Diet Culture: What and Where is it?
Diet culture permeates everywhere, from popular culture, every type of media and sadly to the fitness, nutrition and the health and wellness industries.
Diet culture, which is rooted in racism and classism, is very detrimental to the health and wellness of everyone, but especially for folks that don’t fit in the Eurocentric standards that health (and beauty) is based on.
This toxic culture makes it hard to love our bodies and ourselves. It influences how we speak about ourselves (and possibly others). It also makes it hard to enjoy food. Exercise is viewed as punishment you have to do based on your past food choices or the future ones.
For many being on some form of diet for quite some time is their normal. They don’t know any other relationship with themselves, food or exercise besides in this negative light.
For those who feel stuck in this loop, it can become a preoccupation. This preoccupation takes its toll, emotional and physically. From feelings of dislike and shame around our bodies or even leading to excessive exercising, disordered eating or an eating disorder.
If that’s you, please keep reading, I hope the rest of this article is helpful. I will share some tips and also about my journey to disentangle the toxicity of diet culture.
Just swipe through social media or wander into a grocery check out lane and you will be bombarded with diet culture in all its shame filled language designed to make you fill bad about yourself.
(I wrestled with do I need to share examples? Maybe I do, for those folks who don’t see the diet culture water we’re all swimming in…..so….with conflicted feelings, her we go: Look great at the beach, Stop eating these bad foods, This super-food is your weight loss super-hero, Clean Eating Recipes. Ugh I feel gross writing those. Hopefully you get it now.)
On a more positive note…
There’s great stuff like this out there, tearing up diet culture. (Go to IG and swipe through the carousel to see the other great photos.)
What does research say?
Diet culture equates thinness with being healthy and fatness with being unhealthy. Which really isn’t true. Health is more than just your size. Health is your mental, physical, spiritual well-being; your connection to other, sleep and stress maintenance. This is the overall picture of your deep health.
Recent studies [1, 2, 3] have started to look into health and various health markers of individuals in various body sizes. These studies show that weighing more doesn’t always mean unhealthy. Studies have shown that when the focus of making some dietary changes and/or exercising wasn’t centered around weight loss, people’s self worth and self efficacy improved, as well as overall happiness and health physiological measures.
How to Start
When you are treading water in what is diet culture, how does one swim ashore and begin the journey to a healthy relationship with yourself, food and exercise/movement?
Often figuring out where to begin with something this big, can be overwhelming. But like most things, it starts with baby steps.
First Step is Awareness.
Become aware of the water that is around you. When you see a new ad on Facebook, YouTube or even on a magazine at the store, stop and take a moment to recognize the diet culture that is being presented.
Part of this awareness would be to look at what you take in on your own with your new critical eye. Unfollow anything and anyone that continue to promote weight loss as a means to be happy and healthy.
Find a New Community
Follow new people and content creators that are body positive and HAES. This will help build a community of like minded peeps in your feed, your inbox or your local community. Check out some of these folks. @mynameisjessamyn, @thenutritiontea, @thegirlsgonestrong, @superfithero, @thepowerliftingsocialworker, @sonyareneetaylor, @bodyposipanda, @unlikelyhikers, @i_weigh, @thedietboycott and so many more. (I share some more in this post)
Next check in with the language you use, especially about yourself, but also about others. Weight shaming and shaming people, especially women (and especially Black women) is so prevalent in the culture of the US and in online spaces.
Begin to remove the language of diet culture. Stuff that moralizes food and eating: “Today’s my cheat day,” “I ate so good today“.
Remove phases that make exercise about earning your food or burning off something you ate: “I worked out today, I deserve that cake”, “I gotta hit the gym I ate way too much over the weekend.”
The above two points have more to do with the language you use with yourself, but also watch what the language you use with others. Making statements about someone’s weight: “Wow you look fabulous, did you lose weight?”, “Shouldn’t you stay away from soda because it’s bad for you.”
Learn what it means to eat intuitively. This is more mindful eating. Listening to your body: your hunger and fulness cues and not being so prescriptive or restrictive with your eating.
If you are not sure how to get started, find someone who can. A Registered Dietitian that understand HAES principles or a nutrition coach. We all need a little guidance sometimes.
I don’t want to leave without sharing a little about my journey because I think often times people find value in that. So here’s my P.S. on this post.
A little about my journey
Let me share a little bit about my journey. Well, really I am still navigating the journey. I am not at the end of this trek yet.
For a majority of my life I was cruising along quite unaware of the insidious and hateful messages of diet culture. It wasn’t until a few years ago, doing some reflective work during a course I was taking, that it was brought to my attention. I am sad that it took me so long.
I was able to reflect on how the inundation of messaging effected my thoughts. How this influenced how I trained and ate. Over the years, I’ve changed my approach to working out and eating-it’s become less rigid, it’s become mentally healthier.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve totally eliminated the diet culture troll from all of the recesses of my brain. It still rears its ugly head more often that I would like. And when it does, I try to fall back on what I’ve learned from my mentors. Again this is a process, one that I don’t always win, but tomorrow is always a new day to begin again.