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Ditch The Diet – Reclaim Your Sanity!

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What Does It Really Mean To “Ditch The Diet”

Have you officially “ditched the diet?” 

You might think because you’re no longer “crash dieting” or “putting a label on it” that you’re free from the world of diet.  After all- It’s a “lifestyle change, not a diet” Right…..? 

You have probably realized that most “diets” are simply not sustainable. Good for you!  However, you may still be dabbling in restrictive behavior unknowingly. 

These “little lifestyle changes” might call themselves whole30, keto, or clean eating. Or they may be a WHOLE lot sneakier!  

So let’s talk about what it really means 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

You may believe you are truly lifestyle-changing instead of dieting.

However, if it comes with a set of rules my friend, it is in fact a diet!  Let’s work through some tools to identify dieting and ditch diet culture for good!

Woman checking her body in mirror

What Is Diet Culture? 

Diet culture involves the rules and regulations that society puts into place around our bodies and the food that is appropriate to eat. Diet culture most often glorifies altering one’s body weight, shape, and size to become smaller.

Diet culture thinking is the root of thin privilege: The unearned privilege that exists in our society for people that were born with thin bodies.

Key contributors of diet culture include:

  1. Rules about food
  2. A value on lean, toned bodies
  3. Exercise for the purpose of changing the body shape

Societal values that uphold diet culture include: 

  • Perfectionism
  • Individualism
  • Patriarchy
  • Competitiveness
  • Materialism
  • Healthism

Diet culture disguises itself within highly valued ideals such as working hard, honoring the body, and sharing ideas of well-being. This makes it very difficult to break away from.

Reject The Diet Mentality

When you find the voice in your head saying “I need to be thinner,”  or “I only eat clean” Reject the diet mentality by instead asking yourself these questions: 

  • What is the value of thinness?
  • Do my ritualistic food choices help or harm my overall wellness?
  • Who benefits from me changing my body weight shape or size? 
  • Who am I achieving thinness for? 
  • How much of my day am I spending focused on food or my body?
  • 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)? 

Other great steps in rejecting the diet mentality include: 

Black and white photo of woman with tape measure around belly

History Of Diet Culture

Believe it or not, diet culture dates back to as early as 1830!

Sabrina Strings explores many of the racial roots of fatphobia and diet culture in her book “fearing the black body.” 

In the 18th Century race scientist at the height of race-making used certain traits and characteristics to justify the enslavement of Africans such as: 

  • Irrational
  • Illogical
  • Overindulgence
  • Greedy
  • Lack of all control of sensual appetites (overeating etc). 

In other words – a person of value is someone who is seen as being those who could control the appetite.  In other words- Europeans could stop eating. So they must be superior to Africans.

Since slave trade was a huge capitalist interest- it made sense to utilize any behavioral and physical attributes unique to Africans necessary to show Americans that enslavement was justifiable for these lesser humans. 

These ideals for control and rationality extend into the early 20th century when the iconic beauty standard is seen as someone who is a Nordic American. She was a woman who was clearly: 

  • Irish/French/Scottish/British
  • Slender
  • Tall

Throughout western history, eating a particular way was associated with health, godliness, and beauty.

Tell me you’re not infuriated by the fact we’re being fed the same type of bullshit rhetoric of “otherness” that kept Africans enslaved and oppressed for hundreds of years!

While we might think that this oppression is in some ways unique to those in black bodies, diet culture also works to discipline and control those in white bodies. People in white bodies must prove their superiority by proving they are slender, disciplined and not glutenous.

The cycle goes on and on!

7-tips to ditch diet culture

What Is “Diet Talk”

Developing cultural bonds around dieting is one of the most common bonds in Western Culture.  Diet talk starts young.

Here are some examples of “diet talk” that unfortunately works to keep diet culture alive: 

  • Mom or sisters in the mirror noting every “negative” aspect of her anatomy. This sets early expectations for how a human being “ought” to appear. 
  • Stating that leaner bodies are healthier bodies
  • Labeling foods as “good” and bad” and “off limits” to children. 
  •  Off-limit foods 
  • Promoting calorie counting or restriction
  • Promoting exercise for weight reduction
  • A focus on “health” is the end all be all for living a good life.  An aspiration everyone with any self-worth MUST pursue. 

Diet Culture and Body Image

People that uphold diet culture principles are body image bullies.  And a sad reality is- most of us fit into this space.  And we bully our own body image deeper than any onlooker probably could. 

As a person living in diet culture-you likely can identify as having one of two profound feelings of identity:

  1. A person who always feels fat. 
  2. A person who one of your deepest fears is being fat.  

It’s also very probable that you feel BOTH of these things.  

This isn’t a coincidence.  People are not just born with the idea that fat is the worst thing that you can be!  These ideas are built into us from the time that we are babies! 

Diet culture tells us that thin bodies are better than fat bodies in: 

  • Media
  • Print and social advertising
  • The messages we see on food labels
  • Which celebrity icons are idolized 

and so much more! 

We don’t generally see fat bodies in the media unless the people in fat bodies are being depicted as: 

  • Villains
  • Lazy
  • Undesirable
  • Glutinous
  • Caretakers 
  • Greedy 

And so many more negative stereotypes that are associated with being in a fat body.  Thus to be fat according to our social standards is most typically associated with ALL of these undesirable characteristics.  

A person’s body image is distorted by the idea that the fatter they are the less moral value they have. And of course, society does not do anything to try to dismiss this idea. 

People reinforce the idea that only thin bodies are good bodies by blasting off unsolicited weight comments and promoting weight loss at all costs.  Many may experience body dysmorphia as a direct result of the messaging about fat bodies being bad bodies in our culture. 

Diet Vs. Lifestyle Change

We’ve all heard it. “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.”  But what does that really mean? 

Characteristics of diets include: 

  • Rules and restrictions about food
  • A demand for an increase in exercise
  • A promise for better “health”
  • A transformation in the body and/or mind
  • Promises to reduce body size

Lifestyle changes are often associated with promises of: 

  • The exact same rules and regulations as diets. Except lifestyle changes claim to be sustainable for the rest of your life.

Lifestyle changes, just like diets are typically not sustainable.  This is a false narrative designed to convince us that if we “just work harder for a longer period of time” at our restrictive behavior we will succeed. 

Let’s face it. Lifestyle change became the trendy new term for diets when the entire world realized that diets don’t work.

Yet although people realized that diets did not produce the sustainable weight loss diet culture promised them for decades, we became desperate for another avenue to thinness, and the privilege it provided.

Next time someone talks about “lifestyle changes” I want you to ask yourself: “Does it have rules?” If so- its a diet. I want to make it clear that conditions like “in moderation” are also rules, and are also part of diet mentality!

Why Is Diet Culture Dangerous?

The pressure to maintain a certain body standard and create rules and regulations around food can lead to:

  • Extreme restriction in calories
  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • Cutting out food groups that can contain essential vitamins and minerals (for example, I don’t eat anything with sugar).
  • Advocating for excessive exercise that can lead to injury, malnutrition, or low blood sugar.
  • Use of laxatives exercise, or purging for the punishment of consuming food
  • Eating disorders

One of the most common contributors to disordered eating is dieting at an early age. 

Lets Ditch Diet Culture Together

Diet Culture Does Not Benefit You

Capitalism- The Beneficiaries of Diet Culture

The number one takeaway here: following the rules of diet culture does NOT benefit you! 

Even if you happen to meet the rigorous standards of diet culture which include: 

  • Being slender or “straight sized”
  • Being in a certain BMI category
  • Free of health problems or disabilities 
  • Whiteness
  • Cis-gendered

There will forever be a greater criterion of changing your body pushed onto you by diet culture.  The standard is impossible to meet- because, from a political capitalist, and patriarchal standpoint making the standards obtainable would not keep us complacent.  

If we happen to meet one diet culture standard, there are hundreds of others that will continue to leave us deficient feeding into the system.

For example

  • You may be an “ideal weight” but we may not have a “thigh gap.” 
  • Your weight might be what you like on the scale but you don’t have “washboard abs”
  • You are “thin enough” but your butt is too flat

Diet culture ALWAYS has a standard in place to ensure you CAN’T meet its expectations.  

Why?  Because people that believe they are deficient are complacent.  They put their time, money and energy back into a system that oppresses them. This makes the people sending out these messages A LOT of money.  

Let’s Ditch Diet Culture!

Here are 7 tips to ditch diet culture: 

  • Call out fatphobia
  • Refuse to weigh at healthcare visits that aren’t medically necessary
  • Stop using labels like good/bad/healthy and unhealthy food
  • Don’t promote exercise for the intent of reshaping the body
  • Recognize your own body checking and reduce it
  • Be an advocate for weight inclusivity
  • Remove scales from your home

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 experienced firsthand the worse of what diet culture has to offer.  Their experiences and the lessons learned are crucial to understanding if we are to bring diet culture down. 

Everyone has a role in advocating to ditch diet culture. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in the journey to ditch diet culture, check out these body positive journal prompts to help support you in getting started. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of body positive affirmations on hand for when you are feeling overwhelmed.

What Is Diet Culture?

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.

How Can I Ditch Diet Culture?

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

Why Is Diet Culture Harmful?

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

What Is Diet Talk?

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

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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