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Having Trouble Finishing Your Book? Try Ditching Diet Culture

When I started writing my first book in 2014, I was on fire.

I tore through NaNoWriMo. I let my manuscript rest for a month and then I picked it back up and finished the draft. Then I got on my edits and got beta readers, did more edits, and I was ready to query within about a year.


That was 2015. It has been five years and I haven’t yet seriously queried another book. 


I’ve written two full manuscripts that I have done substantial edits on, but haven’t gotten them to full querying shape. I have two other drafts I’m still working my way through, but it’s been extremely slow going. I can make a lot of excuses for why I’m been so stuck: I suffered major mental health setbacks after the 2016 election, I got a new, more demanding job, I moved to a new city and got an even more demanding new job, etc, etc. And sure, all of those things contributed to where I’m at with writing.

 
But the single most detrimental factor to my writing has actually been diet culture.


According to Christy Harrison, diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.

Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.

Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.

It’s no coincidence that around the same time I was finishing up my first book, I joined a popular online wellness/fitness community. I can’t say that the experience was all bad; to the contrary, I made some of my closest friends in that group, and I gained a lot of physical strength and confidence from learning how to work out.


Unfortunately, these wellness/fitness teachers didn’t stop at posting fun workouts on YouTube and building a community of like-minded women. Their main money-making mechanism at that point was a nutrition plan, and the most insidious kind, too, in my opinion: they never outright said that the point of the plan was to lose weight. They would heavily hint at it, of course, and all of their fitness challenges began with a routine of measuring and weighing yourself and taking “before” pictures. They also marketed their community with before and after pictures that members submitted, where the clear message was: “Join us. You’ll lose weight and be healthy and hot like us.”


There was a lot of mixed messaging like that, where being lean and being healthy were conflated, becoming basically interchangeable ideas. That’s the worst part about modern diet culture; so much of it is wrapped up in “wellness” and “clean eating” and health messaging, so it’s easy to think that you’re just doing something good for your body. You’re just practicing self-love by always saying no to the burger and only saying yes to grilled chicken breast. It’s tougher to suss out because so many of us grew up in a time when diets, the old Weight Watchers and calorie-counting kind, were considered passe, and yet, they’ve just repackaged it (literally, in the case of WW) as wellness. And we’re buying it, despite knowing somewhere inside that diets don’t work.


[There’s a lot of proof and studies out there that diets don’t work, so I’ll link a few resources at the end of this post and get on with my story. I prefer an Intuitive Eating approach, which, again, I won’t go into too in-depth here, but I’ll leave some of those resources as well.]


So despite my inner conflict, I fell into this community, hard. Between their nutrition plan, which consisted of no calorie counting but a WHOLE lot of rules about what to eat and when along with frequent “slimdown weeks” which were basically starvation diets, and their workout regimen, which commanded that we work out twice every day (once for cardio and once for resistance/strength training), my physical, emotional, and mental energy outside of eating and exercise slowly dwindled, not to mention the actual *time* I had left for the rest of my life, including my full-time job and my writing.


Even when I got wise to what was up, when I first discovered Intuitive Eating and realized that diet culture wasn’t doing me any favors, I spent the next couple of years in a cycle of rejecting diet culture, embracing IE, and then picking diet culture back up in sneaky ways for months at a time. Telling myself that tracking calories wasn’t as bad as cutting out food groups (as is the custom in most “wellness” programs aka diets) because at least I was calling it what it is, which felt healthier in some ways. 


But it still took up vast amounts of my time and money, preparing food, weighing food, measuring food, tracking food, and enormous amounts of mental real estate, because now I was not only doing the constant arithmetic of tracking calories, I was also fighting the internal battle of whether or not what I was doing was actually okay or not. Was I still enabling diet culture by doing it this way? Was I actually satisfied by eating light Babybel cheeses and making protein coffee drinks as a way to hit my macro targets? Was I hurting my self-esteem by weighing myself every day? And this is before you take into account the workout programs, the exercise regimens, the sheer amount of time and money spent on trying to find the elusive thing that would work for me (i.e. help me lose weight).


I recently picked up Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison, an Intuitive Eating RD, on a whim. I think something inside me realized that even if I had ostensibly rejected the Intuitive Eating approach and embraced food restriction, I still needed a check-in to see how it was all sitting with me. I had recently taken a short Instagram break and after a few days away had noticed how my overall body satisfaction had gone up seeing as I wasn’t looking at thin, blond influencers all day every day. I wanted to go with that spirit of liberation and see if there was more work to be done.


Within just a few pages of her book I realized just how far I had strayed, and just how much my sneaky dieting was impacting my life. I work a very demanding day job now, both mentally and emotionally as well as being an erratic time commitment, and the idea that I was wasting my precious time outside of work to MEASURE EVERYTHING I PUT IN MY MOUTH suddenly seemed like the absolute most ludicrous thing I could be doing.


No wonder I haven’t queried a book in five years. It’s been a constant battle just to clean the bathroom regularly between my day job and fretting about food and my body.


[Sidenote: I know there are plenty of people out there who have a lot more on their plate than I do and still manage to write: moms, dads, people who work multiple jobs, people who deal with mental illness and trauma, marginalized folks, etc. I am not by any stretch of the imagination saying that I have it particularly bad. I’m just saying that given my particular bandwidth and commitments, I struggled mightily to write when diet culture took up an inordinate amount of space in my life.]


So I’ve been back in the Intuitive Eating mindset for the last few weeks, and suddenly my productivity in all areas of my life, including writing, has increased immensely. I just have so much more SPACE, for creativity, for spending quality time with my spouse, for exercising in fun, interesting ways that don’t result in injuries from overtraining, for making overall choices that support my future rather than cutting myself short because I’m stretched thin and just trying to survive day to day. For engaging in real self-love and self-care.


For some of you, this might not resonate, and that’s fine. You might be doing great with whatever way of eating you’ve got going on, and you may have struck a sustainable balance with your life commitments, and you might be writing up a storm and kicking ass. That is awesome! If you’re killing it, don’t let me bring you down. Do your thing.


But I suspect that at least a few of you might see some reflection of yourself in what I’ve described here, and if so, you might benefit from learning about Intuitive Eating (IE), Health At Every Size (HAES), and breaking up with diet culture. Some of us really internalize negative messages about food and our bodies to the detriment of our physical health, mental health, and the rest of our lives, and we could use the support* of a different approach.


I’m going to leave a list of resources at the end of this blog post for you to check out if you’re interested. I’m not here to debate about this, because I’m not trying to convert anyone against their will, but if you have earnest questions or want to chat, feel free to comment or DM me over on Twitter.

*If you are suffering from an eating disorder (including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or orthorexia), studying Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size will not suffice. Please seek professional support.


(This is not an exhaustive list of resources but if you’re curious about anything I’ve talked about, this can get you started.)

BOOKS:

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon
Body of Truth by Harriet Brown
Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got A Life by Kelsey Miller (this one is an EXCELLENT audiobook, btw)


PODCASTS:


Food Psych by Christy Harrison
Let It Out by Katie Dalebout (not explicitly anti-diet but the host has overcome an eating disorder and works to promote Intuitive Eating)


OTHER RESOURCES:

https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture
https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
https://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/

And I love everything Kelsey Miller wrote on Refinery 29 about Intuitive Eating and rejecting diet culture. These articles are a great way to dive in and see what it’s all about: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/the-anti-diet-project

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All Of My WIPs

Hello, friends! I thought it might be fun and helpful for me to list out ALL OF MY WIPs! This includes manuscripts in all stages of being, from baby ideas to zeroing in on final edits to languishing on the shelf (for now).

PALOMINO CANYON

Palomino Canyon is my story that just won’t die. I started writing it as 100% fun wish fulfillment, the way some people write themselves into fan fiction. But with this book, I was writing my ideal life if I lived in Los Angeles in 1968. Palomino Canyon (my fictional version of Laurel Canyon) is the titular home of my main character, Dawn, and the other three major characters, Linda, Gigi, and Maybelline. This multi-POV story follows the four girls as they swirl through the glittery rock-n-roll nightlife of late 60s L.A., finding themselves, supporting each other, and of course, having lots of steamy rock star romances.

When I started writing Palomino Canyon, it was for my eyes only. I wasn’t even going to burden myself with a PLOT, but then after a while it turned into, well, a real story, and I fell in love with the characters, and that was a few years ago and here I am, still tinkering with it. It’s been shelved, but like, not really shelved. Honestly, I’m in a weird limbo with it. I have no idea how to pitch it, with the in-between age (the MCs are all 19-ish) and the fact that it’s multi-POV, and there’s probably too much sex to be women’s fic/chick-lit but not enough sex to be straight romance, and I don’t know which direction I want to take it. I might just leave it where it is and keep it for myself – that’s who I wrote it for in the first place, anyway.

MAMA TRIED

Mama Tried is the real book of my heart thus far. It’s a Southern Gothic novel about a loner named Marty who loves metal detecting and works at a hospital laundry facility in Jacksonville, Florida. He finds out that his job is being outsourced, and after a major misstep with his friends, starts to question his own sanity. He’s always been painfully shy and isolated, but after learning that he shares some childhood experiences with a lot of famous serial killers, he wonders if his eccentricities go beyond being a quiet, mild-mannered guy. What if he snaps one day? Marty, along with Winky, the stray dog he just found, sets off on a journey to follow only his good impulses, which takes him through the state of Florida setting things right. When he picks up a hitchhiker, Tiffany, he’s presented with the perfect opportunity to do a good deed and get her to her destination safely. It turns out, however, that Tiffany has a dark secret of her own… and the two of them might not make it out alive.

Like I said, I love this book. I’m also stuck right now. I have edits to make and more writing to do to get it where it needs to be, but I just haven’t been able to move forward on it in, like, months. Part of that is because I’m distracted by my current first drafts, but I also just lost momentum with it and am struggling to get back in the saddle. I need to get back to this book soon, because I want to share it with the world so badly.

PLOT IN MY BACKYARD: A BLUEBIRD TINY HOUSE MYSTERY

THAT’S RIGHT, I’M WRITING A COZYISH MYSTERY SERIES. Maybe. If I ever finish this first book. I have ideas for, like, the next four books in the series, and I love this MC, Jenn MacDougall, an architect and fledgling tiny house builder. I love her sidekick/bestie, Thea Night, even more because she’s a wry, loyal, wildly popular ace goth who lives in the creepy Victorian house of your nightmares.

Jenn moved to the little mountain town of Pine Knot, Arkansas, to grieve the sudden passing of her mother, unaware that she was relocating square into the middle of disputed territory. The turf war between the old guard (in the form of the Pine Knot Heights Neighborhood Association) and the newer transplants from the nearby university town (mainly professors and college students) rages on with every new proposed business or building. When Jenn lands a lucrative contract to build a mobile tiny house for a high-profile blogging couple in town,  she finds out just how contentious a rolling home on wheels can be. After a presentation to the neighborhood association goes poorly, Eunice Staples, the association’s social director, turns up dead, and Jenn’s client is the top suspect. Jenn needs to clear her famous client’s name so that her business, the Bluebird Tiny House Company, can get off the ground, but she’s about to find out just how many secrets the Pine Knot elders are holding.

Also, there are two potential love interests, and I fully plan to have Jenn go back and forth between them until the series is over (but I know who wins out eventually!).

SASQUATCH WIDOW

This is a paranormal thriller and it’s the book I’m the most focused on right now. I absolutely adore this premise and it’s honestly the most confident I’ve ever been about a book while drafting it (I might eat my words later on, though).

Shauna Taverner is the darling of the cryptozoology community. She appears at all of the conventions for panels and podcasts, all because her husband, Jason, a noted bigfoot researcher, disappeared while on a solo expedition two years ago. She shows up. She dabs her eyes. She appears every bit the grieving widow. But she has a secret: she’s glad her husband is gone.

Jason may have disappeared two years ago, but Shauna lost him to the bigfoot community long before that. That’s why she doesn’t feel bad taking their money. Besides, she needs it to survive, so she’ll play the part of the sasquatch widow for as long as she can. Jason was her rock before bigfoot took over their lives, and Shauna feels ill-equipped for life on her own.

Shauna is just starting to move forward (and even has a new love interest) when Jason shows back up. Shauna’s reeling, trying to come to terms with his sudden return and the weird circumstances of him being there. Like the fact that he has no memory of what’s happened since he disappeared. The fact that he looks exactly the same down to a healing cut on his shoulder that Shauna had helped dress a couple of days before he left for that last bigfoot trip. Two years ago.

MOTHER ROAD

Mother Road is just a baby idea that I’ve written a couple of chapters on, mostly noodling while I get to know my four main POV characters. I’m imagining Mother Road to be like Stranger Things for adults x The Stand all taking place on Route 66 in the early 80s. If you Google “Picher, Oklahoma,” you’ll see my real-life inspo (spoiler: it’s really creepy). I don’t have a lot to tell you on this one yet, but it’s percolating. And I’m excited for it.

I hope you enjoyed reading about all my WIPs. If there’s one theme that runs throughout all of my work, it’s that I always write about weirdos and misfits finding their place in the world! What can I say, it’s the Aquarius rising in me.

And that’s all, folks! One day I will write an entire post all about my journey with Debs, my beloved, permanently-shelved YA novel (the first book I ever wrote), but you’ll just have to wait for that one.