One thing many of us don’t often consider is that we are often absolutely surrounded and consumed by diet culture - do you know what diet culture is?
So many of us in whatever industry we work, the hobbies we partake in, the social circles we are involved in, the choices we make every single day, will all be affected by diet culture.
We live now in a society where social media, media, influencers, amongst many others now dictate to us what ‘normal’ now is and we accept it, often aspiring to be ‘it’.
But one thing we do have control of is our exposure and our awareness of how we let this affect us each and every day, as I hate to break it to you, the perfection, food weighing, seeking year round leanness of fitness models/athletes, obsessing about your next meal...is not normal!
We need to bring an end to this or at least break free individually to demonstrate what the real normal should and used to be, you know those old days where people would eat when they felt hungry of a varied diet according to seasonal availability of foods. So many of us now have lost this ability to trust our own bodies to tell us and listen to what it has to say.
I know from my own experience, from having numerous eating disorders and moving in to becoming a bodybuilder/athlete, for me this was a way I could still control my food but be more socially accepted around others in comparison to the acceptance of being open about my ED’s. Prepping 6 meals a day, living with Tupperware and constantly obsessing over not only the body scales but food scales became my way of life. Social media allowed this sport to be better understood however also then dictated a new normal on how we should eat/look/live in order to be ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’.
And it isn’t just me pointing the finger at this particular part of the industry, the diet industry on the whole is a huge market...but then ask yourself why?? Why are so many companies still going or new ones emerging, when they present this next new way/fad of eating...often as they present us with a method which yes in the short term works, however in the long term is not sustainable. Ultimately we fall off the wagon, gain the weight, feel terrible about your lack of willpower, potentially binge eat, feel guilty again for that then find another new method that this time we think ‘might just work’. And so the cycle continues.
Diet culture in itself is a belief system that attributes our value, worth and focus on body weight, size, shape. But what people neglect is that this also includes our eating patterns/habits, our food preparation methods and the categorisation of good/bad foods. I hate to bear this to any of you who are bodybuilders or aspire to be, but weighing out every single gram of rice is classed as disordered eating, yet many will take a blind eye to consider this.
The topic itself can be a hard subject, we know diets do not work, however these then get remastered demonstrating and focusing on being ‘health aware/focused’ but the end goal of them is to lose weight right?
And when we lose this weight, then this means we are then ‘healthy’, even if it includes extreme caloric deficits, becoming obsessed with the need to hit your daily step about or exercise goals to the point where it makes you stressed and anxious when and if you do not on certain days.
Let’s be real here, how many of us know someone who would go to any extreme to lose weight? If you have done any extreme methods that have resulted in obsessive thoughts, feelings, behaviours - have you ever considered why you wish to pursue this goal? What really happens when you get there? What this will bring to your life when you ‘achieve this’? As I can tell you, more often than not, if this is purely for external validation, aesthetics, acceptance from others….when you get there you will often not find this elusive happiness you so drastically seek.
And this is the issue with diet culture, we are made to feel inadequate in so many ways by society and we believe in order to feel self worth we must do something about our externals. In some instances, those who are naturally slim, diet culture can act as reinforcement that they don’t need to take care of their health (eating, exercise, sleep, stress management, etc) because they are already ‘healthy’....NO!!
Diet culture can be hard to fully identify as it penetrates so deeply into westernised societies. When we consider our supermarket shops or listen to diet rules/restrictions; foods are labelled as good or bad. If we eat either or foods, we also then hold the belief that we as people are good or bad depending on what we have eaten.
Many diets out there condone cutting out or severely restricting entire food groups, only eating at certain times of day or in a window of time and even anal consideration of macro counting is unpinning this culture. We demonise eating anything that is high in any specific macro group or is calorific. This then triggers our guilt cycle, heightens our anxiety, especially in more social settings as our social interactions are so heavily based around food and drink too!
Going back to my bodybuilding experience and example earlier; we are told we must eat 5-6x times a day, which often then will complete divert from our own internal cues, instead we are dictated to by the clock of when we are ‘allowed’ to eat to equally distribute our food across our often very long training/working days. We stop listening when we are hungry, satisfied or full. Supplementation using diet shakes, protein shakes, meal replacements are also acceptable as being ‘healthy’, and one thing that has always been important for me on my journey is that as much of my nutrition comes from food as possible.
Societally we always focus now heavily on appearance, and there are shifts finally happening in this where people are starting to find health and acceptance of themselves without needing to strive for leanness or slimness. Often however as human beings we often judge others on their appearance also, offering compliments when you perceive a difference in someone when they reach your internal beliefs and ideals of health...there is a lot of work to do.
The scales nor your dress size, do not define your self worth!
Food and body shaming are also part and parcel of this diet culture, eating in a certain way makes us feel/believe certain things about ourselves, thus our self worth could take a hammering. We might then exercise as a form of punishment for the way we eat, rather than it being a way to move towards your ideal goals. Diet and exercise are so often used as a method to move away from something we do not want rather than vividly mapping out the life that we do want and truly focusing on this as our towards based motivation.
‘Diet starts Monday’ - sound familiar? Justifying how or what we eat, overeating before we plan to start our ‘new healthy lifestyle regime, checking all of our food labels to ensure this is something we are allowed to eat and it fits your macros...even congratulating someone when they demonstrate ‘clean/healthy’ eating rituals all falls into this disordered culture that consumes us.
It can be so difficult as so many of our conversations are based around food, body image, categorising and judging ourselves and others, passing comments on someone you know who is doing really well/badly on their current detox juice intermittent keto fasting diet…it makes it incredibly hard for us to then acknowledge that this is not healthy.
Even considering our healthcare systems; they will also tell us that we need to lose weight in order to become more healthy in accordance with the generally much outdated BMI system. I am not by any means saying eat what the hell you want and do not look after yourself, I want to get across that these perfect slim, lean, muscular ideals we constantly see around us are not sustainable and are not the definition of health that we are so activity influenced to believe.
Like mentioned earlier, diet culture is worth billions and their marketing is often aimed to make you, the consumer, feel bad, so bad that you will then buy their products. However, as the lifestyle they present often is not one of sustainability, you fail/fall off, blame your lack of willpower and ultimately feel worse about yourself. We then buy back into the same company to try again or another brand...it is continuous to say the least as they make you believe their way will make you reach happiness and feel worthy.
In this perfect world, we would lose the weight, reach our goals, never gain it back again by staying on this unsustainable tedious diet train. This means until then, we will constantly speak pretty negatively towards ourselves, feel a lack of confidence, self worth and self belief, judge yourself and then others.
But how do we break this cycle? Well like that tough break up in a relationship, you must also ditch the diet! This means not conforming to any of the areas mentioned previously in this blog, learning how to nourish and listen to your body more intuitively, learning that you can trust yourself, learn back that self control and ultimately start to feel a god damn sight better about yourself and your life. When you feel this regain in control, better self esteem and accomplishment, this ultimately makes you want to take better care of yourself and know your worth!