Diet Culture 101

The phrase “diet culture” is fairly new, though diet culture itself has been around since, probably, the dawn of time. “What the what is diet culture?” you may wonder. You’ve come to the right place, that’s for certain.

One of my favorite bloggers, Georgie Morley, of In It 4 the Long Run blog, writes, “Diet culture is a society that that places value on being a certain, size, weight, and shape over actual health. Diet culture also promotes the false notion that health is equal to thinness. It’s our society’s obsession with thin bodies. Diet culture praises and promotes weight loss as a tool for health…Diet culture ignores body diversity.”

I would add that diet culture is the pervasive idea that the size and shape of bodies can be controlled through the monitoring and policing of food intake. Further, diet culture includes the idea that smaller bodies are more valuable. This can lead to dangerous patterns of food restricting, overexercising, bingeing, or purging.

If you’re still not on board with the danger of diet culture… riddle me this. Diets are the only product with a overwhelmingly high fail rate, yet we continue to buy, and buy in to them. We blame ourselves when the “product”/diet doesn’t work (i.e. not enough willpower) instead of blaming what’s being sold to us. If we kept buying different brands of vacuums to mow our lawn and they all kept breaking after a few weeks, we wouldn’t say “oh man I really suck at vacuums,” we would say, “wow all these vacuums are shitty and maybe they’re not an effective way to mow my lawn.” Yet, many people try many different diets in an attempt to control the size of their body (because the world tells us it needs to be small) and become discouraged, depressed, and more when they all don’t work. You are not the problem. Diet culture is the problem.

Whoa. That’s a lot.

It’s super easy to forget self-compassion and be frustrated that you’ve fallen so deeply victim to diet culture. The most important thing I could say is that you are not to blame. The dieter is not to blame. The world at large is. Good god, it’s amazing that more people don’t get sucked into diet culture and try and try and try (and fail and fail and fail) to change the size and shape of their bodies. We have all grown up being bombarded from every angle that our bodies need to be small and we are have the ability to make them small, if we just have the “willpower.” It’s time to start shouting from the rooftops that this message is… Just. Not. True.

I think it’s also super easy to be defensive of diet culture. Maybe your aunt’s ex-husband’s sister used Weight Watchers (or paleo or Whole30 or insert any other diet/”lifestyle” here) and lost X amount of pounds and kept the weight off for years. That may be true, but at what cost? Do they have a disordered relationship with food? Do they obsess about food so much that they miss out on life? I asked a friend recently who had been ruminating about the calories in a piece of pizza: what’s more harmful to your health–eating one piece of pizza or the fact that you’ve worked yourself into a near-panic attack thinking about that piece of pizza? It’s food (heh) for thought.

If all of this stuff about diet culture is new and feels overwhelming to you, that’s okay. Take your time. This information won’t be meaningful to you until you’re ready for it to be meaningful.

I beg of you, though, listen here–the world is trying to make women smaller, both literally and metaphorically. Women are supposed to be tiny and petite, and our voices are supposed to be unheard and apologetic. I will not participate in that anymore. I will absolutely have moments where I look in the mirror and think that I might just look a bit better if I lost a few pounds or where I consider ordering the salad because it probably has less calories, but I will also be mindful of those moments and curious about those thoughts. I’ve been trained for 25 years on how to diet; it’s going to take a while to unlearn that.

Unlearning Diet Culture

So what can you do? I’ve listed some tangible steps that are helpful for me. These are not quick fixes, but they are steps to help you heal your relationship with food and your body. I’m still working on all of this, daily. These are some of the things I do:

  1. Keep learning. Read blogs, websites, and books that challenge diet culture. Just below, I’ve listed some resources that I’ve turned to before.
  2. Fill your social media feed with a diversity of bodies and unfollow any accounts that make you feel like you need to eat a certain way or look a certain way.
  3. Be gentle with yourself. This, like all other journeys, is not linear. Give yourself some grace if you fall into the (very strong and tricky) traps of diet culture.
  4. Set boundaries. Tell people you don’t want to talk about their diet. If being around your mom or that one coworker make you feel like you need to change your eating or your body, take a break from them. It doesn’t have to be forever, just until they understand that you are no longer interested in what diet culture has to offer.
  5. Find things that bring you joy. Pursue your passions or interests or goals so that you can see, everyday, that your worth is not related to the size of your body. You might also see how much brain space you have to fill when you are eventually able to stop thinking about food.

I will also say that it’s a slippery slope (or fine line or gray area) from participating in diet culture to having an eating disorder. I am not, and will never claim to be, an expert in this so if you believe that some of your thoughts or behaviors around food or your body may meet the criteria for an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or talk to your medical or mental health provider (and advocate for yourself!!).

Helpful Resources

Blogs/Websites:

Books:

I’d love to know what y’all think about this post. This is something I’m really passionate about, and I know can be controversial. I hope that, someday, the idea that all people have value and that we don’t need to shrink our bodies to be valuable, is no longer controversial.

This is meant to be an introduction to diet culture if the idea is new to you. I plan on doing more posts on some of the details and intricacies of it. What things do you want to know more about?

Leave me a comment or DM me on Instagram (@kellyinoregon).

Thanks for reading! Check back soon.

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