It’s been a while since I last talked about diet culture and body image. This is partly because I’ve felt inspired to write about other things but also because I’ve been struggling myself. So, here’s a reminder of 5 reasons why diet culture is not your friend.
Diet Culture and Body Image Ideals are like those ‘friends’ at school who weren’t really your friends. It’s a toxic relationship. They build you up, encouraging you to take part in all the cool trends. When it goes wrong, they watch you fall and snigger behind your back. But they’re still there, offering to pick you up and help you try again.
They make you feel like you are part of a group. It’s cool to be in their circle of friends, even though they make you feel bad about yourself on a regular basis. You never feel pretty enough. You can’t keep up with their ever-changing lifestyles.
Enough metaphors. Let’s get real.
Here are 5 reasons why Diet Culture is not your friend.
- It breaks down your natural response to hunger and satiety cues.
- It makes you feel ashamed of an essential part of life (that’s eating, by the way).
- It forces you to move your body in ways you might not want to.
- It encourages disordered eating habits.
- It gets in the way of life.
Let me break these down for you.
Reduced response to hunger and fullness cues.
When your body is deprived of food, it naturally craves it more. This is why you think about food all the time when you’re on a diet, or you eat more than normal when you stop dieting. Your body is terrified because it doesn’t know when ‘normal’ eating will resume, so it wants you to consume as much as possible for ‘storage’. This becomes your fat stores and that’s why diets do not work.
Feelings of guilt and shame when eating.
Being constantly told what you should and shouldn’t eat leaves us feeling like failures. Have you ever blamed yourself for not losing weight because you ate XYZ? Diet culture tells us what not to eat, knowing that it will inevitably make us want it more. When we ‘fail’ at that particular diet, we try a different one, because it’s always our fault, right? Diet culture wants you to keep investing in it and that’s why diets do not work.
Poor relationship with exercise.
When we engage with diet culture, our relationship with exercise usually goes one of two ways. Exercise addiction or hating exercise completely. Neither are healthy. Maintaining an active lifestyle is essential for your health so avoiding it completely isn’t a great idea. However, pushing your body to exercise more than it wants to or is capable of, is also quite dangerous. Also, exercising for appearance-motivated goals rather than health-motivated goals is unlikely to be sustained and leads back to those feelings of guilt and shame that I mentioned earlier. Hence, why diets do not work.
It encourages disordered eating habits.
Counting calories, eliminating entire food groups and using meal replacement products are tendencies of disordered eating. They are all forms of restriction and when the body is restricted, it wants to eat more the next time that you eat to make up for the restriction – this is OK and it is good for your body. It’s also another example of why diets do not work.
It gets in the way of life.
Have you ever been invited to a social invite but felt anxious about eating or drinking because you were worried about the extra calories? Did you ever miss an event because you were more concerned about doing exercise? Our fixation on food and exercise that diet culture makes us have is stopping us from getting on with our lives. Regardless of the extra time and effort that counting calories and over-exercising loses, we waste so much emotional energy on thinking about our bodies. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I have broken down in changing rooms or cried myself to sleep at night over not having ‘the ideal body’.
So, there are your 5 reasons why diet culture is not your friend. Do you still think that diet culture is worth having in your life? It’s OK if you do, not everyone is ready to cut ties straight away. All I ask is that you think about how diet culture is treating you. How diet culture makes you feel. Try to imagine your life without diet culture in it. How would you feel if body ideals weren’t a thing?
Diet culture is no longer my friend, and I’ve gained a whole community of body loving, intuitive living individuals who welcomed me with open arms. The body positive movement is accepting and empowering. They are the kind of friends that you want in your life.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, contact BEAT Eating Disorders service for support.