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What is Diet Culture and Why is it Problematic?

diet culture
Diet culture is the widespread belief in our society that appearance and body shape is above all more important than your physical, psychological, and general well-being

Diet culture is the widespread belief in our society that appearance and body shape is above all more important than your physical, psychological, and general well-being. Essentially, this notion is problematic because it normalizes controlling your body and depriving it of food. 

Diet culture is also problematic because it labels foods as “good” or “bad.” By doing so, many people will think of food as transactional and that you only earn food if you’ve worked out, for example. This practice can end up causing a person to label themselves as good or bad from consuming the foods they deemed this way. 

People who have been conditioned to accept diet culture as a common way of life may experience poor self-image, have negative self-talk, and believe that being thin makes a person better.

Why Is Diet Culture Harmful?

Diet culture is highly harmful to people of all weights and body sizes because it promotes the view that being skinny is ideal and that fat equals bad. This thinking can lead to mental health issues and disordered eating.

Many factors can lead to disordered eating, but diet culture is definitely one of them. Diet culture can encourage less focus on nutrition and instead prioritize low-calorie foods. In addition, it can impact how someone looks at exercise since it can be seen as a way to work-off foods instead of being an enjoyable activity or a fun way to move your body. Some people instead may view exercise as punishment. 

Food as Fuel can Be a Toxic Idea 

The notion of food only being fuel and must be earned can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders. When you think about it, food is much more than solely fuel. It can be an essential part of our social lives and culture. Only seeing food as fuel or labeling it as good versus bad can prevent people from enjoying food and missing out on important shared moments.

Furthermore, not all beneficial components of food provide fuel. Food has nutrients, phytochemicals, water, and antioxidants that can contribute to a functioning body but don’t actually create fuel.

In essence, when you avoid nutrient-dense foods to eat low-calorie foods or restrict your food intake so much that you don’t get the correct amount of nutrients to function well, you can miss out on the essential qualities that food offers. 

How To Squash Diet Culture
diet culture

Here are some ideas for rejecting diet culture:

1. Get Out of the Diet Mentality

The diet mentality can be sneaky and make its way into your life. For example, maybe you have a low-calorie cookbook lying around or you have a scale and are tempted to weigh yourself many times a day or week. When you can reject dieting and restricting for good and avoid the latest in weight loss fads, the sooner you will get out of the dieting mentality. 

You can also self-reflect and catch yourself when you start talking about diet socially. Also, if you begin noticing food rules that you’ve learned, you can start letting them go.

2. Watch the Type of Language You Use Around Food 

Once you have started to analyze the language surrounding diet culture, you’ll recognize it quicker and notice it more. Some of the most common ways that people do so include the following:

  • Moralizing food using terms like goodbadcleancheat day, etc.
  • Connecting food with exercise by saying that you earned certain foods because you worked out. 
  • Shaming or demeaning people for their food choices.
  • Focusing on other people’s bodies and making comments about their bodies. 

If you feel like you are in a good place with diet culture, you can even speak up to others who use this type of language and tell them that it’s problematic. 

3. Learn About Intuitive Eating 

If you’re done with diet culture, you can move on to ways of eating that don’t depend on food rules. One widespread practice is intuitive eating. Intuitive eating encourages you to pay attention to what’s happening inside your body so that you can build trust with your own body. When you learn to eat intuitively, you can become more connected to your hunger and full cues, enjoy eating more, and stop restricting yourself. 

4. Finds Ways to Enjoy Food and Exercise 

You can start looking at food and movement in ways that make you feel good instead of it being a punishment or how it will make your body look. One good question to ask yourself is, “would I still be doing this if I knew my body wouldn’t change as a result?” That way, you can investigate your motivations and learn about the ways that you enjoy food and exercise. 

5. Find Support and a Community 

Going on a solo mission to ditch diet culture can be challenging when everyone else is still wrapped up in it. Therefore, it’s essential to build a community with like-minded people interested in the same goal.

Social media can be an excellent place to start. You can unfollow accounts that do not align with your values and find new accounts dedicated to intuitive eating, fat activism, body liberation, and more.

You can also search for online groups or find anti-diet groups in your area. In addition, you can learn more by reading books and listening to podcasts (we recommend Maintenance Phase).

In Summary

If you are caught up in diet culture and want to unlearn many of the toxic ideas about wellness that we’ve been taught in society, there are many resources available. By learning about concepts like intuitive eating, you can become more informed about diet culture and find ways to improve your relationship with food. 

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