'It's a rebellion against January': Meet the woman running an anti-diet festival

Sophie Gallagher

Sunday 19 January has colloquially become known as Quitter’s Day – the day where most people in the UK are likely to have given up their new year’s resolutions: to lose weight, to exercise more; or to become a new version of themselves. Just three weeks into the new decade and millions of us will already be feeling guilty for failing to stick to our guns - but not all of us.

At a restaurant in Shoreditch, east London, a group of women will meet this weekend at the Anti-Diet Riot Club to celebrate the total rejection of the "new year, new me" narrative. Two years after the launch of the club, founded as a way to bring the growing online body positivity community together offline, they are throwing their first ever festival with 10 hours of programming, 30 speakers and workshops addressing everything from cocktails and cooking to yoga and sex.

For anyone who has ever been to a Weight Watchers or Slimming World meeting, the format might seem familiar: a community brought together by how they feel about their bodies. But with absolutely none of the communal weigh-ins, diet tip sharing or calorie counting.

(Anti Diet Riot Club)
(Anti Diet Riot Club)

Becky Young started the Anti-Diet Riot Club in 2018, after going through a bad break-up. The 30-year-old event manager had struggled with body image and disordered eating since her teenage years and had come across the body acceptance movement, which aims to combat narrow beauty ideals and fat phobia throughout society, as well as rejecting thinness as a goal. But the community was primarily digital and Young wanted in-the-flesh friendships. So she made it happen.

“It was a lightbulb moment for me,” Young tells The Independent, “I had been dieting since I was 14 years old. So this started off the back of my own personal journey towards accepting and respecting my body.” But what started as an individual exploration resonated with thousands of women and now, the Anti-Diet Riot Club boasts 73.2k followers on Instagram.

As anti-diet rhetoric becomes more mainstream; plus-size models like Tess Holliday are used as cover stars, musicians like Lizzo fight back against anti-fat coverage, celebrities endorse campaigns like Jameela Jamil’s iWeigh, and even Weight Watchers has had to rebrand and pivot to “wellness”, you’d be forgiven for presuming our diet culture is being pushed out. But Young says it’s still there – under the surface.

“Diets are still out there, our society is inherently fat phobic and we are all suffering because of it. Diet culture tells you that when you achieve your dream of losing weight you’ll be happy and successful. It sells you a false dream,” she says.

“There is a hierarchy of bodies and at the top of that is still the white, thin, able-bodied. If you’re trying to pursue that shape or look, with the big bum and tiny waist, you feel such pressure.”

Young describes society as “stigmatising fat people” and the “fat experience”. She says, “the pursuit of thinness is almost like a religion. We wake up on Monday and ask for forgiveness for our sins of eating over the weekend or at Christmas. We promise to repent and eat and exercise and then feel so much shame when you eventually fall off the wagon.”

In fact, it was one particular fall that prompted Young to review her approach to her own body, after she realised when she dieted that she was putting on weight, rather than losing it, because she would send her body into starvation and then feel compelled to binge eat to compensate.

Young also injured herself during a period of over-exercising.

“I realised I was damaging more than doing good and no matter how much weight I lost never felt good about it anyway. [The weight] always came back in an endless cycle and then I blamed myself, and felt lots of shame and guilt around that.”

Young wants the Anti-Diet Riot Club to be about growing a supportive community in which people feel confident rejecting societal pressures for thinness, buoyed by others on a similar journey. She aims to tech people - women in particular - that losing weight should never be your raison d’être.

“It’s about bringing people into this community and making them feel less alone,” she explains. “Because how can you many any good decisions about your body or your health if it comes from a place of self-loathing?”

It's exactly the sort of new year's resolution we can imagine carrying far beyond 19 January.

The Anti-Diet Riot Club fest is taking place on Sunday 19 January from 09.45-1900 in Hoxton Square. Tickets are still available online.