How to ditch diet culture and accept your body
TW: mentions eating disorders, calorie counting and weight loss
"We're kinda swimming in this sea of diet culture," says licensed therapist and clinical social worker Sarah Herstich of Reclaim Therapy.
The deal with diet culture
Let's begin to break down the term diet culture. Herstich describes diet culture as the "system of beliefs from the culture that values weight and size and shape above everything else: above well-being, above health, above mental health...the values are heavy on appearance." In a society that promotes this idea of thinness as the beauty standard, diet culture leads us to believe that if we have this perfect body we will gain acceptance from others and ourselves.
These twisted values encourage weight loss—even when it's unhealthy for the individual. Our culture profits off of "weight loss teas" and "waist trainers" while telling its consumers they must align themselves with society's values of "shrinking ourselves at any cost."
And diet culture isn't just about dieting. Diet culture encompasses a wellness component, a health component, a beauty component and etc. Anything telling you that you should be a certain way is connected to diet culture.
Our "health-focused" culture
So, how does diet culture convince us to believe in its quick fixes and empty promises? Well, it's pretty simple—diet culture is ridden throughout our everyday lives. You can spot it in every low-calorie pretzel pack and within every weight loss TikTok that pops up on your FYP.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association: "the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is that sociocultural idealization fo thinness." America has a fixation on "thinness" and this obsession reveals itself in many different ways.
I'm sure we have all noticed the lack of plus-sized representation in the media, and many famous actresses have expressed that they were pressured to go on crazy diets for roles. In 1996, Jennifer Aniston told Rolling Stone that "the disgusting thing of Hollywood [is] I wasn't getting lots of jobs 'cause I was too heavy." She also admitted to losing 30 pounds prior to booking Friends.
In some of our fave movies and shows, unhealthy depictions of eating find their way onto the big screen. Glee's Marley Rose is convinced to purge her food in order to avoid becoming overweight like her mother by her bully, Kitty. Hanna Marin of Pretty Little Liars is crudely given the nickname, "Hefty Hanna," during her time with a binge eating disorder. In Mean Girls, Regina Geroge counts calories and avoids certain foods to lose weight. And let's not forget the horrendous movie "D.U.F.F" (designated ugly fat friend)—this title basically dehumanizes people who do not fit into the beauty standard. We can't even binge Netflix without encountering some form of diet culture!
This idea of thinness and "health" ranks as the most harmful part of diet culture. Due to genetics, health problems and other contributing factors, thinness is not attainable for everyone. This standard is made-up—it isn't meant to be achievable. Industries profit off of people constantly trying to fix themselves to become "beautiful" and fix their "natural imperfections."
Diet culture presents itself as an especially promenade problem for young girls. For teens going through puberty, their bodies will change and gain weight significantly. But diet culture tells young girls that they should not gain weight, even if their bodies require more weight in order to develop properly. So, throughout these natural changes, young girls feel pressure to shrink themselves to fit into the beauty standard.
Studies have cited that 75% of people, who identify as women, reported having a disordered relationship with food. This means that they are ignoring their hunger cues, eating a certain way to change their body and feeling an immense amount of stress around eating. A common form of disordered eating is labeling foods as "good and bad." Categorizing foods as such elicits a shame response after a person eats a food society has deemed as "bad." Then, people can internalize these feelings of anxiety and shame around food, and spiral into a warped relationship food.
In a large study of 14-15 year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not. While diet culture proclaims this message of "health" and well-being, dieting is more harmful to our relationship with food and our bodies than anything else.
Ditching diet culture
Rethink your relationship with food and your body. The first step to ditch diet culture is some good-ole self-reflection. Reexamine how you engage with your body and food. Are your thoughts about your body problematic? How do you describe certain foods to yourself? How would you describe your relationship with food? Do you feel any form of shame or discomfort around food(s)? Try your hand at journaling out these thoughts to deeply explore your relationship with food and your body.
Find *your* version of health and beauty. Diet culture has brainwashed society into believing that beauty and health looks a specific way—but that is a load of B.S. Beauty and health looks different for all of us. As long as you are feeling confident and providing your body with the nourishment and respect it deserves, all your beauty will shine through. Try eating mindfully and tapping into your hunger cues. Find an exercise you enjoy—this helps you keep yourself active and improves your relationship with your body at the same time. It's a win-win!
Follow body positivity accounts on TikTok and IG. With diet culture present all over our social media platforms, it's time to follow some positive influencers to boost your feed to the next level. Professional dietitians and therapists have TikTok accounts fully dedicated to giving out sound nutritional advice to their audiences. And let's not count out allll the amazing body-positive accounts on IG!
Stay aware of diet culture's influence on you. Herstich advises us to, "keep [our] eyes open...to ask ourselves...'is this telling me am I good or bad, or worthy or unworthy or beautiful or not beautiful?' I think that's a really good thing to keep in mind when making decisions about how you're treating your body...how you're engaging with yourself."
Continue to educate yourself. After leaving diet culture in the dust, it's important you continue to educate yourself. Learn about the history of diet culture (it's high-key fascinating). Explore signs of diet culture you have never noticed before. While you're at it, share the info with a friend. Having a support system throughout this process is incredibly beneficial to your health journey.
Some reliable *and* educational resources
The Chasing Joy Podcast: Episode #64
@nutritionbykylie on TikTok
@stephgrassodietitian on TikTok
@elainaefid on TikTok
@food.peace.nutritionist on IG
@tiffanyima on IG
@diets_dont_work_haes on IG
@lindsaypleskot on IG
@dietitiananna on IG
Are you ready to ditch diet culture? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag!