We live in a society where the norm is to praise others for being smaller and shame those who are not. Understand why it does more harm than good.
Diet culture can be defined as “a society that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over health and well-being.” This definition operates on a widely held belief that we need to make our bodies smaller to achieve optimal “health.” Not only is this mindset misguided, it’s damaging.
Diet culture harms everyone, regardless of age or gender.
The problem with diet culture is that it’s really hard to see especially when everyone around you talks about food in terms of morality as the norm. We hear it all the time.
“I know it’s bad but I’m going to have a milkshake,” I ate so many bad foods over the holidays, I just need to focus on eating clean now,” I’ve been doing so good lately, I’m eating really healthy.”
We hear it at the workplace, at church, within families and between friends. People will mention how healthy they’re being or how much weight they’ve lost, and receive praises for all their efforts.
For the most part diet culture is really subtle, making it even more difficult to spot. Big companies use words like “flexible,” or “intuitive” to make you think their plan is safe and easy to follow. We congratulate pregnant women for being “all belly” in pregnancy and for how quickly they “lose the baby weight” after.
Health care providers recommend cutting calories and increasing exercise to lose weight in order to be “healthier.” Brides are encouraged to work out excessively for their weddings so they can look their “best”. This list can go on and on, and is something so deeply rooted in our culture that most of the time, we don’t even notice it.
It’s a normal part of our conversations.
Diet culture exploits some of our deepest insecurities and desires. It twists “health” together with love and acceptance, and makes us believe that our weight or size will measure our worth. These messages get all tangled up, and we believe we’re doing good by subscribing to plans to count calories and macros. We strive for lower numbers on the scale because we’re told we’ll feel better and be better that way.
Even for those who become aware of the impact of diet culture, it is messy and complex to climb out of. Doing so doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on being healthy or “letting yourself go,” it just gives us the ability to focus on the things that matter most in life. We are able to assess health more clearly and begin to really take care of ourselves. It starts with us recognizing that diet culture exists and it’s a problem. From there we can start to see its role in our daily lives, and we can begin un-learning the messages.
Most of all, we must have compassion for both ourselves and the people who are still caught up in that mindset. It can be a long road to ending diet culture’s influence in our lives.
Believe in yourself, and it will.
Adapted from the original article.
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Hannah Griffith, RDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is passionate about helping both men and women discover real health, by learning to nourish themselves and cultivate a better a better relationship with food and their bodies. Read more from Hannah at All In Good Health.