Death to Diet Culture
Diet culture has existed since the beginning of modern society, mostly due to the fact that as long as humans have existed, there has been some sort of standard for what a person’s body should look like. This term is loosely defined as a system of values that equates your adherence to a diet to your moral character. Whether the culturally desired size is a voluptuous build, thin, or curvy, there is a diet designed to help people achieve that shape. The problem is that these diets are often restrictive and can leave lasting mental and physical scars. Diet culture is harmful, but breaking free from Whole30, paleo, or whatever other diets are permeating pop culture can prove difficult.
The first half of diet culture is the physical tolls a diet can take on you. Many women nowadays desire a thin body, while men often desire a bulky, more muscular figure. In order to get both of these physiques, restrictive eating as well as a heavy regimen of exercise are often promoted. This medical dictionary defines restrictive eating as “limiting food intake to a certain number of calories or to certain foods or food groups.” Meanwhile, The Eating Recovery Center located in Denver, Colorado, states that the effects of restrictive eating include extreme weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, cardiac complications, low blood sugar, and anemia. And if you’re wondering, yes, diets such as the low-carb diet or the ketogenic diet are forms of restrictive eating. In some cases, restrictive eating is necessary, such as when you have an illness or allergy. However, restricting just for the sake of physical appearance is often more extreme and can have significant psychological effects in addition to the physical effects.
Very often, people get stuck in a dieting cycle, which can also cause harmful fluctuations with your body’s weight and overall health. This is known as yo-yo dieting, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the practice of repeatedly losing weight by dieting and subsequently regaining it.” Yo-yo dieting works like a roller coaster: as you go up the hill, you are motivated and feeling good about your diet. You reach the top and are feeling like everything is going great. Then, you go down the hill, and everything changes.
Many people will feel depressed and anxious because, despite their obedience to the diet, they’re not seeing the promised results. This can lead to binge eating and subsequent guilt. Then, feeling like they need a change, they turn to a new diet and start going up the hill all over again. Over time, your body can heal from the various effects of dieting, but the effects of this cycle on a person’s mental health can be devastating and often overlooked.
Overlooking your mental health is exactly what can lead to yo-yo dieting; insecure feelings spur someone to look for help, and when someone is feeling insecure about their body, they will find help in the form of a diet. Once they start the first diet, it’s difficult to stop because dieting has become a coping mechanism for those insecure feelings. A study from University College London that studied the physical and mental effects of dieting found that those who lost more than five percent of their body weight were 52 percent more likely than other participants to develop depression.
So, if the traditional form of dieting is out of the question, then what can you do to stay relatively healthy? The answer might be intuitive eating. Intuitive eating isn’t really a diet; instead, it is a way of eating wherein one simply eats what they need at that moment in time. From time to time, your body will crave sweets, and its okay to eat them. In fact, it’s vital to follow your cravings and nearly impossible to navigate life without them. When you are hungry for something, that’s your body’s way of saying that it needs certain nutrients. In the end, eating is a personal thing. What you need as an individual is different from what someone else needs, and no diet is going to be able to encompass all or even some people’s needs. If you would like more information on intuitive eating and how to be healthy while happy, find a local dietitian that specializes in intuitive eating. If there aren’t any local dietitians who specialize in intuitive eating, look into video chatting with a dietitian elsewhere. Eating is a personal thing, just like every other aspect of your health. Diet culture can damage our ability to be in tune to our bodies needs, and this harmful practice must end. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes with all different needs, and it’s time to embrace that.