Breaking Free From Diet Culture

While it’s harmful to so many, diet culture is almost possible to avoid these days. From social media to food packaging and exercise trends, diet culture can manifest itself in so many different forms. Diet culture’s presence in our lives is so profound that most people do not understand the severity of this harmful messaging. If you feel like diet culture controls your decisions and constantly incites feelings of shame and guilt, keep reading to learn how to detect and handle diet culture in everyday life. 

 

What Is Diet Culture?

Diet culture places weight loss on a pedestal, encouraging people to strive for thinness. Viewing weight loss as the only way to gain happiness and confidence creates significant issues. Ironically, those who fall subject to diet culture and partake in restrictive behaviors become more self-conscious and shameful. 

Companies and influencers tap into their audience’s insecurities by promising their customers certain results or feelings once they buy a weight loss product or a workout plan. The diet industry strives to generate the most revenue from selling images of thinness, even if it means destroying consumers’ self esteem. New ideal body types, styles of eating, and exercises overwhelm people, yet influence them to spend more money on ‘improving’ themselves.

 

How To Spot Diet Culture

Knowing some key phrases and words make it easier to detect diet culture in daily life. Companies recognize that many people who wish to lose weight or change their body want to see changes happen quickly. Content using phrases such as “lose weight fast” or “get a six pack in 10 days” should stand out as a red flag. It takes months to see changes in our bodies and any sort of drastic change that happens in a few days is not sustainable and most likely relies on unhealthy methods. Our society is so obsessed with losing weight that people will try almost anything, even if it involves following a regime based on restriction, to change their appearance. 

Demonizing or labeling certain food groups as ‘bad’ should be a warning sign. Diet culture moralizes types of foods and exercise, placing guilt upon people who consume or do certain things. While some foods are more nutritious than others, cutting out complete food groups is restrictive and harmful.

The promotion of detoxing and cleansing is another popular diet culture trend. Companies will attach ‘removes toxins’ or ‘cleanses your gut’ into the description of any product to attract customers and make them feel as if their bodies are impure or unhealthy. Detoxing is also seen as a method to lose weight quickly in an unsustainable way. Some people claim that detoxing improves their health, but in reality “detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they’re claimed to remove, and evidence that they remove toxins at all is lacking” (3). Our bodies naturally remove toxins through methods including sweat and urine, meaning there is no need to go an extra step. 

 

How To Handle Diet Culture

It’s very difficult to walk into any store or scroll on social media without being confronted by weight loss ads and products. Seeing these images daily can decrease your self esteem and mood. Take a few days off of social media apps or find a daily limit for your social media use. Additionally, unfollow anyone online who makes you feel self conscious or shameful about your eating and/or exercise habits.

Talking with those around you and specialists can help you vocalize your feelings about diet culture’s impact on you. If there is someone in your life, whether that be a friend, sibling, or parent, that frequently talks about weight loss and dieting or comments on your physical appearance, notify them that this upsets you and find another topic to talk about. Consulting a doctor, registered dietitian, or therapist might also be beneficial if you are struggling from negative body image or confidence. 

Even if you feel that diet culture is controlling your life, there are so many ways to break free from it. Replace scrolling on Instagram and comparing yourself to others with enjoyable hobbies or activities. Discover support groups or groups in your neighborhood that aim to empower people and provide them with a sense of strength. Most importantly, remember that your physical appearance should be the least interesting thing about you; you are so much more than what your body looks like. 

 

Resources: 

  1. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/recognizing-and-resisting-diet-culture
  2. https://behavioralnutrition.org/what-is-diet-culture/ 
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/detox-diets-101#bottom-line 

 

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Stephanie Gerson

Stephanie Gerson is an Art History student at UC Santa Barbara who is passionate about plant-based cooking, sustainability, and all things wellness. For vegan recipe ideas and intuitive eating content, you can find Stephanie on Instagram @stephliveshealthy.

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