So here’s the thing. January sucks and so do January diets. Big Diet is a 192.2 billion dollar industry, projected to reach $295.3 billion by 20271, and it’s waiting in the wings to cash in on your Christmas fun and make you feel like human garbage.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this year, I think the dirge of diet culture will be worse than ever before. Surviving a pandemic that has taken over one million lives and infected over 80 million people2 worldwide isn’t enough – you have to work on losing that pandemic weight too, right?
We are experiencing a pandemic which has kept us indoors, splintered our routines, closed the gyms and swimming pools, closed the parks, closed the lidos, closed the ponds. It’s changed the way we eat, drink, shop and socialise. It’s understandable that some of us – many of us, perhaps most of us – have gained weight, either a little or a lot. It’s okay if you don’t immediately feel neutral about that. Your clothes may not fit in the same way, which is both uncomfortable and, if you need to replace them, expensive. You may not feel the same when you look at yourself in the mirror – your face may be softer, the landscape of your body different. Peaks where there used to be plains. You may feel self-conscious, or less healthy, or less attractive, or even less like yourself. No one ever said unpacking fatphobia was easy, and it’s okay if you aren’t there yet.
But you are alive. You are a person whose body is in a constant state of flux, whose hair will turn grey, whose skin will wrinkle. You are a person whose eyesight will weaken, whose joints will ache. You are a person who will grow older, who will grow old.
And that’s not all. Your body has never stopped changing. From puberty to pregnancy to menopause, HRT to gender-affirming surgery, side effects from medication and birth control, sickness, sun tans, skin tags, warts and scars, building muscle, losing muscle, laughter lines. Some changes are inevitable, some are welcome. Some are necessary, some are painful, some are hard, some are like, whatever. But the point is, your body is in perpetual motion, even when you’re trapped on your sofa.
I’m not here to deliver Body Positivity 101 though. I’m not here to teach you all about self-love and finding joy in your softness. I’m not here to teach you the basics and hold your hand while you contend with being one or two dress sizes bigger than you’re used to.
And the truth is: you don’t owe anyone fat. You are an adult, and you are allowed to lose weight if you like. You are allowed to dream of whatever size you think is the key to unlocking your future happiness. You are allowed to diet, you are allowed to restrict yourself, you are allowed to punish yourself, you are allowed to hate yourself, you are allowed to starve yourself. You are allowed to do all of those things, and you will never run out of people who will applaud you as you spiral, and Big Diet corporations who’ll take your money again and again and again.
I don’t want that for you but I’m not going to fight you over it. The reason we ask you to use content notes and minimise your diet chat and self-deprecating fat jokes in public spaces isn’t because we’re mean fatties trying to control you, trying to keep you fat because your thinness is some kind of threat to us. It’s not that, bab. We’d just rather you didn’t take anyone else down with you.
#CookJan is my response to diet culture. It’s my antidote to the New Year New You bullshit. It’s a community to hide in, to dilute the inevitable swell of fatphobia and disordered eating that plagues us in January. You can click here to read my original blog post from December 2017 to learn more about #CookJan, but in a nutshell: the goal is to enjoy and celebrate food, cooking and eating, whatever that may look like to you.
You can work through a cookbook, you can try Veganuary, you can reconnect with your kitchen in any way you like. You can check in with the community by using the hashtag or you can do your own thing. You can use it to document your oven chip, picky teas and even your takeaways. You can use it to explore food through a new lens, or you can use it to connect with other people who like to cook and eat.
It’s about saying no to diet culture and yes to pleasure, yes to joy, yes to life.