Diet culture is a set of beliefs that value certain ideals: thinness, attractiveness, and youth. Let’s face it, our society basically bows at the feet of diet culture. You know it, I know it. We feel the effects of its presence every day.
We examples of diet culture in the way our society treats folks in larger bodies (read: the ridiculous sizes of airline seats, bathroom stalls, etc.). In the way we all hold a phobia of fatness deep within our subconscious, a collective outlook that has manifested into a $192.2 billion diet industry. We even see it in the way we speak to each other – what we say to friends, loved ones, coworkers in Zoom meetings.
You may be well-versed on diet culture and its harmful nature, or you may not. Either way, it’s important to identify when you’re experiencing its symptoms, so you can either course correct or excuse yourself (my favorite).
These examples may or may not be true stories of mine – I’ll never tell – but they’re good examples of diet culture in action. Let’s get started.
You’re on a Zoom call because #WFH, and it’s just before a holiday. The common tradition for this specific holiday revolves heavily around food: preparing it, eating it, and enjoying its leftovers for days. The director of your organization makes an announcement, wishing everyone well for the holidays, but not without mentioning how he’s going to “need to fast for four days afterward to make up for it”.
Ahem, excuse me, sir? That’s diet culture.
The bottom line: you do not have to “make up for” enjoying a holiday tradition, even if you eat past the point of being full. To be intuitive with your food consumption is to give yourself grace if and when you eat past satiety. It’s normal, and it sure as hell isn’t worth depriving your body and brain of nutrients for four days.
Here’s another example of diet culture. You’ve plopped your behind on the bike. You’ve made it to your first cycling class in a month. Praise be. You’re so ready to blast your legs and heart to upbeat tunes. You’re even excited for sprints. You love this instructor, and just before class, she comes up to you and says, “It’s so good to see you back on track to tone up! I’m so proud of you!”
Uhm, last time I checked, you weren’t a train.
The bottom line: there is no track you need to be on when it comes to your exercise regimen. And “toning up” doesn’t have to be the goal of moving your body. You’ve chosen to prioritize your physical wellness instead of doing the dishes or cleaning the car out. That’s a beautiful thing. Diet culture will, however, try to ruin that.
Don’t let it.
You’re in town for an annual extended family dinner. You’re so excited to see everyone. You get there, and you notice your aunt has brought a couple Tupperwares full of food that looks, well, gross. You don’t have to ask her about it, though, as she’s already telling anyone who will listen about her new diet. She boasts about the amount of weight she’s lost, and how easy it is. She even suggests you join her in this new lease on life!
What she doesn’t realize is the absolute audacity she has in thinking you feel the need to shrink your body. But it makes you start to wonder, “Should I do that, too?”
The bottom line: being unable to enjoy food at a family function because of a strict diet is no way to enjoy the short time we’re given on this planet. We’re all literally going to die. Do we really want to be eating out of Tupperware when everyone else is having pasta before our time is up? How about no.
Here’s a tricky example of how diet culture can sneak into a sacred space: Sunday brunch.
Watch out, world, [insert your name] is ready to wow the streets in her new Revolve dress. It’s been weeks since you’ve seen your core group of girlfriends, and you’ve all decided to go to Sunday brunch in your Sunday best. As everyone begins reading the menu (filled with to-die-for options), one of the gals says, “Ugh, I’m going to be so bad right now and order the Belgian waffle AND a side of bacon.”
I’m sorry, what?!
The bottom line: there is no morality when it comes to food. It can be neither good nor bad. It’s simply food. It doesn’t steal, commit grand theft, or get in fights. It also can’t perform miracles. So, why are we still acting like they do? Remove good, bad, clean, processed, etc. out of your food vocabulary – for the love of bread.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, shit. I can’t escape it. Nowhere is safe.” And you wouldn’t be wrong about that. I’m sure we can come up with countless examples of diet culture. It seeps its way into our lives one way or the other; it’s an inevitable part of living in the 21st century. However, the more we can identify exactly when and how it presents itself, the more we can protect ourselves from its negative effects.
The first step is to become aware it’s happening. We can do that by taking a mental note each time we notice it. Remember, this awareness doesn’t have to come with judgment. Instead of becoming angry with the person engaging in diet culture, have empathy. They’re doing their best to live in the same world as you, equipped only with what they’ve learned so far.
Instead, judge the culture. Judge the industry that has only ballooned in size because it’s so good at making us feel badly about ourselves. It’s okay to get angry with the culture, because that’s what generates change.
This is the reason why I’ve started this blog. To help others like you (like me!) break free from the heavy load that is diet culture. Consider spending some time here to learn more. And as always, if you’d like to contact me, I’d love to connect with you.
I wonder, what examples of diet culture can you think of? Please share them in the comments!