As I spend more time with family and friends, I realize just how integrated diet culture really is in our lives and conversations. Chances are, you also hear about it multiple times a day from many different sources, sometimes without even realizing it.
What is “diet culture” exactly?
As Sara Upson, RD* so gracefully describes, “Diet culture is a society that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over health and well-being.”¹
In a culture where our body shape has superior value over our intelligence, kindness, selflessness, and work ethic, it’s easy for us to lose sight of ourselves and our true purpose here on Earth.
If you’re unfamiliar with the many ways we contribute to diet culture and its subsequent facets, here are a few:
1. Complimenting people only on their bodies
I never really thought of physical compliments as being harmful as long as they were broad enough to not include body weight, weight loss, or body shapes. For example, instead of saying, “You look so thin!” say something like, “You look great!” or “Your hair is lovely today!”
I still believe that. However, after reading Alyssa Gormaly’s blog post about why we don’t need a “summer body,” I realized that I hadn’t thought far enough into why those compliments are jarring.
She points out that those (albeit positive) body compliments are prioritized over other, more dignified compliments such as on one’s character, creativity, intelligence, etc.
It’s true that I have been told I’m “pretty” or “beautiful” an abundance more times than I have been told how nice or smart I am.
By prioritizing appearance over character, we are consequently giving people the impression that their appearance is more worthy and valuable than their character is. Thanks for pointing that out, Alyssa!
2. Trying a new diet…And telling people about it
Sounds harmless, right? Unfortunately, dieting can lead to a plethora of issues from long-term weight gain to eating disorders to body dysmorphia, and more.
Think about it for a moment: If diets “work,” why are there so many of them? And why do we need new ones? Now think about this:
- The diet industry is a 60-billion-dollar industry that uses advertisements to specifically target your self-esteem, making you feel worse about yourself so that you’ll buy their product (more about that later).
- Instead of blaming the DIET on our “failures,” we blame OURSELVES for not having enough willpower, strength, or stamina to be successful with it.
- When we do “fail” at a diet, we beat ourselves up and decide to try a different one (receiving the same, disheartening results).
By sharing your new diet endeavors (and even diet success!) with friends and family or on social media, you are also sharing the same unhealthy and body-shaming behaviors of diet culture and disordered eating with others, making the industry more wealthy.
3. Praising your “new,” “thin” body while shaming your “old,” “fat” one
We have all seen this time and time again and it makes me incredibly sad.
While there’s nothing wrong with being happy and proud of your success, there is always a message to be made. I’m guilty of having posted “before and after” photos on Instagram, specifically referring to my body. Whether it be about losing weight or gaining weight, labeling one type of body as “better” or “worse” can do major harm for yourself and others.
We are a culture of tough competition and, as a result, we are constantly comparing ourselves to each other. The problem is, NONE of us are comparable. We are all completely separate and unique individuals with our own unique genetic make up. And by comparing your “new” body to your “old” one, you are exhibiting the same unhealthy competition within yourself.
That being said, praising your “after” body while simultaneously shaming your “before” body is only feeding into the competition as you winning, while someone who looks like your “before” photo is losing.
And that’s not cool.
4. Purchasing diet plans and products
Again, *raises hand* guilty!
I’m sure most of us are guilty of buying into diet plans, diet foods, diet products, weight loss aids, and everything else that promises us quick and lasting results.
Especially when I was into lifting weights, I loved looking up and down the supplement aisle and using fat burners, protein powders, and diet foods like cartoned egg whites and sugar-free Jell-O.
Where we put our money is also where we put our advocacy and support. By purchasing diet foods, we are supporting the industry that tells us to eat less calories, avoid sugar and fats, and to lose weight (i.e. our bodies aren’t good enough as is).
Why are we letting a box of granola bars tell US what we should do with OUR bodies?
5. Supporting others involved in diet culture (Celebrities, Social Media Influencers, etc.)
We’ve seen it all from juice cleanses to appetite suppressing lollipops and waist slimmers – social media is saturated with diet trends and diet culture.
What you need to remember when you see those advertisements is that these celebrities and influencers are PAID to advertise those products because the companies know that their fans are loyal and want to be more like them. But just because Kylie Jenner jumps off a cliff doesn’t mean you should too, right?
Now, I’m not saying to unfollow every celebrity you like on social media. What I am saying is to be an educated and conscious consumer – don’t let advertisements make you question your self-worth, body image, or anything else for that matter. Know that these advertisers have an agenda and are not looking out for your overall wellbeing.
How to Stop Supporting Diet Culture
- Don’t comment on someone’s weight, body shape, or body type. Even if it’s a positive compliment, you never know what someone is struggling with internally. Some may be suffering from eating disorders, an illness that’s affecting their body weight, body dysmorphia, and more.
- Quit dieting – for good! Don’t let the cycle consume you over and over again. Not only are you risking your health, both physically and mentally, you are also wasting hundreds to thousands of dollars to an industry that wants you to have low body confidence.
- Know that you are worthy at every size. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, gain weight, or increase fitness. Those things are possible without shaming yourself in your “before” stage. Know that you are not just a body suit – you are a spiritual person; a daughter, a son, a mother, a friend, a confidant, etc.
- Don’t let diet ads fool you. Just don’t!!
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Sounds corny but I’m being honest – we don’t have to suffer alone. Living in this modern society with bias advertisements and propaganda surrounding us, sending us messages about how we should feel about our bodies, is hard. But we are all dealing with it. Feel free to message me if you ever need someone to talk to.
- Eat the food you want and do the exercise you enjoy! Eating food does not have to be complicated. If it sounds good – eat it. If it doesn’t sound good – don’t eat it. Bam.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you got something out of this blog post and, if you did, feel free to share, like, comment, and message me with any questions you have!
*Full credentials: Sara Upson, M. Ed., RD, LD, CEDRD
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed nutrition professional. If you need medical or nutritional intervention, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or your physician. If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder, depression, body dysmorphia, etc., please consult with a doctor or talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. There is help for you.