Diet culture is something that is all around us yet most of us don’t think about it specifically or even know what it is. It feels normal to us even though it is anything but. Diet culture exists because our society values the number on the scale over health and longevity. It sends the message that restrictive eating through calorie deficits and the elimination of food groups, or whatever fad diet is in favor will help us to lose weight and therefore make us happier and healthier. It also tells us that the more we work out and the harder we work out, the more likely we are to have six pack abs. It reinforces the belief that if you are thin and or appear fit that you are a happier person. Diet culture is black and white – putting foods into buckets labeled good or bad with the aim of creating shame in our minds so that we continue purchase products and services that will give us that “bikini body”, help us get our body back after having a baby, or give us the energy of our youth.
This culture wants us to be in the cycle of wanting to lose weight and trying to keep it off, hating our bodies and shaming ourselves, it wants us to feel like a failure or worthless when a “diet” isn’t working. They want us to spend more money on the next diet, supplement or workout program. We can choose not to engage in this cycle, but it is dificult because it is so engrained in our society today. We deserve better.
Here are some strategies to help you reframe your thoughts and allow you to take charge of your mindset around health, while allowing you to stop feeding into, and thereby supporting diet culture:
1. Instead of labeling foods as good or bad or eliminating certain foods just because you believe they are too high in fat, carbs or calories, try to think about all foods as neutral and really pay attention to how they make you feel. Are these foods working for you, nourishing you and making you feel good? Stop reading labels for recommendations on how much you should be eating and eat what feels right to you, when it feels right and the amount that will nourish and sustain you. Aim to push out the guilt and anxiety associated with former “bad” foods. So long as the bulk of your meals are based on whole foods with lots of organic greens and vegetables (fiber), high quality proteins and healthy fats and you are feeling well generally, you can still enjoy some of the foods that our diet culture associates with guilt, shame or whatever else they have come up with to manipulate our thinking.
2. Stop exercising for punishment or to negate something that you ate and consider how exercise makes you feel. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t negate something you ate with running ten miles or taking two hours of spin class. We have very little control over our actual metabolic rate. While our food intake accounts for 100 percent of the energy that we take into our bodies, exercise burns off only somewhere between ten and thirty percent depending on a variety of factors at that time. It is pretty hard to erase your diet with hours on the treadmill and it isn’t worth the time or the hardship to your body. More exercise isn’t always better. In fact, most of the time it introduces more stress to your body. Over time the behavior of using exercise as punishment for poor dietary decisions can be extremely detrimental to your heath and your mindset. Exercise should be something that brings you joy and should be used as a tool to make you feel strong in your body, have more energy and confidence and add to your health and well being. So seek out the forms of exercise that you enjoy and do them because you care about your body
3. Let go of the idea that the number on the scale or your clothing size determines your worth, capabilities, health or happiness. Diet culture will tell you time and time again to follow a specific plan and you will lose weight and therefore be a happier person. There are unhappy people at all sizes and your worth and capabilities in any capacity are not tied to your weight or how you look in a bathing suit. This is a big one, especially with postpartum women. As new moms we often feel like we have to get our bodies back and in short order. Why? Because in diet culture, we are made to feel that we are not ourselves until we can successfully fit into our old clothes and have the same body that we had before having children. When you really think about it, is that even rational? Pregnant or not, our bodies change over time depending on our lifestyles, stress levels and seasons of life. A mother’s body should be celebrated for having the strength and amazing ability to carry a life, give birth and nourish that life. It is normal to not look the same afterwards because let’s face it, we are not the same afterwards. Your body never goes away it just changes with your experience, just like it does with other life experiences.
When you stop spending so much time stressing about your weight and focus on living your life – spending time with your children, nourishing yourself with foods that make you feel good, move your body as we are designed to, and do things for yourself that bring you joy and peace, you may just find that you are happier. You may never again fall into the trap of dieting and over-exercising only to fail and feel bad enough about yourself to do it again and again.
There are so many other ways that diet culture infiltrates the messaging we see all around us. I could go on about this forever so I picked a few of the common themes I see. I hope this post helps you to think about how diet culture has influenced you over the years, what you can do minimize its harmful effects and move forward in a more positive way that can help your own health and mindset. Hopefully over time the power that diet culture has over our society will diminish or even go away completely.
Let’s make it happen!