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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 less restrictive trends.  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

If it comes with a set of rules my friend, it’s a diet!  Let’s work through some tools to identify dieting and ditch diet culture for good together!

Woman checking her body in mirror

What Is Diet Culture? 

Diet cultures values thinness above all else. It glorifies altering ones body weight, shape and size with the promise of attaining an ever changing and rarely achievable “thin” ideal.

Diet culture remains so powerful because it is interwoven in our lives in many intricate layers.  

Principles that uphold diet culture include: 

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

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! 

Reject The Diet Mentality

Diet culture is soooo sneaky.  So lets call it out and reject the bullshit it feeds us.

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

  • 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)? 

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 ongoing enslavement of Africans such as: 

  • Irrational
  • Ilogical
  • 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 phsycal 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 where the iconic beauty standard is seen as someone who is a Nordic Amerian. She was a woman who was clearly: 

  • Irish/French/Scottish/Brittish
  • 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, diciplined and not glutenous.

The cycle goes on and on!

Thin Privilege And Diet Culture

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 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 the 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!

Here are 7 tips to ditch diet culture: 

  • Call out fatphobia
  • Refuse weighing 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 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 firsthand 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.

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 an early expectations for how a human being “ought” to appear. 
  • Statements that low numbers on the scale as requirement for health
  • 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” being 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 directed towards children
  • 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 persons 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. 

Sign shows how diet culture influences our thinking

Why Is Diet Culture Dangerous?

Since EVERYONE has experience with food, it seems everyone is an expert when the latest diet trend comes out. They’re ready to tell you all about how to restrict like a champ to achieve the level of thinness the world tells us is ideal

Suddenly every loud mouth with a social media account is ready to attest how their latest diet has transformed them. Suddenly there are big toxic messages with “the evidence of one” promoting

  • 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. 

Lets Ditch Diet Culture Together

Who Benefits From Diet Culture? 

Capitalism- The Beneficiaries of Diet Culture

The number one take away here: It’s NOT 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 heatlh problems or disibilities 
  • Whiteness
  • Cis-gendered

There will forever be a greater criteria of thinness to be obtained imposed.  The standard is impossible to meet- because from a political and capitalist and patriarchal standpoint, we MUST remain submissive, obedient, and easy to control.  

If we happen to meet one standard of thinness, there are hundreds of others that will continue to leave us deficient and aspiring.  For example- we may be an “ideal weight” but we may not have a “thigh gap.” 

We may be in the “healthy BMI” category but our clothing size isn’t optimal.  

Diet culture ALWAYS has a standard in place to ensure you remain deficient.  

Why?  Because people that believe they are deficient are complacent.  They put their time, money and energy back into a system that oppresses them and capitalizes on their insecurities. 

The Oppression Of Women In Diet Culture

While women have obatined tremendeous freedoms and power int he past  several decades, they continue to remain complacent by the standards of oppression which are diet culture. 

Women, while now able to work, vote and hold positions of power are still tied to the idea that they must do so with a thin body.

The most esteemed woman in wester culture is often envisioned as one in an elite fitness club, prepping all her own nutrient packed meals while juggling a baby and a ceo position on the side.

To achieve the thin and elite ideal that goes along with diet cultures idea of what women ought to be- she must basically be spending all of her time focused on health, nutrition, youthfulness, fitness and a lean body. Having to constantly meet these standards keeps her feeding into a system that limits her ability to prosper in any real capacity.

Why I Am A Diet Culture Dropout 

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 for a long period of time I was 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 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! 

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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