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“I’m Just One Stomach Flu Away from Reaching my Goal Weight” – The Evil Side of Diet Culture

Published on: April 24, 2024

Eight years ago, one of my best friends said this, jokingly but with a bit of truth and wishful thinking: “I’m just one stomach flu away from reaching my goal weight”. And I think about that. Often.

So let’s talk about something that’s often swept under the rug: losing weight when you’re sick. Sure, shedding a few pounds might sound like a silver lining when you’re feeling under the weather, but the truth is, it’s not as great as diet culture makes it out to be.

Diet culture is like this big societal pressure cooker obsessed with being thin. It’s all about pushing restrictive diets and making people feel guilty about what they eat. Instead of just enjoying food, it makes you second-guess every bite and feel bad if you’re not fitting into some narrow idea of “healthy.”

Your relationship with food is basically how you feel about eating. Diet culture messes with that, making it all about rules and guilt. So, instead of food being something enjoyable, it becomes this stressful thing that’s always on your mind. 

Diet culture has this messed-up idea that being sick means you’re winning at the weight-loss game. It’s like, “Hey, you’re not feeling well, but at least you’re dropping pounds, right?” But here’s the thing: losing weight when you’re sick isn’t a victory—it’s a sign that your body is struggling.

When you’re sick, your body needs all the energy and nutrients it can get to fight off whatever nasty bug you’ve caught. But diet culture doesn’t care about that. It’s too busy cheering you on for fitting into smaller jeans or last year’s pair of shorts.

But here’s the reality check: losing weight because you’re sick isn’t healthy. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, I need help!” Ignoring that and celebrating the scale going down is like high-fiving a fire while your house is burning down.

As a dietitian, I’ve had my fair share of talking about bowel movements and ‘icky’ symptoms when it comes to food. But I’ll spare you with some of my personal details. All I’ll say, it’s been a rough several weeks. And I want to share my thought process behind it, even as a nutrition professional. 

One month ago, I had new gut symptoms that weren’t typical for me. I knew I was not processing and absorbing my food like normal. And like most, I just decided to wait it out – after all, it wasn’t anything serious and I’m a generally healthy person. 

After a few days, the conversation in my head started. “Well this isn’t too bad, and I feel like I’m losing a bit of weight which is perfect for this time of year.” “Maybe this is the kickstart I need to get ‘ready’ for summer”. Did I need to lose weight before summer? No. Would I feel better if I lost a few pounds before summer? Well duh. I even told a friend that I would ideally like to lose about 10lbs, but keep muscle. Clearly the diet gods were eavesdropping…

Over the next few weeks, symptoms got worse, the pain in my abdomen got worse, and pretty soon the only thing that I could reach for was plain water. A few bites to try to appease my hunger was met with even more pain to the point it wasn’t worth eating. Even certain beverages still aggravated my symptoms. 

Anyways, I ended up camping with my blanket in the ER for a day last week, and while we still have no answers, I do have medications that enable me to eat small amounts of food. It’s still to be determined what’s going on, but I can eat. I have much more energy and can think properly again – I’m sure people around me felt like they were talking to a wall for the past couple weeks! 

Five years of university studies under my belt, learning everything I need to know about the chemistry and physiology of food and digestion, recovered from a past of disordered eating (using food scales, tracking food, intense workouts, manipulating exercise and food for body composition and a fitness competition, etc.), helping people improve their own relationship with food, and here I was, starting with digestive problems, losing weight and still…STILL…falling into the diet culture hamster wheel of “well at least I’m losing weight”. 

I know that my 12ish pound weight loss (could be a bit more, I don’t know my weight when this first started) isn’t sustainable. As soon as I’m back to eating normally and my toilet routine gets back to normal too, the weight will go back up. 

I know that the weight I’m at now, while it might have been my “goal weight”, it is not my “happy weight”. A person’s happy weight is the weight they’re at when they can still enjoy life. Where you don’t need to restrict foods, where you enjoy social occasions with food, and you don’t overcompensate for it by burning calories by exercising. Your happy weight is the weight you’re at when you’re simply “living”.

A Few Words About Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is a way to break free from all the craziness of diet culture. It’s about listening to your body and eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and enjoying whatever you’re craving without feeling guilty. It’s like giving yourself permission to eat what you want and trust your body to know what it needs. It does not mean eat whatever you want and forget about your health. It’s more about learning what your body needs without completely beating yourself up for enjoying less nutritious foods. It’s about having a good relationship with food as a part of health, and finding a realistic balance so you can stop going on and off diets that do more harm than good.

Mindful eating is part of eating intuitively. It’s all about being present and really tasting your food: slowing down and paying attention to each bite, instead of just scarfing it down without even noticing. It helps you appreciate food more and can make eating a much more satisfying experience. I have a free 5-day slow eating challenge that can help you be more mindful with your eating.

The Bottom Line

I wanted to share my personal experience from the last few weeks to show you a real-life example of illness and its impact on my relationship with food, and to offer a powerful insight into the pitfalls of diet culture. 

It takes time and a lot of intentional effort to break free from diet culture. It’s scary to let go of food rules. Especially when you’re still trying to improve your eating habits and have weight loss goals without being obsessed about it. 

There are no quick-fixes when it comes to your health. You can’t cut corners. Your “happy weight” is likely higher than your “goal weight”. 

I hope this serves as a reminder that true wellness goes beyond the number on the scale. It’s about nurturing a positive relationship with food, listening to your body, and prioritizing self-care—because ultimately, your health and happiness are worth far more than any arbitrary goal weight dictated by society’s standards.

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Kaitlyn is a registered dietitian and fitness enthusiast dedicated to helping busy women improve their health through sustainable habits.

She’s seen firsthand how difficult it can be to balance a demanding schedule with a healthy lifestyle. That’s why she is passionate about empowering women with the knowledge and skills they need to prioritize their health, even when life gets hectic.

She aims to spread the word about the power of habits and to make healthier living more manageable for busy women who are trying to do all of the things, like herself.

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