Diet culture is toxic. It promises success, happiness, and health if you can attain a thin or fit ideal and restrict yourself in the name of healthy eating. Diet culture is defined by registered dietician and nutritionist Christy Harrison as a belief system that equates thinness with health. It demonises ways of eating and rewards others, oppressing those who don’t measure up with its health ideal.
The effect of diet culture is so embedded in our daily lives that it can be difficult to recognise and curtail. This culture presents itself in the ways you talk about your body (I’m fat, I need to lose weight), the way you keep track of calories (this is too much, I shouldn’t be eating this), and the way you villainise yourself for eating ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods.
Our society places extreme emphasis on the beauty and cultural significance of body image and weight. Losing weight (regardless of the circumstance) is good, and gaining weight is bad. This appears page after page in our magazines and through the innately rich and fit Instagram models and influencers. Fad diets and ways of ‘losing weight fast!’ are ingrained in our feeds and minds.
The facade of appearing ‘slim and healthy’ as a result of these short-term programs are bound to fail. Research by Grodstein et al. (1996) and Neumark-Sztainer et al. (2007) found that 95% of all dieters are likely to regain any lost weight within one (1) to five (5) years.
Diet culture focuses on restriction, eliminating foods that contain nutrients necessary for bodily function. Their purpose is to identify foods you can’t eat, rather than what is important for good health and nutrition.
How Diet Culture Leads to Disordered Eating
The diet industry is fundamentally controlled by the moralising of food choice. Good foods, bad foods, and foods we should feel guilty and shameful for eating. The culture of dieting is ingrained in shrinking our bodies to fit into the ‘thin or fit’ ideal. If you don’t measure up, there are lots you can do to change yourself, no matter the cost to your health, livelihood and happiness.
Diet culture is rewarded. Obsessing over ‘healthy foods’ is normalised and heavily disordered and distorted. It can cause women and men to think they’ve reached society’s (or their own) ‘goal’ because they’ve reaffirmed their disorder as healthy, and gotten thinner through binge eating, restriction, and bulimic tendencies. Hunger cues are ignored in the name of health and weight loss when in actuality, this only leads to poor mental, emotional, and physical health.
A study from the Center of Addiction reported that 62.3% of teen girls surveyed were working toward weight loss, and 58.6% were actively dieting. Alarmingly, only 15% of teens were classified as overweight. Those who restricted intake of food are reported to be eighteen (18) times more likely to develop an eating disorder, while those subject to dieting are five (5) times more likely.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with certain ways of eating, such as being vegetarian, eating organic, or shopping locally. But as a society, we’ve moralised eating, exercise, and weight more than anything else. Instagram perpetuates this idea, as we are presented with idealistic, aesthetic posts of clean foods and fit Instagram models. A Netherlands study (2017) recently found that cultural phenomena are linked to the development of orthorexia (unhealthy fixation on clean eating). It found that the more a person is exposed to the type of clean eating content on Instagram, the more likely they are to risk developing symptoms of orthorexia.
Healing from diet culture requires that you recognise such a toxic culture exists, and you have the power to reject it. Healing means that you need to remove all traces of diet culture from your social media, such as Facebook groups or Instagram pages that conform to this culture to prioritise ‘clean eating’. Start to follow pages and users with diverse experiences, varying sizes, backgrounds, and stories that allow you to challenge your internal beliefs and are conducive to growth.
Another useful way to combat the restrictive hold of diet culture is honouring intuitive eating. This way of eating abandons the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad foods’, and emphasises eating the foods that make you feel the best. Some days, you’re going to crave pizza or pasta, and others you crave a veggie salad. Intuitive eating is about caring for yourself, and honouring what your body needs, at the time, without cutting out nutrients or food groups.
It’s necessary to concentrate on identifying and healing from the emotional triggers that prompt emotional eating or binge eating. This includes establishing coping mechanisms that enable you to deal with general and food-related stress and anxiety.
Knowing that certain foods aren’t off-limits allows you to break away from the scarcity mindset, and gives you space to make mindful eating choices.
Removing the judgement and guilt, from diet culture, is essential in starting to value your choices and decisions again. Aim to make these choices from a place of kindness and self-care, rather than a place of guilt, fear, judgement and self-punishment.
If you want to get some basic hints and tips to improving any form of Disordered Eating Behaviours, Weight Gain or Binge Eating read more here.
Fit Minds & Bodies Clinic provides a bridge between where you are currently and the direction you want to head towards. We offer a variety of programs and services that help you to shift your mindset to a more mindful, healthy relationship with yourself and with food through practical, and realistic strategies you can implement immediately.