Diet culture is all around us in both overt and subtle ways. We cannot innocently drive down a highway without a billboard offering a weight loss program, we cannot sign on to our phones without receiving pop up articles explaining the best diets to follow, and we cannot even go to a family celebration without our loved ones bemoaning their size and shape or justifying their food choices. With all this messaging, it is easy to become accustomed to diet language and blur the lines between what is “healthy living” and what is diet culture.
It is overwhelming to consider living in opposition to a multi-billion dollar industry that sells its toxic message in order to sustain its business. However, rejecting diet culture and noticing its oppression is the only way to live in alignment with personal values and bodily cues. There are little ways to resist and rebel against this toxicity that will bring immediate peace and distance from the diet culture machine.
- Friend’s don’t let friends bash their bodies. Social conversations about our bodies are almost always negative and focused on our dissatisfaction or “need” to change something on our bodies. Rarely does a conversation go like this: “I am just loving my thighs in this bathing suit, aren’t you?” “Yes, I love my butt today!” Our conversations slam our perceived flaws and group commiseration is one way that diet culture continues to thrive because our social interactions support the diet culture’s beliefs that engaging in body change and aspiring to thinness is a morally superior way to live. You can oppose diet culture by refusing to engage in these conversations and switching the focus by either not talking about your body at all or acknowledging the functions or aspects of yourself you appreciate.
Unfollow social media accounts that promote body change. The age of social media, fitspo, and before and after photo campaigns are a driving force behind diet culture and the constant pressure to fit a certain body ideal. The glorification of weight loss and body change to meet the beauty ideals does not allow us to acknowledge or celebrate body diversity and genetics. Take stock of how you feel after scrolling through social media accounts focused on beauty or fitness. If you find yourself feeling more depressed, anxious, or motivated to engage in diet behavior after scrolling, unfollow! You can also take an active role in identifying accounts that promote body diversity. Redefining beauty means celebrating body diversity, not celebrating weight loss and body change.
- Don’t try fad diets. The diet industry was worth $72 billion dollars in 2019 because diets do not work and people keep paying for extra services and buying into new ways to lose weight. The truth is that 95% of dieters will regain the weight in 1-5 years (NEDA), most will negatively affect their metabolism by dieting, and many dieters will regain even more weight. So, not only will dieting result in the temporary misery of restricting what you are eating, it is also likely to result in unnecessary physical changes and long term anguish related to the feeling of diet failure. You won’t fail diets, diets fail you, because they don’t work.
- Enjoy holidays without fear. Most celebrations, holidays, and parties are centered around food since food is a beautiful method of communication and ritual. When we are steeped in food fears and body insecurities, we fear holidays because we don’t trust our ability to manage abundant or different food choices. This fear disconnects us from our hunger and fullness signals, disconnects us from our satisfaction, and disconnects us from our family. Honoring the beauty of food being a natural part of holiday celebrations allows us to fit those foods into our regular eating schedules while still honoring our hunger and fullness. We get to celebrate with our loved ones and our taste buds.
- Be wary of “wellness” terminology. The diet culture robbed us of the beautiful word “wellness,” which originally meant “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organization, WHO). The term wellness has become another way for the diet culture to apply morality to food and exercise. While we all have a desire to care for our bodies with nutrients and movement, the diet culture twists our desire so flexibility is failure and rigidity is health. When we believe that only certain foods equate health and wellness, we forget the psychological and social components of wellness, which include flexible schedules, eating for pleasure, and fitting food into a balanced life.
- Don’t label foods as good or bad. When we moralize food, we put conditions on ourselves and increase our judgment of ourselves. If we think certain foods are more morally superior than others, we will then judge ourselves as “better” or “doing the right thing” when we eat those foods. Alternatively, we will condemn ourselves when we don’t adhere to our set food rules, further increase our discontentment with our bodies and decrease our confidence.
- Wear the bathing suit. The bathing suit can be a most dreaded piece of clothing, and yet it’s existence allows for one of the greatest ways to be in touch with Mother Nature. When we enjoy a beach day, dip our toes in the saltwater of the ocean, or swim in a cool pool on a hot day, we are providing our bodies with sensory input that heals the brain and the nervous system. We are living in the moment with our bodies and our loved ones. But so many of us are missing out on this joy due to our fear of how people will view our more exposed bodies. Wearing the swimsuit means choosing the value of play, connection, and movement over the diet culture’s value of thinness. Go ahead, jump in the water!
- Don’t set diet resolutions or weight loss goals. Diets do not work, meaning that one cannot live on a restrictive food intake or with a restrictive mindset for long periods of time without an eventual bodily rebellion. Setting ourselves up with food or weight loss goals keeps us in our heads instead of being in attunement with our bodies. When we set an intention of honoring our body’s we are able to listen to hunger and fullness signals, learn when our bodies need nutrition, movement, or rest. Getting out of body weight and size goal setting and into body attunement is where body peace occurs.
- Skip the media sources that glorify weight loss or physical change. Not only do most media productions glorify weight loss, they also stigmatize bodies that do not “fit” their definition of socially ideal, furthering our society’s fatphobia and weight stigma. By reading magazine articles about nutrition and weight loss, following social media accounts that suggest general dietary changes, and tuning in to television programs that celebrate weight loss, we are clouding our ability to be in touch with ourselves because none of these generalized suggestions know our bodies. Letting go of these messages that worship thinness and offer biased viewpoints allow us to focus on our own well-being.
- Throw away the scale. Increased weighing leads to increased obsession with our body and decreased honoring of our hunger and fullness cues. Even if your weight is being monitored by your treatment team for clinical reasons, you can live without a scale by letting them use it as one piece of medical information and letting go of your obsession outside of the office. Choosing your mental health, your brain space, and your self-love over a number is key to breaking up with diet culture.
About The Author:
Rachel Coleman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 12 years of experience treating Eating Disorders at both an inpatient treatment center and in private practice where she focuses on guiding adolescents and women to break free from diet culture and stop evaluating their worth by the number on the scale. Rachel is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, has a certification of completion in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Maternal Mental Health, and is a Certified Intuitive Eating PRO. Rachel served on the Board of the Orange County chapter of IAEDP for 5 years and speaks on the topic of Eating Disorder Treatment at local graduate schools.
Rachel is also the co-host of Mom Genes The Podcast, where she and colleague Tina LaBoy, RD teach Moms to understand their genes so they can love the jeans they are in.
Grodstein, F., Levine, R., Spencer, T., Colditz, G. A., &Stampfer, M. J. (1996). Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program: Can you keep it off? Archives of Internal Medicine 156(12), 1302.
World Health Organization (1998) Health Promotion Glossary. WHO, Geneva.
Written – 2020