Take a moment and reflect on these questions.
If you said yes to any of these questions, then it indicates that eating can be a rather stressful experience for you, and that you are being influenced by diet culture.
1. What is diet culture?
Diet culture is a mindset. It is a system of beliefs that affects everyone to varying extents.
Christy Harrison’s (MPH, CD, RDN) is an anti-diet and weight inclusive dietician and writer, and her definition of diet culture has been widely referenced.
She defines diet culture as a set of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virture, 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.
Questions to reflect on:
Do you identify with any of these believes/behaviours in your own life?
Can you think of some examples of how diet culture is being promoted in your society and social groups ?
How can you start to speak out against diet culture? (Refer to point number 6 below for an excellent article that can help get you started).
2. diet culture is extremely manipulative.
Diet culture works by disguising itself under the name of “health”, “fitness” and “well-being”. This causes us to become more susceptible to subscribing to these believes, as we all want optimal health and well-being. The truth is, diet culture will not bring us these things. It only causes us to behave in increasingly restrictive and unhealthy ways.
For example, diet culture might cause you to:
- Believe that you are a better person if you ate a sugar and fat-free cookie rather than a regular cookie.
- Believe that you are worse than others for not eating a certain way (e.g. vegan diets, paleo diets etc).
- Believe that fat people are less healthy.
- Believe that you are only worthy and beautiful if you have a flat stomach and a thigh gap.
- Weigh yourself regularly to ensure that you have not gained weight.
- Feel bad about the natural shape of your body.
- Feel guilty after eating certain foods.
- Exercise as a form of compensation/punishment rather than for pleasure and joy.
- Ignore and suppress your hunger and satisfaction cues.
3. Why we fall for diet culture
Diet culture takes advantage of your insecurities and your desire to feel better about yourself against you. It works by selling you a false promise – that you can get rid of your discomfort, feel more confident, and become more attractive and successful if you ate a certain way, and looked a certain way.
The truth is, diet culture will not give you any of these things. It is a lie.
Discomfort and unpleasant emotions will not disappear as a result of having a thin body, or by excluding bread from your diet.
You will not become more confident after getting a thigh gap or a flat stomach. In fact, you will live in constant anxiety and fear if your self-worth is dependent on something that is changeable.
4. diet culture does not work.
Your desire to feel better is normal and understandable. However, relying on the false promises of diet culture will only guarantee further dissatisfaction.
Diet culture has strict rules about what you should eat in order for you to be a ‘good’ or ‘better’ person. These rules may give you a sense of ”control” in the short run, but they only perpetuate feelings of shame, doubt and stress around eating in the long run.
Diet culture distracts you from what is actually stressing you out. It prevents you from seeking a more effective solution to your problems, and from understanding how you are actually feeling.
You must become aware of how diet culture is playing out in your life, and reject these bogus beliefs. This is essential in helping you heal your relationship with food, and feel more at peace and confident with your eating.
5. Diet culture encourages disordered eating and eating disorders.
I hope that you can see how diet culture promotes disordered eating habits, and perpetuates eating disorders by this point.
Diet culture can easily cause someone who is recovering from an eating disorder to relapse, and someone who does not have an eating disorder to become more vulnerable to developing one.
We need to learn to identify and speak out against the negative and detrimental effects of diet culture. I believe this is how we can prevent eating disorders, help individuals reach a full recovery, and start to create a new culture where all bodies are treated with respect and dignity.