Calvin: If everyone looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently.
Hobbes: How so?
Calvin: Well, when you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day.
Hobbes: We spent our day looking under rocks at the creek.
Calvin: I mean other people.
I always associate Calvin & Hobbes with going to my childhood dentist, as they had a huge book of the comic’s collection in their waiting room. Even as a young kid, this particular comic spoke to me, and I still ponder it whenever I see a clear sky full of stars.
I think there is plenty of truth to the sentiment that if we all looked up into space every once in a while, we would realize how insignificant each of us actually is in the universe. Whenever I learn about how far away some stars is, or I think about how many years the Earth has been around, I am comforted somehow. It helps me realize that my personal problems and insecurities, in the grand scheme of history and the universe, don’t matter whatsoever.
When you are trapped in diet culture, it doesn’t feel like a universe exists beyond trying to get a summer body or fitting into clothes from high school. But, let me assure you that there is a great big world, and universe, out there that is waiting for you to explore it, whether physically or intellectually. We live in a fascinating place, but if we continue to have diet culture blinders over our eyes, we’re going to miss out.
The Problem With Thinking About Diets and Exercise 24/7
Being involved in diet culture sucks up a whole lotta time, energy, and valuable brain space. Memorizing the calorie content of hundreds of foods alone must take up at least a few gigabytes of memory data in one’s noggin that would be much better used for old Brittany Spears lyrics or the quadratic formula from high school.
In her incredible book, Anti-Diet (affiliate), Christy Harrison describes a client who viewed her diet and weight loss journey as her sole purpose. She treated dieting like her full-time job. This hit me really hard, because I was there not so long ago. I had many, many more important things to do and worry about back in the day, yet there I was spending most of my waking hours obsessing over food and getting fit.
If someone would have somehow been able to make a pie chart of things I thought about back then, it most likely would have just been a circle only containing diet culture-y things. I think that’s true for many people- they spend their days worrying about their muffin tops or thinking about trying a new juice cleanse, even while they are spending time with their family or friends.
We tend to look at ourselves and our own problems with a microscope, zooming in on each an every little aspect, on each and every little stretch mark and extra bit of fat we don’t want. It’s time for us to zoom out and look at life for the incredible ride that it is instead of focusing on something as shallow as not having a six pack.
The Alternatives to Obsessing About Diets and Exercise
What if, instead of chasing new diets and trying to optimize our calories every day, we thought about how if the Earth’s timeline were a football field, humans wouldn’t exist unit a few blades of grass away from the endzone?1 Or that the planet we inhabit still contains an infinite number of mysteries, yet 1 million Earths could fit inside of the sun.
Or what if we thought about how amazing our bodies are instead of mentally or verbally complaining about how they don’t look like we want them to? What if we spent our time contemplating the fact that our hearts beat 100,000 times per day and the blood in our bodies travels 12,000 miles every 24 hours?2 Or that your body is home to over 100,000 miles of blood vessels?3
There are thousands of special hairs in our ears that allow most of us to hear, and tiny, tiny crystals in our inner ears that help us stay balanced. In their absence, we would have constant vertigo and we wouldn’t be able to hear our favorite music. The fact that these mechanisms exist in our bodies without our having think about them is so weird, wild, and wonderful.
I could go on about amazing facts about the human body, but when you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that you and I even exist at all. Dr. Ali Binizar calculated the probability of any of us existing, and the number might knock the wind out of you.
She came up with the odds of you or I existing at 1 in 102685000. Those aren’t odds I’d bet my life savings on in Vegas. In comparison, her incredible infographic lists that the number of atoms that make up earth is estimated to be 1050, and the number of atoms making up the universe is estimated to be 1080.
The infographic also compares those odds to 2 million people having a trillion-sided dice, and everyone rolling the exact same number. Your life might not always feel amazing, especially during a global pandemic or when you are worried about the few pounds you may have gained during it. But from a statistical and biological standpoint, your life is nothing but amazing.
I propose that we begin to live our lives with these facts in mind as much as possible, because diet culture’s grip can make it nearly impossible for us to see how calorie counting is a waste of our precious time and energy.
The Solution to Overcoming Obsessive Diet and Exercise Thoughts
Ever since I have gotten past my hangups with dieting and exercise in order to get a “better” body, I have had much more time to think about things like we discussed above. There are truly times throughout the day where I think about how weird it is that I’m alive and that I have people I love and hobbies I enjoy. It’s humbling to say the least.
It’s hard for me to say what came first: getting over my desire to stay thin so I had more brainpower to think about the interesting stuff, or starting to think about the interesting stuff so my desire to stay thin went by the wayside. Either way, I eventually came to terms with the fact that spending my days working on my body was doing a disservice to myself and the world around me.
When someone’s entire life’s purpose seems to be about weight loss or fitness, it’s difficult to think about or do anything else. People in this mode constantly read articles and magazines about the newest fad diets, relentlessly pin “clean eating” recipes on Pinterest (much like participants in The Minnesota Starvation Experiment collected recipes), and think about all the foods they are denying themselves from having.
Biologically, this is a sound mechanism. When we don’t eat enough, our bodies do everything they can to ensure that we will have energy stores at our disposal, so they make us obsess over food and eating. This doesn’t mean your body is at war with you; quite the opposite, in fact. Your body is trying to save you. Once your body knows that you will always give it enough to eat, the food obsession flies away, never to be seen again.
So here I assert that you begin to actively seek out things that you find thought-provoking and relentlessly fascinating that aren’t related to food and dieting. I used to think I was passionate about food and cooking, but it turns out it was just the food restriction talking. Now, as nerdy as it sounds, I find psychology, writing, space/time, and tons of other things so fascinating, that I think about them frequently when I’m not actively doing something else.
I read books and articles daily on these topics, and I listen to related podcasts whenever I’m doing housework or driving somewhere. This was the time that I used to dedicate to learning about the weight loss “benefits” of hot lemon water in the morning. Stop letting dieting and fitness be your purpose in life. Even though I may not know you, I know that you have so much more to offer the world than that.
Getting out of the world of dieting can be strange and almost scary. Many of us have spent so much time thinking about what we eat and how much we exercise, that it’s sometimes hard to let go of this because we won’t know who we are without it. If you can’t think of any topics that fascinate you or set your soul on fire, I have compiled a list of resources below that regularly blow my mind and keep my brain occupied all day long.
I urge you to branch out and seek new topics that you may even show the tiniest hint of interest in, as you never know when you might discover a new passion or calling. You could even find that in one of these resources below.
On that note, some of these podcasts or other suggestions may have episodes or sections about diets, so please use caution. Some of the podcast sponsors may also be diet supplements, so please use caution there too.
Thought-Provoking Books Not Related to Diets or Exercise
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut – I read this book at the start of quarantine, and it is one of the most beautiful, strange, and humbling literary adventures I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. This book does an incredible job of making one reflect on the purpose of human history, and one’s own existence. I love stuff like this.
I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak – This is my favorite book of all time, hands down. I first read this in high school, and I have read it or listened to the audio book version of it at least six times since then. To me, this book is about building community and looking outside of yourself more often. If I could make everyone in America read this book and have discussions about it, I would. I think it could make everyone a better person. I really do.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – One of the best ways I have found to stop worrying about my thighs or belly is to remember that I’m going to die. It’s not the most cheerful thing to think about, but I think we should all keep this fact in mind more often. This book is beautiful, tragic, and fascinating, and it’s another one that I wish everyone were required to read.
If you want more book suggestions, some that are relevant to slaying diet culture, and some that are not, head over to the resources page.
Thought-Provoking Podcasts Unrelated to Diets and Exercise:
Armchair Expert – Still my fave podcast of all time. I love Dax and Monica, and I have learned something from each and every guest they have had on the show. They have one branch of the show, Experts on Expert, that only consists of, you guessed it, experts. I love both branches of the show, but Experts on Expert is where things get really thought-provoking. This show is silly, yet serious, and it has lead me to some of my favorite books. Unfortunately, they have recently released a series involving a weight loss/weight gain challenge. I am incredibly disappointed about this, but the rest of the episodes are still fantastic.
- David Sinclair on aging (ep. 226) – this dude has done some groundbreaking research that has shown we may be able to turn back the clock to slow or eliminate diseases that we deem natural with aging.
- Todd Rose on finding purpose and dark horse achievers (ep. 75) – Todd Rose’s life story, detailed in this episode, is inspiring and heart-warming. His book Dark Horse(affiliate) is an incredible read about finding success through fulfillment.
- Adam Grant on givers and takers (ep. 163) – Adam Grant is one fascinating guy. He is an organizational psychologist, so he studies psychology in the workplace. This episode is a wonderful listen, and I believe it gives a wonderful insight on who Adam Grant really is.
Hidden Brain – I binged this podcast so hard while driving because I absolutely love the content, and because I find Shanker Vedandem’s voice to be so soothing and comforting. This podcast is all about our brain and the biases it holds. There are episodes I still ponder weekly that I haven’t listened to in over a year.
- The Cowboy Philosopher: A Tale Of Obsession, Scams, And Family mind-blowing episode on a con artist from years ago.
- Facts Aren’t Enough: The Psychology of False Beliefs our mind is full of biases, and we often seek out “proof” to things we already believe.
- The Scarcity Trap: Why We Keep Digging When We’re Stuck In A Hole – Super relevant to food obsession when we are restricting.
The Tim Ferriss Show – Tim Ferriss manages to get incredible guests on his podcast, and it’s such a treat to listen in on some of these conversations. I have also learned a boatload from each guest that I have listened to, and I can listen to full 2-hour episodes without getting even a little bored.
- Janna Levin on Extra Dimensions, Time Travel, and How to Overcome Boots in the Face (ep. 445). This was my first introduction to Janna Levin, and she is clearly one smart, well-read lady.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson on How to Dream Big, Think Scientifically, and Get More Done (ep. 389). If you haven’t watched Cosmos yet, you’re missing out.
- Dr. Vivek Murthy – Former Surgeon General on Combating COVID-19, Loneliness, and More (ep. 417). I currently have a hold on his book on loneliness at the library, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.
Thought-Provoking TV Shows
Fargo – Based on the popular movie from the 90’s, Fargo is a strange, somewhat surreal crime show, taking place in Minnesota. It has genuine twists and turns that kept me completely engrossed through two entire watch throughs, and I can’t wait for season 4 to drop. Each season takes place in a different decade, and they are all connected in one way or another. I live for trying to find those connections.
Dark – This show is German, so prepare yourself for reading loads of subtitles unless you like English dubs. I don’t, so it forced me to pay close attention, which is crucial for this show. It’s well worth it though, I can assure you. It’s a mind-bending story of missing kids and time travel in a small town, and it only expands from there. Its story line gets complicated and confusing, so I had to refer to each episode’s reddit page after viewing.
I can see how this show wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I have spent a great deal of time thinking about it for weeks after finishing the final season, and I have a feeling it will stay with me for a long time.
Stranger Things – I was late to the party on this show, and I didn’t think I would enjoy watching it based on its description. But I LOVE IT. I have a special place in my heart for weird movies and TV shows that feel fictional, but also feel like they could be reality and we common folk just don’t know about it. This show is about a twisted government conspiracy and an alternate dimension converging with our own world. The characters are beyond lovable, and they only get better as the show proceeds.
Thanks for the Suggestions, but What’s the Point?
My point in listing all of these things is that there are so many cooler things to do than worry about your thighs or avoid desserts because you don’t want to gain weight. There are so many more interesting things to think about than the calorie content of apples and oranges. And there are so many more fascinating things to talk about than your latest diet or exercise routine.
If you find yourself spending a large amount of your time and headspace on food and shrinking your body, take stock of the media you consume and the conversations you have regularly. Are they all or mostly about food and weight loss? If so, expand your horizons and start learning about more cool stuff, like time and space, stamp collecting, or anything else not related to food and fitness.
I’m not saying that finding new interests can cure disordered eating or clinically diagnosed eating disorders. But the fixation on and constant research and reading on weight loss and fitness is just digging ourselves in a deeper hole. Feed the hunger your body feels for the food you’re restricting and then find a hunger for learning about things other than how to get a smaller body. You will see yourself change for the better.
In my freshman year dorm in college, our RA left post it notes and pens in the bathroom, allowing us to put up encouraging messages on the mirror in favor of healthy body image. Someone left a note that said,
“Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about her thighs… she had shit to do.” – Sarah Silverman
This made me laugh in the moment, and it has stuck with me since. It’s hilarious because it’s true. So many of us use our valuable brain space thinking about our thighs or hips or bellies, and we could use that time and energy for an infinite number of other, more valuable things. Maybe we won’t be the next Mother Teresa, but then again, maybe we could be.
Of course, diet culture doesn’t want that.
Overcoming diet culture and disordered eating isn’t as simple as looking up at the stars or learning other mind-blowing facts about our odds of being here. But putting our body weight, something that occupies many people’s minds all day every day, into perspective can help us see how insignificant the entire notion of wanting to look a certain way actually is.
It’s a miracle that you and all of your loved ones exist on this earth and that most of us can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the world around us. What an incredible gift it is to be here and experience all that we can. Don’t waste another minute of this gift doing a workout you hate or eating foods that taste terrible to you in order to shrink your body. It’s simply a waste of your potential.
As Always, a Book Recommendation
This week, I am recommending Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. This might seem like a weird choice to put here, but it relays the important message that we need to humble ourselves. I bought it two years ago, and I have read it four times since then. I chose this book for this post because it is an excellent reminder that the world does not revolve around us or our problems and insecurities.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as cocky or confident, most of us still have plenty of excess ego going on in our heads. Ego is what tells us that people are staring at our thighs or that strangers are noticing our muffin tops. Ego is what makes us think that our diets are the most important work we could be doing on ourselves, when we have so much more to offer others.
Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite authors. He writes beautifully about the ancient art of stoicism, and he uses modern stories to help us apply it to our own lives. Ego is the Enemy is an incredibly humbling take on life and our so-called problems. We may think everyone is looking at our belly fat, but we, and our perceived excess weight, don’t matter as much as we think.
If politicians and leaders were to read this book and write a book report on it yearly, I think we would all be much better off. I highly encourage you to read this book, as well has his other books Obstacle is the Way and Stillness is the Key. Each one of these books has hundred of tidbits of wisdom, and they have stuck with me in the long haul.
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- Watch Earths History Play Out on a Football Field
- NOVA Online – Amazing Heart Facts
- Blood Vessels-The Franklin Institute
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