Dand culture surrounds us and influences us all. Despite the common misconception that it only affects people watching their weight, diet culture also has an impact in general. People with a high body mass index are often stalked, bullied and ridiculed. From school to college to work, it’s common for overweight people to be labeled as “fat,” leading to self-confidence issues for many.
A distorted body image has a negative impact on emotional and physical health. Christy Harrison, author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim your time, money, well-being and happiness with intuitive eating, describes dietary culture as a belief system that reveres thinness and equates it with health and virtue. Additionally, diet culture encourages rapid weight loss and suggests maintaining a low body weight to ensure elite social status. There is also the demonization of certain foods and eating styles while elevating others. People who do not meet these expectations or who do not fit the delusional image of “health” perpetuated by dietetic culture are not respected.
Diet culture distorts the image of food
Dietetic culture sees food as fuel. Based on their macronutrient content, foods are simply categorized as “good” or “bad.” However, food is more than a source of energy. It has been an integral part of celebrations and culture since ancient times. Only through food can we obtain essential nutrients: vitamins, minerals, essential fats, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein and fibre. A combination of nutritious foods ensures well-being and disease prevention. Nutrient deficiencies, impaired bodily functions, eating disorders, and an unhealthy relationship with food result from avoiding nutritious foods to become “low in calories.” ‘
‘Detoxifying’ and ‘cleansing’ after a celebration or holiday are classic examples of foods viewed as calories only. “Purge” of “high fat and high calorie” foods after a feast is classified as disordered eating. It is an unscientific and dangerous process with adverse physical and psychological effects. The emphasis on restrictive diets to maintain good health encourages eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Likewise, engaging in physical activities just to burn calories or “gain” favorite foods is a bad outcome of diet culture.
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Psychosocial impact of dietary culture
It is essential to understand that obesity and overweight are complex medical conditions that are not always the result of unregulated calorie intake or inactivity. You can gain weight for various reasons: genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalance, medications, etc. Diet culture ignores the science behind obesity and promotes a lean body as the pinnacle of health.
A person who does not meet these standards is considered unhealthy and develops a negative body image, making self-love a difficult journey for them. For these people, weight loss is the only path to acceptance, happiness and health. People with poor body image diet to lose weight and not develop healthy eating habits.
Those with larger bodies, poor body image, or body dissatisfaction compare their bodies to “zero” celebrities who promote weight loss diets without explaining whether the method is scientifically sound, safe, or sustainable. Unfortunately, people who fall prey to diet culture lack both self-confidence and basic scientific knowledge about health and wellness. They find it hard to accept that their appearance has nothing to do with their health. Health risks are increased by poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle and lack of physical activity, regardless of body size.
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Practice intuitive eating
The weight loss and weight management market was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $295.3 billion by 2027. Decades of research shows that diets don’t work at long term. There are relapses and disappointments. However, the weight loss industry based on “diet culture” is not ready to give up and continues to come up with new fad diets without scientific backing. Even when we learn that the new diet is unsustainable, extremely rigid, lacking in essential nutrients, and can lead to weight regain, we keep thinking it’s our fault and we’re not disciplined enough. The vicious circle continues. Needless to say, the result is shame and guilt.
A combination of intuitive eating and behavioral modifications can help combat the harmful effects of diet culture. To avoid diet culture, avoid self-proclaimed health influencers, unscientific news, and weight watcher groups. Learn about essential physiological functions, nutrition and how a balanced diet promotes good health. Learn about the pros and cons of new diets before you follow them.
Try some key principles of intuitive eating to get out of the diet industry trap. These principles ask you to reject the dieting mentality, recognize hunger and respond to it by eating nutritious foods. These principles encourage you to make peace with food while developing a healthy relationship with it, to challenge someone who categorizes food as “good” or “bad”, to stop eating when full, to understand your satisfaction factor, to deal with stress without eating and finally, to respect your body.
Subhasree Ray is a PhD student (ketogenic diet), certified diabetes educator, and clinical and public health nutritionist. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Views are personal.
(Editing by Zoya Bhatti)
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