How do you define diet culture? I had to reflect a lot on this phrase, to find out what it really means to me. To me, diet culture is a culture or society that sees thinness as health, and defines it as the only way to be healthy. Essentially it is a culture that rewards us for weight-loss, exercise and 'clean eating', and sees a certain weight as the ultimate health ideal.
This really scares me because we have been conditioned in our society and through this diet culture, to view weight-loss as the only way to achieve health. And due to lack of education, the average person goes to extremes to achieve that 'ideal healthy weight'.
Now don't get me wrong, there is plenty of research out there that suggests and supports claims that most people do have an 'ideal weight' to be healthy. But this ideal weight tends to sit more in a range, and is different for every individual. The other thing is, this weight needs to be maintained through consistently healthy behaviours, so in reality these behaviours are what makes an individual healthy. The scary thing about diet culture is that it neglects to involve the healthy behaviours that are really necessary to make someone healthy. Instead it tends to promote and encourage a whole bunch of unhealthy behaviours like extreme calorie restriction, skipping meals and detoxing, for an overweight person to lose weight. As part of diet culture, these types of behaviours (which can be likened to disordered eating behaviours) are accepted and encouraged, until a person is underweight.
Let that sink in for a moment. Diet culture has created a society where if you lose weight (even by the most extreme measures) you are congratulated and rewarded. These behaviours have been normalised by diet culture, so much so that they aren't an issue until someone is underweight, and only then are they viewed as unhealthy.
Another part of diet culture that was impacted our behaviour and lifestyle is the idea that 'Mondays are a fresh start'. This tends to give people the idea that its okay to binge and eat 'unhealthy' foods on the weekends and just start a detox or diet on Monday as an excuse. It forces people to become so hyper focused on the way that we look, the food we eat, and our dieting choices. It plays on our insecurities, tells us we aren't enough the way we are and that we'll be happier, more attractive and more successful if we buy into this culture of dieting, detoxing and poor eating habits. It goes to the extent of attaching moral value of 'good/bad' to certain foods or ways of eating.
The biggest problem with diet culture though, is that we don't even realise how susceptible we are to it. It used to be more focused on particular 'fad diets'- Atkins, Fast 800 etc etc.. But now it is more interwoven into a lifestyle . It has become a collection of unhealthy and extreme behaviours that seem harmless enough, but when combined can be really dangerous and detrimental to an individuals health.
We are so much more easily exposed to these sorts of messages nowadays because of the access we have to social media platforms. Through these networks we are subject to targeted ads, false information coming from ‘influencers’ who claim to be ‘experts’ and we’re constantly exposed to the latest and greatest fat-burning, weight loss, detox product (more on this in a future post).
The best way to avoid falling victim to diet culture is to become more self aware. Do your research, talk to professionals, seek advice from people who are qualified, and take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt. I really hope that one day we won’t be surrounded with these messages, societal norms and expectations that diet culture brings.