Diet culture; it’s been getting a lot of attention recently, but it’s been a part of our society for years. It’s the voice that screams at you as you look in the mirror and curse yourself for eating that packet of digestives. It’s the reason you can’t wear shorts, even though it’s 30 degrees, because they don’t ‘flatter your body type’. It’s the reason you force yourself to go for a run every night even though you hate running, always have, always will. It’s the voice that tells you not to break your diet with a severity that feels life-threatening.
Let’s be honest; we all hate dieting. There’s no happiness to be found by ordering a salad (with no dressing, obviously) or having 7 carrots and a chicken breast for dinner. Yet, lots of us are stuck in the miserable cycle of restricting, bingeing and self-loathing.
Why do we follow the rules of diet culture without questioning how or why they were made? Why do we feel pride when we ignore our natural hunger cues, and shame when we enjoy a meal with our friends and family. Why is diet culture passed down through generations, as though self-loathing is a rite of passage into adulthood? Why do we bond over shaming our bodies, hating the way we look, and starving ourselves?
Dieting is obedience, it’s accepting that your worth doesn’t equate to more than how you look. As a woman, it’s recognising your place in society as someone who takes up as little space as possible.
Our society values weight and shape over mental and physical health. But how do we rebel? How do we join the anti-diet revolution?
Instead of detoxing your body with a juice cleanse (we have a liver that does that for us), let’s rid ourselves of toxic diet culture. It’s harder than you might think to spot diet culture in all its forms, and while it’s pretty obvious that skinny teas are some of the culprits, it gets much sneakier than that, catfishing as health and balance, when in reality the only definition of health that’s being given is one that’s synonymous with weight. Let’s get this straight, there’s nothing healthy or balanced about eating only cheese for 3 days because you’re doing #keto.
If you’re trying to step away from diet culture, social media can be a bit of a minefield. I used to follow so many ‘health and fitness’ influencers, who filled my feed with before and after photos, promoting weight
loss as the pinnacle of human achievement, and selling disordered eating tips as the way to get there. In some cases, these types of photos might be well meaning, trying to encourage you with the, ‘if I can do it you can too’ mentality. In reality, what they’re doing is adding to the assumption that healthy = a smaller body, and the oppression and shaming of those who don’t meet this standard. These photos also send the message that we should be striving to improve. We’re not an iPhone, we don’t need to constantly upgrade ourselves in order to have value, and it isn’t ‘lazy’, or ‘letting ourselves go’ to accept ourselves as we are.
Ditch the guilt
There are no good foods and bad foods. Food is just food, and it’s not all about calories and macros either. Food is a huge part of the way we socialise, celebrate, and show love. All foods should be enjoyed in moderation, and if it’s a birthday, holiday, or just a crappy day, out of moderation. The only time you should ever feel guilty for eating something is if you’ve stolen it, and feeling ‘bad’ for eating a pizza is as ridiculous as feeling bad for breathing too much air. It’s so important to rid ourselves of our emotional connections to food if we’re going to stop letting it control our lives, and get our power back.
We also need to ditch our fatphobia and stop using ‘fat’ as an emotion, something we say when we eat ‘too much’, or outgrow a pair of jeans.
We use fat to describe feelings of upset, shame and disgust because we’ve been conditioned to think that fat is the worst thing we could be. Instead, identify and acknowledge the actual emotion behind the feeling, and work through it, be kind to yourself, and give yourself a break for being human, and enjoying the foods we all enjoy.
It’s as simple as this; diets don’t work. Restrictive diets might help you lose weight quickly, but the majority of people end up back where they started, or even putting on more weight. Not only does extreme restriction place massive stress on the body, lower your metabolism and trigger the production of stress hormones which cause your body to hold onto more fat, dieting also makes your brain think it’s going into a period of starvation, and so your body has no choice but to binge eat in order to keep you alive.
Eating and moving intuitively, and listening to what your body needs- that’s what leads to long term health. Learn to do that and you’ll never have to diet again.
It’s common for our fat phobic society to view the anti-diet revolution as “glorifying obesity”, but you can still prioritise healthy behaviours without having a body goal, and remember that your body doesn’t define your worth.
We have a belief system in our fatphobic society that we should all strive to be in better bodies, because thinness is success and fatness is failure. Dieting is the way we create purpose, but we can’t ever feel fulfilled by eating spinach and only living for a future in which we finally get that “perfect body”. Free yourself from the belief that dieting is what you were born to do, because we all deserve more than that. Ditch diet culture and stop striving to change your body, look like someone else’s after photo and get shredded or lean for summer. Stop putting “lose weight” at the top of your new year’s resolutions, buying jeans two sizes too small, and equating your self-worth with a number. Show some gratitude, appreciation and love for the body that’s withstood abuse, hatred, and restriction. Strive to be kinder, more selfless and a loving friend or partner. Just think of what we could achieve if we started using all the time and energy we wasted on dieting into something that’s actually worthwhile, and turned the force of own self-criticism into something positive.
Remove diet language
It’s not easy avoiding diet culture, especially when everyone around us is so immersed in it. Restriction is normalised and talk of dieting and our bodies is sometimes even expected. But the way we speak about our bodies impacts the way other people think about their bodies and when we comment on how we look, we’re just adding to the narrative that we’re trying to get rid of, reinforcing the idea that there is a right and a wrong way for a body to look. When we make the choice to shift our perspective, we have to consciously change the way we talk about food and our bodies, bit by bit. Compliment people on things that aren’t related to how they look, celebrate personal growth rather than weight loss, and put boundaries on food and self-talk, to start to challenge diet culture and beliefs in yourself and those around you. By changing the narrative in your interactions with other people, it’s likely to have a lasting impact, you might not be able to convince them to give up diet culture right away, but you’re encouraging them to reflect on their own beliefs when they feel ready to.
Learning to accept your body and unlearning the beliefs of diet culture is going to be hard work. It’ll need your patience and self-compassion. Don’t beat yourself up if you catch yourself checking how flat your stomach is, or changing your outfit because you still ‘feel fat’. You’ll get there, it takes time to reject beauty standards that have been drilled into you for years. But you can do it. You can eat carbs guilt free, you can redirect your internal bully, you can live the life that all the diets in the world could never give you. You are not a diet, weight, dress size or shape, and there are no limits to what you are capable of.