What Is Diet Culture And Why It Might Be Doing You More Harm Than Good
If you feel like you’ve been on a constant weight loss journey, or feel like you always need to lose some weight, then you’ve probably been hit by the impact of “diet culture”. What is diet culture though?
You have probably heard the term before.
Let’s dive in further.
What Is Diet Culture Exactly?
The short definition is that it is weight loss at pretty much any cost because thinner is seen as better.
If you add some nuance to that, it is sacrificing both your mental and physical health in pursuit of weight loss and an “ideal” body shape and size, because you feel like that is where you’re supposed to be.
If you want to lose weight or be a specific size or shape, that is entirely your call.
All I say is that you make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. That means not because you feel like you’re supposed to, not to meet anyone else’s expectations, and definitely not because anyone else is trying to make you feel bad about the way you look.
Some Examples Of Diet Culture
Now you have some idea of what diet culture is. But as it is an idea and isn’t something you can physically see, it’s probably helpful to have some examples of diet culture in action.
So here are a few.
- Cheat meals are a prominent one. You’re not in a relationship with your diet – you won’t be cheating on it by having a different meal. If you’re a professional athlete who has to follow a strict nutrition plan for performance, that might be a separate issue, but it can be a toxic thought process for the average person.
- “Guilt-free” foods are another one. Your diet isn’t a moral issue that you should feel guilty about eating foods. I’m sure there will be a vegan reading this and will disagree about diet and morality but that is a separate conversation. You can have vegan or plant-based foods that are labelled as “guilt-free” or “naughty” based on their nutritional content as well.
- Ever felt like you need to exercise or workout to either “earn” your meal or to “work it off”? Yes, that is also diet culture in action.
And the most critical one is the one that you will find more subtle examples of on an everyday basis.
Clothing brands using models of a specific size, magazines promoting weight loss and “fat-burning” workouts (by the way, there is no such thing), and that general association of thinness or lower body fat with somehow being better.
Those are all examples of diet culture in action.
How Is Diet Culture Harmful?
If you scroll back up to the definition of diet culture, you’ll see the bit about sacrificing mental and physical health.
Bear in mind I am under-qualified to offer specific advice on any mental or physical health conditions so if you have any concerns please do speak to a professional.
From a mental perspective, here are a few things to consider.
Turning your diet into a high-stakes moral issue is awful. The emotional energy that takes out of you will take its toll. Foods will test your willpower as “forbidden fruit” and you will feel shame and guilt if you do cave in.
This toxic relationship with foods can also lead down the path of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder as well.
And for what it’s worth, food isn’t just fuel. It can be an experience, something to relate over, and a focal point for socialising.
If you demonise foods or label them as good or bad, you will be depriving yourself of a lot of joy that can often be linked with food.
And then there is of course also the risk of you developing body dysmorphic disorder where you start to focus on parts of your body you perceive as ‘flawed’ because they don’t meet the perfect standards you set out in your head.
From a physical health perspective, you risk missing out on key nutrients which your body needs. You might cut out whole food groups or it might be from longer-term under-nourishment.
The mental toll can result in more stress. That can mean worse moods, lower quality sleep, and poor digestion.
You might find you lose strength, you are more prone to injury, and your energy levels drop.
So yes, diet culture can negatively impact every aspect of your health.
What Is Diet Culture Doing To Your Wellbeing?
You now know what is diet culture. You have seen some examples of it. And a very brief overview of just some of the mental and physical health issues it can cause.
It is easy to get drawn into the marketing that the diet and the weight loss industry keep putting out.
But hopefully the above, and finding a more important purpose to your fitness and nutrition than meeting the ideals of a filtered image that we’re told is normal, will set you on the path to breaking up with diet culture for good.
Diet culture seems to target everyone in one way or another.
I’d ask you to think about what is diet culture doing to your well-being, your family, and your friends?