Debunking Diet Culture
February 26 - March 4 marks National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Considering this, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a side food culture that sends many down the trail of developing an Eating Disorder. What is this detrimental phenomenon?
Diet Culture- a culture that promotes a highly dysfunctional relationship with food.
Dieting has become such a common habit that it has become perfectly normal to hear that someone is trying out a new diet to yet again ‘slim down’ or ‘tone up’. We see it everywhere, online forums, social media, friends, families. The media has made a career out of “revealing” the newest, greatest fad diet that promises to make us look and feel our best. We live in a society that has become obsessed with food. Whether it’s about what we are eating or what we aren’t eating, there are so many avenues that tell us that either way- we’re doing it wrong.
Health and Nutrition are both two topics that I am very passionate about, however, I hate to say that in the beginning a lot of the information I learned surrounding the topic came from researching then snapping out of one-too-many bad diets. Even though that was years ago, I’d like to save you from and expose you to the dangers and toxicities of diet culture. It’s important to be aware of the chains that these awful sacrifices and thought process bind you too.
The way that society has taught us to conceptualize food is unbalanced. We either think way too much about it leading us to obsessive and disordered eating practice; or we don’t care enough about it, leading us to undernourishment. What diet culture specifically does is equate beauty and happiness to weight loss. Achieving a certain figure becomes the end goal. "Over fifty percent of 9 and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet" Even more sickening is that statistic that, 80% of the girls in that age group have already begun to regularly question their weight. This heartbreaking and terrifying reality that, at such a young age, people are already taught to aspire to be thin. This is not what should be consuming the minds of our youth!
Dieting speaks the false truth that once we reach a certain weight-a size, we’ll be happy. Calorie counting, If It Fits Your Macros, Paleo, Atkins, Juice cleanses, "X"- Day Shred are all patterns of eating. Each of these may be beneficial for a short period. Habits can slowly lead down a dangerous path of obsession that can potentially lead to an Eating disorder.
There’s always a new diet suggesting that it’s the best way to live. They don't tell you that they aren't sustainable. They don’t tell about the hunger, moodiness, fear, anxiousness, constant planning, and endless calculating that go along with the diet.
By the time we’ve reached a said size, most have picked up habits that leave them with a warped relationship with food. Dieting teaches individuals to praise obsessive behaviors. Post-cleanse or diet, and you see changes, may get compliments. Never mind the shame and guilt you've developed towards yourself and food.
Maybe you’ve been a victim of thoughts about skipping a night out with your friends, or a date because you can’t track, plan, or fit it into your diet?
Maybe you’ve found yourself saying things like:
“I can’t eat that”
“I wish I could have one more bite”
“I need to go work out if I’m going to eat this cookie”
Why do we feel the need to justify why we got the whipped cream on our Starbucks drink?
Listen up everyone- treating your body right means being able to treat yourself without shame. Now repeat that over and over until you start believing it.
Many of us unknowingly promote this culture. We applaud people for slimming down, instead of asking them if they’re okay. We reward people for choosing the salad every time instead of encouraging balance. We admire and compliment people for running an extra mile, without considering how many they’ve already run that week.
See what Diet culture enables? See why we need to deflate it? We admire people and envy them for having such great “self-control” But at what cost?
Diet culture teaches us many false lessons:
It revolves around thinness and false beauty. Dieting teaches us to be guilty about consuming calories, the very thing that keeps us alive! It teaches us that food has a moral compass. That some food is "bad" and "good" and that if we eat certain food we are a better person that day. It perpetuates the incorrect notion that a lower number on a scale means higher health status. None of these are true!
Eating should be fun not anxiety provoking. Food is a key pillar of life and culture. Not only for that obvious fact that we require food to live, but it’s a social activity, cooking, baking, eating out are all leisure activities to be enjoyed.
Here’s another key issue: What many people fail to realize about dieting, is that it is a short-term pattern of eating. Dieting is temporary. Temporary programs aren’t supposed to be maintained for prolonged periods of time. After training the brain to restrict, being praised for it by others individuals are left yearning to be smaller, workout harder, and keep dieting.
Alternatively, going on a restrictive diet for 2 week, sure you may have lost weight and toned up, but what about after the diet? You assume regularly eating patterns, lose your gains, or gain a few lbs, and then there you are looking is the mirror upset wondering why nothing is working? Then what do you do, choose another diet and the cycle can go on for a lifetime.
Restrictive behaviors can lead to binging extreme restriction or, just a full-on fear of foods. Eating disorders often demonize food by teaching individuals to immortalize that fear. Diet culture feeds us the information that we need to eat less, cut out certain, food groups to stay slim. It’s pushing people to control, to count, and compensate when they're unable to achieve the former they've failed.
The awful truth is that diet culture is perpetuated by the market. Media and corporations sell products, protein shakes, advertisements, bars, and workout plans to help us achieve quick fixes. Businesses are always looking for new ways to make us feel short about ourselves in some way, then sell us a solution.
This is detrimental since, while they may be making a profit, it’s at the expensive of societies self-worth, self-esteem, and sanity. It's time that we all stop trying to be societies illustration of perfect.
It’s important to note that, diet culture, doesn’t only pertain to women. Men are encouraged to bulk, hit the gym, consuming endless amounts of protein and then cut to lean out. Bodybuilding is a sport and lifestyle for some, however, maintain a figure that looks one of the Hemsworth’s if not realistic.
The focus should be on adequacy and balance. Maintain a lifestyle that is achievable for a long-term period. If you feel good and are truly healthy on the inside, it will radiate from within will result into a glowing surface. That comes from balancing out nutrition with a diverse array of foods, smashing whatever workouts we like best, finding our natural set point, and then looking in the mirror and showing love to the beaming reflection you see in it. Now that is body positively!
Society is telling us to eat less, but it’s doesn’t tell us what we should be eating more of. We need to promote a culture that emphasizes nourishing our bodies not neglecting them. Let’s all go on a little thought experiment. Think back to when we were babies. We cried when we were hungry, ate until we were content, and then stopped sucking on that bottle or fought the spoon when our tummies were full. Somewhere down the line there is a shift. We are exposed to information. Magazines, T.V, ads, (extended family) and all kinds of suggested that told us we needed to look a certain way. They sent us a message saying that we need to eat less, eat at certain times, eat certain things in order to be more desirable.
The only thing we should desire is to figure out a way to restore a healthy attitude toward food by eating intuitively. Just like when we were babies. We ate when we were hungry, stopped when we were full. If you eat intuitively, your body will crave what it needs. It’s not easy. We’ve been conditioned to us food a certain way that will require some unlearning. Remember, food is fuel, and shouldn’t be feared.
Let's start praising each other and ourselves for something other than our looks. Our outer appearance is only the case for our personalities. Nourish our beautiful minds live well beneath the flesh. We need change our mindsets, not our bodies. Let’s put an end to this disordered thing called diet culture- now that is a healthy habit to maintain.
At least that's what I think just,