By now, I am sure you have heard us talk about the infamous “diet culture”. But what exactly does that mean? Well, as simple as it may sound, diet culture is not only a multifactorial part of our society but also a part of history. With pervasive messages about weight loss, the new “superfoods”, and the workout that promises rapid “results”, it can be exhausting, and even quite challenging, to see through all the noise. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a commercial about food freedom and body acceptance? Ahhh...one day!
Although these messages seem impossible to get away from, there are ways to conquer this culture and reclaim your relationship with food and your body. To get started, let’s take a ride through the beginnings, and current state of this relentless culture and learn how to tackle it together.
The idea of dieting dates back as far back as ancient Greece and outlines society’s moralistic arguments against fatness. The ancient Greek’s had a system of beliefs centered around balance and moderation. While this may seem reasonable, it became oppressive when people in larger bodies were targeted and seen as having an “imbalance” that needed to be corrected. Although we know that body size is not an indicator of good or poor health, the theme of shrinking your body to meet the thin standards this culture created has prevailed.
What Is Modern Diet Culture?
Although diet culture has long-standing roots, it tends to morph itself to fit into the current times. Here are some ways that diet culture may impact us (without us even knowing):
- Diet culture shames us into unhealthy relationships with our bodies and with food by promoting that weight loss = power, higher status, and moral virtue.
- It brainwashes us into thinking that we need to be “stronger” and have “willpower” to avoid food “temptations.” (which is usually a catalyst for a binge)
- It tells us if we eat only “healthy” foods and work out “x amount of times/week for x amount of minutes” we will be happier and healthier.
- It vilifies certain foods while glorifying others, making food choices feel rigid and inflexible while stealing pleasure away from the experience of fun foods and replacing it with feelings of shame or failure.
- It oppresses those who live in bodies that don’t “match up” to the thin “ideal” this culture has created, which in turn, negatively affects mental and physical health.
In reality, this is diet culture breaking us down and breeding unhealthy relationships with our bodies and ourselves.
What does it look like in our society today?
The workplace can be full of diet culture. Some examples include weight loss challenges which reinforces that living in a larger body is something that needs to be changed to attain better health and that a smaller body is more desirable. Overall weight stigma and discrimination can happen in the workplace as well. Some research indicates that higher weight employees have fewer job opportunities, and are paid less in contrast to people in lower weight bodies - particularly women.
At the grocery store
Since the grocery store is (obviously) filled with food, diet culture definitely pops up. This can be from labeling certain foods "good" vs "bad. The cashier saying “wow you are so good” when a person checks out with fruits and vegetables. Or maybe looking into someone’s cart and thinking “how could they eat those cookies”
Diet culture is, unfortunately, pervasive in our healthcare system. This can look like ignoring potential signs and symptoms by putting emphasis and focus on weight loss to solve medical problems. Or making assumptions that smaller bodies are innately healthier and missing important behavioral or medical issues such as an eating disorder. Or just the opposite. Making assumptions that people in larger bodies don’t have disordered eating because of their size.
At the gym
Gyms can be a perfect example of how diet culture presents itself. It can look like fitness instructors that talk about “burning off” food or “earning the thanksgiving pies and other fun foods”. Or people saying to themselves or others that they are “good” for going to the gym or “bad” for not.
On T.V, Radio, commercials, social media
Espeically with our current society being more online than ever, social media is flooded with diet culture and can have serious impacts on your mental and physical well-being. Some examples of diet culture include social accounts dedicated to “clean eating”, weight loss, and unattainable exercise regimes. Or T.V shows typically portray the thin-bodied actors as the heroes and main character, while the larger-bodied actors are portrayed as being lazy or goofy characters.
Why is Diet Culture and Dieting Dangerous?
Weight cycling happens when you start and stop diets continuously. Initially, weight is lost when you start a diet. When the diet is no longer sustainable, the weight returns. Studies have shown that weight cycling is an independent risk factor for Cardiovascular disease, Inflammation, High blood pressure, and Insulin resistance.
Staying on a diet while out to dinner, or at a party is extremely challenging and usually takes the fun out of the event. When eating during these occasions becomes too overwhelming to deal with, it makes it easier to define the invitation and isolate. Even though it may seem nice to take a break from these events it can create a sense of loneliness and create a more stressful transition going back to eating at social events.
For those struggling with their relationship with food, diets, and diet culture, can be a catalyst for relapse in recovery or turn a “slip” into a “slide”. The diets and routines proposed by diet culture tend to be rigid and inflexible which can spiral into disordered thoughts and eating patterns. If this is you, we see you and hear you and want to help you feel supported in your journey.
3 Ways to Fight Back!
- Have a Cleaning Day With Your Phone: The easiest way to start receiving body and food positive messages and stop diet culture messages is to clean up your phone. This means taking 15-20 min to skim through accounts you follow that tend to be triggering, and replace them with experts in the field of nutrition and eating disorders such as:
- Keep Learning!: Listen to podcasts, read books, articles, and ask your dietitian if you are feeling wary or tempted by diet culture. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about something the easier it is to make positive decisions regarding your health and wellness.
- Nutrition Matters Podcast
- Food Psych
- RD Real Talk
- The Mindful Dietitian
- Going Beyond the Food
- Maintenance Phase
- The F*CK It Diet
- Intuitive Eating
- Find a Community and Support System: Sharing your experiences and growth can be such a satisfying part of recovery, especially with people that understand! We welcome you to join our growing community to learn and grow in not only your relationship with food but with yourself and in the process, reclaim your life.
Breaking free from diet culture can feel challenging in such a diet-crazed society and it is possible (and totally worth it)! The good news is that you don't have to go it alone. We have teams of trained dietitians and coaches that are here to support you along the way and navigate the road blocks as they come up. Check out our individualized services to see what makes the most sense for you!