What is Diet Culture?

Have you wondered this?

And also wondered why it matters to you?
Diet culture is not something I really knew about until 2019. If you're similar and wondering what the hell, you're not alone.

Here's what you need to know.

Diet culture says there is one standard form of beauty in Western society for women. And that is as thin as possible. (Except not too* thin).

Diet culture says that the pursuit of this thinness is normal and obligatory. In other words, if you're not dedicating yourself to being thinner, what are you even doing?

Diet culture holds up our value as women first and foremost in our appearance. It's performative and obligatory so that the world will accept and love us.

Diet culture has a direct crossover with "health" too whereby diet culture has skewed what that even means. Remembering that health is subjective to each of us. Yet diet culture says that only certain body shapes are healthy and that spending a great deal of time on that pursuit is not just OK, though to be celebrated.

Diet culture is so far beyond weight loss products, brands and companies too.

Diet culture has hijacked almost every part of our lives as we know them. And once you see it, you can no longer unsee it. You will notice it everywhere. In ads, shows, news, magazines, tweets, social chats, office banter, life.

Life in Western culture is diet culture. Dietitian Christy Harrison echoes this in her book Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating and says about diet culture...

"...a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue; promotes weight loss and body reshaping as a means of attaining higher status; demonises certain foods and food groups while elevating others; and oppress people who don't match its supposed picture of "health."

From my time spent working with women on their relationship to food and their body, it's evident how many hours are lost (yes, lost), to all-consuming thoughts of food and weight. It's a ruling internal dialogue. And this is very often without the presence of an eating disorder. This is the normalised BS that is diet culture.

This is how foods become "good" and "bad." Read more about that here.

This is how weight is used to shame.

This is how before and after shots become marketing.

This is how most of us have no freaking idea what to eat!

Diet culture disconnects us from our bodies and sends the message that we can't trust ourselves.

Diet culture does not however let us know the truth. The truth that for most of us, pursuing intentional weight loss will not be sustainable [1].

Diet culture is so entrenched in our minds that moving from diet to diet without long-term success is not considered at all to be a fault of the process. So-called failing on a diet is our fault. It’s our lack of willpower. It’s never the diet right? Wrong!

Fact: failing at a diet is exactly what your body is meant to do.

It's how your body protects itself against perceived famine. It will do everything it can to restore weight lost. This is why dieters feel increased hunger, lethargy, fatigue, hanger and low mood. Your body is conserving energy by lowering its metabolism and increasing your drive to eat. The rest is the reality of restricting food groups/calories in the name of weight loss - misery.

Diet culture also doesn't let us know that we can take enjoyable steps towards improving our health without focusing on, or even changing our weight [2] [3]. And that our worth is not our weight.

 

 

Personally and professionally this means a great deal to me. It's the work that gets me fired up every single day. It's the advocacy work that sometimes leaves me frustrated and  unsure of ever impacting. But also knowing that this is my main ambition and drive.

I; like most women (and increasing numbers of men); have lost years of life to this life suck known as diet culture. Thinking I'm not enough if I'm not thinner. Attempting to control my diet in order to control my weight and inevitably feeling completely obsessed with food and out of control. The bottom line is: we have so much better stuff to do!

How can we expect to run the world when our mind is consumed with thoughts of food and our weight?! When we focus on restricting food, we restrict our life experiences.

Diet culture keeps us small. And I will not stand for that.

If you'd like support in your relationship to food and your body, there's absolutely no shame in that. I'd be thrilled to work with you. Learn about my program here and my 1:1 consultations here.

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References:

[1] The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss

[2] Eating in response to hunger and satiety signals is related to BMI in a nationwide sample of 1601 mid-age New Zealand women

[3] A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues

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