Be honest with yourself — how many diets have you tried in your lifetime? The answer is probably too many. Diet culture has created a never ending cycle of self loathing scale obsession . It doesn’t matter what size you are chances are you’re dieting at least a few times a year. The truth is, diet culture is more about big business than actual health and wellness. How big? According to MarketResearch.com in 2018 alone the weight loss industry in the United States was worth $72 billion dollars. It’s time we shine a light on the dark side of dieting and refocus our attention on actual wellness.
Defining Diet Culture
Diet culture is a system that focuses on weight, size and shape instead of overall health. It’s made us value thinness, where smaller is considered optimal health and bigger is unhealthy. We’ve been sold a lie for decades to stay in a vicious cycle of diet consumerism. Welcome to the industry that strategically uses marketing to make you feel bad about yourself. Reaping billions of benefits from a lack of self confidence. The office at my OBGYN even sells weight loss. Why are our physicians supporting diet supplements instead of healthy lifestyle changes? The only doctor that’s ever had a conversation with me about all around healthy lifestyle changes is a mental health therapist. Why? Because a simple healthy lifestyle of organic meat, fruits, vegetables and everyday herbs isn’t making anyone rich.
In the last decade diet culture has gotten sneakier about their models and plans to reflect health, but break it all down and they are still valuing size over wellness. We do not live in a one size fits all world, and this pertains to health as much as anything else. As licensed mental health counselor Molly Bahr explains, “Just as some people are short, others are tall, some have smaller bodies and others have bigger ones. Genetics and social determinants of health play a much bigger role in body size and health.”
Because we’ve been so conditioned to associate wellness with diet culture it’s sometimes hard to spot. This list from Eating Disorder Registered Dietitians & Professionals is a great resource for identifying this toxic culture. Labeling foods as good or bad and internalizing the message to believe that you are good or bad because you ate a certain food. Eliminating entire food groups or certain foods within a food group (unless you have allergies of course)Following external rules of what, when and how much to eat. Avoiding foods that are high in fat, carbs, or calories. Feeling anxious about making the wrong decision of what to eat/ feeling guilty after eating, Ignoring internal cues from your body (hunger, fullness, and satisfaction)Believing that you have to take supplements, powders etc to be healthy. Avoiding social situations because of the type of food that is served. Focusing on appearance- including compliments on weight loss or gain. Believing that you are unworthy because of your body shape or size OR believing that you are worthy because of your body shape or size. Allowing the number on the scale or the size of your clothes to determine your happiness. Exercising for punishment rather than for health and enjoyment. Needing to read a label or find out what is in food so that you can see if it fits in your macros before you eating. Feeling the need to justify your eating. Talking about food, weight, exercise, diets, etc constantly
The Beast of Body Image
None of us are free from the beast of body image that diet culture has laid upon us. We’ve been sold a lie that thinner is healthier, and it’s infected our standards of wellness. As a teenager I struggled with an eating disorder and though I was thin, I was far from healthy. Gas station diet pills, two energy drinks and a pack of sour gummy worms made up my diet most days. Like many young women, diet culture sold me the image that thin is beautiful. Social media was only beginning but that didn’t stop tumblr from being the mecca for eating disorder inspiration. At any time of day you could look up thin-spiration to keep you on the path of turning down meals and dieting. Social media has grown even bigger now and reeking with diet culture in the age of the influencer. What seems like a harmless partnership with a health food company is subliminally toxic. We’re being sold the perfect outfit with a professional grade face of make-up and pristine photo shopped images that are not a real representation of health. We’re now being sold the image of perfection and calling it health — and we are absolutely buying it because these influencers seem like everyday people instead of celebs.
At 31 I’m at my heaviest, but also my healthiest. When I was thinner I was in optimal health according to diet culture, but I was sick constantly and on multiple prescription medications. Detoxing from diet culture may have made the number on the scale go up, but I’m rarely sick, have an incredible about of energy, and take absolutely no medication other than Tylenol (that’s even rare). It’s time for us to normalize wellness, not a certain weight.
Stop the dieting! We drive ourselves mad counting calories, keeping journals and trying to remember all the things we can’t eat on whatever new diet we’ve selected for this year. Keep it simple and listen to your body.
One of the best things you can do is to stop dieting and live a healthy lifestyle is to say goodbye to preservatives. Many of these meal plans and diets are pumped with preservatives and chemicals. You’ll likely lose weight while you’re on them but at what expense to your long-term health? Not to mention these meals are created to keep you consuming them indefinitely. These companies know the minute you stop the weight will come back making you vulnerable to consumption again. This doesn’t only apply to pre-made meals, but boxed food in general. Prepared foods, sauces and beverages contain chemicals, excess sugar and high amounts of salt. When you prepare your own fresh food it gives you complete control over your health, not to mention it’s ridiculously satisfying. Another plus I’ve noticed is that my grocery bill went down when I started buying only staples for meals — that’s even including buying mostly organic and free range. There’s a wonderful free course taught by Stanford University about simple health and food prep that I highly recommend. I’m in no way an affiliated with them. I just discovered the course during quarantine and found it valuable.
Try mindful eating and listening to your body instead of counting calories. Your body really knows what it needs — when it’s actually hungry, when it’s satisfied and properly fueled (not stuffed). Try eating without mindless distractions like TV or your phone. It’s harder to hear what your body is telling you when in distraction mode. You might find that you enjoy your food more and have better conversations over meals.
If you hate going to the gym don’t subjectify yourself to that kind of atmosphere. Going to the gym is not the end all be all to exercise. It’s also important to note that if you hate it, chances are you’re going to quit. Find a form of movement that is enjoyable to you. Taking a walk, going for a bike ride and any other leisure outdoor activities are actually a double whammy because you’re getting a healthy does of vitamin D while exercising. Your work outs may not look like everyone else’s but it doesn’t disqualify them from being exercise. The key is to incorporate some type of regular movement in your life.
I could go on and on about detoxing from diet culture because it’s my favorite soap box to climb atop. But I’ll leave you with this — listen to yourself, mind/body/soul and just keep it simple.