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What Does It Really Mean To “Ditch The Diet”
Long gone are the days of the grapefruit diet and HcG diet and the cabbage diets for most of us. We may have realized these are simply not sustainable. You may still be dabbling in less restrictive trends such as whole30 and keto- but quickly realizing they are more misery than they are worth.
But what does it really mean to “ditch the diet” for good?
If you are a self proclaimed “liberated from all diets for all time” this article may surprise you with where you’re still holding onto diet beliefs.
If you’ve ever made the proclamation:
- It’s not a diet-it’s a lifestyle change!
- I just don’t eat (insert food item here)
- I only eat that on special occasions
- I just don’t keep (insert food here) in the house
- Everything in moderation
- If I eat (insert food here) then I just work out more
If it comes with a set of rules my friend; it’s a diet! Lets work through some tools to identify dieting and ditch diet culture for good together!
Diet Culture Is Sneaky
Diet cultures cornerstone is a value on thinness above all else. It glorifies altering ones body weight, shape and size to fit its hearty demands and feed the system of oppression.
Diet culture remains so powerful because it is interwoven in our lives in many intricate layers.
Principles that uphold diet culture include:
You don’t see diet culture coming- because it disguised itself within highly valued ideals such as working hard, honoring the body, and sharing ideas of wellbeing.
We can’t fight something we can’t fully identify!
The Layers of Diet Culture
America prides itself on individualism. The person that can “do it all all by themselves” is typically seen as a gold standard in the United States. This individualism mindset also supports remanning isolated in our thoughts, emotions, and communication.
This individualistic thinking is hands down one of diet cultures GREATEST accomplishments.
Diet culture tells us- if you can’t do it all (Be thin, financially successful, healthy, there for your children’s every need, and academically competent) YOU have failed-not the system.
Further, a compliant member of diet culture won’t discuss their thoughts about any shortcomings they have in meeting the systems demands.
Diet cultures sets them up to believe it’s THEIR fault they failed to meet demands of thinness unattainable for most people, not the shortcomings of the weight centric system.
Reject The Diet Mentality
Diet culture is soooo sneaky. If we start only on the surface with the visible parts of diet culture (such as eating disorders and photoshopped super models), we will likely miss the problem in its entirety.
I like to think of “diet thoughts” as being the pervasive thoughts that manifest in our body and souls but never fully completed.
For example we might say to ourselves “I need to be thinner,” But we never stop to dissect what the social significance of the desire. For example:
- What is the value of thinness?
- Who benefits from me changing my body weight shape or size?
- Who am I achieving thinness for?
- Will being thinner improve the quality of my life? In which ways?
- Is there something I could do that would be more valuable to my life than the pursuit of thinness (for example, getting ahead in my career or playing with my kids)?
We’re often left dwelling on serving diet culture until our day is spent, we’ve tossed money at the problem, and we’ve dismantled our closest relationships.
Reject the diet mentality by:
- Ditching food rules
- Practicing food neutrality
- Eliminating body checking of yourself and others
- Honoring all types of hunger
- Checking out of cosmetic exercise and practicing joyful movement with your body
How Diets Promise Control
In diet culture tells us: “If I am thin I will show others that I’m in complete control of my body and life.”
Nobody stops to think that what we’re actually doing when we are attempting to gain control by appeasing others-we’re literally the puppets in the system.
We’re upholding a system of oppression where we become objects of fascination rather than people with thoughts, dreams, talents and emotions. While we’re playing by diet culture rules, we’re literally the ones that are BEING controlled-not the other way around.
Being thin does not mean someone will not experience the pressures of diet culture.
In fact, we all will. That’s how the system keeps us complacent and feeding into it with our time, money, and livelihood.
However, living in a thin body does offer safety from certain elements of diet culture. For example:
- The ability to choose clothing at any store
- Being able to go to the doctor and be treated for my actual medical problem rather than simply scolded and dismissed for needing to lose weight.
- Not having to purchase two airplane seats
- Not facing daily systems of oppression because of the size of the body (restaurant seating, passing spaces).
Let’s Ditch Diet Culture!
Every one of us has a role in dismantling diet culture and fatphobia.
Those in thin bodies have not experienced the same oppression or had the same experiences as those living in larger bodies who can advocate against the harms of diet culture from first hand experiences.
Those in larger bodies have the lived experience. Those that have divested from diet culture can share their experience and empower those in all body sizes to follow their lead.
Those in larger bodies have experienced first hand the worse of what diet culture has to offer. Their experiences and the lessons learned are crucial to understand if we are to bring diet culture down.
Everyone has a role in advocating to ditch diet culture.
What Makes Diet Culture Powerful?
For cultural norms to hold meaning for members- traditions must be consistent, repeated, and hold social significance.
Members often feel a sense of self worth by engaging in acceptable actions of a culture.
A combination of social belonging and fostering self efficacy for individual success makes diet culture powerful. These are some reasons why:
- Eating food is probably one of the most frequent things we will do in our lifetime. Having repetitive experiences with food shapes our day to day behavior as well as our interactions with peers and family.
- Food is one of the first cultural experiences we will have! Thus it is our longest standing behavior and cultural custom.
- Everyone has an opinion on and experiences to share about food. Not all of these opinions and experiences are positive or healthy, but we can almost always find someone that we can collaborate with about our beliefs about food. Therefore our food beliefs and behaviors are reinforced, good or bad.
What Is “Diet Talk”
Developing cultural bonds around dietiting can come in many forms. It typically starts young (especially for girls).
Americans, particularly women, are bombarded with “diet talk” at a very young age. Here are some examples:
- Mom or sisters in the mirror noting every “negative” aspect of her anatomy. This sets an early expectations for how a human being “ought” to appear.
- Discussing shapes and numbers as a rule of thumb for health.
- Early Introduction to “good” and bad” and “off limits” foods as children.
- Off-limit foods include specific macro-nutrient groups (for example fats or carbs are off limits)
- Advocating for severe restriction in calories
- Advocating for excessive physical activity
- A focus on “health” being the end all be all for living a good life. An aspiration everyone with any self worth MUST pursue.
Common Diet Talk Trends?
A common theme of diet talk is often that lower numbers are “better” and the “shape” you ought to always be in is small. I was primed to understand diet culture by learning the customs and language early on. I am sure I am not alone here.
At a young age I was taught to let a food label tell me what to do and how to eat rather than my body.I was taught to examine myself in the mirror regularly to identify any body parts that may contain “problem areas.”
I was taught appropriate social interactions always involved discussing weight and food trends.And finally, I was taught to dismiss or avoid such conversations was often considered rude and un ladylike.
Healthism Definition-And Why It’s a Problem.
A further endorsement of diet culture begins in our healthcare sector. Healthcare sectors are often littered with oppressive weight stigma.
A common message in healthcare is: Smaller is better. And if you can’t get smaller by the doctors orders YOU have failed (not the healthcare infrastructure).
This is really convenient for providers needing to provide a “quick fix” in their 15 minute allowed time slots for patient sessions. However, it’s altogether useless for the patients that live in larger bodies that receive this type of care. You might be feeling ripped off right now. But what if I told you this actually isn’t the practitioners fault?
That this practitioner is simply referencing outdated and incomplete research that was handed down to them throughout their professional career.
The key to dismissing diet culture in healthcare is not to tear down the healthcare infrastructure, but rather increase awareness of the harms in diet culture within healthcare.
To continue to conduct, present and implement new and emerging research into our healthcare systems.
What Some Dieting Dangers?
Since EVERYONE has experience with food, we can often easily find others with similar ideas about food-even if our ideas do not support good health.
When diet culture fosters harmful ideas surrounding food, we may find a sense of community and moral support for our crazy diet plans. Some examples of harmful behaviors that may be reinforced by community include:
- Extreme restriction in calories
- Cutting out food groups which can contain essential vitamins and minerals (for example, I don’t eat anything with sugar).
- Advocating for excessive exercise which may lead to injury, malnutrition, or low blood sugars.
- Use of laxatives, exercise, or purging for punishment of consuming food
One of the most common contributors for disordered eating is dieting at an early age. More information about this can be found in the article Diet Fads and Eating Disorders
Diet Culture Stole My Life. How Can I Ditch Diet Culture?
Straight out of college, I thought I identified as a feminist. Someone who fought against oppressive systems. I prided myself on my ability to dissect culture from an anthropological lense.
As a registered dietitian. I could tell you all of the enzymatic reactions in the digestion process from start to finish.
And yet… I didn’t realize I am a leading member of the biggest system of oppression this nation has to offer by following my weight centric dietetics philosophies.
Diet culture has stolen something from every one of us. Here are a few ways I’ve experienced grief in diet culture participation.
- I thought I was empowering women by wasting countless hours trying to change my body weight, shape, and size to meet their needs.
- I demonized food and irradiated them from my diet.
- I body checked frequently in front of my daughter, teaching her the
- I labeled foods as “good and bad”
- I wasted thousands and thousands of hours thinking about food, my body weight and size instead of progressing in my career, helping others, and spending time with my daughter
I didn’t realize that we are all part of the system. By our actions, we either build up or tear down this system of oppression which is diet culture.
Diet culture is a life thief. An abusive partner . A two headed snake that parades around touting its safeties whiles simultaneously breaking down your body and emotional wellbeing.
In what ways has diet culture stolen your life from you? How are you fighting back now? Drop a line in the comments below!
Diet culture values thinness above all else. It glorifies altering ones body weight, shape and size to fit its hearty demands and feed the system of oppression.
1. Call out fatphobia
2. Refuse weighing at doctors offices when not medically necessary
3. Stop labeling foods as good/bad/healthy/unhealthy
4. Recognize and eliminate food rules
5. Get rid of scales
1. It creates a system of oppression intended to serve capitalist, racist and patriarchal interests.
2. It keeps us chasing the “thin ideal” which is actually unattainable
3. It can lead to eating disorders/disordered eating
4. It keeps us from reaching our full potential by keeping us invested in the imperfections of our body
1. Discussing good, bad, and off limits foods
2. A focus on ones body weigh/shape and size including complimenting weight loss or commenting on weight gain
3. Discussing ones dietary rituals as a measure of changing body weigh/shape/size