What does the word diet even mean?
There's folks who do a vegetarian diet, keto, paleo, vegan, ect. And to each their own! What we are talking about here is the word diet in its truest sense-just the breakdown of foods that we eat.
Diet culture is really the influences from our society that communicate to us that thinness is equal to health. For most of us, our exposure to the word 'diet' comes from companies trying to sell us branded diet food or rules in one-size-fits-all approaches. These are all focused on one thing- making our bodies smaller. No part of diet culture focuses on long term sustainable health or improvement to overall wellness. Diet culture is made up of hard and fast, black and white rules that ultimately have us believing that thin is good and fat is bad.
A Necessary Evil
Living in a world where there is so much pressure around food choices and worth is also made that much more difficult when food is a primary source of connection. We use food to celebrate holidays or to enjoy casual lunches with friends! We NEED food to live- so why not work toward having a relationship where food is welcomed and celebrated in all its complexity? Food is ultimately fuel for our bodies but can also be a powerful source of connection, growth, and art!
Most people only understand eating food in relation to the concept of weight loss, limiting, and demonizing food rather than finding nutrients that make their body feel and function well. Many only understand exercise and movement as a means of losing weight rather than increasing strength or flexibility.
Worth and Weight
Associating self worth and weight is common. When thinking of health, many folks think about how health looks as opposed to how it feels or functions. We hear talk from the media and loved ones about wanting to shed weight constantly. While having goals is great, the concept of things like ‘goal weights’ can be harmful- we fluctuate each time we eat or drink throughout the day so the unit of pounds is simply an inadequate measure in general, not to mention it has little to do with our actual health!
What are we measuring? Why? What meaning are you getting out of the number on the scale or measuring tape? Ask yourself what this number really says about you and what kind of questions you are asking yourself. It’s okay to want to look good! We love looking our best! Looking our best doesn’t mean a whole lot though if we aren’t also aware of how to feel our best. Many will find that even when they hit that ‘goal weight’, the feelings we expect don’t always follow.
Diets aren’t making you cuter or richer or healthier…
…But it is lining someone's pockets! It just isn’t us! Diet culture is all around us. Words like ‘sinful’ or ‘good/bad’ food, low/no fat foods, low/no sugar foods, and even the concept of cheat days all exist as marketing tools! We buy foods to make us smaller and clothes to make us look slimmer. Science shows us that most diets fail, but even knowing this it can still be hard to shake the old habits when they are sold to us as something new and exciting all the time!
Ways to unthink diet culture thoughts
When we are nourished, fit, and healthy, we feel good. If a diet or mindset is not making you feel good, that's an initial red flag that its time to start examining our thoughts and patterns. This is hard! We aren't born with these thoughts, so we know we can un do it! We all have the freedom and flexibility to develop a relationship with food and nourishment that is engaging and fulfilling. Here are four steps to get you started on your way
Body awareness- Untangling yourself from the diet culture web starts with awareness- Pay attention to how your body works. Focusing on function over arbitrary standards helps us create space for appreciation and curiosity about our bodies.
Think about your thoughts- Be mindful of word choices around food as well as your body! Using words like ‘cheat day’ or noticing thoughts about having to ‘make up for’ certain food choices with either exercise or restriction are examples of food anxiety- if we can’t simply enjoy food without thinking of how we will pay or punish ourselves later then we know diet culture has seeped in!
Talk about everyone the same. If you wouldn't talk about your bosses body or the grocery store clerks snack choices the way you would about your own- perhaps its time for a readjustment. The easiest way to set boundaries for ourselves with our self talk is to just talk to everyone the same. If you find yourself complimenting others with ease but struggling to pay yourself the kind words- try saying nothing at all! That's right! Stop complimenting people on their bodies! You likely mean well, but many people find it uncomfortable OR you may be running the risk of reinforcing diet culture for others. With our weight and body shape being such a sensitive topic for many, there’s just more benefit to steering clear of that focus. Use this as an opportunity to brainstorm some unique ways to compliment those around you that don’t have to do with their bodies!
Learn about food and health in general- the more you know the more you see. When we learn about how the body breaks foods down we learn more about why we may want to generally steer away from ‘diet’ foods (many contain ingredients that our bodies can’t break down resulting in no energy gain and/ or actually make us crave things like sugar!)