The Dangers Of Diet Culture: 3 Sneaky Ways It’s Invading Your Life
Diet culture. It’s so heavily engrained into our world that it’s hard to recognise these days. But we are surrounded by it! It not only damages our self-esteem, but also leads to unhealthy and sometimes downright harmful eating and exercise practices.
The problem these days is that diet culture is even sneakier than it was before. It’s not the in-your-face take these diet pills and watch the weight fall off kinda messaging we’re getting (although I want to punch the Kardashians in the face for promoting Skinny Lollipops) but influence of a subtler kind.
The nuanced messaging that we’re getting in print, online and social media is just as toxic, but a lot harder to pinpoint, so today I’m going to highlight what it ACTUALLY looks and what words to look out for. But first things first…
What is diet culture?
This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the anti-diet, eating disorder recovery and intuitive eating space, but what does it actually mean? Let me unpack a detailed definition of diet culture so you can pinpoint unhelpful messages and fight back.
Here is my definition of diet culture:
1. The thin ideal is worshipped and seen as THE standard of beauty.
2. Your weight equals your worth. Moral judgement is placed on those who don’t fit into that ideal, so people spend their whole lives feeling ‘less than’ and striving to reach these unattainable standards through overexercising or dangerous dieting practices.
3. Weight loss or changing your body in any form is sold as the solution to happiness, success, finding a relationship, loving yourself, and the list goes on. However, most diets fail, and weight is usually regained within a few years, so the approach is very much flawed.
4. Diet culture vilifies certain foods, such as sugar, carbs or fats, and tells you to ignore your hunger or cravings in favour of a rigid eating plan. Foods are often labelled ‘good or bad’, ‘clean or dirty’, which can lead to anxiety around food choices and guilt if we ‘slip up’ and eat something not within the confines of what diet culture deems acceptable.
5. Exercise is a means of controlling our weight and shape, used for punishment to ‘burn off’ what we have eaten, or earn what we want to eat later. There is a disconnect between body and mind where we push past our physical limits and ignore pain or fatigue in an effort to achieve thin, toned, or other idealised body standards.
Why It Is So Dangerous?
Diet culture is dangerous because it makes us believe our worth is only attached to our physical appearance
thereby causing us tospend an unnecessary amount of time, energy, and resources on trying to achieve the potentially unachievable.
More over diet culture is sneaky and pervasive. It’s the thief of joy for most women (and an ever-increasing number of men) in the westernised world and leads to disordered eating and unhealthy exercise behaviours.
While some people may ‘see the light’ and ditch diet culture easily, others may be trapped on the diet merry-go-round their whole life, which can lead to an increased risk of developing a clinical eating disorder.
Due to the fact that diet culture is so normalised and hard to spot these days, I thought I’d illustrate my point with a few examples of how you can spot it on social media, in magazines and even in your friendship groups.
How To Spot Diet Culture On Social Media
I recently stumbled across a social media account whose bio mentions an ‘Undiet Approach’ but also promotes the use of nutritional supplements to “support metabolism” and “fight sugar cravings” throughout their feed. It’s diet culture non-sense. Sugar is not the devil, and if you’re energy levels are waning than it’s important to talk to your doctor about thyroid health, iron levels, and eating/exercise habits before taking some random supplement.
Diet culture can also look like this – swapping one fitness fixation for another. One trap that I often see clients fall into is the “strong not skinny” mentality. A lot of “recovery” accounts (I use this term loosely because I can’t say for sure if they are) promote the use of weight training, powerlifting, bodybuilding, or use of a goal such as training for a marathon as an excuse to perpetuate control over their body. They may report that they’re using exercise as a tool to improve their mental health or to feel empowered, but I wonder how they would react if they couldn’t exercise?
That’s the main difference between a healthy and negative relationship with exercise. If it was taken away from you, would you be 100% ok? If that answer is NO, then you may need to question your true motivation.
How To Spot Diet Culture In Print Media
I stopped buying fitness and nutrition magazines years ago, and for good reason. They never made me feel good about myself! Headlines like “10 Days To Your Bikini Body” and “Have You Tried The Keto Cure” would leave me feeling really lacklustre about my gentle exercise routine and totally guilty for eating my favourite toast and peanut butter breakfast.
This my friends is diet culture at its finest. Diet culture zeros in on our insecurities and then sells us the ‘solution’. Except the problem is most of these solutions fail, and what’s more – the diet industry will blame YOU for it not succeeding. Like somehow that crazy low-carb vegan keto plan was totally sustainable and it’s just your lack of willpower. Realise that this message is F*&KED up and not your fault.
How To Spot Diet Culture In Your Friendship Groups
As women, we place WAY too much value on our appearance. It plagues our conversations way too easily and one person’s comments about their body can quickly spiral into a lecture on the latest F45 challenge, 1300 calorie, low-carb, no coffee craze that they are following in an attempt to finally lose those last 5kg so they can wear that swimsuit or fit into a smaller pair of jeans or whatever it is.
This is called body shaming, and it’s just not helpful. It perpetuates the idea that we’re somehow ‘not good enough’ and even if the comments are about somebody else, it’s inevitable that you will subconsciously body check yourself.
Please know that your self-worth is not for sale. Ditching the diet culture mentality is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re not sure where to start I’ve created a helpful Detox From Diet Culture Checklist, which you can download help you get started.
Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, a Health At Every Size (HAES) Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.