Why ‘Diet Culture’ Is Bad
By Sadira Sittampalam
‘Diet culture’ is a term that is thrown around a lot but what exactly does it mean? According to Emma Laing, A Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Dietetics at the University of Georgia, Diet culture refers to a rigid set of expectations about valuing thinness and attractiveness over physical health and emotional well-being. Diet culture often emphasises ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ foods, focuses on calorie restriction, and normalises self-deprecating talk. This article will go over the main reasons why this attitude is unproductive in terms of how we view beauty, health, and our bodies.
First off, diet culture is something that worships ‘thinness’ as the pinnacle of success and beauty. It assumes a lot of things. For one it assumes that people who eat healthily and exercise will automatically gain the ‘right’ body size or the ‘correct’ body size which is being skinny. However, we all know for one that there is no ‘right’ body size, and even if there were, it isn’t necessarily attainable to people who simply follow a good diet.
Yet, diet culture assumes that if you are fat, you eat unhealthily, and if you are thin, you are healthy. When we look at the actual statistics, there is a 98% failure rate of diets. Ignoring everything else, why would we as a society put ourselves through these diets, when you only have a 2% chance of succeeding at it? It points to a larger issue which is this diet culture and how it has made everyone assume that the only way to achieve this ideal skinny body type is by dieting.
However, anti-diet does not mean anti-health. The anti-diet movement instead focuses on the science of it all, highlighting how almost all of the popular diets are very restrictive and have been proven to have a negative impact on cognitive function, heart health and mortality. From personal experience with a trainer, I received a diet plan where there was nothing I could really enjoy or appreciate, with copious amounts of boiled chicken and a minimal amount of butter. And all of these diets follow a similar pattern - you diet, you lose weight, but the second you start to eat normally again, you gain all the weight back.
The only sustainable method of losing weight is to adopt a diet that you can actually stick to for the rest of your life. You should ideally cut calories to ensure that calories are less than calories out, but the focus should be on adding lots of nutrition into your meals. Cutting out processed foods and cutting down on the amount of sugar you consume is also recommended as these foods increase your appetite and while they are high in calories, they don’t fill you up as much as other foods do. Where most people tend to go wrong is assuming they have to be unhappy with what they eat to lose weight. This is one of the myths that diet culture has perpetuated. Enjoying food is one of the greatest things life has to offer, however, we should still control what we eat - but not restrict what we eat.
Ideal body shape
Diet culture has also fed into the narrative of the ideal body shape. Right now, everyone has become obsessed with possessing a small waist, large hips, and a big bottom. However, in the early 2000s, it was more attractive to be extremely skinny from head to toe. The beauty standard is always changing. There was a time in the past where it was attractive to have big round bellies as it meant that you were rich and had lots to eat. Thus, it is almost ridiculous how much we bend over to worship these beauty ideals when in a couple of years, it will likely change around again.
We all are born with different body types; some of us have small waists naturally, some of us have small hips naturally. It is impossible to change these things, yet diet culture has perpetuated that anyone can achieve a small waist and large hips through hard work and exercise. This is a myth perpetuated by most models and influencers on social media. In reality, these looks are all done through clever photograph angles or plastic surgery. Yet so many people fall for this, going on the intense diet and exercise route, only to feel dejected when they do not achieve the results they desire even after hard work and exercise. This is a culture that essentially perpetuates unhappiness, making us constantly dissatisfied with the look of our bodies, and constantly chasing after something that can never be caught. It also allows people to profit off of this, which has created this massive industry designed to make you feel bad about yourself, so that you buy a new fitness plan or a new gym membership or the latest weight loss gummy bears advertised by your local Instagram influencer.
Body's health and nutrition
So how can you resist diet culture? You need to stop prioritising losing weight for the purposes of being ‘skinny’. Losing weight is something you should prioritise if it is something that affects your health. It is not about the appearance of your body, it is about your body's health and nutrition. Anti-diet culture aims to free people from spending every waking moment obsessing over the way they look, their food choices, their macros, and so on. It aims to help people fill their bellies with the food they want and need. So instead of following a diet, people should consider eating intuitively. Most people have gotten so used to eating what's ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they have lost touch with what they want or what will actually satisfy them. Another aspect of this anti-diet culture is being reacquainted with your body’s natural hunger cues. You should permit yourself to eat the things you want, all while maintaining control over how much you choose to consume.
Eat enough to satisfy, not enough to be full. You should also vary of all the things you see on social media, as everything about it revolves around perpetuating an ideal body type. Call out people who promote unhealthy behaviour in service of achieving this standard - the Kardashians are infamous for this, promoting weight loss lollipops or their waist trainers. Support people who show natural bodies with all their imperfections like cellulite stretch marks etc, as it will help people understand how much is hidden behind editing and good lighting.
Overall, diet culture is something that makes everyone - even the skinniest of people, feel like they are inadequate. Rejecting diet culture means looking at people’s health status, separate from weight, as you can be healthy regardless of your size. We as a society need to move away from promoting something that has been proven to be damaging to everyone associated with it, and it all starts with us making individual changes to our mindsets and our attitudes so we can live in this world proud of our bodies we have, regardless of how they look.