“Eat lots of fruit. Don’t eat fruit, it has too much sugar. Eat three balanced meals a day. Eat 6 small meals a day. Starvation slows your metabolism, but fasting for 16 to 18 hours can be good for your body.”
If you’re confused about nutrition, it’s because the information we receive about nutrition can be confusing! Why do we have all of these contradictory messages and where did they come from?
Diet culture shows up everywhere, emphasizing the endless pursuit of weight loss, and furthers the belief that there is a right and wrong way to eat and look. Not only does it promote a misguided belief that thin means healthier, but diet culture attempts to enforce the idea that there is a superiority that comes with thinness, and conversely there is a sense of shame attached to larger bodies in our society.
Maybe you’ve done the research and now know that all bodies are different and that the size of your body is not reflective of your health. How do you stop from falling back into the diet culture cycle?
Where to Spot Diet Culture
Nix the “cheat days”. Most of us have heard of the concept of cheat meals or days. It’s fairly common, but referring to it as cheating implies that you’re doing something wrong—again reinforcing that there is a right and wrong way to eat. Cheating also can come with a hefty dose of guilt and shame, neither of which promote health.
Ditch the diet culture: You can’t cheat on your diet if you’re not on one. Instead consider an All Foods Fit mindset and philosophy. You can also try an intuitive eating approach. It’s backed by research and helped many people find food freedom.
No need to “make up for” meals. One way some people attempt to counter their cheat meals is by “making up for” meals. For example, one may intentionally choose lower caloric foods the day after a cheat meal or day even if it’s not what you’re in the mood for or don’t really even like.
Ditch the diet culture: You don’t need to keep a mental measuring scale. Nourish your body every day with food that fuels your personalized needs and goals and that you enjoy.
Stop using exercise as overcompensation. Exercise is amazing for your physical and mental health. However, when it’s used to overcompensate for eating “badly”, that can get into an unhealthy place. Warning signs look like exercising when you don’t feel up to it and/or in a way that you don’t enjoy because you believe it burns more calories.
Ditch the diet culture: Find a way to move your body that you enjoy! You are more likely to maintain this behavior long term, and you get the double boost of serotonin by doing something that brings you joy while you move.
Reflect on your reasons for avoiding certain foods. Avoiding certain foods or food groups is necessary for some. If you have an allergy or a specific condition in which your healthcare provider has advised that you avoid particular foods, then this isn’t diet culture. But if you have suddenly decided to avoid sugar, gluten, or dairy, for example, for non-necessary medical reasons, then this may be something to reflect on.
Ditch the diet culture: Keep in mind everyone’s health needs are different and try not to be swayed by what’s trending versus what makes you feel your best physically and emotionally.
Language matters. Consider these marketing labels: “Innocent”, “Guilt-Free”, “Sinful”, “Indulgent”, and of course, one of the most popular terms of late, “clean”. These terms continue to perpetuate the harmful notion that there is a right and wrong way to eat. And they can keep people stuck in a diet culture mentality.
Ditch the diet culture: Talk about food as it should be—neutrally. Name them for what they are. Chips aren’t junk, they’re just chips. Broccoli isn’t clean, it’s just broccoli.
Idealizing thinness is one of the hallmarks of diet culture. One of the sneaky ways it shows itself is complimenting weight loss in others. There are multiple reasons and ways in which a person may lose weight. An important consideration is that the weight loss may not be intended and could result from illness, depression, or grief. Additionally, intentional weight loss may include methods which are not healthy and even potentially harmful. Complimenting it not only reinforces the idea that thin is more attractive, it may also reinforce some harmful behaviors.
Ditch the diet culture: Want to give someone a compliment? Talk about how wonderful it is to see them. How much you appreciate their company. How funny, or clever, creative, or thoughtful they are to you.
Watch out for sneaky appetite suppressants. While most appetite suppressants have gone out of fashion, there are still sneaky ways diet culture allows for suppressing appetite that are considered more “normal”. These can include drinking excess water, teas, or coffee.
Ditch the diet culture: Remember that your body needs fuel and from a variety of foods. And so much of the fun in having new experiences can include trying new foods and recipes.
Focus on enjoying the things you love, instead of how you’ll look while doing them. One of the cruelest parts of diet culture can be how it can persuade a person to avoid social situations altogether. This could include avoiding the pool party or the beach to avoid wearing a bathing suit or even avoiding going out to dinner because the menu doesn’t have enough “safe” items.
Ditch the diet culture: Remember that the people who care about you do so because of who you are and not the size and shape of your body. Don’t skip out on meaningful experiences because of diet culture’s unrealistic standards. Create your own standards and be sure to include joy and fulfillment.
Keep in mind that if you’re like most and have had a diet culture mindset for decades, this won’t change overnight. Give yourself patience and grace as you work on unlearning some of the diet culture traps. On the other side is increased confidence and wellbeing and improved quality of life.