It seems like everywhere we look we’re being bombarded with messages to fit a certain “look” and lifestyle. Social media “influencers” are telling us to shrink our body size, only eat whole foods, and always get in our 10k steps per day. It feels like everyday there’s a new diet trend that’s considered to be the new “healthy” way to eat. Eating fat is bad! Then suddenly fats are okay but carbs are bad. And don’t touch sugar with a ten foot pole!
These are all examples of diet culture. Diet culture is a movement that encourages dieting behaviours, restrictive eating, labelling foods as good or bad, excessive exercising to change your body, and an overall stigmatization around having a bigger body. Diet culture tells us that gaining weight is bad through health misconceptions by saying that thin is always healthy, and being heavier automatically means someone is in poor health, which is simply not true. This creates false illusions that people should always be trying to lose weight and never gain weight.
Diet culture is not the answer
The truth is, diets don’t work. Our bodies have a comfortable weight, predisposed by our genes, that they are meant to be at and feel best when at this weight. Our bodies are working against us when we’re dieting. In fact, our bodies will do everything they can to regain weight loss after a diet. Researchers have found that rather than maintaining weight loss, 1/3 – 2/3 of dieters gained back significantly more weight than they lost.
Many people turn to food for comfort, often called “emotional eating”. But, what are people often seeking comfort from? Often, it’s dieting and restrictive eating. Talk about a vicious cycle! Interestingly, when non-dieters experience stress and negative emotions, they usually lose their appetite. But for chronic dieters, the reverse happens and they experience an increased appetite in response to stress. This can lead to eating food for comfort (often food they’ve been restricting) which further contributed to feelings of stress and negative emotions.
Diet culture takes a lot from us
First and foremost, diet culture is a huge waste of time. From obsessing over food choices in the grocery store, going to grueling workout classes that we don’t even enjoy, researching “low calories” recipes instead of just making what we actually want, not to mention all the wasted mental energy thinking about our diets and our weight.
Diet culture also wastes our money. Everyone spends money on food to live, however, people who are being controlled by diet culture often spend a lot more. Diet foods and foods that are labelled as “healthier” or “clean”, “high in protein”, “low in carbs” or “sugar free” are all far more expensive than normal foods. People who shop at “health food stores” may pay significantly more for the exact same product that could be found in a regular grocery store.
Perhaps one of the most harmful things about diet culture is how it steals your well-being. People are so focused on the so-called negative health impacts of being overweight that they forget about the negative health impacts of constantly worrying about your weight, dieting, and experiencing weight stigma. In fact, Harrison writes how “weight stigma has been shown to pose a greater risk to your health than what you eat.” Habits like severely restricting your food intake, purging, overusing laxatives, and compulsive exercising are all extremely bad for your health.
Diet culture can also lead us to miss out in our social lives. Too often, diet culture makes people so afraid of losing control around food that they choose to skip social events. They may skip a party, wedding, or brunch with friends. If they do choose to go, they may not be fully present because they’re so focused on avoiding the food, or they’re standing by the snack table all night because they’ve been depriving themselves of these things for so long.
Research has shown that people are happiest when their minds aren’t wandering. Even if what they’re doing is relatively mundane and not “exciting”, if they were thinking about something else, they reported feeling less happy than if they were to be mindful of the present moment.
It is easier said than done, but you’d be amazed how someone’s quality of life can improve when they let go of diet culture’s harmful effects. With all the things that diet culture takes from us, think of all the things one would gain from eating intuitively and loving the body you’re in rather than always trying to change it. You are enough in whatever size that you feel best.
Need a little extra help dealing with letting go of diet culture? Our Team here at Uprise would love to help you out! Reach out here! We offer virtual or in-person sessions from downtown Ottawa!
Are you a mom and interested in letting go of diet culture? Learn about the Nourished Mama Intuitive Eating program co-led by Dr. Melisa Arias-Valenzuela, C. Psych., and Jennifer Neale, R.D. here!
Bradley, “Obesity, Corpulence, and Emaciation in Roman Art,” Papers of the British School at Rome 79 (2011): 1-41.
Harrison, C., & Harrison, C. (2019). Anti-diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating. Little, Brown.
Aamodt, Sandra. “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet.” The New York Times. 2016.
Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer, “Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health,” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. 6 (June 2010): 1019-28.
About the Author:
Gabriella Hilkes is a Social Media Intern at Uprise Psychology & Wellness. She is currently a Masters student in Experimental Psychology at Carleton University and plans to continue her education in the field of Counselling Psychology afterwards. Gabriella works hard at maintaining a work-life balance and integrate mindfulness and self-care practices daily.