An Open Letter to Weight Watchers

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An open letter to Weight Watchers, in light of offering free memberships to teenagers

Dear Weight Watchers,

Your program is a rite of passage. Both my mother and grandma were on Weight Watchers in the 90s, at a time where cigarettes and Slimfast were also popular diet aids. They used to attend meetings together, and who can’t get behind female solidarity? Women coming together to talk about their struggles, finding strength in the collective?! I should really get myself to the nearest Weight Watchers meeting if the whole premise didn’t reek of bullshit.

No matter how you dress this up as “wellness” or “health”, your program is only one thing: A brilliant and manipulative business plan.

As the popular flavour of the day changes, (Cindy’s legs, Britney’s abs, Kim’s gravity defiance) the world tells women we are not quite good enough. But fear not! We can be the “best versions of themselves” by simply ignoring our body’s signals and hunger cues and obsessively tracking calories. Sorry, not calories…Points. And it will work! At first…

A hopeful woman will look at the Before and After photos and be inspired, take out her credit card, drink the sugar-free Koolaid, and agree to beat her body into taking up less space. And she will lose weight, because calories-in and calories-out is simple math. But the best part? The minute she stops tracking every morsel, loosens the reigns…She’ll be back. The revolving door of yoyo dieting all but guarantees you have a customer for life, as long as you keep telling women there is something wrong with their bodies. Like I said, brilliant business plan.

But why bring the children into it?

Teenagers, children, who are supposed to be absorbing the world and trying things, making connections, learning how to talk to people, and discovering who they are and what they stand for – Why the fuck should a kid know how many Points a bagel is? Where are the points for intelligence? Kindness? Creativity? Where does your program nourish those parts of their beings?

Growing brains and bodies are trying to figure out how to navigate this world, so I guess my question is, why are you distracting and limiting the children by suggesting they need to count and measure, pinch and resist?

The world will inevitably convince them that they aren’t meeting expectations, that there is always something to improve. Why are you throwing children into the hellscape of diet culture before the brain knows which way is up?

You’ll be happy to know that I went on my first diet when I was 6-years old, after a little girl in my class told me my thighs looked big in my bicycle shorts. Most years, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake with an earnest wish to be skinny. Thankfully, and hilariously, my wish was often followed by digging into a sweet slice. But there have been too many times where I’ve vowed to be “good” and deprived myself of experiences that threatened to break my diet. I’ve avoided swimming lessons, shorts in the summer, spaghetti straps, all while I followed the rules of dieting and waited for my better (ie: smaller) body.

Once, while on a similar diet (what I came to know as an eating disorder) I reached my goal weight! I had starved and crunched and punished my body into the number in my head that I had been told was “right”. And guess what? I maintained my goal weight for 12 whole hours. After eating my breakfast of apple, the ounces on the scale crept up and I was failing once more.

I did just as you asked, Weight Watchers, engaged in discussion about “temptations” and labelled food as “good” and “bad”, ate the pre-portioned snacks promising to “stave off hunger”. I counted and tallied, and juggled and budgeted my precious Points so I could have a slice of pizza with my girlfriends.

Just like my mother, and her mother before her, I paid good money and followed the rules, waiting for the day I would be good enough so I wouldn’t have to count anymore. That day never came. But you already knew that.

Aiming diet culture at children is heartless and greedy, no matter how it’s branded. Whatever it is you’re doing, do not try to sell it to children as “health”.

Be better,

Victoria Bain

Secrets Are Bad For You

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At some point in life, secrets are not always so fun. I already know what I’m getting for my birthday, that Santa Claus isn’t real, and I told all my childhood crushes that I was the secret admirer long ago. Sometimes I think there are no more good secrets, because as I reflect on the purpose and consequences of keeping secrets, I see how this can create more harm than joy.

In the wake of the #MeToo Harvey Weinstein explosion, it has become abundantly clear that the combination of power and secrecy have been fuelling abusive and harmful treatment of women for decades. And Hollywood has just taken the spotlight in this moment. To believe that the same dynamics are not at play in corporate settings, technology, labour industries, and government, is evidence of the pervasiveness of secrecy. The power of secrets can be found everywhere.

At its worst, my eating disorder was my best-kept secret. I would lie and sneak around in order to preserve that intoxicating sense of control I felt I had earned by restricting my intake. I felt empowered and superior in exerting willpower over my body, all the while, denying I was actively dieting and chasing the feeling of control. The lying, the secrecy, fuelled the ED because I had nothing to challenge the perspective of the hungry, sick voice in my head. Only when I was finally confronted by my family and my doctor about the obsession with eating (or not eating) and food, did my secret finally spill out and I felt embarrassed and weak. I wasn’t in control at all – my illness had been dictating my every mouthful, social event, and passing thought. It had been controlling me. This secret had imprisoned my mind and harmed my body.

Working as a Probation and Parole Officer, I see countless clients who have endured some form of trauma or abuse that has deeply affected their lives, and without a doubt has contributed to the reasons they are seated across from me in my office. Whether they experienced abuse as children, or experience it present day in a toxic domestic relationship, clients disclose that their abuse was founded upon secrecy. To protect a loved one, an abuser, families and children, fear or threat of life or livelihood– I’ve heard every combination of reasons why a victim would keep their abuse a secret. And therein lies the power, and permits the harm to continue.

While I generally try to navigate my life being as forthcoming as possible (this blog being one of a number of exercises in honesty) at one time, I allowed myself to be swept up in secrecy in my personal life. The effect of keeping the secret was poisonous, and took its toll on my sense of self. I was lying to my friends, my family, and myself– and while I did not have the mental toughness to punish my physical body like I did when I was a teenager, I was in a near-constant state of emotional self-harm. All that negativity had to be directed somewhere, and my self-esteem and confidence were easy targets. Keeping secrets created a toxic discrepancy within me that I could not live comfortably with. I wanted to be a good person, but I was not acting like one.

Freeing myself from secrets felt like shedding a snakeskin, and I felt immediate relief from it’s hold on me. I could honestly believe others when they reminded me that I’m a good friend, that I’m thoughtful and a good listener. I remembered that I can expect from others everything I’m willing to give in relationships, that I don’t have to settle. I had forgotten that being honest with myself and being happy can be achieved at the same time. Who I want to be and who I am are back in alignment, and I can feel good about that. Growing up may mean there are fewer fun secrets left, but that’s okay with me.

Hello, Nourished Life

I’m in the process of saying goodbye to somebody. Unlike most goodbyes, that we want to avoid because they are sad, this is a goodbye I happily walk toward. I’m saying goodbye to this girl:


She looks happy right? She seems nice, confident, smiling. This is where she fools you.

Although I was 20-years old when this photo was taken, when I look at this, all I see now is a sick little girl with her collarbones and neck tendons jutting out, thinning hair, and no boobs to hold her dress up. A girl who ate only salads, who tried to literally outrun self-esteem issues at a rate of 15km per day. A girl who was scared of food and scared to miss a workout. A girl who lost her period for months due to restrictive eating and over-exercise. A girl whose problematic body behaviours went unnoticed because her BMI was still “within range,” even when her body was screaming that this weight wasn’t sustainable. A girl who regularly received reinforcement in the form of compliments that she looked great and to “keep it up.”

Imagine how much I could have accomplished had I directed even a quarter of the brain power I had put toward taking up less space in the world, towards my schooling and future career… I like to think I’d be backing up the Brinks truck into the driveway of my summer home.

I won’t say it’s not hard to look back on these photos and know that I was much thinner then than I am now. When these images pop up unexpectedly (Facebook, you’re the worst), I give myself a moment to float around in those feelings of inadequacy – if only I had appreciated my body then, and had not been so self-conscious with it, etc, etc, ad nauseam. There is a part of me who still looks for this girl when I see photos of myself now, and when I don’t see her, the same part of me wants to look away and avoid acknowledging the reality of my actual, real, nourished body.

Soon enough however, in my back of my brain I hear the voice of my best friend Kim chanting, “No! More! Skeletor!” and I’m rushed back to the truth: That girl had a lot to learn. I’m smarter than that girl. I’m kinder. I’m a better listener, a better friend. I love myself more. My hair doesn’t fall out, but grows in long and shiny. I have a butt and boobs (both of which took a notable leave of absence during the time this photo was taken). I have hobbies other than obsessing over food labels and tracking burned calories.

I don’t miss her. Being obsessed with controlling my body and what went into it left little room to think about other people, and for the life of me, I can’t recall many instances during this time where I helped someone or threw myself into a project that wasn’t all about me. Disordered eating and exercise habits are an isolating and all-consuming endeavour in themselves, in addition to the effort put forth to avoid detection from others. This was a lonely, lonely life.

My life now nourishes me. I make a concerted effort to fill my world with good things – good people, good food, good movement, good thoughts – instead of trying to deprive my body and mind of what it wants. I consciously include things in my life that make me feel whole and allow autonomy over my life, something I was always pursuing but never achieved while restricting.

Of course there are moments where I wish I didn’t worry about what my body looks like, and I fool myself into thinking that women thinner than me could not begin to understand how I feel. Of course I deflate a little inside if someone makes a comment about how thin (and blond) I was back then. But I know these feelings are leftover from when I truly believed that my body size determined my worth, and I know better now. Media and society tell us that thinner is better, more attractive, the only kind of beautiful that matters, and we must have either reached that ideal or be punishing ourselves towards it. But at what cost? I will tell you for free that it is not worth everything I gave up in the pursuit of making myself smaller.

Along with a few LBs, I’ve gained self-awareness, true friendship, a passionate career, and a lifetime worth of belly-laughs. If gaining all this means adjusting my ideals of thinness and worthiness and saying goodbye to the sick little person featured above, then girl, bye.

Eating Disorders as Coping Mechanisms

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For me, there is no talking about mental health without talking about body image. I remember feeling the pervasive desire for thinness, the necessity of dieting, and seeing food as either “bad” or “good” from as young as 6 years old. Blame fat-free food marketing of the 90s, or blame my vast collection of Barbie dolls, but somehow my body has consistently been a target for negativity. On the heels of Canada’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I thought it appropriate to share how my relationship with my body and food became my first outlet for my mental health issues.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and as I’m sure you can relate, we all have our coping mechanisms for managing our mental health, and these strategies sit on a spectrum of things that can be healthy for us, or not so much. You’ll recall that in my early 20s, I used work, my social life and a shocking amount of cocktails to avoid confronting depressive feelings. However, as an adolescent, these coping mechanisms weren’t available to me, and my world was much smaller and contained.

I developed an eating disorder in high school in response to an unstable and stressful home environment. At a time in my household when I had no control over what went on and could never predict what I was walking into on a given day, what I ate and managing my weight became the outlet where I channeled all of my energy, stress and negative emotions. While I was busy obsessively reading food labels and writing lists of calories I had consumed that day, I was distracted from what was going on at home.

Living with this disorder was an exhausting experience, defined by cycles of guilt and joy that were completely dependent on the number on that scale. My unrelenting inner critic kept me laser focused on my goal: to be smaller, to take up less room in the world. Thoughts of how I could require less food consumed my day, so there was not an ounce of room left in my mind to feel the full impact of life at home.

And like many coping mechanisms, it worked for a time. Losing weight and eating very little felt like an accomplishment to me, at a time when my home life was not a source of confidence or security. At the very least, I would think to myself, I had this under control.

Only my oldest childhood friend and boyfriend ever called me out on my bullshit, asking me where my lunch was, or not believing that I had “already eaten”. At the time, I felt attacked – how dare they challenge me? Now I see their confrontations as the sincerest act of love and as much as they could do as teenagers themselves.

As my home life improved and I moved away to university, the pull of the disorder had quieted and I found myself able to loosen the reigns on such restrictive eating patterns. I was happier, and not merely surviving.

Some residual effects of the illness remain, mostly in the form of emotional self-harm. This is how I describe the repeating soundtrack of negativity that I will sometimes allow to play over and over in my mind. This can range from remembering all of my most embarrassing moments in quick and vivid succession, to beating myself up for drinking too much, to finding myself in a social media black hole comparing myself to strangers on the Internet – all of which certainly fall under the “not-so-good-for-you” category.

There is no physical harm, but I have to be careful – emotional self-harm becomes reminiscent of the pervasive thought patterns of my disorder that kept me safe for a time, but nonetheless controlled my thoughts and behaviours for too long.

I also have this weird aversion to bagels. Someone had told me once, at a clearly impressionable time, that bagels have as many calories as 5 pieces of bread. I can imagine that frightened me to no end and thus, I have not eaten a bagel since 2005. There’s a fleet of new flavours at Tim Hortons that I have never tried, and I’m finding myself a little curious…

Avoiding bagels was one of many coping mechanisms that worked for me for a time and so I have to respect them. They served their purpose. Now, I have better tools, stronger relationships, and more love to give myself, so maybe I don’t need that one anymore.