The Toxicity of Diet Culture + How You Can Recognize & Release It
Updated: May 25
“If we all exercised the same and ate the same, our bodies would still be…. different”
Diet Culture strongly shapes our behaviors and thoughts around food, fitness and exercise, as well as what it means to be 'healthy'.
And most of us don't even know it exists!
Diet Culture's toxic messaging is in the background of so many of our interactions, and it has an important impact on how we view, treat and talk to ourselves and those around us.
PS! This is a new concept for a lot of us. Give yourself time to understand how Diet Culture shows up in your life and what it means for you. Take what suits you now and work toward the rest in time.
WHAT IS DIET CULTURE
Diet culture is a complex and pervasive set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and body shape over health, and physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
The Diet Culture mentality can take over your thoughts - especially for women and easily influenced groups (like our young kids and teens!) who can often feel intense pressure to look a certain way in order to fit in, and feel beautiful, loved, worthy, and accepted.
Equates body size to health (thin = healthy)
Worships being thin
Normalizes disordered eating
Makes us feel bad when we don’t look like the hyper-filtered images we repeatedly see in magazines, tv, film, and on social media
Encourages us to spend tons of time, money and energy on attaining an impossibly thin “ideal”
Leads to destructive Binge + Restrict diet cycles which inevitably lead to shame and guilt around food
Creates a harmful fear-based mindset by labeling food - and even ourselves! - as “good” and “bad”
Robs us of the ability to trust our own internal wisdom and encourages us to look outside of ourselves for answers instead - "Am I hungry? I don't know, let me check the diet book to see if I'm allowed to be"
DIET CULTURE IS SNEAKY...
HERE'S HOW YOU CAN RECOGNIZE IT
Diet Culture is so much a part of our everyday lives, that we often don’t even realize it’s there.
Keep an eye out for where Diet Culture sneaks into your day; for example:
Stepping on the scale first thing to see how you should feel (Low number = Confident! Sexy!; High number = Miserable and Self-conscious)
Measuring, counting or weighing foods before eating - How many times have you counted out those 20 almonds?
Obsessively checking nutrition labels for calories, portion sizes etc...
Tracking steps and/or calories burned on your smart watch
Apps like myfitnesspal that encourage you to monitor, track and account for every bite of food you take
Food Rules! White carbs are bad, clean your plate, don't snack after dinner, chew gum while you cook, don't emotionally eat, processed foods are bad....
Avoiding foods that are ‘bad’ or 'unhealthy'
Overindulging in foods that are ‘good’, zero points, or 'free'
Exercise as punishment rather than to feel good in your own skin
Eliminating complete food groups - carbs, gluten, sugar etc...
Ignoring your own body cues in favor of what outside sources tell you. Ex Intermittent Fasting: starve yourself even though you're hungry between these specific hours, and eat everything you can even though you're full during these ones
'Earning' food or drinks by working out
NEXT BEST ACTIONS
Lately I’ve been asking myself the question, What is the next best action here?
This keeps me from going off the rails with 100 different things to do and keeps it small and manageable (a cornerstone of successful behavior change and mindset shifts!)
This question is suitable for all kinds of things - from making dinner to writing a book.
In order to dismantle the complex and entangled hold of Diet Culture in so much of our lives, start with one thing and notice how it shows up in your life.
If you’re not happy with the results you are getting, what is the Next Best Action you can take to bring about change?
It reminds me of this famous Martin Luther King Jr quote, “You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”.
Yes, yes, yes.
Where do you want to start?
Google it, read about it, learn more so you can make an informed decision about the role Diet Culture can play in your life. You get to decide. There are resources below to get you started.
Keep an eye and ear out for how Diet Culture sneaks into your everyday life - you won’t BELIEVE all the places you find it once you are attuned to looking for it.
Talk to your friends, family, coworkers, and your children about it. Awareness is power!
Don’t comment on other people’s bodies - even complimenting weight loss
Ohhhh. This is a tricky one for me and I’m sure for all of us people-pleasers out there. If we notice that someone has lost weight, or looks really great, we want to compliment them on it - so they feel good about themselves. What we don’t realize is that this 'compliment' reinforces the notion that thinner is better, implies that they didn't look as good before they lost the weight, and encourages the idea that they need to look a certain way in order to be accepted, worthy and complimented.
Research Intuitive Eating - an anti-diet approach to eating that emphasizes internal wisdom and trust over external influences such as scales, social media influencers and diet books YESSS!
Practice Body Neutrality: Respect and accept your body for what it can DO rather than how it LOOKS. 1000%!!
Try these affirmations - grab a sticky note and write them down where you will see them often. Keep ones that resonate, or change them out regularly
I will treat my body with respect
This is a journey, and I am learning as I go.
I am more than the food I eat.
I choose to see today in a positive light, it's a new day for me to learn.
What I ate yesterday does not dictate what I eat today.
I deserve to nourish my body.
I forgive my past self for dieting and I choose to be free moving forward.
No matter what my body looks like I will still be ME.
I give my body permission to change.
I respect my body for all it does for me, I choose to treat it that way as well.
I'm okay with being imperfect, there is no such thing as perfection.
I deserve to enjoy myself.
I deserve to enjoy food.
I know that my body belongs.
My body keeps me going and I am grateful for that.
This is my body and I accept it.
It's okay to not know what my body needs right now, I am figuring it out.
Stop labeling foods - and yourself! - as 'good' or 'bad' for choosing to enjoy or not enjoy certain foods, drinks or exercises
Join an anti-diet community - more info below
Follow anti-diet activists on social media, read their blogs and books, or listen to their podcasts. Some recs to get you started below!
Social media cleanse: We are inundated with messages about what our bodies should look like, how much we should weigh, fad diet how-tos, and filtered images of ‘real’ women. So much so, that we don’t even consciously realize it. Unfollow the social media accounts that leave you feeling bad about yourself, and check out these body positive accounts instead.
Give yourself time - it took you decades to get here, give yourself time as you work through the role Diet Culture has played in your life and how you want to move forward
Practice self-compassion - Talk to yourself like you would a trusted friend - especially during challenging moments
Remember, start small. This is a HUGE hurdle for most of us.
Pick one thing from this list that resonates and see how it can fit into your life.
Build from there.
A LIFE WHERE DIET CULTURE IS NOT IN CHARGE CAN LOOK LIKE...
We know there is more to life than being thin, yet it often feels like so many of our problems would go away and we could finally feel happy, beautiful, accepted, loved, worthy, confident, sexy, and valued...
If only we lost the weight.
What if you could feel that way now? Like right now?
It's a choice.
You get to decide.
Bring awareness to, and then slowly work to loosen the grip Diet Culture has on you and benefit from:
More time and mental space/energy to focus on things that really matter Hint! It's not calorie counts or the weight on the scale
Doing the fun, scary, challenging, brave, bold thing NOW, instead of waiting until you’re thin(ner) YESSSS!
Putting on the bathing suit, going to the beach and not obsessing the whole time about how you look
Enjoying food with family and friends without the constant worry about how many calories are in it or how you are going to make up for it tomorrow
Eating your favorite foods - and actually enjoying them without the guilt hangover
Moving to feel good in your body rather than to punish it
Feel comfortable (amazing!) in your own skin
Focus on being and feeling well instead of changing your body
To accept, appreciate, even love, your body and all it does for you
To finally make peace with food, your body, your relationships.... yourself
Doesn’t that kind of life actually sound really freaking amazing?
If you are interested in learning more about Diet Culture, Intuitive Eating and Body Neutrality, there are tons of really incredible resources out there.
Get started with the following and see where it takes you!
Intuitive Eating (A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach): The Intuitive Eating philosophy is based on this book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Health At Every Size (HAES): The book promoting health for every body.
Christy Harrison Intuitive eating and HAES expert. Wonderful, informative, and professional podcast.
Alissa Rumsey Nutrition - She has a free great intro course to Intuitive Eating
Isabel Foxen Duke: Edgy, Intuitive Eating Expert
Health At Every Size (HAES): The book promoting health for every body.
Intuitive Eating Quick Start Guide: A beginner's guide to Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating Journal: Bring awareness to your eating habits.
The Intuitive Eating Scale: a great tool to bring attention to your current eating habits, reasons why you eat, your reliance on hunger and satiety cues, and your overall approach to food and your body.
Check out THIS article for a unique perspective and well-researched data points
* If you are struggling with disordered eating, or are concerned about your health, body image, or eating habits, it's important to get help. Contact me to discuss and I will help you find the right care.
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