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How many times have you tried to go on a “diet” or felt guilty for eating a specific food? You’re not alone! No matter what your current weight, many of us continuously fall back into the trap of yo-yo dieting because our culture glorifies unrealistic body types and food restriction, particularly for women. For many of us, we are on an endless cycle of restricting and overeating, which is not supportive of our mental and physical health. 

This cycle is largely stemmed from an insidious part of our culture called diet culture. Our society pushes us towards restrictive dieting for the sole purpose of losing weight, despite the lack of research on long-term successful weight loss. It is a fact that the more you restrict your diet, the more likely you will binge. The constant pursuit of thinness can worsen your relationship with food, increase your risk of developing an eating disorder, and is just downright exhausting. 

If you are tired of this endless cycle and you know there must be another way, you’ve come to the right place. I truly believe you can break free from the diet culture cycle, and I’m here to help you do just that.

 

 

Definition of Diet Culture

Diet culture is a set of beliefs that:

  • Values weight, shape, appearance, and size above health and well-being. It is a belief system that glorifies thinness and associates it with health, wellness, and moral value, otherwise known as the “thin ideal.” Many diet culture supporters discuss losing weight as a means of achieving optimal health, however the reality is that true health can be achieved at any body size, and yo-yo weight changes can be physically damaging to your health.
  • Promotes weight loss as the end all be all, and puts significant emphasis on how to deprive yourself and develop more “willpower,” so that you can achieve success.
  • Distinguishes foods as “good” or “bad.” This promotes all-or-nothing thinking in your eating habits and can exacerbate the binge-restrict cycle. You may feel proud or guilty based on what you ate, and equate your eating choices with your own self-worth.  
  • Endorses the notion that thinness equates health and that a larger body cannot be healthy.
  • Assigns a moral value to how you eat or your body size. Diet culture demonizes certain ways of eating while glorifying others, making it seem that you are “better” for eating or looking a certain way. 
  • Stigmatizes and oppresses those who do not live up to the “thin ideal” and makes assumptions that those in larger bodies are lazy, have less willpower, or no self-control. This can damage the mental and physical health of those that don’t fit in with the ideals of diet culture. 

 

How to Spot Diet Culture

Now that you have a better understanding of what diet culture actually is, here are some of the signs of how it may show up in your everyday life: 

  • Regularly seeing diets or programs that promote weight loss.
  • Following strict diet “rules,” such as restricting a certain food or food groups in an effort to change your body shape.
  • Using exercise as “punishment” for eating too much or solely as a way to lose weight, rather than for fun or for your mental health.
  • An all-or-nothing mentality such as “That cookie is too much sugar, I can’t eat it” or “I should eat that salad” instead of listening to your body’s own internal hunger signals.
  • Phrases such as “I was really good today,” “I ate really bad today, I don’t know what is wrong with me,” or “I really shouldn’t be eating this.”
  • Receiving unsolicited advice from your doctor telling you that you need to lose weight, eat less and exercise more.
  • Associating weight and the scale as a determinant of health or one’s own self-worth.

It’s important to pay attention to diet culture messages on social media and advertising. Many diet programs that promote a “healthy lifestyle” may have hidden messages that promote black and white thinking about food and are not always easy to see. Wording such as “lose x weight in 8 weeks,” “guilt-free,” or “lifestyle changes” that restrict certain foods or behaviors are some key signs of a restrictive diet program.

 

How to Break Free from Diet Culture 

If you’re reading this and saying “how do I not succumb to diet culture when it’s all around me?,” know that you can break free from it and find your own way of eating that suits you. 

Here are some ways you can break the diet cycle:

  • Unfollow those who are promoting diet culture and weight loss. Go through your social media feed and unfollow anyone who is promoting an aspect of diet culture or making you feel bad about yourself. Before and after photos and unrealistic meal preps are prime examples of this. Subsequently, follow those who make you feel good, promote a positive body image, and lift you up. 
  • Reject diet culture talk. Reframe your words when you catch yourself speaking in diet language. For example, instead of saying “I ate too many cookies, I feel disgusting,” say “I ate these cookies, they tasted delicious, and one food will not make or break my health and don’t determine if I’m good or bad”
  • Focus on how you feel and your health, not the scale. Take the emphasis off of your weight. If weighing yourself stresses you out or makes you feel negative in any way, stop doing it. Instead, focus on how you feel, your energy, your sleep quality, or your productivity.
  • Stop black-and-white thinking. One food or type of food does not dictate your health or your weight. Our diet culture promotes an all-or-nothing mentality with eating. If you feel like you ate too much at one meal or “overdid” it – get rid of any guilt associated with that. That doesn’t mean that you have to do that again or binge at your next meal. Instead, just brush it off and eat something that makes you feel good again the next time. Don’t skip your next meal out of guilt – this will only perpetuate the restrict-binge cycle.
  • Focus on abundance rather than restriction – Instead of telling yourself you can’t eat something, switch your mindset to one of abundance. Focus on what to eat more of for your health, for your energy, and for your mood. For example, you may choose to eat more vegetables and drink more water, rather than focusing on avoiding carbs or sweets. Remember that no food is off-limits and the more you focus on what to have more of, the happier you’ll be.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Turn off any internal messages that are making you feel bad about yourself. Make a list of all of the things you like about yourself and what you’re proud of. Keep this list near you at all times, so you can easily pull it out if you find yourself making yourself feel guilty. Our thoughts shape our actions. Positive thoughts lead to positive, healthy changes. 

Always remember that your food choices don’t determine your worth. If you want more information on how to ditch diet culture, achieve true health at any size, and learn more about intuitive eating consider signing up for a coaching session or a free strategy session here.

 

Dina Garcia, RD, LDN
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