Diet Culture

November 2021

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Diet Culture

Diet Culture promote thinness, healthism and attractiveness over well-being. The following messages are influenced by Diet Culture;

  • that living in a smaller, leaner, more muscular body is healthier and more valuable   

  • that our bodies are not good enough as they are

  • that it's our fault when the diets don't work

  • that by changing our bodies on the outside we can feel better on the inside

  • that we can't be trusted to know what our bodies need.

We weren’t born with these ideas and beliefs. Think back to when you were a toddler, did you look at parts of your body and judge yourself based on their percieved value? Did you splash in puddles to burn calories or play catch to get a thigh gap?

These destructive messages are inaccurate and reinforce the disconnection we already experience in our body. The ‘ideal’ body size and shape promoted by diet culture/ the wellness industry has continued to narrow over the generations leaving many of us risking both physical and mental health in order to move towards attaining this ideal.

 

These messages are also often driven by profit. If we were to feel comfortable in our bodies, we wouldn’t be spending the 10’s of billions of pounds annually trying to change them (CNBC, 2021). There is also huge stigma in many cultures around living in a larger body as our collective fear of fat continues grow.

It is perceived that we are somehow weak willed, not trying hard enough, not committed enough, if we are not able to change our bodies in the way that our culture perceives our bodies 'should' be. It promotes the idea (and has done for decades) that if we follow 'the plan', if we work hard enough, we will change our bodies long term. This is simply not the case. Intentional weight loss for the majority of us is temporary.  Decades of research tells us that 95% of those who diet regain their weight back (and often more) within 1-5 years (Bacon, 2011).

Survival

When we restrict our food, our body responds by moving into survival mode; we become preoccupied with food, our hunger and cravings increase and we are more likely to move into cycles of chaotic eating, e.g. binge/ over eating, and compensatory behaviours, e.g. further restriction, purging (e.g. over exercising). 

 

What our body also does in order to protect itself from future 'famine' (restriction) is the 'markers' of our body's natural weight range (our set point range) change, the significant point being that they can often rise.

This is the pattern for so many of us who go from one diet to the next, our weight steadily increases over time in response to repeated restriction.

 

This happens, NOT because we are broken, NOT because we haven't tried hard enough, but because our bodies want to survive.

 

Dieting claims to support weight loss when much of the behaviours that Diet Culture supports leads to weight gain (not weight loss) over time (Harrison, 2019).

Our bodies are all different and body shape and size is influenced by a huge range of factors; genetic, social, economic, cultural, exposure to trauma, history of dieting, experiencing weight stigma.

 

We know that experiencing weight stigma is hugely impactful and this is something we are surrounded by, it's everywhere.

 

There are more recent studies demonstrating that experiencing weight stigma has MORE impact on our bodies than the food we eat (Harrison, 2019). Sounds crazy but this is what the research is telling us. 

 

The factors listed here have around a 75% influence on our body size. What we eat and how we move only influences our body size by around 25% (for the majority of us any change in shape or weight is likely to be temporary). 

Stepping Back

Stepping back from diet culture can be difficult as so many of us are hardwired with the myths and lies from diet culture, that;

  • our problems will be solved by being in a smaller, leaner body

  • we will feel so much happier when we reach an arbitrary number on the scale

  • certain food is bad and should be avoided

  • we shouldn't eat food in this way or at this time or in these quantities

  • we are a failure if we don't stick to the plan

  • we are unworthy if we fail to meet cultural body ideals. 

By moving away from diet culture, we begin to reconnect with our own needs and to grieve for the body we were led to believe we could have. We move towards accepting our bodies as they are, to hand back the shame gifted to us from diet culture, to trust and have confidence in our bodies and to respect them as we move beyond the destructive nature of Diet Culture.

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How might you step back from Diet Culture and place the needs of your body first?