If you’ve been following my work, then you know I’m all about helping women break free from diet culture by learning to have fun with movement, make peace with food and embrace the body they are in.
But what exactly is diet culture? Perhaps this is a brand new term for you, or maybe you just haven’t really given much thought to it’s meaning or how it might be affecting you.
The vast majority of women I speak to in my studio, come to me with weight loss or body goals of some sort. Whether they cite toning up, getting into shape, “feeling better” or getting healthy as their number one goal – it really boils down to changing the shape of their body. Weight has become the measure of our health, discipline, and success.
A lot of women don’t identify as dieters. I didn’t for years. I believed that eating super clean and exercising hard 6 days a week meant I was living a healthy lifestyle. However, looking back now, seeing it for what it was – I might not have believed I was dieting, but I sure was chasing thinness. Being thin was evidence to me and the world, that I was doing it right.
(even though I felt miserable, but that’s a post for another day..)
Most of us don't think we are "Dieters"....
So what exactly is Diet Culture??
Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN is an outspoken leader in the non-diet, weight-inclusive movement is and her definition of ‘diet culture’ has been widely quoted and referenced. She says:
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:
Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.
Beware of Sneaky Diet Culture:
(BTW – Did you know that 95% of people who lose weight will gain it back in 1-5 years.)
The world seems to be waking up to the idea that dieting is a bad word. We know that diets don’t work. So those who are selling weight loss have to be creative with their messaging. Watch out for marketing that is diet culture in disguise:
- “Challenges” at gyms or workplaces offering prizes for weight loss (body size and shape should never be a competition)
- “Cleanses” – that will release all the toxins that are being stored in your fat cells so you can release the fat that has been trapped (First -you’re not toxic. Second – you’ll experience rebound weight gain, guaranteed. Always speak to a naturopathic doctor before doing a cleanse for proper guidance).
- Any meal plan or way of eating that claims to be the one way to achieve optimal health. Also watch for wording like, “the weight loss was just a side effect to all the other amazing health benefits” (Thinness is not a measure of health. And while how we eat, absolutely influences our health – restricting and not allowing certain foods is not necessary or beneficial; nor is it sustainable long term)
- Any program that shows before and after pictures of clients (clearly only focused on weight loss outcomes. Remember, every body is different. Even if you ate and moved exactly like me, you probably wouldn’t look like me)
- Wording such as “guilt free”, “cheat/free meal”, or “clean” (labels like these place a moral value on food and imply that we should feel a certain way when we eat them. There’s no need to feel guilty about eating anything or need to cheat if we are only trying to feel our best instead of chasing thinness)
- Any sort of messaging that implies that you will feel happier or better about yourself once you lose weight (YOUR WORTH IS NOT TIED TO YOUR SIZE!!)
How to move away from Diet Culture
- UNFOLLOW – any accounts that focus on weight loss, certain ways of eating, body goals, before and afters, selling cleanses, exercise to change body shape, etc.
- FOLLOW – #bodypositivity #nondiet #intuitiveeating #mindfulmovement #bodyneutrality #healthateverysize
- SET GOALS based on how you want to FEEL, not how you want to LOOK
- EAT and MOVE in a way that is kind to yourself, that you enjoy and makes you feel your very best – physically, mentally and emotionally, without attachment to a number on the scale
- CONSIDER breaking up with the scale for good. Chase health, not thinness
- ALIGN – with a community, gym, trainer or nutritionist that values health at every size and operates from a non-diet framework.
- SEEK SUPPORT – if you need help unlearning diet culture and shifting your mindset, consider hiring a coach.