, um, eat less and lose weight mentality.
SG: Yeah, I mean, it is, I I even get depressed looking at the book list. You know, the top selling books because it’s one after the other, diet books. And I think people are desperately looking for help. But I don’t feel that they’re being given the right help. And this is an enormous industry, isn’t it? This is a huge, huge industry, and I often talk about the food industry because I know it well, having worked on the inside. But I think the flip side of that is the diet industry, and I feel what I’ve seen over the past few years of coaching many, many people. I mean, not everyone who comes to see me is struggling with their weight, but many are. And I feel that they’re almost caught in a pincer movement between the food industry and the diet industry, and that they’re kind of being caught in this trap. And what I hear from them is it could almost be like a script, it’s so similar one person, especially one woman from another. I actually get them to draw a line and sort of like a little graph of when the weight came on and off and they’ll say, you know, this year I went on this diet, I lost three stone, then I put on 3. 5 stone. Then I went on this diet, and then I lost two stone, then gained… and it’s the same thing. And as you say, it goes on for year after year after year, their self-esteem is on the floor. It’s horrific to see what it does to their self-image, who they see themselves as a person. As one person said to me, I remember she said, it’s such a public failure.
SH: Isn’t that telling, right? That we’re trained to think that we’re succeeding if we’re thin and we’re failing if we’re not? And there are so many different types of bodies, Um, but we’re trained to think that only one kind of body is acceptable and like there are so many different reasons someone could lose weight or gain weight that have to do with hormones and pregnancy and ageing and menopause. And to categorise it as a failure, you know, is just so telling. That’s the goal that they’re not. They don’t feel successful or confident unless they weigh a certain amount. And they’re basing their self-worth and their confidence on something external, the scale weight when it’s such an inside job, because I know plenty of women who would be considered overweight or fat, who are living really happy, well rounded, amazing lives. Um and I know plenty of super thin folks who are miserable.
SG: Oh, yeah, for sure. But certainly I now think that I’ve grown so much in compassion around the subject. And it’s not through experience because I don’t have direct experience of being overweight. So this is something I’m not talking from personal experience. But what I can talk from is listening to people who are opening up to me. And I think that now I just feel so much more compassion and empathy. I see someone who is overweight, and I’m very aware that there is a stigma and even, you know, we have so much empathy for people who are going through so many things, but not with people who are overweight. Um, and I read the media and I’ll read newspapers and you can see it all the time. Now I’m very attuned to it because I almost imagine how is this landing with someone who’s overweight. It will be, you know, people in Britain are so fat and why can’t they just stop eating. And if they only got off their fat arse. And it’s just there in in the newspapers and on TV. And now I’m aware of it, just having been, you know, coaching so many people who are so honest with me about how they feel, how they feel when they go shopping there, pushing the trolley and they feel judged. You know, I don’t think twice if I go shopping, I don’t think anyone is looking at me, but to go around and push your trolley around the supermarket and feel judged.
SH: Yes, and I mean, fat phobia is alive and well, and I mean, we could spend a whole episode on fat phobia and like the origins of it and how it you know, it’s a function of white supremacy to pit the curvy and thin bodies against one another, you know, has its origins in discrimination and racism. This is why, when you look at the tabloids or you look at the media and they’re showing, um, who wore it best and so and so was at the beach, look at her cellulite and all of those harmful messages that girls and women are receiving that, Wow, if I gained weight, this is what people will think of me.
SG: And the judgement is real. I’ve even found it even unfortunately with people who work in, say, with mental health. I’ve been quite struck by, um, an email I once got from someone who works in mental health. She was objecting to something I’d posted. I think it was about sleep and she said, fat people choose to be fat And I was taken aback by that because it’s so not the case. And I think this is where I am now – having sat and listened to person after person, um, and been there while they have literally cried and put their heart out to me – I would absolutely refute. But it was really concerning to hear that even someone who works as a counsellor or a psychotherapist, would be judging people who are overweight and think, well, it’s their fault. That’s their choice. Um, and as you say, there are so many different factors, from hormones, thyroid or whatever. And what I see is people who are trying so desperately hard, doing all the right things, following a diet to the T, following this diet, then this diet, then that diet, always trying something else and really busting a gut, trying to lose the weight and then on top of that, to be judged and looked down on by people because, well, it’s their choice. I mean, that just upsets me now actually a lot.
SH: Well, it’s absolutely, in my opinion, nonsense, because I mean, I know women who are 100 pounds heavier than me that can out-lift me at the gym, who can outrun me. And so the size of someone’s body is not an indicator of their worth, of their level of fitness. It’s just there are so many shapes and sizes that are people’s natural weight. And yet, because we’re brainwashed to think that if you’re above a certain weight – like B MI has been proven over and over and over again to not be an accurate measure of anything but medicine still uses BMI to say, Oh, you’re clinically obese. I just think that the judgement around women’s bodies in particular is so out of control. Um, in the United States we just had the Super Bowl, the football Super Bowl, and the halftime Super Bowl show is always a big deal. And this year’s halftime show was interesting because it was Gen X. It was people our age performing. So they had Mary J. Blige and Snoop Dogg and Eminem. You know, all these people around 50 years of age, and the commentary about Mary J. Blige’s body and other performers’ bodies in middle age was so alarming to me because it was just sort of like, here’s a woman who is an icon who is performing. I mean, she stole the show and there were people saying she should have been covered up. She should have worn a bigger size. And Mary J. Blige is beautiful, and I mean her body is outstanding. And yet the criticism was so severe and unwarranted, and I think that when we can start to see what the diet culture complex really is, and all the things that feed into it, we can start to dismantle our own judgments of ourselves and become, as you’re saying, compassionate for all of us that let’s figure out how to take care of ourselves from a place of love and peace and drop all this violent self talk, all this violent judgement externally. I think diets are violent. It’s just a practise that needs to stop because there’s no upside to yo yoing.
SG: You know, that’s a really striking choice of word. And yet I think there’s definitely truth in that. But I think a lot of women almost get evangelical sometimes about particular diets. So I’ve often chatted to people who say I’m a lifelong Weight Watcher or whatever. Or when I’m giving a talk and telling them about healthy eating and drinking water, et cetera, and they say, Oh, my diet…(whoever is in charge of the group, I don’t know how they term them) they said we don’t need to drink water. It’s not necessary to drink water. I think. Who is this? Who is this person and what authority are they having to stand up and tell a group of women that they shouldn’t be drinking water? They don’t need to drink water and it’s fine to drink Diet Coke? And yet, the people in the group put absolute faith in this person who is clearly not qualified to have anything to do with nutrition. And that was really frightening to me that that you take this as, um some kind of like, as if it’s written in the Bible. I came across a woman who only ate low-fat yoghourts, 15 a day because it was classed as a sin-free food.
SH: Oh, my God. We have that. Yes.
SG: So, yeah, it was a sin-free food, full of sugar and all sorts of other crap, and this was the only thing that she ate because it was a safe thing in her mind. And this is what makes me so angry is that people are putting their faith in these toxic foods that lead to all sorts of chronic diseases, in good faith that they are eating to manage their weight.
SH: Yeah, I mean the perfect example. By the way, my husband used to be addicted to Diet Coke. He would have 12 a day. This was years ago, years ago and thankfully, he kicked that habit. But right, like the sin-free and the Diet Coke and all these things. And you don’t have to drink water. And you’re right. Like, look there are women in my audience who love to argue with me about all these points who are like no, plant based is the only way to go. Or Keto, you know, they couldn’t be more opposite. Keto is huge in the United States is the only way to go and their people will die on that hill and argue about these things, you know, like No, no, no, what I am doing isn’t harmful. And I just simply say to people, if you can do it wrong, you’re on a diet. Full stop. If you can do it wrong, you’re on a diet, and if your mood, your self worth is based on how well you follow the rules that day, you are on a diet friend and I am just not about that life. Like there are better ways to care for yourself than to so carefully measure every spoonful going into your mouth.
SG: Yeah, and in fact, in the study Susan that I mentioned earlier, there were people who were literally measuring amounts of vegetables. So I mean, the levels of obsessiveness and I mean vegetables are what we need to be eating, you know, And it’s just heartbreaking that people have demonised actual food, because of what they’ve been told by these companies, and I don’t know how they got away with it. You know, you see the adverts on the back of the bus and it comes to a new year, and it’s all about there’s another ad campaign for this diet, that diet. And it’s a huge into billion pound weight loss industry. And then you’ll see in the adverts or the big articles in the newspaper with a man or a woman with a big pants. But what staggers me is, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t help some people. I mean, clearly, some people have been helped, and, you know, if that’s you listening and you’ve managed to keep the weight off, that’s fantastic. But I think there is just a whole slew of other people..
SG: That’s a lot of people who tried it and came off the waggon and then on to the next one. And I cannot understand how an industry can thrive on that margin of success, which is so pathetic. 5% like you think, I’m sorry. I think you should give up now and go and do something else, and yet it’s stronger than ever. So how are they getting away with it Susan?
SH: Uh, marketing, I mean, marketing dollars. So it’s, I think, an $80 billion industry and they’ll come up like I’ve noticed, um, lately, over the past 5, 10 years, the big thing is like bio hacking. So it’s this trickery in marketing and sales that they’ve discovered some new way for it to become easier for you to reach this cultural ideal. And so that’s where, like intermittent fasting and Keto is very male. It’s very like bio hacking, and it’s comical because I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s like Oh, OK, so now what we’re doing is we’re taking something that was created for a very specific health condition, whether it’s epilepsy or whatever and now we’re going to try to get everyone on board were only eating during a certain window of time. Um, that, my friends, is like again a diet. You’re telling me I can only eat between the hours of this and this. Oh, okay, that’s the new thing. But people aren’t looking at it with a critical eye that way. It’s easy to sell someone hope, and what they’re hoping for is that I will finally be acceptable and have the body that I always knew I could have. I mean, that’s them selling the dream of thinness or the Kardashian curbs or whatever it might be. And it’s harmful.
SG: It’s terribly harmful. And what I’ve seen is that you know, these shakes, the low calorie shakes. I’ve seen many, many people who started with that lost weight. I hear this again and again. Their hair fell out. They then plateaued and then started putting weight on. But they are now terrified, literally terrified to stop with the shakes even though they’re not working. They’re full of nonsense. And sometimes they’ve been actually told that those ingredients in there are particularly toxic and yet they are paralysed because they dare not stop with the shakes and what they’re doing is having the shake and then they’re not eating oily fish and broccoli and good stuff, they’re eating chocolate, crisps (potato chips, you call them), I mean, absolute junk. And so they’re locked in the cycle of the diet low calorie drinks, plus the load of other junk, and they’re getting sicker and sicker. But they’ve been so brainwashed that they can’t get off it. And that is heartbreaking.
SH: Well, it is. And I was just reminded like I was that person. So I guess it would have been 1998. I remember because my son was a newborn. Do you remember and did they sell this, um, in the UK It was a pill. A diet pill called Metabolife?
SG: Probably. I mean, it wouldn’t have been something that I ever came across.
SH: There was a diet pill called Metabolife that was super popular and my sister and I would take it, and it was full of nonsense, caffeine speed, and, um, as a new mother, Um, I was taking those pills, I was getting so much done and it was an appetite suppressant. So I dropped all this weight. We thought it was the best thing ever. And then the US FDA came out and said, this is a harmful drug, we’re pulling it from the shelves because it’s causing heart attacks. Do you know what I did? Instead of saying, Oh, my gosh, this is harmful to my health, I might die. My sister and I went and bought all the bottles we could find off the shelves before the FDA could pull it. So I was at Walmart and, um, the supermarket and just stockpiling this drug that they were saying could cause you to die. So I was that person to the extreme and in my mind, at that point in time in my life, it was worse to gain weight than it was to have a heart attack.
SH: Yeah. That’s why I’m so passionate about this because it affects every part of someone’s life. When they are that locked into, I have to get lose weight at all costs. And for me, at that point in my life, I had gained 70 pounds during my pregnancy, it came off quickly with this diet drug, so I thought I had found the Holy Grail. Um, and I was very attached to staying as thin as I had become, Um, and you know, whether someone for them it’s the shakes or intermittent fasting or whatever. I mean, there are listeners I know listening to this who are feeling particularly locked in to something that they think is working for them. And I think the trick is helping people understand that everything you think you’re going to get from a diet you can get from taking exquisite care of yourself from a place of love and pleasure. Um, and you don’t have to diet to have the life and the body that you love.
SG: That was such a hard hitting story that you just told there, Susan. I mean, that really took my breath away when I heard what you did. And I’m sure it’s not that unusual because you’ve lost all perspective, and this is what is something with so many other women. It’s not that they’re stupid. It’s just that that you lose all your common sense even. And I remember we had we once an au pair when my kids were little, and she was a lovely, lovely lady. But she was very obsessive about her weight. She wasn’t remotely overweight, but she would weigh herself every day and her moods, and therefore the mood of the entire house, was dictated by if she had put on a kilo or lost a kilo. And so we were very much affected because it was so contagious, her mood, and she would just lurch from one diet that she would find on the Internet to the next one. One time, she would only eat bananas, and then suddenly she would go vegan, and that would last for a week. One day she told me she was going to do this thing where every two hours she would have a piece of celery or a piece of carrot or something, and she only told me the night before so that she would need lots of these things that she was going to have every two hours. And I said, Well, no problem, I’m going to the supermarket at midday so I can bring it then. And she just went crazy because that would meant that at 10 o’clock while she was at language school, she wouldn’t have her piece of celery because she was going to miss one. And she literally started screaming. And she was a lovely, lovely lady. But I think it makes you crazy. And, you know, with these shakes, I understand there’s been some studies, and I know they’re looking t reversing Type 2 diabetes with very low calorie shakes, and the results are there. But from what I see, many people have such a dysfunctional relationship with food afterwards, I think it’s very difficult to thrive in life and be a rounded, happy person if you have a dysfunctional relationship with food. If you can no longer eat food, unless someone is literally giving you a sachet and telling you exactly what to eat and how much of it. It’s just not a normal way to live. I think that, as you say, we need to get back to enjoying food and trusting our body. You know, if you go back 100 years, this didn’t exist. This craziness, did it?
SH: No, it certainly didn’t. And you’re right, like, you know, if you look at children, if you look at toddlers, they will push a spoon away when they’ve had enough. They are very attuned to this tastes delicious, this doesn’t. This is enough to walk away from. I used to marvel at my children that they would walk away from half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or half of a you know, burger or whatever. It might be because they’re not getting their entertainment or things from food that are not necessary. And so I tend to look at food like, there’s no moral value assigned to a food. So I look at food as power food, like this food can power me up and give me energy. And pleasure food is delicious and strictly for pleasure. And there’s a lot of crossover. Avocado toast is something that is a food that powers up my body, and it also tastes delicious, right? So if we can stop looking at food is good or bad or, um, like this is sinful. And this is sin free. Like you were using the sin free yoghourt as an example earlier and that we can stop our weirdness around food and start to gravitate towards things that, like, you know, um, at 48 years old, I know if I eat a bunch of macaroni and cheese, I’m going to feel tired later, and I’m probably gonna need a nap, and that’s not going to be great for my day. So I’m gonna choose, you know, some chicken and some avocado and some salad that’s gonna rev me up for how I need to speak or write or have client sessions. Um, can I have some chocolate cake? Yes, I can, because like, it’s not sustainable to go through life, depriving yourself.
SG: No. Absolutely. And that’s one thing I’ve been very careful to do in front of my kids is to say, you know, like we’re going out for dinner, I really fancy some tiramisu, or chocolate cake, you know, should we share it because I probably couldn’t eat the whole thing because I guess I’m in tune with what my body needs. After a while, it will be like, Oh, yeah, it’s a bit too much sweetness. But I’m really careful to show that balance that, Yeah, I feel like some you know, some chocolate now and let’s go and have that and treat ourselves. But I think what you touched on earlier about the kids is really, really disturbing. So can you give us some idea what are the figures for children putting themselves on diets? Because I know I coached many women who have been on a diet for upwards of 60 years. I mean, they started dieting or putting themselves on some sort of deprivation aged around six. And their whole life, their whole life they have had this, um and sometimes it was just a comment from a parent or something like or let’s see if we can get this, not like a particularly wounding comment. But it did wound them because it was just like, let’s see if we can this skirt around you or your sister is in a bikini, but you need to wear a bathing suit or something. One of my clients, I remember she said that when she was about nine, her father would get fish and chips. Fish and chips is a very British fried thing, and they would all have fish and chips in the family. And she was allowed to smell the packet. I mean, what that does to a nine year old child. So they come to me. They’ve had decades and decades of feeling that they are a failure and are unworthy and every sort of negative self belief that you can think of. So back to the children, because, yes, it’s just really, really concerning, isn’t it?
SH: It is concerning. And this is, um this is something that we actually talk about. What you just described in BARE coach training, which is where I train coaches how to how to like what you do, how to work with people and also children. Um, we work with kids, too. Um, but the average age that a girl starts dieting is eight years old. And, um, and for the reasons that you just said, like, family members will make a determination that, um. And it’s usually not you know, I don’t know many parents who are out there thinking, How can I make my child as miserable as possible? They’ve just bought into this idea that oh, you know, better make sure this isn’t a problem and they start putting these kids on diets average age, eight years old. And so, um, I think the stats for teenagers are that I want to say, like 90% of teenagers have been on a diet and the confidence gap that we see because girls start at on average dieting at age eight. We also see in 14 year old girls compared to their 14 year old male counterparts, a 30% reduction in confidence. And so that just compounds itself. So, you know, you can think about, um, the effects that this has and the confidence gap, how that plays out later in life. So, um, if you’re 30% less confident at 14, and it continues to grow, how that plays out in the education that you pursue, the jobs that you pursue, the relationships that you pursue and that of course contributes to the wage gap, Um, later on in life as well. And so it is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems to address in our society because it affects girls starting at a very young age, leading all the way up to the stats of higher rates of women dying in poverty because of the domino effect of all of these things. So it’s not just, Oh, let’s get you feeling great in your jeans. This is something that affects every facet of a woman’s life.
SG: Yeah, I would totally agree with you. I perhaps wouldn’t have 10 years ago. But having seen what I have seen in woman after woman after woman, uh, it’s true. It’s horrific for them, um, and have been trapped in this year after year, decade after decade, and to see their self esteem just ground into nothing and women who would otherwise and who sometimes are thriving at work, very, very accomplished professional women, but who are spending most of their time thinking about what they’ve just eaten or what they will eat and hating themselves, absolutely hating themselves. And what a tragedy.
SH: Well, exactly. And when you think about, um, I say, don’t delete yourself meaning not only the things that they’re trying to do while this narrative is going on in the background, but then the things they’re not doing, so the parties or the socialising, or the things that they’re not participating in because they don’t feel thin enough or fit enough to do it, like not being in family photos or going on vacations or pool parties or whatever it might be. And so it is, Um, it is something that is affecting almost every girl and woman that I know because it’s in the air that we breathe. But then there are also, I mean, we can disrupt this. I mean, we can make changes and decide that we’re going to learn how to take care of ourselves from a place of love and freedom and sustainability, so that we can stop buying into this narrative and free ourselves.
SG: And how does someone start to do that? What is the starting point? If someone is currently on a diet or just finished a diet and is thinking well, the summer is coming up, and I look at my belly and I hate myself, and I don’t even want to go to a yoga class or a dance class because everyone will laugh at me. And I don’t feel like going for a walk. And I just want to be normal, like other people, like, go out for dinner and be able to be with friends and have dinner rather than sitting hating myself. From that dark, dark place, how does one start to move out of there?
SG: Well, um, it might surprise you, my answer. So in the book that I wrote Bare, um, I have a seven step process that is not at all, Um, what you might expect the first step would be. And this is where I tell everyone to start is with what I call an environmental diet, which is spending some time assessing what’s coming at you through all your senses and not just your taste buds. So what are you reading? What are you looking at online? What kind of music are you listening to? Um what kind of conversations are you entertaining? Who are you surrounding yourself with? Literally taking an assessment of everything happening in your environment and discerning how that is affecting your energy and your mood and what you’re telling yourself?
SG: And does that include, like family members as well? Often I’ll find like if I’m coaching, say, a woman, and actually their husband is saying, you know, you’re not going to stick to this. And here a whole basket of chocolate. And they’re being undermined by their partner.
SH: Yes. Um, So absolutely. Whoever you’re spending the most time with is included in this, But I want to say, um so when you’re using your body as a compass and deciding, like what feels good and what doesn’t, that doesn’t then mean like, Oh, I need a divorce or I’m cutting this person out of my life. It’s then taking stock and then deciding what sorts of boundaries that you want to set. So often when someone has a partner or a spouse who is, um, not helpful, should we say to whatever their goals might be, it’s having conversations with them about like, you know what? I really don’t appreciate any discussion about how my body looks right now or what it is that I’m eating right now. Um, and I have, over the years, I’ve had to have conversations like that with people who I most love, where it’s like, I know that you think you’re being helpful, but here’s what I would prefer to have happened. And I think when a woman starts assessing and setting those boundaries, then that can free up enough capacity to then start to think differently about how they might eat and how they might move. So that’s the first place to start.
SG: People would naturally want to start with food, wouldn’t they?
SH: They always want to start with food, and I purposefully put food as the third or fourth step of the process because it’s not about the food. I know you want to make it about the food, but it’s not.
SG: So just give us. I won’t ask you for the whole seven, but can you give us number two? What’s the next step?
SH: After that, Um, number two would be mindset work, so number two would be learning how to talk to yourself instead of what I would call low quality thoughts that bring low quality results, learning how to be good company for yourself and develop a habit of thinking high quality thoughts. So you may be like this is hopeless, Um, nothing ever works. Um, you know this all or nothing thinking maybe present for you right now. And so it’s learning how to think. Like, you know what? I’m open to becoming a woman who [fill in the blank], or I’m learning how to become a woman who [fill in the blank] and that retraining your brain is a huge part of this.
SG: I love that “I’m open to” because it’s so much easier to say than “I love myself” or something that’s simply not going to land with a lot of people and would feel terribly inauthentic. And I love what you’re talking about here because this is a long term deep, real, authentic change rather than let me just order, um, you know, a packet of diet stuff and I can lose a stone by February or whatever it is. This is real change happening on like a cellular basis really isn’t it? It’s changing our thought process, changing your beliefs and it’s long term. So it doesn’t look like a quick fix. And it’s not a quick fix. It’s not meant to be a quick fix.
SH: No, no, it’s not. It’s meant to give you permanent and sustainable tools so that you can stop all this dieting nonsense and learn how to love who you are. Learn how to love the skin you’re in and expand your life and get what you want instead of shrinking to fit some cultural ideal.
SG: want to thank you so much for your passion about this because I think we do need to get angry about this, um, for anything to change, Uh, and I don’t see enough discussion actually about this subject. So I’m really pleased that we have had this conversation and I really hope that it can at least spark a conversation in women. SH: Thank you so much. And thank you for the work that you do. You are such a brave knight.