What is diet culture and how can we stop it?
A study conducted last year by a group of retail analysts found that in the UK alone, 48% of adults considered themselves to be on a diet. When analysing the female results of this survey, almost 60% of those asked were on a quest to lose weight. You read that right. Roughly half of the population of this country do not like their own body, and are actively trying to reduce their size.
Today I want to share my view on why that is. I also want to share how damaging this can be to both the people ON the diets, the people who AREN’T on the diets, and most importantly on the young boys and girls being influenced by parents who are borderline obsessive over the foods they put in their mouths.
Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that over two thirds of adults in this country are overweight or obese, and statistics are becoming similar in other developed countries. I’m not here to preach that everybody should be fat, but I’m also not here to say the opposite. I’m here to share that the diet culture we have created for ourselves to live in is actually helping to raise these statistics. It is causing serious mental and physical decay in both bigger people and those who maintain a “healthy” weight too. So what is diet culture and how can we stop it?
What is diet culture?
Diet culture. An unusual phrase perhaps, if you haven’t come across it before. However, it is one that is incredibly accurate in describing the current social and media attitudes to food and fitness in countries such as the UK, the USA and likely many other developed countries.
The general understanding of this phrase is that there exists a shared view of the “perfect” healthy body. Slim, toned, and above all, happy to be slim and toned. Diet culture is the obsession with this image, the plastering of this image all over the media. A constant and relentless strive for one to attain their own version of this image, often with little care for the cost. Diet culture is not about health. Though it may try to convince you that it is. It is a disgusting and careless fascination with flat stomachs and thigh gaps that damages the mental and physical health of anyone who encounters it.
Diet culture displays itself in numerous ways. The following are some examples to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
- The term “clean eating.” Often used to separate those who eat more “purely” from those who simply enjoy all foods without fear or fixation.
- Using words such as “naughty,” “decadent,” or “guilty pleasure” when referring so something as simple as a cake, or a single bar of milk chocolate.
- Celebrity exercise DVDs full of painfully difficult routines, with “before and after” photos showing you just how much better a human they have become since they were sponsored to lost 2 stone.
- Using phrases such as “I’m being good!” Most often heard when that person is about to consume a tasteless salad or microwaved canned soup.
- Adverts for gyms and diet meal plans in January, once everyone has completed their allowance period of dietary freedom in the 31 days of December.
- Said diet meal plan adverts depicting middle aged women eating tiny portions of a different meal than that of the rest of their family, in order to make themselves “thinner” and “happier”
- The word “fat” is a heinous insult but the words “skinny” or “thin” are generally used as compliments.
- TV programmes such as “Supersize v Superskinny” which pitch underweight and overweight people against each other, in an effort to prove which person is more of a terrible human being.
- TV adverts full of slim women grinning while eating something as angelic as a child-sized portion of fat-free yoghurt.
Starting to get the idea?
Our society is plagued with these and more examples of the obsession with thinness. Once we begin to open our eyes, we see that we are told that it is normal to hate our bodies and to be on an endless journey to improve them.
Obviously it is inspiring when someone who is morbidly obese and on the brink of death is able to lose weight and pursue a healthier life in both mental and physical aspects. However, these stories are uncommon. Most diets are likely adhered to by people aged 20-60 who believe that their life will be exponentially better if they lose some body fat. Guess what? They’re probably completely wrong.
If you have been advised by a medical professional to lose weight for the sake of your quality of life, by all means do that without hesitation. If however, you are just a regular person with no health problems, you should stop buying into the idea that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Losing weight will not:
- Make your family appreciate you more
- Ensure that your partner loves you for who you are
- Improve your orgasms
- Earn you more money
- Give you more free time
- Make you more intelligent or interesting
- Improve your sense of humour or wit
- Make food taste better
- Prove you are a better human being
- Make you happy
Diet culture perpetuates eating disorders in people of all ages, sizes and genders. Anorexics, bulimics, orthorexics and any suffering from undiagnosed disorder around food are all victims of diet culture. They have been made to believe that weight loss is the ultimate life goal, and that one cannot be a good person if they are not in pursuit of this loss. I would know.
Since childhood I, like many others, have been exposed to family, friends and others who openly disclose their weight goals and how much they loathe their bodies. This, alongside other factors, has led to the ongoing eating disorders that I have battled throughout my adolescence and adult life. I can tell you that my slim physique has not been worth the mental agony.
Equally, the guilt that people can be riddled with when exposed to diet culture can go the other way. People will binge eat, eat food in secret, or feel so ashamed of their “less-than-perfect” figures that they will gorge themselves to seek comfort. Diet culture is damaging for everyone, fat or thin.
For the sake of ourselves and all of the little boys and girls growing up into our world, we need to stop teaching them that this way of thinking is ok.
How can we stop it?
A technique I have begun to use in my recovery is to think about how amazing your body is, rather than just how it looks in the mirror.
Each of your individual organs function well to keep you alive on a daily basis. Your brain can perform calculations, read and memorise texts, and can create complex emotions towards things. Modern society is more interested in the way that the you look. It makes you expect yourself and others to look perfect. To have gorgeous hair, unblemished skin, pristine make up, creaseless clothes and above all, not to be fat. Don’t allow it to.
To improve your own mental health and the mental wellbeing of others, do what you can do destroy this loathsome and damaging diet culture that demands so much of our time.
You can do this by:
- Not clicking on those online “news” articles about which celebrities are fatter than others.
- Buying that chocolate bar, the one located right next to the cereal bar which claims to be “healthier”
- Never using the words “guilty,” “naughty,” “sinful” or “bad” around something edible, unless you’re eating another human being.
- Being the only person at the table who orders dessert, without caring about how it might come across to judgmental people.
- Eating as well in January as you did in December.
- Tell Linda from corporate to bugger off when she comments on your hefty office lunch box.
- Tell her to bugger off again when she asks if you go to the local gym.
- Choosing meals and snacks because you enjoy how they taste and satiate you, rather than the fact they are low in calories.
- Telling anyone who engages in or encourages diet culture to A) KINDLY FUCK OFF or B) Join the anti-diet revolution.
It’s that simple. Rejecting this ridiculous behaviour we have all become so used to will save you time, money and mental strain. Your doctor is the only person who can advise you on your body. No one has the right to tell you that you should look a certain way or eat a certain way.
Eat what you love, and never apologise for it.
I’m halfway to fully embracing this mindset and I promise, it’s one that will make life a lot more fun for all of us.